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being a mother to 10 kids

I never planned on being a mother of 10 kids, although I will admit I've always been drawn to large families. My favorite reruns growing up were The Brady Bunch and Eight is Enough. Full House and The Cosby Show attracted me, even as a teen. After all, there was always someone in the family to jump in to help, or to point others to the bright side of things, all in the span of 30 minutes.

And then "large family" came to define us. When our three biological kids were nearly adults, we adopted seven more, from ages newborn to 15. While television shows display the drama and the many unique personalities under one roof, what they don't portray is the real-life stuff: the Mt. Everest of laundry piles, the improbability of matching socks, the five-pound meatloaf needed for dinner, and the grumbling. Always the grumbling.

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In our house, there are many people with many wants and needs, which leads to many conflicts and complaining. Eight kids still at home, two parents, and my elderly grandma all living together meant we could either live with the fault-finding and bellyaching, or we work to do something different.

That's when my husband and I decided to challenge this large crew to a Grumble-Free Year. It was either that or invest in noise-canceling headphones. Sadly, society looks down upon parents who ignore their children.

We got our kids to buy into the idea by promising that if they worked at not-grumbling for a year we'd take them on a cruise. (Not mentioning that we, sort of, had that family vacation already planned.)

The first lesson of our challenge was that grumbling is more than words. It included eye-rolling, heavy sighing and stomping away.

The second lesson was that if I wanted my kids not to grumble, I had to be the example. This is tough, especially since I homeschool and my kids were with me every moment of the day. Because of that, they quickly point out my eye-rolling, heavy sighing and stomping away.

We had ups and downs over the year, and I figured out -after many months- that the thing that worked the best wasn't pointing out when my kids got it wrong but instead pointing out when they got it right. Praise goes farther than nitpicking.

It turns out when kids see a mom praising one of their siblings LOUDLY for not complaining or being grateful instead, they will want the same type of positive attention. Go figure.

And now that are a year has come and gone, I'm seeing a much more peaceful, connected and thankful family. I truly have nothing to complain about, because I've learned so much in the process. I've learned that because of the large number of people in our home, we can't ignore little problems.

Little problems—like grumbling—become big problems when everyone's doing it. It may be easy to ignore the grumbling with only one, two or three kids. But the sum of our collected whines and moans moved grumbling from "annoying" to "acute."

We also learned that overcoming challenges together in the home is noticed outside the home. I'm awed when a youth leader or coach comments on one of my kids' positive attitudes. There were many years when I doubted that my kids would ever be called thoughtful or positive.

Not that anyone around here gets it perfect, but our combined weaknesses actually caused us to build up our individual strengths. My hope is that as my children move into adulthood, they will know that even in challenging situations they can control their words and refocus their thoughts to what they can be grateful for, instead of grumbling. I have a feeling this will get them ahead in work and in life.

By the end of the year, we did enjoy a Mexican cruise where everyone ate steak for dinner and wore out the free ice cream machine, but the biggest reward was discovering we could change. We still try to maintain grumble-free, but we also realize that no one is perfect. And when one of us is having an especially bad attitude, we've also learned to offer grace.

No one will ever be perfect, and in real life, problems aren't solved in 30 minutes like in the TV shows I used to watch. Sometimes in a busy household, there isn't someone who will jump in and help—especially when I'm trying to get dinner on the table and kids out the door to basketball—not I'm grumbling about that, mind you.

And sometimes the problems are bigger. They need more than an attitude adjustment or to see the bright side of things, but offering grace works for that too.

Giving grace means it's okay to offer undeserved kindness, even when someone messes up. It's keeping short accounts and not holding another's words against them. It's knowing that none of us are perfect (especially mom and dad), but at least we're all trying.

And with this many people in the house, sometimes even the trying is a miracle in itself.


This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

$35

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"You're going to be hungry," I say, realizing immediately that he could care less. I can feel my frustration rising, and even though I'm trying to stay calm, I'm getting snappy and irritable. In hindsight, I can see so many opportunities that fell through the cracks to salvage this morning, but at the moment… there was nothing.

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