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The Bliss of Large Families
My mother-in-law is one of 14. My kids have good friends from a family of 14. In our homeschooling group, we have one family of 9, two of 8, and so on. Large families are all around me, though I'm not one of them.

But I asked my friend Mary Ostyn, who has written The Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family, to join me and just talk about what it's like with so many under one roof.

Mary, how many kids you have?

My husband and I have ten kids, ages 5-22. Our oldest four were born to us; two girls ages 19 and 22 and two boys ages 15 and 18. Then we have six adopted kids; two boys from Korea, both 11, and four girls from Ethiopia, ages 14, 12, 7, and 5. Our oldest daughter is married, and our second daughter is in college, so we only have 8 at home these days.

Did you always know you were going to have a large family?

Absolutely not. I am the oldest of 8 kids and when I was a teenager, I swore I’d never have more than 4 kids. My husband thought 3 would be about right. God must have been smiling. He worked on our hearts in a gradual way, and blessed us beyond our dreams. We would’ve missed so much joy if we’d said no to God’s leading and stopped at four children. I’m not saying our life is easy— frankly, there are moments when the task feels bigger than our ability. But that’s what keeps us leaning on God. And our kids are so worth the work!

What are the biggest benefits? What do you find the hardest?

The hardest thing is wondering if kids would be happier, more successful, or whatever, if we had more resources to devote to each individual child. Would my 14 year old daughter be happier if I had more one on one time with her? Could my 11 year old son be an Olympic-level gymnast if we had the resources to send that direction? I suppose we all have those thoughts and worries as parents. But the more children you have, the more conscious you are of the stretching of resources.

However, the really great thing about a big family is that it is not ONLY up to John and me—our kids provide support and encouragement to each other too. Our 19 year old daughter started a Bible study with my 12 and 14 year old daughters. Our new son-in-law plays games with the younger boys nearly every time he comes over. Our 15 and 18 year old sons are best friends, plain and simple. And the little girls entertain us all.

I love knowing that even after John and I are gone, our kids will still have family, will still BE a family to each other. By God’s grace we are building this thing that will last way beyond ourselves, that will provide support and love and nurturing for generations to come. As Christians it is also the prayer of our hearts that the impact of our children’s lives will be a blessing to the world beyond our family.

How do you keep your marriage alive?

John and I are at such a good place in our marriage right now. We’ve worked out the kinks of early marriage—you know, when you haven’t yet learned how to compromise and every disagreement feels like World War 3. And we’ve survived the years of being awakened at night with little babies, so that gives us more reserves, more patience. We do try to send everyone to bed a bit before we go a few nights a week. That way we have a bit of conversation time just to ourselves. We also go out to eat a couple times a month. But mostly we just try to hug a lot, compliment each other often, and remember to smile and laugh together. He is an awesome man. I am really fortunate that back when I was 19 and didn’t have the foggiest idea what to look for in a man, God knew the kind of husband I’d need.

What chores do your kids do? And how many loads of laundry do you do a week?

My kids do most of the chores that need doing around the house. I do most of the cooking, but they are in charge of the vast majority of other housework. My 18 year old is in his senior year of college, and is taking 8 college credits too, so we have phased him out of most housework. But all the other kids contribute. My 15 year old son cleans the kitchen after lunch every day. My 14 year old daughter and 11 year old son do breakfast dishes. Dinner dishes are the domain of my 12 year old daughter and my 11 year old son. My 7 year old daughter empties the dishwasher and clears the table after meals. My 5 year old sorts and puts away clean silverware.

As far as non-kitchen chores, every day my 14 year old daughter cleans one bathroom. My 11 year old son cleans another. My 12 year old son vacuums the living room. And my 12 year old daughter cleans the play room.

We do three loads of laundry a day to keep up, and sort it hot out of the dryer into baskets for each bedroom. Twice a week everyone takes their own basket and folds and puts away their clothes. You can see more details of our system here. I think it works really well.

I made the decision to have only two kids after I had a miscarriage and then I lost a son. We always thought we’d adopt, but for whatever reason God kept closing the door. I never pictured myself with “only” 2 kids, and often wonder what I’m missing out on. Do you have anything to say to those of us who wonder if we made the right decision?

Don’t we all wonder that sometimes? To be honest, there are moments in my life where I imagine how much more peaceful life might be if we’d chosen to have a more ‘normal’ size family. More money, less chaos, etc. But each child blesses us in a unique way. I can look back and KNOW with certainty that we were very clearly led to each and every one of our kids. I know that I can trust God’s plan for our future as well.

Of course we always need to be open to the possibility that God may have more for us-- that He may be nudging us to take that leap of faith and make our life ‘bigger’ – or crazier—or more scary—than we would naturally do on our own. But he has a way of being insistent and not letting us off the hook when He wants us to do something. So as long as we are listening, I don’t think we have to fear that we’re missing out on His plans for our lives.

How do you think society would be different if more of us had large families?

This is just my opinion, and I could be wrong, but I think there might be a little less selfishness. I am the oldest of 8 kids. I think when you’re in a big family, you learn to hold onto your possessions a little more loosely, learn to share a bit better. You learn to pitch in, help out, and get along with people of all different ages. Certainly ‘only’ kids can learn these lessons too. One of my nephews is an only child, and his parents are doing a great job instilling responsibility, kindness and work ethic. But I think it is learned a little more automatically in a big family.

You can find Mary at Owl Haven, where she's got a great blog!

Thanks for joining us, Mary! That really made me think. My life right now with two kids is so--peaceful. Things are really quite easy, and if I had more kids, I think I'd find it hard to speak. But I still always feel like perhaps I was mean to have more. It's one of those things I struggle with God about (and I think God tries to give me peace, and I keep giving that peace back again, instead of holding it).

What do the rest of you think? Do you have large families? Do you want large families? What's your experience? I'd love to know!


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At 10:52 AM , Blogger Owlhaven said…

It was fun to chat with you, Sheila! Here's a link to the laundry room post if anyone is interested:

All the best,
Mary Ostyn


At 3:29 PM , Blogger Tessa said…

Wow this was an awesome post. I would love to have a somewhat large family. We are thinking right now that 4 kids would be perfect. But I love being a mom so much that if God led us to have more (or less of course) I am totally open to that.

The only "concern" that I have with a large family is that we wouldn't be able to vacation (something I never got to do growing up, even with just 3 kids in my family) and it's really important to give that to my kids. Not necessarly travelling far (though I do have some of those places on my goal list) it would be even great to go camping in the mountains which are a few hours from where we live. But how in the world to you transport such a big family? That's why we are thinking we will stop at 4. Because you can fit 4 in a vehicle and perhaps even a friend or two. Even a simple trip to the zoo can be way more hectic with more than 4 kids!

I guess that we will just have to wait for God to lead us in whichever direction He thinks would be best for us. I certainly know that we are not finished with one and, as much as I enjoy my one-on-one time with my little man, I am very much looking forward to adding more members to the family.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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