The 6 best pieces of advice from parents of large families

Living in a large family is an endless adventure of laughter, laundry, grocery bills that could finance a small country, no volume control, and creatively finding new places to hide the Hershey bar you just stress-bought before the gremlins you call children consume it like air!

I didn’t grow up in a large family myself. In my younger years, I thought I would grow up, get married, live in a little house with a white picket fence, and raise my standard 2.5 kids and a dog.

Then, my wife and I became the parents of eight children. Yes, eight! It’s a lot of fun, and sometimes stressful. Yet more often than not, it’s just plain humorous.

I recently watched the pilot episode for ABC’s The Kids Are Alright, and seriously thought it could have been a documentary filmed in my home. Have you seen it? If you have a large family, you must. It’s the perfect dramatization of some of the crazy stuff that goes on. (Likewise, if you’re thinking of having a large family, consider The Kids Are Alright a tutorial.)

Some days, we really don’t know how we do it. That’s the honest truth. However, we can offer some tips for anyone in a large family or thinking about raising one. Here are our six best pieces of advice.

1. Remember That “Personal Space” Is an Oxymoron

What is this thing you call “personal space?” I’m not understanding this. That’s because in my house, there are bodies EVERYWHERE.ALL.THE.TIME.

I laughed uncontrollably during the scene in The Kids Are Alright when Frank sheepishly walks into the dining room at bedtime and quite literally crawls under the table to go to sleep because the house is so crowded. Classic.

If you do ever think that personal space is an option, let me also remind you that these little darlings can hide in plain sight and materialize out of the walls when you and your spouse begin to talk about anything secretive or private (as illustrated by Frank appearing out of nowhere when Eddie shares he has a girlfriend!)

2. Consider Every Day a “Laundry Day”

When you do as much laundry as we do, it’s safe to say it’s a laundry week.

We once had a contractor who was bidding to put a new septic system on the farm where we live in central Indiana. He told us, straight-faced, to “make sure we take it easy on our current septic system,” and “try to not do laundry all in one day.”

We looked at each other, then back to him, then back to one another, and laughed.

First of all, putting aside the fact that our three young sons practically use the backyard as a urinal, there are eight of us! (Two of my kids don’t live at home.) That’s eight people using the bathrooms, eight of us showering, and eight or more sets of clothes in the laundry every day. “Taking it easy” would only be possible if we were on vacation for a week, or decided to go all pioneer in the woods behind our house for a few days. Not happening.

3. Don’t Be Embarrassed of Your (Large) Car

We rock a 12-passenger van in one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S., but we’re not embarrassed at all. Of course, our teenagers are — which just makes us drive it even more proudly down the street with the windows down, as we belt out The Greatest Showman songs.

I asked my friend Jon, who has more kids than me, why he loves his 15-passenger van so much. Without flinching he said, “Dude, I can strap my kids into their own bench seat and drive without hearing ‘She’s touching me!’ on repeat for an eight-hour drive!”

I hear you, Jon. Plenty of space in that vehicle to spread those darlings out and stop World War III from occurring!

4. Hand-Me-Downs Are Your New Best Friend

They’re not old clothes. They’re also not “gross” clothes, as your children might say as they turn up their noses.

We call hand-me-downs “clothes with experience.” That’s right. They’re the Island of Misfit toys version of clothing, and guess what? THEY’RE FREE.

I don’t care how much belly-aching or complaining my kids do over hand-me-downs. The truth is, I have more money in the bank thanks to them. Plus, if you time it just right, you can see the chronology of clothing passed down through Christmas card pictures and family photo shoots.

My favorite moment in The Kids Are Alright is the scene where Peggy, the Cleary matriarch, sews patches onto her son’s clothes to make them last longer, despite his less-than-enthusiastic attitude.

“Hey, that’s the style these days, trust me — ratty dungarees with patches!” she exclaims.

Outstanding, Peggy … and a bona fide money-saver if I do say so myself.

5. Become Friends with the Folks at Home Depot, Because You’ll Be There a Lot

It’s a given that things are going to get broken in your home. Sometimes though, it feels like these items have actually grown minds of their own and decided that life in this world is short-lived.

In other words, things break on their own at times. Then, even after asking each person in the family, amazingly enough, no one knows how the heirloom nativity scene ended up in the backyard mixed with Pokémon cards and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures.

In The Kids Are Alright, when Eddie pushes Frank out of their bedroom window, I laughed, but also nodded in pure identification. Been there, done that — I’ve had to fix many screens and doors. So many in fact, that my phone’s GPS is pretty much a homing device to Home Depot and Lowe’s! (True story: Trevor, an adoptive father of 9, told me that he actually is greeted by first name at Lowe’s … and I have to admit, I’m almost at that point too.)

6. Believe in Your Big Family

All joking aside, I love my big family. I didn’t grow up this way, but I am grateful every day that I’ve been blessed (even though I don’t deserve it) with these beautiful people.

There’s a tender scene in the first episode of The Kids Are Alright when Mike, the dad, and his oldest son, Lawrence, discuss his future. Lawrence wants to drop out of seminary and see the world. Without criticizing or shaming, Mike challenges him to at least attend college.

“I want my sons reaching for the stars,” he says to his eldest.

That’s a good dad right there. That’s a parent who believes in his children. Whether you have a big family or soon-to-be big family … believe in their potential.

I’ve often said this before, but I’ll say it again: I couldn’t have written a more amazing storyline than the one I’m living with my family. Yes, our life is sometimes crazy and filled with chaos, but it’s ours, and it’s more than perfect. This is the life we were meant to live!

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