• Emily Hess

Big Families + Sports

I would like to start a mini-series of blog post related to big families and how we handle a myriad of things that come up in our daily lives. If you have a suggestion or question or something you'd like to know about big families, please leave a comment and I'll do my best to incorporate your questions into blogs.

When I was growing up in the 1990s it was the ushering in of a new era. Families were usually smaller than they had been in previous generations. Many families had a little bit of spare money. And most importantly for me, female sports were on the rise. My grandparents did not allow my own mother to participate in sports or any extra curricular activities although she would have loved the opportunity. I think as a result she took the exact opposite approach to parenting and allowed her five children to do pretty much anything they wanted. Since I cannot speak for my siblings I will just say that for me, it was amazing.

Emily, age 8, circa 1993

I was the type of kid who loved pretty much everything. I loved sports (especially soccer) and played recreation, then travel, then premier. Soccer took me to many states and eventually led to a university scholarship. I am grateful for the sacrifices my parents made for me to have those successes.

Tap Dance, Swimming, but mostly Soccer

However, when it comes to raising my own children, I have taken a decidedly different approach from my parents and grandparents. I have attempted to meet somewhere in the middle.

We have five, soon six, daughters. They are all close in age which is a little different from how my family growing up was (I'm the middle child with a sister 8 years older than me, 3 years older than me, 2 years younger than me and a brother 5 years younger). My daughters are currently 11, 10, 8, 5, and 4.

If we allowed them to participate in everything they took interest in, we would be running ragged. Trent and I agreed that we want our children to have opportunities but not at the expense of the rest of the family, our marriage, and our finances.

I hesitate to share exactly what we have done in regards to sports lest you think I am judging your family for making a different choice, or prodding you to do something you feel strongly against. With that caution in mind, here is what our family has chosen to do for now.

We allow each child to play a sport when they turn seven or eight. I personally don't think children need to be in organized sports prior to that age. Children do need to be playing as much as possible outside and exploring the world around them.

Fall 2018, ages 9 & 8

When they join a sport, even if they really, really, really love it or are extraordinarily talented, they only play one season per year. So far Anne has played softball in the spring (though practices start indoors in January and it runs through June) and Abbey and Maggie have played soccer in the fall.

While Anne is in season, all her sisters go to her games to support her. When Abbey and Maggie are in season, all their sisters go to support them.

This fall we ran into a bit of a hiccough in our plans as Abbey and Maggie couldn't play on the same team without Maggie playing up into an older age bracket. If they played on different teams they could potentially have practices 4 different nights a week with games on opposite ends of the county on Sundays. We could have managed to work something out, but added into the mix is a new baby coming home from China right at the beginning of soccer season.

It was with shocking alacrity that both girls agreed to take the fall off from soccer. We have found a different winter activity for them to join for this year as a substitute that will still allow them to get exercise and count as gym for their homeschool year.

When I was a child this would have caused tremendous emotional upheaval, disappointment and tears. I believe my girls were able to handle this maturely for a couple of reasons.

One, we have stressed the importance of sisters over sports.

When the choice needed to be made, they had no problem choosing what was best for their new sister over their enjoyment of soccer.

Two, they don't find their identity in their performance of a sport.

While they enjoy the game, they grasp that it's just that, a game. Fun to play, but not who they are.

It is my hope that this not come across as braggy, but as a helpful way to consider what having a large family can mean. Yes, it can and often does mean sacrifices. However, we believe that it is those sacrifices that help our children learn to handle challenges gracefully and will ultimately lead them to a rich and fulfilling life. We hope you will experience the same as you raise your family!

Again, please send suggestions for Big Family + (your question) my way. I look forward to hearing how you all have managed your sports commitments with your big family!

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