Small Families Are Best

As the third of eleven children, I know what it’s like to be part of a big family. And as with most things, it’s not all good nor all bad. I can’t imagine giving up any one of my siblings. I care about them, and I am glad they were brought into existence. In fact, the sibling I am closest to is actually the last of the bunch, number eleven. Without him, I’m not sure I would have survived 2018, the absolute worst year of my life. In large part due to him, 2020 has been comparatively wonderful. There is no way I would want to go back in time and tell my parents that they really should have stopped after me, number three. No way!

Having said that, when I imagine what my life might have been like if there were only two or three of us, I feel like a lot of my life’s biggest struggles could have been either avoided or mitigated to some degree.

Every child has their own unique challenges and needs. They don’t all need the same rules or amount of personal attention. They don’t need hugs to the same degree of frequency. They don’t all need to be told that they are loved every day to feel that they are loved. Some can be left alone for long periods of time without harm. Others need constant social interaction from their parents.

When I raised my own two children, I recognized that treating them both in exactly the same way would be a mistake. So, I treated them differently. I learned how they each feel love, and I did what I could to make sure they both felt loved by me. I taught them to read, differently. I taught them arithmetic, differently. My son, though he does value fairness, was able to understand when I explained why the penalties for breaking rules could not be the same for both of them. Even the rules could not be exactly the same. They were two different people with different needs. Maybe schools and governments have to treat everyone the same, but a family shouldn’t have to. What was important to me was that each child felt loved in the way they needed and that their opportunities for individual growth and life success were maximized.

The more children there are though, the more difficult this approach becomes. I think that, out of necessity, most parents of large families use the much simpler strategy of treating every child the same. They try to show the children that they are being fair and that they love each child the same. At least, this is the approach my own parents seemed to employ. One positive benefit of this approach is that I never got the feeling that they were playing favorites. 

Unfortunately, what all of this fairness also meant was that my own unique individual needs weren’t quite being met. For example, I was not a happy child, but my parents never took any real action to discover why I was struggling. On those occasions where I felt a need to talk to them about some concern, I often had to wait in line. I can remember multiple occasions where I simply gave up and went off to be by myself elsewhere. 

Sure. My parents loved me…, but unless I did something drastic, I could never get the attention I needed. Among the things I tried when I was young were screaming at the top of my lungs, walking out and being gone for hours at a time, breaking walls, doors, and mirrors, getting F’s in classes, stealing, and even getting physically violent with siblings. I was awful, and I needed help. But did I get the help I needed? I got punishments. I got put in time out. I got extra chores. I lost privileges and access to things I enjoyed. They tried to control my behavior by meting out punishments. I don’t remember any time being spent to find out what was really wrong.

Of course, I didn’t know what was wrong either, but I was the kid. I was too young and inexperienced in life to understand my own psyche. I remember the phrase being often used in my house, “they just want attention,” whenever a child acted out. As if wanting or needing attention was a bad thing! In my mind, I was just an awful person, and all of the punishments and parental admonitions just supported that belief.

In middle school, things got especially bad. I heard about the possibility of homeschooling, and begged my mom to let me try. I needed something to change. My mom actually arranged a meeting with my principal to discuss the option, but he told my mom that I would just be running away from my problems. According to him, I needed to face them in order to overcome them. The logic doesn’t sound bad, and I don’t blame my mom for listening to him, but the choice was still wrong for me. Going home at that time wouldn’t have been running away from my problems. It would have been giving my mom a chance to figure out what the problems were, away from so many other distractions. 

A year or two later, my mom let my younger sister stay home to be home-schooled while I attended my first year of high school. High school was a lot better than middle school though, and I started to have some hope for the future. The next year though, in my sophomore year of high school, my mom decided to home-school everyone at home. For the family as a whole, this might have been a good decision, but I’m not sure it’s what was best for me personally. As just one in a crowd, my parents never really understood my own personal individual needs. 

The point of this post is not to criticize my parents though. I believe they did the best they could given the circumstances. If there had only been one or two of us, I’m sure they would have spent more time with me. They would have come to understand me more, and they would have been able to meet my needs better. If they weren’t able to understand what was going on with me or didn’t know how to help me, they would have had more money to spend on a child therapist or psychologist. Perhaps, I would not have had so many suicidal thoughts, a fact my parents never knew about me until I wrote it out in a blog post just a few years ago.

More recently, I have had some unpleasant interactions with my mom that I feel are caused, at least in part, by the sheer number of children she has. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has caused great harm to me and millions of others, and I have written much about this. Until recently, my mom refused to admit that this could be even a little bit true. She finally did acknowledge that the “attitudes of members and the policies of the church have caused [me] pain,” and that “perhaps if [she] had [gone through what I did, her] perspective would be different.”

This partial acknowledgement made me both happy and sad. I was happy that she was starting to see, just a little bit, what I’d been going through all of these years and how the church was a part of that. I was sad that it made no difference to her. Now, this may have nothing to do with the number of children she has, but I can see how it might. If I came to believe that one of my children had been hurt by the members and policies of an organization that I loved, and that that organization was continuing to hurt others without apology, I would want to rethink my relationship with that organization. Even if I couldn’t give it up, I would want to keep my relationship with it a lot more low-key.

However, if I had many similarly devoted children and grandchildren that looked up to me and would see if I wavered in my dedication to this organization, I might hesitate changing any of my behaviors. I think that my mother believes that the church helps and blesses the lives of her and almost all the rest of her family, and I am just one sad exception. In her mind, changing her attitude toward the church might help her relationship with me but hurt many others. She can’t afford that, regardless of how it might affect me. 

To me, it seems pretty clear that numbers matter. What a parent will do for one child alone, they might not be willing to do for that same one child out of a great number. Imagine if all eleven of my mother’s children felt hurt by the church. Would all of her family-directed emails then be full of worshipful statements about the church? Would she then continue to exclaim her great joy that the church is true? Would it permeate all of her communication both public and private? No matter how much she believed the church to be true, even to the point of certainty, I think she would more carefully evaluate whether she needed to affirm that confidence at every step, destroying family relationships in the process.

And so, back to my original point, I think small families are best. When schools, governments, etc. have to treat all the same, regardless of personality differences, psychology, etc., parents should be able to do what’s right for the good of each individual. Parents, especially, should not have to choose between the good of many and the good of one child with unmet needs.

‘In a “Gay” Relationship’ – Envy for Openness and My First Boyfriend

Just before leaving on an overnight trip to Taitung with my wife and kids, I saw one of my male friends on Facebook announce being “in a relationship” with another guy. I wasn’t really surprised that this particular former student might be gay or bisexual, but I was surprised by how happy I felt. I realized later that it might have just been an April Fool’s Day prank, but I don’t think it was.. at least I hope it wasn’t. I was reminded of the time in Hawaii when I had my first, and probably last, real boyfriend.

At that time in Hawaii, I was in my first semester of my senior year. I had met him before in passing and in at least one shared class, but we had never really talked much. He mostly hung out with his Taiwanese friends while I had my own friends that I spent time with. I can’t remember exactly how it happened that we really started talking to one another, but there is one experience toward the beginning that I still remember fairly well.

Walking to my house from the university, I had to pass a certain bus stop which took students from our small town to bigger cities around the island. One day, I saw him sitting there alone, waiting for the bus. I’m pretty sure I must have talked to him earlier or had some earlier experience to just talk to him out of the blue like I did on that day, but I can’t remember. Anyway, I asked him where he was heading, and he told me he was on his way to see a movie. Somehow, I was either invited to come along or I invited myself. Either way, I got on the bus with him and we left together.

The movie was awful and I hated it about as much as I’ve ever hated any movie. The company though was great. We talked and talked and didn’t run out of things to talk about. We just hit it off really well. After that, we joined other activities together, one after another. Our relationship grew closer and closer to the point where I could think of little else. I wanted to see him. I wanted to be with him all the time. When I went home for Christmas for a month, we still managed to communicate on almost a daily basis. It was hard to be away from him.

Returning to Hawaii after the break, we continued to see each other every day. It was a real struggle keeping our relationship a secret. When I saw that student the other day come out and announce his same-gender relationship on Facebook, I envied him just a little bit. When my friend in Hawaii and I really understood that our relationship had gone beyond just being friends, there was nobody we could tell. I think it should have been obvious, but it was a church school, and I guess nobody wanted to say anything or ask about our relationship.

When I came close to graduating, I began looking for job opportunities in Taiwan. My boyfriend knew that I still wanted to get married to a woman at some point and to have children of my own, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye or to end our relationship. I wondered if somehow, I could have both. It seemed impossible when I thought about it too much, so I suppressed the thoughts and just enjoyed the relationship we had. I found a job in Taiwan and even managed to end up in the same city where he lived. Life was perfect.

There is a lot more I could share about this story, and maybe I will at another time. For now, I’ll just say that eventually, I moved forward toward my dream of having a wife and kids and family life. I remember one of the last times when the three of us were together, my boyfriend, my wife, and I, just before leaving for America I think. I gave him a hug, and he returned it. Did I cry? I know I wanted to, saying goodbye. My wife was incredibly understanding and I admired her all the more for her strength. She loved me still, knowing what kind of relationship I had had with my boyfriend.

Anyway, despite that brief touch of envy I felt for that young friend on Facebook, I have to say I am still quite happy with my life and if I could go back, I would not change a thing. If I could go back to Hawaii at that time, I would still talk to my boyfriend at the bus stop. I would still choose to watch that awful movie with him. I would still choose to build a relationship with him. I would still choose to love him. And in the end, sad as it might seem, I would still choose to leave him in order to get married and to have the family I currently have. I love my wife and children too much to ever want anything different in the long term. I love everything there is to love about family life.

Not everyone is like me though. Not everyone wants the things that I want. When I see two guys that love each other and are willing to be the family that they each need, I support that. I think loneliness is one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced, and my boyfriend was a tremendous relief to me during that time so many years ago. He became my family for a while, and I can’t imagine telling anybody that they can’t have that. It’s just too cruel. I don’t want to say that I support or don’t support completely equal rights for homosexual couples, especially where children are involved. I just don’t know enough about the potential long term effects. But, I think there is a lot more room for compassion and understanding. Though I hardly ever see my former boyfriend these days, I rather like to think of him as a part of the family. I hope he’s happy. I hope he’s not lonely. We all deserve to be with those that love us and we love them.

Family Relationships and Letting Go

Today, I don’t really have any real thoughts to share, but rather questions. This morning, I heard from a sibling that I had not really spoken with in several years. The email was rather devoid of feeling, but instead was a favor she wanted to ask on behalf of another person. It was maybe two sentences without so much as a ‘how are you?’. It hurt quite a bit actually and I almost wished she had not written to me. I replied with a heartfelt account of my feelings at that moment along with an apology for not doing my part either to maintain the relationship. By the end of the day, however, things had been made right again between us and so far as I know, there are no hard feelings.

My question now has to do with what should be expected out of family relationships. In my later teen years, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to create real and meaningful relationships with each of my ten siblings. At least from my perspective, I was successful in that attempt. I can think about each sibling in turn and remember them as being a real friend, an individual for whom I have great love and respect. One by one, however, we each took off in different directions. Today, most of us are married and have families of our own. The relationships that we once shared seem somehow faded now, especially as we are each involved in our new family unit, our spouses and children. It is not hard to go months at a time without thinking at all about a sibling that was once very close.

What was surprising to me this morning is how deeply I felt the love toward my younger sister as I replied to her email. I didn’t expect it. In the past, I had been one of the more proactive of my siblings at trying to maintain the relationships that we had once forged together. More recently however, I have gotten tired. Over the course of several years, I have made many phone calls, sent many emails, begged and pleaded, but I always felt little enthusiasm. Of course, everyone would respond and say how nice it would be to stay more in touch, but then nothing ever changes. Since getting married and starting my own family, that drive has weakened in myself as well. The bonds between us are still strong however. Though we don’t call or write or talk much at all, once we are together there is no awkwardness. I love my siblings as much today as I did when we all lived under one roof. The difference now is that although we share this bond, we just do not seem to need each other anymore. Our spouses and children are more important to us, as they should be.

My question is whether or not it is okay to let this happen, to let these relationships that were once so real, fade because of time and distance. I will always want to maintain the relationship with my parents because they deserve that from me. They sacrificed and cared for me for all those years and it would be disrespectful to cast aside what they have done. No amount of time or distance could ever sever that bond. The same goes for the relationship I have with my children. But is it okay for me to allow my other familial relationships to fall into disrepair? I will always love them and hold them fondly in my memory and should they need anything from me, I would always be there for them, but.. when is it okay to let go? I have grown tired of the fight that no one else seems too concerned about and I can’t be the only one anymore. Because I don’t believe I am needed anymore, I am willing to say goodbye, though that would make me very sad. I am needed by my children and by my wife and that is good enough for me.

Despite what I have said so far, I will not give up yet. There is still some fight left in me, though not much. If I send a long email, I get a short reply. If I make a phone call, I feel like I am disturbing something. I want to just sit back and wait for someone to say, ‘hey, I miss you’, though I can’t actually remember this ever happening unless I made the first move. If I stop writing emails, ( and I have for some individuals already ), will I ever again hear from these people that I love so much? If I stop making phone calls, will I ever be called again, especially considering that everyone seems to have a special phobia of telephones? Fortunately, many in my family enjoy writing blogs or creating websites or participating on friend networks such as Facebook, though I know for a fact that several of my siblings consistently choose an invisible setting. Are they afraid I might say hello? I read their blogs and look at their pictures and pretend for a moment that they might be as interested in my life as I am in theirs. So what would you do in my situation?