Big Families: The Outsider’s Scoop

As promised, my gleanings from three days spent with a super-mom of six!

Some may consider a family with six children smallish, especially when contrasted with broods of ten-sixteen…but in my book, six is big. Consider the conversation I had the other night with friends at the pancake feed benefit for my s&bil. I was surprised to hear the husband admit that they were done (and glad to be!) after two children. I kind of gave him a hard time before sharing that I’d really like to have more. This is a Christian couple. I knew this guy in high school and he was ALL gushy over kids and babies. I thought he’d have a passel.

Anyway. *I* have always been somewhat intimidated by the idea of expanding my apron strings times six, so this visit to Jana’s was my chance to see how the pros do it!

First of all, I have to totally commend Jana and her husband for a job well done. Consistent in their expectations? Check! Scheduled? Check! Loving and fair? Check, check! Prayerful and always seeking God’s leading for their family? Definitely, and she’d honestly tell you she’s had to hang on tight to God, it’s been far from easy.

A little background, this lovely Christian couple have four biological children and are adopting two that they’ve fostered for two years. Both of the foster boys are high-maintenance, to say the least. We’re talking fetal alcohol syndrome, attachment disorders, etc. It’s been a long, tough road, and knowing their background, I half expected them to melt-down by the minute, but wow! I have such high admiration and respect for how far they’ve come with my friends’ dedication and persistence in training, and by the Lord’s grace on this special family.

How this family blessed me…

Something blossomed in my heart at each mealtime. There is something about fixing three hearty meals a day for nine children (hers and mine) that makes mothering take on an old-world worthiness again. I cherish my mental inventory of all these beautiful children seated around my friend’s island/bar and her table, waiting, smiling expectantly as Jana and I “dished” their plates up with steaming, rib-sticking fare. Like little birds. Oh the thought and time that went into preparing these three squares. After each meal, the troops would make their way into the kitchen, and file by the dishwasher inserting their plates and silverware into the appropriate racks. We always had one little guy who would gladly finish up anyone else’s scraps, interestingly, this boy was too picky to eat anything when Jana first welcomed him into her home. He’s since learned to be grateful and to branch out. You should hear the stories…can it be the same child? It didn’t happen by magic, people!

If challenging children suffering from neglect and FAS can be retrained this successfully, the rest of us have no excuse to put up with bad behavior from our sons and daughters.

A few of tricks that I learned:

On keeping track of details…

  1. Big families need a “cup system”. With that many thirsty kiddos, a dishwasher could get dizzy. My friend solved this problem neatly by giving each child a place on the counter for their cup, with their name neatly labeled on masking tape at the counter’s edge. (See picture, and nope, t hose aren’t her kids’ names) This way they can keep drinks straight and use the same cup all day. Handy, huh? I decided to implement this one, even with my paltry three…mostly because I like the idea of 3 yo learning to recognize her sisters’ names…
  2. Each child has different colored socks, for sorting ease at laundry time. I’ve also read about mom’s of many children marking a “dot” on the outsides of their sons’ tube socks with a different colored permanent marker for each boy.
  3. Jana keeps a breakfast menu on her refrigerator…they’ve given up breakfast cereals (except for oatmeal) and now everyone knows what to expect Monday-Sunday. And breakfast is at 8:30 am every morning. This keeps her from serving breakfast for two hours as each child wakes up and straggles into the kitchen. She confided in me that she’s recently nixed the morning snack, realizing that a healthy breakfast really will carry a child till lunch. This is true, and I’m going to nip morning snacks in the bud as well. Afternoon snacks are different, the stretch between lunch and supper is quite long and needs broken up, but I’ve found that morning snacks usually work against you when lunch time arrives!
  4. At each meal, Jana would have one or two helpers. Patiently she would show them how to chop potatoes or strawberries, or let them mix up ingredients. Likewise, her husband is so good about varying the children he takes with him to check pasture or ride along to a job site. Each of these six are getting quality mom and dad time.

On child training:

  1. Jana taught her children the “stop, look, and listen” rule. She says they even had a sign up concerning this for a while–most of this type of training she had to do b/c she was starting from scratch on manners with the two foster boys. Basically, the stop/look/listen goal is to teach awareness of conversations going on, to keep the kids from interrupting when adults are conversing. Occasionally when we were chatting, one of the little ones would interrupt, and she’d remind them “Stop, look and listen!” and they’d place a hand on her arm and wait till she was done to speak. (Btw, having your child place their hand on your arm when you are busy talking to someone is a great way for your child to let you know that they need to tell you something w/o them barging in rudely. In turn, you cover their hand with yours so they are reassured that yes, Mom knows you are there, and she will give you her attention as soon as she is done with that thread of conversation. We learned this trick from Gary Ezzo’s Growing Kid’s God’s Way series)
  2. You know how children sometimes chatter non-stop, or keep asking the same question as if they didn’t hear you answer them the first time? Jana has a really unique way of dealing with this, and again, she’s had to figure out ways to crash-train two little boys who had absolutely no training in how to be civilized before they came to live with this family. She has them cover their mouth. For however long it takes for it to sink in that they were running off again. What a concrete way to reinforce self-control that may be lacking in this area.

All in all, I was so impressed at Jana’s training and love for her family. In spite of all her protesting, she and her husband are amazing parents, with incredibly big hearts for God and family. If every child out there had parents half so dedicated and serious about their mission…I only wish we’d had more time there. What I glimpsed was just a drop in the bucket of what this couple’s commitment to the Lord, and to each other is being reflected in each of their children’s lives.

Proof of this? I left there wanting more kiddos. Suddenly everywhere I go I see pregnant women rubbing their bellies or young moms with baby carriers in tow. How can three days spent with a family of eight affect me so strongly? Dimpled, angelic smiles and wholesome happy faces could charm Snow White’s wicked step-mother into changing her M.O. It’s the families with one or two rude, bickering, spoiled children that make so many people want to stop at two. Families like Jana’s are the exception, folks. And I’m convinced with big families, so much more is required of every individual to make things successful, that responsibility, thoughtfulness, and gratitude almost come about naturally.

I want in. How about you?