Large families share the ups and downs of their busy lives

"Love your kids—tell them every day, and show them."

Photo Credit: Brad Wolf

Large families share the ups and downs of their busy lives

May 25, 2018


We spent the day with four local families that have five or more children. Not only did they give us an inside look into what it’s like to have such a large family, but they also answered the question we’re all asking: “How do you do it?” 

THE KEELAN FAMILY

Family of 9
St. John
 
Parents: Michael and Michelle Keelan
Children (ages): Rose (11), Mary Jane (10), Deidra (9), Leo (7), Frank (5), Anna (3), Ruth (1)
Family Makeup: All children are biological. 

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We spent the day with four local families that have five or more children. Not only did they give us an inside look into what it’s like to have such a large family, but they also answered the question we’re all asking: “How do you do it?” 

THE KEELAN FAMILY

Family of 9
St. John
 
Parents: Michael and Michelle Keelan
Children (ages): Rose (11), Mary Jane (10), Deidra (9), Leo (7), Frank (5), Anna (3), Ruth (1)
Family Makeup: All children are biological. 

Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
The Keelan family
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
The Keelan family
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf

What are the best parts of having a large family? 

Michelle and I [Michael] both come from larger families. She is one of five children and I am one of six. We try to stay connected in all of our relationships with family members. The best parts of having a large family with our own children is that it’s sort of like Christmas every day—it’s just fun. It’s exciting, never boring; we tend to stay close, help each other, do things together, try to have fun, and support each other. 

What challenges do you face as a large family? 

It is challenging to try and go anywhere. Most of the kids have learned to be self-sufficient in getting themselves ready to go places. It’s the little ones that still need a lot of help and guidance to get ready to leave the house, and we have to make sure we have a diaper bag ready and prepared with the essentials. The older kids can be very helpful with things. Bickering among siblings is a challenge. There are a lot of kids and ages, each with their own personalities, likes, dislikes and temperaments. 

How do you manage these challenges? 

Stay calm, be prepared, don’t sweat the small stuff—like if a kid doesn’t have their hair fixed or have on a matching pair of socks or something, which happens all the time. With the bickering, we try to discern when to let them work it out among themselves or when to step in and mediate. This is where prayer and patience are helpful. Having stress-relieving activities is helpful: exercise, being outside, spending time with friends, and hobbies. 

Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf

How do you keep track of everyone’s activities and homework? 

We do our best to communicate, keep things on a calendar and have routines. Organization is the key to success here. We have to be efficient, and we try not to waste time. There are many times when there are a couple functions happening at the same time, in two different places. In that case we talk about what needs to happen, split up the responsibilities (and kids), and go.  It’s busy, but good.  

What advice do you have for other parents, no matter the size of their family? 

First of all, any parent knows that it is not easy, no matter how many kids. We are not experts, but these are some of the things we shoot for:  

  • -Try very hard to keep genuine healthy relationships, talking to each other, spending time with one another and sharing experiences with others, not with devices, video games, or cell phones.  
  • -Be mindful that the kids are always watching, are observant, and are like sponges, so be a good example, a positive role model. Let them know it is okay to make mistakes, but be honest and own up to things.  
  • -Be fair and consistent with discipline.  
  • -Teach the kids right and wrong, how to make good choices.  
  • -Play catch with the kids, listen to their music with them, go to their functions, let them help you build or fix things, and let them work out with you.  
  • -Show them a proper handshake, how to hold a door for someone else, and to say “please” and “thank you.”  
  • -If you cannot afford it, don’t buy it.  
  • -Teach them kindness, forgiveness, generosity, respect, responsibility, humility, graciousness, and to put forth good effort in all that they do.  
  • -Love your kids—tell them every day, and show them.

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Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
The Wadle family
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
The Wadle family
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf

THE WADLE FAMILY

Family of 12
LaPorte

Parents: Quentin and Julie Wadle
Children: Sam (16), Noah (15), Maria (14), Elizabeth (12), Anne Marie (11), Timothy (9), Dominic (7), Benjamin (5), Jeremiah (3), baby number ten due at the beginning of July
Family Makeup: All children are biological. 

What do you like best about having a large family? 

There is always someone to talk to, play with, and spend time with. 

What challenges do you face as a large family? 

It takes longer to go places. Kids’ activities can conflict with each other. And finding a table to fit everybody at one time can be difficult. 

How do you manage these challenges? 

We leave a bit earlier to go places, and we plan ahead when we go out to eat. As for kids’ activities, sometimes Mom and Dad split up for kids’ events. 

Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf

How do you keep track of everyone’s activities and homework? 

Quentin and I [Julie] have a shared Google calendar that has all of the family activities on it. Plus, we have a calendar in the kitchen so the kids can see what is going on, too. We have an after-school routine that has pretty much stayed the same since Sam was in kindergarten—come home, work on homework first, then play before dinner.  

What advice do you have for other parents, no matter the size of their family? 

Listen for the meaning behind what your child is saying.  

What keeps you going? 

We could not be the parents we are to our children without our faith in God. Our relationship with God and each other is the foundation of our family and what helps us get through the struggles that occur in our life.  

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Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
The Matthews family
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
The Matthews family

THE MATTHEWS FAMILY

Family of 7
St. John

Parents: Shay and Adriane Matthews
Children: Mhejhana (19), Caden (14), Tahliel (9), Tyee (6), Shaely (4)
Family Makeup: Blended. I (Adriane) had the oldest two kids before I met Shay. They are his stepchildren and then we had three together.  

Other than size, what makes your family different from others? 

We are both stay-at-home parents. We are a blended, biracial family with handicaps and special needs. We also have a 140-pound dog.  

What are the best parts of having a large family? 

There is a lot of input to family discussions and a lot of energy. It’s beautiful to watch the older kids play with and read to the younger ones. Also, with so many different personalities and abilities, we have athletes, artists and a dancer.  

What challenges do you face as a large family? 

One challenge that we have in our family is our five children are in four different stages in life. We have our oldest in college, one in middle school, two in elementary and one in preschool. We also have special needs in our family with autism, ADHD and sensory processing disorder, as well as handicap. It is also hard to travel with such a large family because of the individual needs.  

How do you manage these challenges? 

Pray, pray and pray. Teamwork and constant communication are important, especially between the parents. In order to monitor electronics, the kids are not allowed to have any electronics in their bedrooms. This includes the phone for our 8th grader, plus handheld devices and TVs. 

Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf

How do you keep track of everyone’s activities and homework? 

We must stay organized with a shared calendar. Homework is done immediately after school. Chores are divided throughout the week and rotated for the little ones. Therapies are scheduled at the same time each week. Any extracurricular activities and appointments are planned ahead of time. It is very hard to work in anything last minute.  

What keeps you going? 

No matter how stressful the days may seem, these children are beautiful gifts from God. Time goes by quickly, so we have to remember to take in every hug, kiss and “I love you.”  

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Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
The Palm family
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
The Palm family
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf

THE PALM FAMILY

Family of 13
Valparaiso

Parents: Matt and Lovelyn Palm
Children: Nico (16), Chloe (14), Anika (13), Jude (11), Ellie (11), Clayton (9), Bianca (9), Emmy (5), Evie (5), Fiona (2), Ruby (2)
Family Makeup: Both biological and adopted children. 

Other than size, what makes your family different from others? 

We also live cross-culturally. In addition to our home in Valpo, we have a home in Uganda. It is in a little village called Naminya that is right along the Nile River. Another big part of our family is our nonprofit ministry, Shine Village Initiative. This is something the whole family cares about and is involved with. Shine seeks to preserve families and prevent orphans by empowering the people in the village in which we live in Uganda. This has been a rewarding experience for our family.  

What do you like best about having a large family? 

All the love, joy and fun is multiplied. There is always someone to play with, get help from, or talk to. It is special to watch the different relationships between all the family members.

How do you manage to give kids individual attention? 

Ideally, we try to have one-on-one time with each child once a month. Sometimes it’s fun outings, but it can also be just letting them stay up an hour past bedtime and playing a game of chess and talking. It may also mean that is the child that gets to come grocery shopping with me that day—and likely gets a special treat while out, too. We try to use the day of their birthday as a reminder; for example, the 27th of each month. Often at Christmas, one of their gifts is a special outing with Dad and Mom in the coming months. We’ve done things like concerts, Jak’s Warehouse, escape rooms, and sporting events.  

How do you stay organized? 

We have a central spot that is like the lifeline of our family—it has the family calendar, the weekly menu, and any important papers we will need to access such as invitations, field trip info, etc.

Having a spot for these things makes a huge difference. Each of the bedrooms has its own laundry basket. When it is full, the children in that room are responsible to wash, dry and take it back to their room to properly put it away. The children each have a chore that they keep for a whole month.  

Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad Wolf

When the kids get home from school each day, they are responsible for putting their lunchbox by the sink, putting their folders to sign on the island counter, and doing their homework. I [Lovelyn] go through the folders each day and make a pile to save (a few papers or artwork for each child every year), a pile to keep for future reference (field trip information, etc.), and a pile to recycle.  

What advice do you have for other parents, no matter the size of their family? 

Parenting is awesome and hard. Having 11 children is hard and having one child is hard. My advice is to just do the next right thing in love. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, and sometimes the next right thing is going to be to forget all the homework and chores after a terrible day and just have a family dance party. Love and relationship always trump everything else.