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Op Ed: Why Don’t All Families Have a Lot of Kids?

by Aliza Bas Menachem

I recently noticed an article by Rabbi Mendel Dubov entitled, “Why Do Orthodox Jews Have So Many Kids?” I understand that this is a topic that needs explanation. But, why? The most natural thing in the world is for couples to get married and form a family by having children. The odd thing is that they do things to go against nature and limit the number of children. I understand that not every family is blessed with being able to bear children, but for the most part, healthy people do choose to limit the number of children they bring into their family… making Dubov’s premise a valid topic because even if having children is the most natural lifestyle – it is not the current norm.

I was first introduced to religious Jewish lifestyle when I was a recent college graduate. I moved into Crown Heights, Brooklyn and went about learning as much as I could about Jewish philosophy, laws and customs. I began to realize that I had veered away from my life of rugged independence and was headed towards getting married and raising a family. Due to my new direction, I closely observed up close what motherhood was like in a religious neighborhood. There were a lot of very capable mothers in Crown Heights. But then I noticed something that seemed strange. It seemed to me that the most competent mothers all had four children or more. The mothers who seemed nervous, on edge, not as confident, did not have as many as four children. At first that seemed strange to me. I thought the more children you have the more overwhelmed you would be. But then I realized, the mothers with more children, were more experienced, and their children were accustomed to sharing their mother, being part of a team, and taking responsibility for one another. A first child gets the idea that they are the center of the universe and acts accordingly. The fourth child, not so much.

What if I answered Rabbi Dubov’s question by saying it is easier with more children? Which brings us again to my question of: why not? Having children is the most natural thing to do and it is easier to have four or more children than having three or less. Especially easier than having one child. In most cases I feel sorry for that only child. Not only do their parents hover over them, but they grow up without siblings to play with, and when they are grown – again – no siblings to play with, no siblings to help out, no siblings to be helped out by.

Yes, I know siblings fight. That’s why you need more than two children in the family. And three can be a triangle. But once there is four or more, usually everyone finds a friend. And once there are four or more, conflicts are minimalized in the midst of the action that is going on in the family. Of course, I am speaking generally. Every family is unique. But in general, I think that growing up in a large family develops character – not only in the children – but also in the parents.

I like a minimum of four because then you have more than one middle child. Middle children are great. They are known for being ignored. I happen to think that’s just fine. At the same time the middle child has to be independent enough to care for themselves, and, to be interdependent with their co-middlers. I am assuming the parents care for all the children, but extra attention often goes to the eldest and the youngest. So it is concerning extras when the middlers learn to fend for themselves using their creativity and at the same time develop their team building skills.

I am of the opinion that children have a healthier childhood when they grow up with siblings. I also think having children develops the character of the parents as they accept the responsibility and challenges of parenting. And I think it also makes for healthier, better balanced communities. Not perfect communities. Not utopia. But healthier than a lot of what is going down today.

So, Why Don’t All Families Have a Lot of Kids? I wager to say it is because the younger generations do not know what it is like to have a family. Think about it. An only child never experienced welcoming a baby into the family. And if their parents were only children, there are no cousins to welcome into the family. Add to that, the dominate cultural attitude that women find fulfillment in careers more than in motherhood. That was a feminist assertion in the 1970’s. Feminists will still say that was not a mistake. But psychologists know it was. With few exceptions as with every generalization – careers, money, fame or yachts, do not compensate for not having children.

If competent, industrious families with moral values, would start having lots of kids, the world would be a better place. Religious families are doing their part. G-d bless them.


  • A Mom

    This is wonderful but it doesn’t begin to address family size in our Chabad community.
    Women today are not having as many children as their parents. I think there are many reasons for this, one of which is that we saw our parents struggle with a large family and we just don’t want that ourselves and our kids. Other reasons can be, yeshiva tuition, rising costs of housing in Crown Heights, more awareness of mental health issues and how they are exacerbated by pregnancy and childbirth, more children diagnosed with special needs, more awareness of genetic risk when one child is born with a disability.

    • All You Say is True

      The world is a tough place. Your list does not even scratch the surface of problems we face in life. Having siblings cannot change that. But being without siblings throughout life doesn’t make it better either.

  • Mama

    Having large families is very nice but it’s not always a choice. The author is being so quick to assume, forgetting all the people who suffer from infertility or secondary infertility. It’s much more common than you think.

    • Yup.

      Thank you. Exactly. Though I assume the author is referring to those that are not blessed with that painstaking challenge.

    • Paragraph One

      Mama – You say the author is quick to assume….
      I would like to point out that the author was quick to address the issue you accuse her of missing.
      Right away in the first paragraph she says “I understand that not every family is blessed with being able to bear children,”
      This is an example of when someone criticizes another, they are really seeing something that is in themselves.

    • No so at all.

      Right in the first paragraph the writer states, “I understand that not every family is blessed with being able to bear child”.

      This article is about those who choose to limit child bearing. It’s not at all about those who suffer every day, paying and hoping for (another) child.

  • Parent of an only child.

    There is more involved in having children than the concern of a child growing up with siblings. One has to take into account the mothers health, which on the outside she may be great with children and look happy and healthy. However, There are obstacles like birthing trauma, postpartum depression, and other illnesses that may be the reason one does not have more children. There is no way of knowing another persons circumstances, and it is not anyone’s business to judge.
    Thankfully there are those that are able to have many children and they are calm and happy , at least on the outside. It would be nice if we all aspired to be the mother with multiple children and able to manage well. If this is your dream, go ahead and give it a try, then come back and write an article on how you succeeded.

  • S

    There is some misinformation in this article. While written with good intentions, you may have failed to realized that our generation grew up with large families. I had the smallest family I knew of, and that was 7, k”h. We are all very aware of what it’s like growing up in a big family. I have so much respect and admiration for my parents, and the other parents raising even larger families, but I am also well aware that many issues fall through the cracks. We want to be able to give all of our children the proper attention they need and deserve. It may have worked 20 years ago, but that was, well, 20 years ago. We adjust our lifestyles, expectations, and capabilities accordingly. And when my children go out into the world one day, I personally would like to feel that I put my all into them. And many of us cannot do that with a large amount of children.

    • Struggling parent.

      As someone struggling with secondary infertility, please leave these discussions outside A chabad platform. You can discuss this privately with a Mashpia. The Rebbe was pretty clear about this, and “times have change” did not apply to us. I wish we had more children, and although difficult everyone comes with a blessing.

    • To S

      Those who grow up in large families know what that is like. Then, if they choose to have a smaller family. Do they know what that is like? Or are they just imagining what it would be like?
      You are saying that when your child goes out into the world you will know you have given your all to that child. Is that what your child will need when going out into the rough and tumble world? To go from doting parents to, what is bound to be, the cold, hard realities of life?

  • We don't all need a career

    I think we can safely leave careers out of this. I know mothers who run their own businesses and have 4 or more kids. So you can do both, if you want to. If you think you can handle it. But maybe some of us don’t need a career. And maybe we don’t need a large family, either. Maybe we feel fulfilled with a few kids and a simple job. Who knows, I’m not speaking for every woman in crown heights. I’m just saying, there is no mold for being a religious woman and living in crown heights. Gd gifted us with all different capabilities, and all we need to be able to do at the end of it all, is say “I gave it everything I had”.

    • Clarification

      The point about careers is addressing the trend to choose one or the other. That is, career is chosen instead of motherhood. Or the default of concentrating on career and then realizing the opportunity for motherhood may have been passed by.
      Of course doing both is stimulating and profitable. And mothers with a lot of children have developed an array of managing skills that can be beneficial in the working world. Motherhood with a career is different from focusing on career until it is too late to have children.

  • MOSE

    Our community and our kids do not need a whole dialogue and debate on the comments section wheather or not we should have children or not!!!
    Articles like these seep ideas into children and young adults minds about the option of PIRU RIVU – SOMETHING ARE REBBE AND AS CHABA”D VERY MUCH AGREES WITH 😘.

    • I Agree

      The Rebbe encouraged large families. I don’t think he promised it would be easy.

  • Andrea Schonberger

    My father was the oldest of 14 children and he didn’t have an easy life. The stress of raising such a large family eventually took a toll–the father became an alcoholic abuser and the mother just went through the motions. Couples should have a family that they can realistically deal with–if it’s only one child that’s OK and if it’s a dozen that’s OK too–but all children deserve the same amount of love and financial resources that the parents can provide without having to depend upon handouts, living paycheck to paycheck, worrying if the EBT card is loaded,… etc. Family life is supposed to be joyful but joy will run out the door if all the parents do is worry about finances. I know I’ll be condemned but prayer will not pay the rent/utilities/tuition/food. My father earned a modest income and he had 4 children.

    • Maybe...

      There are a lot of alcoholic abusers who do not have 14 kids. There are many reasons to become an alcoholic abuser. Maybe your grandfather had a different reason, but blaming it on the kids was a convenient excuse.

  • Strange

    This is a strange article, trying to figure out and justify opinions based on the surface, and some ideal of what is “normal”. Try talking to real live women and you will see a complex picture. Your generalizations of why it is better to have bigger families will not apply to many for many reasons, and frankly, I find the article patronizing and disrespectful. Let us all support each other with ahavas yisroel, physical and emotional support, so we can raise our families with physical health, emotional health, joy, and nachas.

  • Ch Mother

    Excuse me for saying… But all of you saying there are many struggles bringing up children, that might be true… The REBBE did mention that in all his Simchos when he was talking about family planning…. And those are not valid excuses… We Do NOT decide which Brachos we want or Don’t want from HASHEM…
    (I happen to be the mother of a large Family KAH)

    • Thank you for your comment :)

      Appreciating Brochas is a challenge. A rich person is one who is happy with what he has. Not everyone is rich because not everyone knows how to appreciate their blessings.

  • Not true at all

    It’s not at all true that larger families means a more competent mother. I was unlucky enough to be raised in a very large family with a mother who was incompetent and couldn’t deal with so many kids. As a result I’ve already decided to not have more kids than I can handle. Human lives are much too important to be sacrifices for your beliefs.

    • Sad but True

      Sometimes when a mother is not competent, the children become great decision makers and go on to have successful lives because they had to fend for themselves at a young age. I like to read stories about successful people. So many come from horrific childhoods. I don’t wish that on anyone. It’s just that Hashem has His ways.

  • Mother of a large family

    With all due respect it is ok to have discussions even if it doesn’t pertain to people. Should no one speak of marriage because of the singles crises. This is about being a chossid of the Rebbe and bitachon. The Rebbe is firmly against family planning. Yes there are cases where a woman’s life or mental health is in danger to such a point that having more children is a danger. I was actually once at that point and it was beyond difficult but i never regret my beautiful teenager whose pregnancy was so hard. To address the issues of kids feeling love that is about a parent’s priorities. It’s hard but i am happy i put an investment in my double digit kids rather than stocks & bonds. Understand when you are building a company you need to sacrifice for the greatest goal. This is the same thing.

    • Sacrifice

      Good point about sacrificing now for a better future. People get stuck on the challenges of young children and forget that life goes on for decades after the kids leave home. During those later years, having family brings a higher quality of life.
      OOPS. I realize your point was sacrificing for a greater goal. I said something different. And your point is even more important.

  • Suggestion

    Instead of condemning parents for Having small families we should start programs (to help larger families)
    to sponsor discounts for large families in grocery stores, clothing stores, Yeshivah tuition, etc etc etc

    • Yes and No

      YES! More programs to assist large families.
      NO! Condemning parents of smaller families. That is not the point of this article. Everyone does what they can. And they should be fully informed so they can do what is right for them.

  • Mother of large family and wish I could have had more

    To “not true at all”
    You say you were unlucky to be born into a large family….phew! Watch how you speak! Which one of your mothers kids do you think she SHOULD NOT have had?

  • I wonder...

    When I see the pictures from the conventions for the Rebbe’s emissaries – I wonder about the family size these amazing people come from and how many children they each have. And the impact that coming from a large family, and heading a large family, has on their skills as community leaders.

  • It's Not So Simple

    Their are some parents who can manage to deal with a large family with financial problems.

    Their are some parents that will get stressed out (with 12 children & financial trouble) & abuse and or neglect their children as a result of being unable to cope with this kind of stress.

    • Life is Not Simple

      Would you acknowledge that families with less than four children might have similar stress, financial problems and neglect as larger families? Or are those problems exclusive to families with more than four children?
      Could attitude also have something to do with the hardships?
      Have you read Nechama Greisman’s book? In particular the story about when she gave birth to her twins, in addition to other young children, and was living in a teensy apartment that was not laid out well. And then she had a guest who did not have children.

    • Reply to "Life is Not Simple"

      You shouldn’t tell parents how many children to have unless you will make a commitment to give this parent (financially & emotionally support) after their children are born.

  • Andrea Schonberger

    Dear #17 Maybe…, I’m that I implied my grandfather was an alcoholic abuser because of the children. Of course my father and his siblings had nothing to do with that. What I meant to say was that I think it was the stress and financial instability (he raised his family during the Great Depression) that lead my grandfather down that tragic row. Large families do require more resources than smaller ones and parents have to be more ingenious in handling those resources and that included love and care.