Lessons from Cheaper By The Dozen

Have you ever seen these movies? They are near the top of my favorite list. Lately Grant, my 5 year old, enjoys sitting down to watch good old family movies. It’s a fun stage, something I feel I’ve waited anxiously for because I can only take so much of PJ Masks, and don’t get me started on Sid the Science Kid.

Matt passed by us while we were watching the other day. He said, “I hate this movie! Those kids are heathens and the dad gives up on his dreams.” Fact. Those kids are heathens, with little self control, and Tom, the dad, does give up on his dream job at the end of the first one. But there is sooo much more to it than that. For starters, when Tom is quitting, he says, “If I screw up raising my kids, nothing I achieve will matter much.” TEARS. Just tears.

I feel so inspired every time I watch Cheaper By The Dozen. There are so many lessons to be learned. When I’m watching a good movie, I often take note of my favorite quotes. Today I teared up about 4 times and turned off the tv ready to birth 12 kids. Just kidding. Maybe half a dozen. We’ll see.

If you’ve seen these movies, you know that Kate, the mom, is a writer. She is the voice over at both the beginning and end to the movies with excellent advice from her learning through experience. It’s my favorite part. When I’m watching the first one, I can’t help but feel like I can achieve anything when it comes to being a parent. Kate and Tom are so chill while their kids destroy the house, and while they need to reign it in a little bit more (in my personal opinion), they take it all in strides. Calmly turning to each other as if determining the best way to react to each situation. The whole first film is about how they all move to a different town, a different home, and create a different life so their father can accept his dream job. All the while, Kate is becoming a successful writer and her dream job takes off as well. But what happens to their 12 kids?? Basically everything. It doesn’t go well because the parents lose track of what is really important. They have to reset, prioritize, and go about their jobs in a different direction, which can easily still be dreamy.

As a parent, it’s sooo easy to get caught up in feeling that you “put your life on hold”. But I’ve discovered so much purpose in becoming a mother. It’s basically the ultimate act of service, isn’t it? The work and worry and stress of it all as we slave away each day with little thanks. But serving others is one of the absolute best ways we can better ourselves. It fights depression, it calms your mind by focusing your attention elsewhere. As a parent, when do we have the time to think of ourselves? “Tremendous happiness and peace of mind are the results of serving others. Nobody can live fully or happily who lives only unto himself or herself.” -Gordon B. Hinckley

Tom quit his “dream job” because, he said, he chose a different dream. His family. That can make zero sense to some people, but if you switch your state of mind, it can make all the sense in the world. They wanted a big family. That was the dream.

I’ve had so many thoughts about what my life would have been like had I not had kids. Consider the following:

  • At the hardest times I wondered if I threw my life away and felt depressed that I was “just a mom”. Over the years I’ve imagined where I would be without them, how many places I could have seen and how money could have been used differently. I love to travel. Matt and I planned on teaching English in Thailand immediately after we got married, but guess what? Honeymoon baby! Totally worth it.
  • It wasn’t until right after my first was born that I finally knew what I wanted to study, so I went back to school. Online. Being at home was right for me. I couldn’t handle much of a workload at the beginning, because becoming a mom for the first time was a beautiful trial. 2 more babies came and it took me double as long to finish because I only went part time most semesters. I start my last one at the end of the month and I probably could have a doctorate degree by now, but it was worth it. I learned more than those books could teach me along the way.
  • I gained 100 pounds in my first pregnancy and half of it still lingers there. It took me until I was 27 years old to love myself and learn that this fact means nothing.  I want to be a healthy and have a good diet while keeping active every day, but my weight is the least interesting thing about me. My body grows tiny humans who love me fiercely no matter how I look in the twisted eyes of society. In fact, I’m pretty sure they rather enjoy cuddling into my fluff.

The person I am now is entirely made up of the lessons I’ve learned being a mother. Would I have even known what I wanted to get a degree in before birthing my first? Would I have learned to love myself without being a mother? I really don’t think so, but you never know. This was my path, the perfect journey for me.

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The second Cheaper By The Dozen starts off with Kate saying, “They say that starting a family is an act of optimism.” Isn’t that a fact? You have no idea what it will actually be like until you go for it. No idea how hard, how rewarding, how worth it. “Of course there are always good times and difficult ones along the way, and with 12 kids there are a lot of lessons.” With ONE kid, there are a lot of lessons! I’ve learned that no matter how many you have, you’re going to think to yourself, “how could I possibly have another?” But if it’s right and you have another, you make it work, and you can literally not imagine life without that child.

“….As a parent, you have to settle with the past, engage with the present, and believe in the future.” It is scary. It is hard. It is heartbreaking. It is joyful. It is perfect. “We are always learning as parents, and the bond is forever.” We each work with what we’ve got and we all do our very best. How many times did I watch others and think myself, “When I have kids they’ll never do that…” or “I’m going to be the mom that does this…” It’s laughable, really, how much we don’t know before we know. I see it in myself and in family and friends, we have all had the experiences we needed in order to grow in the ways that were necessary for us. If you’re going to judge another parent, be warned that you’ll be experiencing the exact same thing sooner or later. That’s the best way to learn compassion for anyone else in this journey!

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