Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Minus-One Theory

Saturday night our son spent the night with a friend, and went with him to his church. On Sunday morning, getting ready for church went remarkably well, compared to our usual, thinly masked bedlam military-like precision to get all seven of us out the door.

The reason? There were only six of us.

This is a prime example of my latest theory on family dynamics (just call me Dr. Kath).

I call it the Minus-One Theory.

Here’s how the theory goes:

Things always go more smoothly if just one person is missing from the family equation.

Am I crazy, or has anyone else ever noticed this?

It doesn’t really matter which one it is, and it really doesn’t matter how small or big our family has gotten.

Before we had kids, things went more smoothly if my husband wasn’t there, that’s for sure. I could eat what I wanted for dinner, when I wanted it, and plan my day around - well, whatever it was I used to do before I had kids (I'm sure it was something that required long periods of sustained attention, but it’s been so long I just can't quite remember!). Things were quiet when I was in control of my own destiny for the evening.

Then, when we had a baby, woo-hoo! Things were so easy for my husband and me when the little one was off at Aunt Rachel’s.

As we’ve added the second, third (and cetera) children, I’ve noticed the same phenomenon.

It doesn’t matter if the absentee is the oldest, the youngest, or anyone in the middle. It doesn’t matter if that child is loud, quiet, independent or clingy. It doesn’t matter if we are getting ready for church or just hanging out watching a movie.

There is one more chair to choose from, one less opinion to consider, one less dirty diaper to change (or one less frantic RUN to the potty!), one less pair of shoes to find and wrestle onto an unwilling foot, or one less argument to defuse. There is one less backpack to fill, one less outfit to put together, or one less person brushing teeth at my bathroom sink.

There is less conflict, and well, things are just easier.

Because I know this about our family, my husband knows I would rather do just about anything (“Scrub toilets? So glad you asked. Sure!”) than take all five kids to Walmart - or heaven forbid, some place like the Post Office or the bank. Forget it!

But take four? Well, okay, I could handle that.

I realize a person reading this might get the idea I’m complaining, or worse, trying to pawn off my kids, one at a time!

Absolutely NOT (well, at least not permanently)!

I can’t tell you how many times the girls said, “I can't wait to tell that to our brother!” or “It’s so weird without him,” on Sunday morning. After church, we went out to lunch. Yes, it went more smoothly because he wasn’t there (there were fewer issues about where everyone got to sit in the car, there was infinitely less goofing off, and our meal certainly was less expensive!).

Remember, according to the theory, it would have gone more smoothly no matter who was the Minus One!

But it just wasn’t the same.

We missed him. We needed him.

My Minus-One Theory has definite implications for dividing and conquering when getting the family organized and when trying to defuse strife (more thoughts on this are brewing in my mind).

But the kids' response to our family, Minus One, made me realize something else (again):

You just can’t measure the value of any one person in the family, whether large or small. Each one is so vital and unique.

It also tells me that this messy, uncomfortable, conflict-laden life - the one we have to face when we all realize we’re in this thing together - that is our real life, not the fragmented-but-trouble-free one.


Funny that the kids didn't even mention how well things went on Sunday.

They just knew they missed their brother.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.
Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Luke 12:6-7


TheNormalMiddle said...

Yes! yes! When one or two are missing it is like a vacation....in a way. Of course we miss them but wow.

My hubby and I were at the movies alone recently and we commented..."what on earth did we do before we had kids?"

Heather said...

I notice this as well. One less, even when it is my husband, is always easier. I also notice the opposite is true. One more is also easier. (So much so that a friend who has 4 likes to borrow my eldest because "the kids behave so much better when there is one more around".) I have also een known to borrow one, knowng that it will make things easier on both families.

Katrina @ Callapidder Days said...

How timely for me! My husband won't be home until late, late tonight (like midnight) - he's returning from out of town. And although the bedtime routine will fall completely on me, I already have plans to mop the downstairs floors, declutter the hall closet, and do a bunch of laundry after the kids are in bed - simply because it's easier to do when my husband's not here. (Now, lest you think I'm always so productive...most of the time when he's out of town, I sit and watch what I want on TV or read a book or soak in the tub, or eat chocolate.)

But as you said, I still miss him. I like having him around in the evenings...and it's just not the same without him.

Great post!

blestwithsons said...

You are not alone. I too have observed that it doesn't matter which boy goes out with Daddy. As long as one is out...all is quiet and peaceful.

AND - the one that is taken out is usually a little angel when one on one with a parent. Good therapy for that particular child has been acting like a turkey at home. Take 'em out one on one and remember what a delight they can be!

Melanie @ This Ain't New York said...

This is so true! I never thought of it until now.

Jen said...

Well your right.....when its me and the kids and no hubby things go smoother....if Madison is gone its smoother...and I'm sure when I'm gone yes me it goes smoother.....
Great post.

Lana said...

yep, I've noticed that, although I haven't named it. Now I know what to call that certain ease that comes with one less.

except when that one moves away to college, then you get used to it and the dynamic shifts.

Code Yellow Mom said...

I totally remember missing siblings when they were went to friends' houses - it's a true phenom! I'm glad to know its name now.

It might be distantly related to the theory that says something like, "I can tease, torment, act like I hate, and otherwise harrass my brother or sister, but if you should DARE to do the same to my brother or sister, you will have ME to deal with!"

I also think that once it's not just you and the hubs, the minus-one factor only applies when one of the CHILDREN step out of the equation.:)

Code Yellow Mom said...

dAnd "Dr. Kath" - that was funny!

Katherine@Raising Five said...

CYM - I agree with you on that one (I obviously didn't make that clear). I definitely NEED my husband - when he travels I am in WAY over my head. If he traveled for FOUR MONTHS I would take on a new identity - like "Raising White Flag Mom." Has a nice ring to it.

Michelle- This One's for the Girls said...

Yes! I have no idea why this is true, but IT IS!!!!

And of course, minus 2 is even more of the same. Last Sunday, two of our kids went with friends and we only took the older 2 plus baby to McDonalds. It was downright calm.

Funny, huh?

Unknown said...

Great thoughts. I had thought of much of this, but didn't put it all together as clearly as you have. I wrote up my response and added a new theory as well on my blog today: Home, Minus One

Susanne said...

That theory somehow works around here too! But just like at your place when one is gone they are terribly missed and heavens, last Saturday, all three kids were gone for the night, and hubby and I went for dinner but at home lamented how quiet it was and how we missed them!

Robin said...

My husband and I have observed this very phenomenon, I could have written this post verbatim. Well, not exactly, we only have three :). The part I most appreciate is they DO miss each other if it's longer than a day (shorter, and they don't quite notice). They don't always say they miss each other, but the talk about their missing sibling enough to know they do.

Brenda said...

You know, it's also true in the classroom. You can have a class of 22, but if someone is absent, well sometimes it takes 2 o 3 to make a dent--the difference is HUGE!!!! Just 2 or 3 kids out of 22 can feel like the most intimate setting!