Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

"Reality" TV Doesn't Show the Reality of Large Families

  • Elizabeth Foss In the Heart of My Home
  • 2009 10 Jun
"Reality" TV Doesn't Show the Reality of Large Families


It’s almost a universal response these days. I tell someone we have nine children and they respond with some variation of “Wow! That’s like Jon and Kate Plus Eight only with one more. I don’t know how you do it.” Let’s just set the record straight from the get-go: My life is nothing like Jon’s or Kate’s.

First of all, I don’t have a reality TV show. As much of my family as I share in this column and on my blog, I don’t live my life publicly. Families are places for little people and big people to grow. In the heart of a family, we all make mistakes, seek and find forgiveness, and learn to be more like God. It’s very difficult to do all of that with a camera trained on you.

I watched Jon and Kate recently. Since I was constantly hearing about them and being compared to them, I figured I should know a bit about them. So I caught a TLC marathon. The last episode I watched was a show where they decided to take all the children skiing in Utah. My husband flies to Utah a couple of times a month for work. I figured I’d pick up a few pointers should we ever decide to fly out there and turn one of his business trips into a vacation.

Kate explained how important the trip was because she wanted to be sure that her children get to do all the things other children do, despite the fact that she has eight children eight and under and six of them are all four years old. I assure you that all four-year-olds do not go skiing. I’ve had seven four-year-olds now and none of them have been skiing. It’s all I can do to zip my four-year-olds into snowsuits and send them out to play in the yard before it’s time to come in again and go potty. Ski vacations at plush resorts in Utah are not critical to the growth and development of a child. Furthermore, I’ve learned that it’s not a good idea to set myself or the children up to fail. Skiing together can wait until there’s a good chance we’ll all enjoy it.

It was a two episode show. The first episode was the trip out there and the second episode was the actual vacation. By the end of the first episode, I was so frustrated that I never watched to see what happened on the slopes, though I have a good idea.

No wonder the people who compare our family to that one always look so pitying. Those children whined the entire time. It was as if someone was begging them to whine, teaching them to whine. Oh, wait, someone was. Their mother whined, very vocally, about all of it — the trip, the kids (and how many of them there were), the plane, and her husband. Whine, whine, whine, until she was huddled up in a ball, nearly hysterical because the flight was being diverted.

I have flown with children. It can be very stressful (particularly when one doesn’t have the benefit of a private plane, as Kate did). I live with nine children. I don’t have multiples. Her challenges are different from mine. She’s never tried to help with college applications while nursing a newborn or taught a teenager to drive while fighting morning sickness.

Still, no doubt, her life is more stressful than mine. What makes me sad is that Jon and Kate have crept into the culture to the degree that the general population thinks that they are an accurate representation of life in a big family. They are not.

We don’t whine. I don’t whine and I don’t allow my children to whine. There’s no way you could pay me to announce out loud with wailing and melodrama,”There are too many of us!” as Kate did. There are never too many of us. There are exactly how many of us as God intended for our benefit. I see my children as gifts. And before I even knew those gifts, I saw my husband as a gift. I have tired days and frustrating days, but those 10 people are always gifts in my life. And they know it.

I wish Kate knew what it does to a child to see his mother sighing and complaining about what a trouble he is by his very existence or the circumstance of his birth. I wish Kate knew that husbands are happier when they are respected and appreciated.

What makes me sad about Jon and Kate is that America has the impression that large families are exasperating burdens. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I know many, many real life large families. The days of whiny chaos are the exception and not the rule. Most mothers of large families are masters of organization, yes, but even more, they are careful students of patience and eager grabbers of grace. They pray for the children they have and often, they beg God for more children.

And, at the end of the day, when they sit with their husbands on the couch, they move a little closer. Together, they reflect on successes and sorrows. Together, they evaluate problems and encourage progress. Together, with mutual respect and genuine affection, they gratefully embrace an abundant life.

Visit Elizabeth Foss's blog, In the Heart of My Home.

Posted June 10, 2009 in Crosswalk Parenting. This article was originally published in the Catholic Herald.