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The Shrinking of the Huge American Family

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ver the years, family sizes have been shrinking. In the 1700’s it was common to have a household with more than seven children. By 1850, the average family had 5.5 kids. As of 2015, the average number of children in a household is 2.5 says and Having a large family size is often a rarity now.

Megan Russell, a senior, has 11 family members and shares her two homes with kids ranging from age 5 to 22– there’s never a dull moment. From sports practices to school to birthday parties, she said her parents are always rushing around. Russell has two moms, two dads, four brothers, two sisters, and has hosted many exchange students over the years. Also, who could forget their four dogs, two cats, two hamsters, and one chicken!

They got some chickens two years ago for Father’s Day and they decided to get some new ones this past summer. They sadly passed away, except for one. Russell said, “It is the weirdest chicken. Chickens usually run away, but this one follows you everywhere.”

Things have quieted down in recent years as her siblings have headed off to college, and now that there are just two kids left on most school days, Megan admits she sort of misses mornings when everyone was home. Russell used to wake up after Olivia, her older sister, and drink a cup of coffee while everyone rushed around her. Her mom made breakfast for everyone. “I love when she makes cinnamon rolls,” Russell said. The rush to get breakfast, grab packed backpacks, and leave for school on time could be overwhelming, but it felt like a usual morning for her family for many years.

“It’s exhausting and chaotic and expensive but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s all worth it. I’m the luckiest mom ever,” Russell’s mom said. There are pros and cons to having a big family, but most studies say that big families are happier. Having a big family improves social skills, creates stronger connections with others, and teaches kids how to share. Powerful life skills are often first taught in the home.

Olivia, the oldest sister, says the most important thing they have learned is “to be accepting of change”. In Russell’s family, they were brought together later on in life. Her parents remarried when Russell was in third grade, but Russell feels lucky to have learned new skills when building their blended family. They learned to work together and be responsible. “We all chip in with chores, it is a lot of work, and our mom can’t do it all.” Russell said they also learned to, “be independent. Our parents make sure we are not babied.” From their planned vacations to weekend excursions, everyone has a role.

Although all the kScreen Shot 2017-01-09 at 9.19.51 AMids chip in, Russell’s mom usually goes grocery shopping alone. “When she goes with us, she ends up buying way too much food,” Russell said.

They have all learned life skills, from planning and supporting others, to going through school and the college process. The college process has gotten easier throughout the years for their family. Russell said, “My mom can fill out the FASFA so fast!”. Having so many personalities in the house has actually encouraged her to listen to herself. She has learned to stay true to what makes most sense for her and follow her dreams. She is going to NYU and hopes to find a job she will love.

She said going to her mom’s house is like hanging out with a bunch of friends, but her dad’s house is relaxing. Weekends are repetitive during the fall. Every weekend it’s “football football football,” Russell said. Football is a big deal in their family and something they all enjoy, especially when Russell’s brothers played in high school. Andrew now plays in college, a junior at UMass, and Luke plays flag football now. They always have a sporting event to go to, whether it is football, track, or lacrosse. The support is always there. Their weekends are usually busy, but Russell says “occasionally we get free time to just hang out around the house, do yard work, or go swim in the pool.”

Holidays are of the busiest moments, especially Christmas when Olivia rushes home from Stonehill College, Evan from Maine Maritime, Andrew from UMass Amherst, and Luke from the University of New England. “My mom has to cook like quadruple the amount of food regular moms do,” Russell says. Having a big family can make the holidays hard, having to buy gifts and please everyone with festive activities. They have been able to make the juggling act work and have made some special traditions over the years. “We get a twenty-foot Christmas tree every year which is unusual for most families,” Russell said.

The traditions do not stop with Christmas. Their usual trip to Gettysburg is a family favorite. “We go just for fun. Not the history part though, mainly the ghost hunting. It’s a pretty interesting time,” Russell said, “We snuck into a private cornfield one time. Luke, my older brother, and I saw a ghost but that’s another story.” Traditions keep their family close, and Megan believes that is why they all get along so well.

Screen Shot 2017-01-09 at 9.42.11 AM
Megan Russell, senior

Along with traditions, they have had some pretty crazy moments as a family. “God there’s so many haha! We got in a bus accident once, all of us. That was pretty insane,” Russell said. They were in New York going rafting and took an old bus down a dirt road. They were in the middle of nowhere. When they were going down a hill, the driver lost control and didn’t hit the brakes. “It was an automatic and he was old so I think he just went crazy for a second but who knows,” Russell joked. They were heading straight towards the river, so he took a sharp turn and the bus rolled. A crazy and traumatic event for the whole family and everyone on the bus. Thankfully everyone in the family was okay, and they are able to tell the story to this day.

Vacations are amongst their favorite times spent together. Russell’s mom researches trips for months until they find one that the whole family is excited about and reasonably priced. “Parasailing in the Keys was fun,” Russell said. She is a thrill seeker, so having a fun family to go on new adventures with is one of the many reasons Russell loves them. She would not trade time spent with them for the world. “We go on cruises a lot since it’s easier for the parents to keep track of us. It is always a good time. I enjoy sneaking into the adult comedy shows,” Russell said. She remembers one resort in the Dominican that had the BEST chocolate cake! Also, playing water volleyball there every day. It is always fun, no matter where they go. They can make any situation full of laughs and games. Wyatt, the youngest brother, said, “I love it. It’s fun. I like to have Nerf battles and play hide and seek.” They all say they enjoy having a big family.

There are advantages to having a big family. Their connection is strong and their time spent together is action-packed. Russell wants a big family when she is older. Since she loves the feel of it, she is excited to have plenty of nieces and nephews one day. She will continue the big family trend, trying to prevent big family sizes from shrinking.

Some disadvantages that often come along with a big family are long waits at restaurants, overwhelmingly busy days, and as Russell said, “I’m gonna have a lot of nieces and nephews to buy presents for.” Even if big families are not as common anymore, it is definitely a great environment with many lessons and a lot of support.

Even with every crazy moment, chaotic mornings, and many presents to buy Russell said, “I love it. I would never want a smaller family.”

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