Written By Rochelle Eisenberg
Photographed By Justin Tsucalas
America is fascinated by family dynamics. Just look at the current lineup of reality television shows which focus on large families, such as “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” (now minus one), “19 Kids and Counting” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
Then there’re the television shows about fictitious families, such as “Modern Family” and “Parenthood.”
Perhaps because we like to compare our “normal” to the extremes we see on television, or we like to remind ourselves that our hectic lives are like so many others, these shows seem to literally and figuratively “hit home.”
But families of different sizes do have different dynamics and challenges which range from the more pragmatic — the size car you may drive — to the more intangible — the relationships amongst siblings. So does size matter?
“My house would be morbidly quiet if I didn’t have three kids,” says Jennifer Kosmides. With children ages 11, 9 and 7, all in different schools on different calendars, life is hectic and full for this Reisterstown family.
“When there is only one in the house for too long, it seems odd. When one child is out, the mix and dynamics change,” she notes. “Three teaches you patience.” (And, she adds, how to tolerate noise.) “When I met my husband he wanted to have five children, but I can’t imagine that now.”
Pikesville mother of five Melissa Cohen says the best aspect of parenting a large family is watching her children, ages 11, 10, 8, 4 and 1, interact with each other. “They all have different interests, but they are all very supportive of each other,” she says.
“The advantage of four,” explains Jeanne Glazer, also of Owings Mills, “is the ability for them to entertain each other and I think it is easier to have more kids.”
But Owings Mills mother of one Amie Brisker says she enjoys watching her daughter play independently.
“In life, there is not always someone to entertain you, so being able to entertain yourself is an asset,” she says.
Raising multiple children makes comparisons among them or between them often an issue. In fact, of all the aspects of raising a large family, Melissa and Ivan Cohen say that it is the sibling rivalry that bothers them the most.
“The two closest in age fight the most, but we try to teach them to deal with their problems in a more productive way,” Cohen says. She tries to get the boys to work out issues using words and to teach not everything is worth fighting over.
Kosmides believes that with her three children sibling rivalry is most intense between her two sons, 22 months apart, who often compare their privileges. “I try to make my decisions as fair as possible, but sometimes the boys don’t see it that way, which causes competition.”
To help alleviate the issue of rivalry, Glazer, whose four children are 9, 7, 6 and 4, strives to spend time alone with each child. But with a husband who travels a lot, finding the time to do so is a challenge in itself.
When her husband Hillel is home, they divide and conquer: Hillel will take the two boys and she takes the two girls. Luckily, she notes that the boys, ages 9 and 6, get along well together and the girls, who are 7 and 4, do, too.
In the Brisker household, Sophie, 10, is an only child, so sibling rivalry is not an issue. Reflecting on her own childhood and the rivalry she had with her own sister, who was two-and-a-half years younger, Brisker recalls, “I didn’t appreciate my sister until I was an adult.
Sophie has no one to compete with and she doesn’t get compared to anyone else. I love having one child because I can give her all of my positive energy and attention.”
Boredom vs. entertainment
When it comes to finding a way to combat boredom, raising one child does pose challenges. Brisker says with one, you have to teach your child how to share. Your child also has to learn the concept of being with others and respecting others’ space.
When Sophie was younger, Brisker admits she probably spent more time playing with her, than parents whose youngsters had siblings. But now that she’s older, Sophie is better able to entertain herself. Brisker believes that her daughter is never lonely or bored, frequently visiting friends or inviting them over.
For the Kosmides clan, it’s clear that the three children enjoy each other’s company. “They don’t know life without each other and they miss each other when they are not together,” Kosmides notes.
“On a rainy day, no one ever sits and says they are bored,” says Cohen about the range of activities that take place in her house when all her kids at home. “I would not change those dynamics for anything.”
Abiding by a bedtime regime can be a challenge for larger families, particularly when deciding what is equitable and age-appropriate.
“We were very strict from the beginning with bedtimes,” says Cohen. Since all five children share a bedroom with a sibling or two, it is essential that the younger children are asleep before the older ones; thus the parents’ insistence of maintaining a routine for each.
Glazer says that their family had a bedtime routine up until the time their fourth child was born. “The youngest threw our system out of whack. Now it is easier to have all the children go to sleep at 8 and lights out at 8:30 to avoid confusion and conflict,” she says.
Kosmides admits that recently their 9-year-old son Evan told them he wants to stay up as late as his older brother, Julian, 11. “Because the oldest are both boys, there is definitely more back and forth questioning from Evan about why he can’t stay up as late as his brother.”
She and her husband try to maintain a firm bedtime schedule unless there are good reasons, like homework or late sports practices, to deviate from it.
“We try to make it equitable. Our kids need a routine and well-defined bedtimes to make things more copacetic,” she adds.
Trains, planes and minivans
With a large family, travel is not easy and the issues of cost and finding adequate accommodations for everyone come into consideration.
“It is hard to travel with seven of us: it is very costly and we are too many to house” says Cohen. “If we stayed in a hotel, we would need two rooms. All those things come into play when we plan our vacations.”
Summer vacations for the Cohens are spent in a rental home at the beach. Occasionally, she will travel to visit family in Florida with just her daughter, a more economical proposition.
With one child, however, traveling is easier and the Brisker family enjoy visiting and staying with friends in Arizona. “If we were more than three [of us] it would be an imposition to ask,” she says.
The other challenges of a large family include the choice of automobiles. The Cohens have now run out of room in their minivan due to the necessity of having three children in the third row of seats and two car seats in the middle row.
“When one of the kids has a play date, the friend’s parent has to drive them here,” she says, “because I don’t have an extra seat.”
“With four,” says Glazer, “we only have ‘tushy’ seat for one more.” (They own a minivan.) Her “taxi driving days” began, she explains, when her older children began with extracurricular activities.
How do you do it all?
With a job in sales, as well as volunteer commitments, Cohen is frequently asked “How do you do it all?” She responds by saying “You find time to do things that are important.” And, she laughingly explains, “There are never empty laundry baskets.”
Balancing her three children’s different school and extracurricular activity schedule is a challenge, admits Kosmides. “A good day is when there is no wrench in the plan.”
Glazer says that her reaction when people ask her how she manages four is to simply say “You do what you have to do. Everyone feels overwhelmed at points regardless of how many children they have.”