Congrats, Jojo (can I call you Jojo?)! The new baby is here and I’m thrilled you and Chip have added Baby #5—a boy!—to your growing family. You are making the transition from a regular family to a Large Family. Gear up, sister.
I know having four kids may make you feel like a large family already, but once you have five you move into a new category. Five children is when you can be out with HALF your kids and people will stop you to say, “You sure have your hands full.” Five children is when people feel compelled to safely assume you’re Catholic or Mormon. Five children is when you can’t travel in your average vehicle anymore. Five children is when you start having to get to church early just so you can find a pew where your whole family can sit together.
Five children is watching people count your kids when you’re out in public. Five children is the wary stares when you walk into a restaurant and people realize you’re going to be seated near them. Five children is having to buy in bulk and knowing those two dozen cookies won’t last to tomorrow.
Five children means someone is always crying. And you can’t always fix it quickly. And it’s OK. You learn to live with chaos and you learn that structure will be your sanity saver. Five children means coming to grips with your own limits as a mother and watching your children step in when you’re maxed out. Watching your big kid read the bedtime story to your middle child so you can nurse your baby. . . it’s a precious feeling that can’t be described. Watching your husband competently manage five kids by himself so you can step out of the madness and take a hot bath will endear him to you for life.
When our fifth child joined our family, I promised myself I’d never say “no” to help again. I know that may look different for you, but I’d encourage you to embrace that spirit. Recognize that it’s just impossible for you to be “enough” for your kids. You don’t have to be enough. Find people who love and support you and your family and let them help you. Recognize that your family isn’t a weight on those who truly value you. Help your kids find other trusted adults who can invest in them and give them wisdom. If someone asks if they can mop your floors (or dust your shiplap? Does that stuff need dusting?), say “yes.”
Make time for self-care. It can seem impossible in those early newborn days of a fifth baby. Sometimes it’s about reframing those acts you have to do anyway and telling yourself it’s self-care. Hot shower? Self-care. Hot meal? Self-care. Afternoon nap? Self-care. Stop and check in with your emotions, your intellect, your body. Take a moment and talk to a friend. Caring well for yourself allows you to care well for your children. The more kids you have, the harder it is to find that time and the more essential it becomes that you do.
Joanna, I’ve heard you’ve experienced some less than positive responses to your pregnancy announcement. Sadly, that’s all too common for lots of moms when they announce that fifth baby. That kind of second-guessing and judgement isn’t just reserved for celebrity pregnancies, but reigns down on all of us from good-hearted relatives and nosey neighbors alike. At this stage of your pregnancy, people tend to talk about your child as though they are just a choice—a good choice or a bad one, depending on their perspective. But someday soon that pregnancy #5 will be a baby in your arms with a name and a personality and their own special quirks. You’ll wonder what you ever did before this little person entered your life and pretty soon even your biggest skeptics will be won over with the smile and coo of your new blessing. Five is a lot of kids, but as you admire their sweet faces, you’ll feel completely confident that they were each uniquely meant for your family. There isn’t a one of them you’d trade for the life you had before you became a mom of five.
Being the mom in a large family makes you a member of an exclusive club, whether you want to be or not. It will change you in beautiful and stretching ways. You are an experienced, wise mom. You’re a pro. You may have every bit of knowledge you need to be a competent mom to this baby. But this child still has something to teach you.
Fifth babies come into this world to teach us to take care of ourselves. They show us we can be strong mothers who embrace our weaknesses. They teach us to find our support team and lean on them when we need them (and fifth babies make us need them a lot). They help us come to terms with the fact that we can’t make everybody happy and other people’s opinions about our family can’t determine our decisions or feelings. They show us we still have things to learn about motherhood, about babies and about ourselves.
So welcome to the Large Family Club, Mama Gaines. You will never be the same. And you’ll never regret it.