Remember those old TV Shows: The Brady Bunch and Eight is Enough? If you recognize the phrases, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” and “Pork chops and applesauce” or if you remember Tommy, Nick, Susan, and Elizabeth Bradford, then you probably remember these classic TV Sitcoms. They were unique in that they were large families. These shows gave us a glimpse into the interactions, hopes, joys, frustrations, hilarity, and, yes, even some shenanigans within these loveable families. Many foster and adoptive families are similar to these TV families in that they are large families.
When my wife and I were married in 1989, we discussed having about three kids: two biological and one adopted. We could have never predicted that three decades later we ended up with eight kids and one grandchild. Additionally, we had some foster children sprinkled in along the way. It has been a blessing. Have there been bumps along the way? Absolutely. But I would do it all over again. How did we end up with such large broods to rival even the Brady’s and the Bradford’s? Keep reading.
Go Big or Go Home.
The conventional wisdom is that smaller families are better. Over the last 50 years, America has complied. In 1960, the average family size had about 2.3 children. In 2018, the average dropped to about 1.9 per family. However, it’s my personal observation that adoptive and foster families tend to be a bit larger. Why? For a number of reasons.
- Kinship adoption has become more common. This is also known as relative adoption, and it happens when a person adopts someone who is related to him or her like a grandchild, niece, or nephew.
- Adopting sibling groups is common practice for adopting out of foster care. Brothers and sisters need to stay together. Usually, there are 2 or 3 siblings needing to be adopted. In some cases, if an adoptive family already has their own children then their family size can instantly double.
- Adoptive families are successful. Once an adoptive family successfully adopts one child, they go on to adopt another, and another, and another. The rewarding sense of love that comes from building a family from adoption is addictive. This was the experience for my family.
Our family’s journey began in 1989 when I married my beautiful wife. My wife and I decided early in our marriage to adopt first and then try to have children the traditional way. We were childless for about 4 years. We were free. We could go where we wanted whenever we wanted without having to hire a babysitter. Absolute freedom. Then we were placed with our first child in the summer of 1993. Things changed. There was someone else to care for and plans needed to be made ahead of time so babysitters could be hired. Our home had to be childproofed. Our lives were now child-centered. Barney, Elmo, Sesame Street, and Chuck E Cheese were now part of our regular routine. Six months later we officially adopted our son.
Two and Three
During the adoption process, we found out we were pregnant and had our first biological son the following year. Having an adopted child and then having a biological child later is a bit unconventional, but we made it work. A year and a half later we had another son. Our family grew by three sons in three years. It was like having triplets. Up until then, the biggest change in our lives was going from no children to one. The next biggest change was going from two to three. At this point, we were officially outnumbered.
Four and Five
We soon began to realize that after having three kids, it was all downhill from there. Two years later, in 1997 we were placed with a foster child who stayed with us until she adopted in 2002. In 1999, we adopted a sweet little Jamaican infant within six months of her placement with us. In short, adoption became addictive to us.
Six, Seven, and Eight
In 2005, things really began to change. We realized that our family was really big and really loud. Sprinkle in some family pets and we were soon outgrowing our little home. We decided to move out West for a little elbow room. We landed in Arizona and became licensed for foster care. We adopted a little 5-year-old girl of Indian descent and later adopted a Native American sibling group of two. That gave us eight children: two biological and six adopted. Wow. It became clear to us that adoption was a passion; it was something that we were called to.
Joys and Challenges
So, what are the pros and cons of having a large family? Lots. I don’t want to give the impression that having a large family is all peaches and cream. There were lots of bumps along the way and some growing pains. Here are some of my experiences with having a large adoptive family.
Having a large family is similar to running a small town. You need to find a way to communicate events, make announcements, and make your expectations known. As the little tribe grew in size and age, we realized we needed to find a way to communicate information in a group setting. Family meetings were the platform we used.
Why group meetings? It provided a way for our children to buy into a new direction our family was going. We could discuss an issue or concern (like chores or allowance) and fine a solution to that issue. This was also a space to simply make an announcement like where we wanted to go on our vacation.
Family meetings could be formal and take place in the living room or they could be informal and take place around the dinner table or in the car. The discussions could be heavy like when a foster child has to leave our home or we need to discuss birth family issues. The perfect time to slip in a family meeting for us was during the regular nighttime reading sessions with the younger kids.
The key is to make it a time for all family members to have their say and to contribute. It is not a time for discipline, shaming, or blaming. It is a time for attachment, bonding, and affirmation. You need to decide what is best for your family as far as when, where, and how often you have a family meeting. For our family, right before bedtime or during dinnertime worked the best. Why? Because the two most challenging times for a foster or adopted child are bedtime and feeding times. Structure, consistency, and connection are what he or she needs. Family meetings are the perfect avenue for that, especially in large families.
Anybody got change for $100?
You don’t have to go broke entertaining a large family. Some foster and adoptive families have a subsidy to depend on and some do not. Here are the solutions we have figured out to enjoy special experiences without breaking the budget.
When you have a large family, you don’t go out to eat very often. So when it does happen, it’s a treat. Whether it’s a diner, chain restaurant, or fast-food joint, eating out can break the bank. Getting 2-for-1 coupons for a restaurant or eating out when children eat free helps decrease the expense of the experience. It won’t pay for all of the children, but it won’t break the bank either. Sharing meals is also a good idea for the smaller children, but not very popular among older kids. And of course, ordering water only rather than soft drinks can help lower the bill when eating out as a family.
Individually, I started a family tradition: The Birthday Breakfast. This is where the birthday boy or girl gets to eat out with Dad at the restaurant of his or her choice. Most 5-year-olds have very interesting taste in fine dining.
That’s my seat
When you have three or more children, dinnertime can turn into a scene out of Braveheart if they do not have assigned seats. Assigned seating is not only necessary at the dinner table, but also for the car.
Another consideration for big families is car seats. Many couples who seek to adopt want to adopt infants. But if you adopt multiple infants or have multiple toddlers, you will need multiple car seats.
Our family created a special family tradition, Secret Santa. This is where we put each person’s name in a hat. Then we pass the hat around. Whatever name you chose, you needed to buy a Christmas gift for that person. It is not a money-saving tradition, especially for younger children. However, it is a way to get the kids to think about and care for one another.
Adoptive parents must have thick skin and a good sense of humor. Adoptive families are in the minority, because of that, the general public typically does not understand the quirks of the adoption community. There are many myths regarding adoption. So, if you are a large adoptive family or if you are considering becoming a large adoptive family, this is your opportunity not to become offended but to become an adoption educator. When my kids were younger and there were only five of them, their ages ranged from toddler to pre-teen. Our wide age-range is just one differentiating factor. We also have a very colorful family. Our kids come from many backgrounds and range from Caucasian to Jamaican and bi-racial. We even have a child with Down’s Syndrome. So needless to say, when we are in public we tend to turn heads.
Here are some of the comments our family has received over the years:
- “Wow, that’s a lot of kids.” Some people have no filter. That’s ok, adoptive families need to have a good sense of humor and quick wit. A lot of kids means more to love!
- “What is this, a Day Care?” Come to think of it, when we were in public, we did look like a daycare with five little kids running around. Our children were young, school-aged, and very active.
- “Which one on them is yours?” When people ask this, I really do believe people have good intentions. They are asking which children are fostered or adopted. However, we did not go around introducing our kids, “this is my biological child” or “this is my foster kid” or “oh, she’s adopted.” Our response has always been, “they are all ours.” Because they are.
- “Oh, she looks just like you.” My best response is simply, “Thank you. Good looks run in the family.”
Now we are at an age where we have older children in their 20s. We have been blessed by their talents and gifts. Each one has found a way to bless us through their art, computer skills, cooking, baking, or helping to fix things around the house. Each has contributed to the family and to their younger siblings in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Is there sibling rivalry? Sure. But we try to give our children individual attention and show each child he or she is special. This reduces sibling rivalry.
Some say children in large families are ignored or less loved than children in small families. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is more love to go around in large families. Parents are not the only ones to distribute the love; the siblings love each other as well. Setting boundaries and communicating expectations is important. Starting family traditions and making memories is equally as important. Lastly, having a common family name and being proud of that family name is important also. Knowing that though we may look different and may not have the same DNA, we are all still family. That is something to be proud of. I am thankful for my large family.