Character means much more than size

By Helena Rodriguez: Local Columnist

Two is a company and three is a crowd, but five makes for a good basketball team, six makes for a Brady Bunch and, as for 12, well, many things are cheaper by the dozen.

What I’m talking here is the number of children in a family. Today’s family’s are shrinking in size. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American family has decreased from 3.14 to 2.57 members over the past few years, meaning that people are having an average of only one and .57 children, or in some cases, only .57 children.

I don’t know how you can have .57ths of a child. Perhaps the Census counts fish and pets too as fractions. But what I’m really getting at here is that you rarely see families these days with more than three or four children, so it’s almost impossible to imagine being raised in a family of 14 children like my mom was in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Even having five children for my parents was a lot according to some of my friends, and all girls, mind you. My dad, who comes from a family of four children, a rather small family size during his childhood days, often got the “you can start your own basketball team” jokes regarding us five girls.

Before my mom got married, there were a dozen children living in my Grandma Emma’s two bedroom home on South Avenue B in Portales, and yet they always had room for overnight guests. My Grandma Emma was pregnant with the twins, my uncle and aunt, Paul and Paula, when my mom got married.

It’s hard sometimes for me and my daughter Laura, who is an only child, to visualize how they managed in that small house. Sometimes one bathroom doesn’t seem enough for us two.

As an only child, Laura is able to enjoy many luxuries my mom didn’t have as a child, but she also doesn’t have that luxury of always having a big brother or sister to turn to. In bigger families, children also learn more about sharing, waiting their turn and perhaps even appreciate new things more since they often receive hand-me-downs.

Now the birth rates among some populations, namely the Latino population, is higher than the national average. Latinas have an average of three children, which is the main reason the Latino population in the United States has been growing at a fast rate.
Meanwhile, many women are also having children at a later age which is another influential factor in a family’s size.

As our average family size has shrunken and even the makeup of our traditional nuclear family has changed (now it’s largely single parent or mixed families), so has our attitude toward the “ideal family size.” People with four or more children are often looked at like they are insane as are people who don’t use birth control. Yet sometimes me, in spite of my career-oriented future, wish that I had had more children. I remember when my aunt Matilda had her fourth child, my cousin Eric wanted her to have two more so they could be the Brady Bunch. But the Ortegas settled with four, just one shy of a basketball team.

Now I’m sure someone with more children will say the opposite, that they wished they had had fewer children, but in the end, it’s not about what material goods we accumulate in our lives. It’s about the legacy we leave behind.

I’m curious to see what kind of legacy our children will leave the generation after them. There are population control movements and other fear-instilling organizations that claim our world has too many people, but it’s not a population control issue. It’s a matter of distributing our resources around the globe more evenly, and it’s a matter of narrowing the growing gap between the filthy rich and the working poor.

As our nation’s families have shrunk, so have our values. It’s time to put families first again. Size doesn’t matter. It’s character that counts.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: