If you own a 3-seat stroller, you probably have a large family. If the cashier at the grocery store asks you if all those children are yours, you probably have a large family. If you are constantly counting children (and subsequently trying to figure out who’s missing), you probably have a large family.
Life with a large family can be a blessing, but it’s frequently hectic. We have six children, ages 11 years to 6 months, and the number one question I get from others is, “How do you do it?”
To be honest, some days I don’t do it well. I hate to admit it, but there are days when at 9 a.m. I start counting the hours to bedtime. Having so many people in the house with so many different personalities and a litany of activities and chores to accomplish can be daunting.
I’m far from the perfect parent, but I’m blessed that my children are all well-behaved and (usually) filled with love. We have a lot of fun, our house is constantly noisy, and we get along with one another. That isn’t to say life is always rosy, but we intentionally try to parent in a way we believe God wants us to by implementing four key principles.
Picking Our Battles (1 Timothy 4:12)
In a family this large, there are always disagreements. No two people think alike—let alone eight! And while I tend to be very organized and wish I could be that “helicopter parent” making sure my children never mess up, I simply don’t have the energy or time to control every aspect of their lives. So, my husband and I pick our battles. The only battles we choose to fight are ones that involve character. You want to wear a red shirt and purple pants? Go right ahead. A blue mohawk? Knock yourself out. But we do draw the line when it comes to dressing appropriately for the situation. Since we’re representatives of Christ, we don’t wear sloppy clothes to a wedding or dirty clothes because we forgot to put our favorite pair of jeans in the wash. We also don’t let our children wear clothes that would lead others to believe we support a lifestyle that’s contrary to the way God wants them to live. Being unkind, gluttonous, greedy, deceitful, and all those other sinful traits are dealt with and disciplined. But we always look at our children’s motives and address issues by drawing a distinction between their character and God’s.
Living by the Same Standard (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Everyone in this house is measured against the same standard. No one likes a hypocrite and often it’s the first trait non-believers point out. What’s sinful for a child is also sinful for an adult. This idea is often confused with privileges or maturity. As a person grows older, they’re given more responsibility and more privileges. Even though my 7-year-old may think it is unfair that he isn’t allowed to drive, we’re all very thankful there’s an age attached to a driver’s license! A G-rated movie may be appropriate for everyone in the family, but a PG-13 movie often contains elements not appropriate for children under 13—and sometimes even for adults! As parents, we choose not to consume media that we’d be embarrassed by if our children were to catch a glimpse of it. The Bible holds everyone to the same standard when it comes to sin. We’re our children’s role models and so we need to set an example for them.
Working Together (Colossians 3:23)
Do you know how much laundry a large family produces? Or how many dishes need to be washed every day? The amount of work to be done in this house is overwhelming. So, starting at the age of 20 months, our children get chores. Very young children don’t contribute much to reducing the workload, but it’s good for them to learn to work at a young age by clearing their dishes or feeding the dog. I realized after child #3 that some of my children were more inclined to work than others. I also realized that I had a very hard time remembering who had done what and when it was done. So we keep track of all our chores and rewards on a large magnetic whiteboard in the middle of our home. This way, we’re all on the same page and everyone knows what needs to be done. We also model hard work for our children. My husband works one full-time job and two part-time jobs. He also goes to school in the evenings. Even though I don’t work outside the home anymore, he doesn’t criticize me when I can’t get all the housework done. Instead, he rolls up his sleeves and pitches in without being asked. His work ethic is a shining example to our children. Instead of ordering them around and telling them to get to work, he models the behavior he wants to see and works alongside us—even after a long day away from home.
Focusing on Christ (1 Peter 1:8)
Finally, and most importantly, I pray nearly every day that God would make me like a toilet paper tube. I know—this sounds ridiculous. But have you ever given a child an empty toilet paper tube? What’s the first thing she does? She puts it up to her eye and looks through it. That’s exactly what I want my children to do when they interact with me. I want them to see me as a paper tube pointing them to Christ. Whether I’m disciplining them, praising them, or simply modeling behavior, I want my life to point them to Him. In our home we talk about Jesus, we read our Bibles, we pray together; but even beyond that, I want my children to know our lives are a never-ending relationship with our Creator. Life isn’t about doing what we want and interjecting Christ now and then. It’s about interacting with God on a personal level every moment of every day. I’m not perfect. I definitely make mistakes. But I realize that my children are truly God’s children and He has entrusted them to me for a short time. I have to do my best not to teach them about me, but to teach them about their Heavenly Father. Because ultimately this world is just the beginning of eternity and God picked me to be the first reflection of Him to my children. I want to be the best reflection I can be.
Sarah and her husband have six children under the age of 12, 2 dogs, and way too much laundry! When they aren't busy with school, sports, and church, Sarah enjoys exploring northern Michigan and camping with her family.