We all know what society thinks about large families, but what do those who actually come from a large family think? I recently started reading a book about the life of Montserrat Grases, a candidate for beatification, who was one of nine children growing up in Spain in the 50s and 60s. I’m sure results may vary, but in the book, her brother, Enrique describes his experience growing up in such a large family:
In spite of the economic problems I have very happy memories of those years,” Enrique, the eldest, says. “We were a big, happy, fun-loving but well-ordered family. Our parents insisted on practicing the virtue of orderliness, in regard to the use of our own things and taking care of our books. The fact that money was scarce helped to make us more responsible. So our parents did not have to be constantly nagging us – ‘What is that ball doing in the hall or why are your socks thrown around the room?’
The virtue of order meant that though there were many of us and there was very little money, we were able to cope.
Now, with hindsight, I appreciate having been born into a big family, as a pleasant, enriching experience. You get used to sharing everything. You don’t have ‘your’ room, it is always ‘our’ room. Especially for us eldest ones, Montse and I, who were entrusted with the care of the little ones. The situation made us more mature and taught us to be responsible for other people all the time.
However, big families do have a problem. Being so many it is easier to become independent. Knowing this our parents taught us to be united above all, to perceive the family as a communal enterprise. Each one of us had to contribute his share to support the family, so, when problems did arise, they were divided by eight and we were never overwhelmed.
…As we grew older we began to realize how tight the economic situation really was and how much our parents were sacrificing themselves for us. This encouraged us to work better at school, not to ask for unnecessary things, but rather to be happy with what we had…For instance, I could see how many friends at school had pocket money to buy ice-creams or candy or to play table football. I knew that if I wanted to pay this game, which I loved to do, I would have to use the money I had for my streetcar fare.
This taught me to appreciate that money has to be earned and to understand from an early age that even though it is easy to ask for things, one cannot ask for everything. I began to appreciate the few things I did have and to savor them. Nowadays people do not realize this. Many parents mistakenly consider they have to give their children whatever they ask for, otherwise they will be ‘traumatized.’ The opposite is nearer the truth. My experience was certainly hard and by comparison with my schoolmate quite arduous; but well worthwhile in the long run.
In this sense my family was a model of austerity. I have always given thanks to God for not having been able to sail through life, thinking only on my own enjoyment, and pleasing just myself.
We were a happy family but we were not a ‘perfect family.’ There are no perfect families.’