'You're Pregnant Again?'

ROSEMARY DIAMOND must have heard it repeatedly: “You're pregnant again?” She and her pediatrician husband Eugene raised 13 children, now grown with youngsters of their own. So, how did they manage? From a practical perspective, small families may wonder just how does a large household function. And, how do they cope with a society that favors small families, disdaining, in fact, large families?

Dr. Diamond offers the strategies and principles he and his wife lived by, while warning readers not to look at this as a howto book. “Whatever successes resulted in the raising of our large family were not earned or achieved by special techniques,” he tells his readers in the introduction. “We tried very hard to love our children selflessly, but the most important ingredient in their outcome has been the grace of God.”

Which isn't to say they made it up as they went along. Diamond's parenting philosophies, along with his warmth and wisdom, are apparent throughout this readable book. Parents often struggle with the child-rearing task, thanks in part to the myriad conflicting theories and admonitions from experts.

The Diamonds obviously found a system that worked for their family: All the kids went to graduate school (four physicians, four attorneys, two social workers, a nurse, a physical therapist, and a social administration grad.) Moreover, all the married children live near the elder Diamonds. “We have ready access to all the families and grandchildren,” he notes.

Diamond moves from personal experiences within his family to the larger societal issues. He extols a traditional structure, with the mother as homemaker and the father as breadwinner— at least while the kids are young. Eventually, he says, “many mothers of large families take on careers in mid-life.”

Diamond argues that many government policies detrimental to family life as well. “Instead of financial policies favorable to families,” he writes, “we have day care centers so that mothers are relieved of their children, rather than their burdens.”

Some suggestions are bound to make some of us uncomfortable, as when he asserts that “one of the most important qualities that the mother of a large family should have is a sense of aesthetics.” He then tells us that his wife “never conceded elegance to efficiency.” Tables were always set beautifully, with most dinners served by candlelight. “It was unpardonable to put a milk carton or a cereal box on the table.”

I was reading this while my 3-year-old and 1-year-old napped and I struggled with morning sickness, realizing my only aesthetic achievements were piling all the dirty dishes into one side of the sink and shoving all the Mega Bloks into a corner of the play room. However, such quibbles are more than compensated for by the solid advice Diamond provides, including the admonition that “almost nothing else is as important in a large family as meals in common.”

He also highlights the crucial role of faith in the family. “There is a strong correlation between the religious practices of the father and the long-term religious orientation of the children,” he insists. “Children seeing the devotion and the subservience of the deified father to a Supreme Being will come to comprehend the awe-inspiring majesty of the God to whom this kind of allegiance is shown.”

Ultimately, Diamond's book serves as a refreshing look at large families, offering hope and encouragement to those who feel called by God to parent many children. In addition, those with smaller families will find many of his insights helpful and may even decide that having more children is not such an intimidating proposition after all.

Tracy Moran is based in San Diego, Calif.