People who grew up in a big family give off tell-tale signs. We think we can blend in with those people who always had their own rooms, but we can’t.
Our special upbringing has turned us into very special adults.
1. No Inside Voice
When ya’ wanna’ be heard in a big family you talk louder. When you move into the real world you realize people at libraries, movie theatres, and restaurants don’t appreciate your ability to use projection to dominate the room. I watch for body language clues to know if the person I’m yelling at is bothered by my I-had-five-siblings voice.
2. Interrupting is OK
It is perfectly acceptable for two or more people to talk at the same time, even if you aren’t talking about the same thing. We get a little uncomfortable when we talk over someone and they stop talking. We didn’t stop listening. We get more uncomfortable if they apologize for interrupting.
3. We Multi-task in Conversation
When there’s a lot of people in the same room, it is natural to want to catch up with them all. As you talk to one person, your ears pick up another conversation. You occasionally interject in that conversation, then come back to your own.
4. New Underwear is Exciting
We’re so used to hand-me-downs that new clothes never cease to be a thrill. You know, the kind of clothes that come with price tags and scratchy labels still attached? If you’ve never worn hand-me-down everything, you won’t fully enjoy the thrill of opening a package of never-been-worn underwear.
5. We Overcook
We cook enough for an army, then wonder why we have leftovers all the time. In my first apartment I made a casserole the way I always had – for eight people. My roomie and I ate it for days and days and days.
And there were still leftovers.
6. We See a job and Do It
We’re used to pitching in, even at other people’s homes. The feeling of being responsible for our surroundings follows us. We pick up after everyone else in the world and secretly wonder how litterbugs were raised.
7. We Share
Eating a whole candy bar gives a twisted sense of pleasure and guilt. Pleasure because we had a whole candy bar to ourselves, guilt because we didn’t share. Big families share everything from treats to colds.
The Brainard kids always shared treats. Our norm was 1/2 can of pop, but when we went camping we could each drink an entire can of Shasta each day of the trip. Not saying we didn’t try to always take the biggest piece of cake, but we did try to make sure all the siblings had some.
8. Brand Names Don’t Impress
Everything from our potato chips to our jeans was generic. Remember J.C Penney Plain Pocket Jeans? It meant you were smart enough to not pay $40 more for the star on the pocket.
Why, yes, I did write about that, thank you for asking. To this day my siblings and I are more concerned about wearing our family name well, rather than wearing someone else’s name.
9. Work is Our Play
We work hard at our jobs and work hard in our homes. Our “play” might be planting a huge garden, building a new deck, or repainting the entire house. While we are capable of doing anything and everything, it can be to our detriment. We have a hard time playing.
10. Pinch Pennies
I’ve often said I was raised so frugally I can pinch a penny until a booger comes out of Lincoln’s nose. We still shop thrift stores, garage sales, and bargain racks even if we can afford full price.
11. Life Skills not Lessons
Although Dorothy Hamill made me dream about ice-skating lessons, I knew my family couldn’t afford it. We participated in school sports, band, and activities, but anything that cost money wasn’t a possibility. Instead, our parents allowed us to use all their tools from the kitchen, sewing room, and garage. We learned useful life skills we all still use today.
12. Live in Community
Because houses never seem big enough to get away from your siblings, we learned how to live in community. In addition to underwear, we shared bedrooms, bathrooms, and the TV. We don’t’ need Mommy to pick up after us when we have our first non-related roommate, because our Mommy hasn’t picked up after us in years.
I’ve been asked if I felt ignored being raised in a big family, as if my parents didn’t have enough love for all of us. Their energy and patience might have been spread a little thin, but never their love.
That’s the one sign of someone who was raised in a big family you can’t see. The big, loud, crazy love.
Dedicated with much love and appreciation to Jim and Mary Brainard.