What’s life like when you have 9 children? How do you feed, clothe, and discipline them all? How do you get any time to yourself?! Today, Sue is sharing her story – including buying an abandoned house, teaching two-year-olds ‘the helping game,’ and how she’ll feel when they’re all finally out of the house.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Sue and I’m married my high school sweetheart David. We were both born and raised in Ontario, Canada, but he was American so we moved to Michigan, where he became an Air Traffic Controller in Detroit. People always ask him “Isn’t it a stressful job?” He usually says “Try having 9 kids!” 😉
This is our clan:
David, 35, works in IT.
Bethany, 33, is a kindergarten/1st grade teacher. She’s married to Paul and they have two babies.
Sarah, 30, is married to Andy. She works with him on his awesome web business and they have four young children.
Joshua, 29, is an air traffic controller and is married to Carlyn. They have two little girls.
Abigail, 26, works with special needs kids and is newly married to Pete.
Michael, 22, is a carpenter and an entrepreneur. He’s newly married to Nicole.
Joel, 19, is a guitar player, church youth group leader, special needs kid’s worker and will soon be traveling the wold doing mission work.
Isaac, 16, is a high school junior, a new driver. He’s athletic and out-going.
Caleb, 10, is fun, loves Legos, Dr. Who and is not excited about school starting.
How do you swing this space-wise? And finance-wise?
We bought a big abandoned house, moved into it when it was a wreck and bathed in the lake all summer while we fixed it up. Where was HGTV when we needed them?
Our first five children went to a private Christian school for nine years, and then we jumped into home school. After I say “home school,” I always like to mention that our grown kids are successful in their careers and some even chose college. I know by now you’re thinking “y’all aren’t normal, are you?” 😉
How big was the family you grew up in? Before you and your husband got married, did you discuss/agree that you both wanted a big family?
My husband, David, grew up in a family of eight where there was always fun, chaos and strong family values. My life was quieter with one brother and one sister.
When we were dating, David asked me how many kids I’d like to have. I said five but I was exaggerating and trying to sound impressive! I was thinking of four, max! Little did I know that nine kids, home school, and an abandoned house were in my future.
How have you changed as a parent between your first child and your ninth?
With my first children, I worried about doing everything perfectly. I worried about what people thought of me. I worried that I wasn’t good enough. Eventually, things became easier for me, I started to relax and not worry about what others thought and I focused more on what was best for our family.
What kind of parenting techniques have you found to be helpful in addressing each child’s unique personality?
I don’t speak, threaten or promise, unless I’m going to follow through. If they don’t behave and I tell them they won’t get the treat the others are getting, I won’t change my mind. I follow through with what I say, every time.
It’s the same deal for good behavior; if I promise a reward, it will happen, I follow through. It’s very important to be consistent; they learn that you mean what you say.
Yelling and fussing doesn’t work and it made me look silly. So one day, I said to myself, “no more. I will speak clearly and directly and expect to be obeyed.” Many moms talk and talk and explain and kids will tune you out.
Each child is different and it’s important to be sensitive to their needs. I hate to remember the times I was strict and made them eat their vegetables, only to have them puke all over because they were actually sick and not just complaining. That’s a bad Mom day!
Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert – does that affect the way you parent?
I tend to be an introvert, but I love all the activity around me; except when I’m sick. Then I dream of having a vacation at home where everyone goes away to a magical camp and I soak in the bath with candles for hours in peace.
How do you manage the logistics of so many people?
Communication is the key. I will get their attention, tell them what I expect, and expect them to do it. I tell them what I want them to do, have them repeat it, and then I check up on them in 10 minutes.
The bad news is that it takes self-discipline on my part to follow through. The good news is that in time, if you’re consistent, they will learn and then you get to relax. Things tend to run pretty smoothly when we understand our jobs.
With a big family, it’s difficult to ‘do it all’. Our life does not revolve around the kids; it revolves around what’s best for our whole family. It’s understood that mom and dad go out, fairly often without them. Our kids go places without us, too, and that’s a good thing.
The boys played football for one year each, but one of them got to play for two years. Life’s not equal, and no one gets the same deal. That’s just how it works.
At what age do you ask your kids to start helping around the house? And what kinds of things do they help with?
Kids are so much smarter than we give think and if we have high expectations, they will live up to it. I strongly believe in the power of words. My husband always says, “Thomsons are hard workers” and when our kids volunteer at church, or at someone’s home, people tell us that our kids are hard workers.
When our kids are about 2 years old , we start playing the ‘game of helping’. They love playing and they love being with Mommy, so we play “put the clothes in the dryer.” Or they get me a diaper and then we can play catch with it. By the time they’re 5, they can load and unload the dryer and put away clothes in their drawers, with some supervision.
David made the rule that Mom doesn’t clean up after dinner. The kids do it and we assigned jobs: Unloading, loading, pots and pans, food and garbage, sweeping and tables.
No one is allowed to leave the kitchen till all the jobs are complete. This creates peer pressure to hurry up because the others want to get out. They grow into the next job, and trust me, the older kids thoroughly teach the younger kids to do the job, hoping they’ll get out of it themselves.
Is there a ‘cap’ on the challenges of parenting a large family? Like, is it the same amount of difficulty to parent 7 kids as 9?
To our amazement, after being quite strict with the first 2 or 3 kids, the rest seemed to fall into line and obey without as much instruction. We think it’s because if the older ones jumped up and did what they were told, well the little ones should as well. Everyone is different, but I felt complete when I had my 9th baby at 46.
How do people generally react to your family?
I’ve encountered every reaction – from “Are you crazy?” to “You are so lucky to have such good children.”
I wrote here about the top 10 questions we get and I wrote here about how I deal when people make negative comments about the size of our family. When you have a lot of kids, people seem to feel free to say anything!
How do you take care of yourself when you spend so much of your time taking care of other people?
I just make it happen; get a babysitter, teach the big ones to watch the little ones for an hour. I think it’s important to remember that having outside interests makes you a better wife, mother, and friend. I’ve always had outside interests besides being a mom, which keep me fresh and hopefully interesting.
How many years till all your kids are out of the house? And how do you think you’ll feel when that happens?
I was ready for the first to leave home at 19, just like I did. About a week after he left, we were eating dinner and suddenly it felt like there was a huge hole in our family, and we still had eight left! It’s illogical, but it showed us how important each individual child was in our life and that each child was so valuable.
Potentially, we still have eight more years before everyone’s out of the house. Back when I had six kids under 12, things were so hectic, I sometimes envied people who were finished raising their children. They had a freedom that I couldn’t imagine. Now, I feel a bit sad and lonely at the thought that I won’t have some little one who needs me daily, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Sue! Do you guys have any questions for her?