I was 30 when I got pregnant with my first baby. Then, I had seven more in ten years.
When my husband, John, and I first got married, we knew we were going to have kids. We never had a conversation about how many, but he’s one of five and I’m one of four, so we never said we weren’t going to have a lot of kids. We just started having them.
It didn’t happen right away; it took me eight months to get pregnant and I started to panic. I just always knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. My mom stayed home with us for a while, and then eventually went back to work. I’ve met plenty of women along the way who say, “Oh my god, I have to work,” and I totally understand all the reasons why. But for me, motherhood is a career and a calling. I love saying I’m a stay-at-home mom.
Now I’m 50, and my oldest, Griffin, is 20. He’s at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He’s a homebody. He tells people, “My mom never let me go out,” but he never asked to go out. I think I was his excuse. You’d think as the oldest and the first boy he’d want to get away from it all, but he loves coming home. He and Casey, the youngest, are probably the closest. When we took him to college that first day, he cried the most, followed by Casey, and then me.
The other boys: Jack is 18, and he’s at Georgetown University. He’s quieter than Griffin, and smaller. He’s very smart, but also very hard on himself. Michael’s 11. Poor Michael; the others are all pretty naturally athletic, but he has to work a little harder at it. He’s got a great smile, and he’s so personable. He wears these sports goggles all the time, and everybody knows him. “Oh, that’s Mikey, he’s the kid with the sports goggles.”
The girls: Jaimie is 17 and a senior in high school. She’s confident, but a little insecure and aloof — she’s got two older brothers who aren’t always easy on her. Bridget is 15 and loud. She’s the first one to try something, and she’ll do it until she gets it right. This year for Christmas she asked for a ukulele. She got it, and she practices for hours, even though she’s not very good. Katie’s 14 and a freshman. She’s the most chill of all. They all think Katie’s my favorite. Nothing rattles her, nothing gets under her skin. Kerry, 12, is always trying to be the funny one. She’s the idea-maker; she gets everyone onboard. She wrote letters — one to Santa, and one to me and my husband — about the benefits of having a dog. (We’re not getting a dog, Kerry.) And Casey is the baby. She’s 9, and gets everyone’s hand-me-downs. Christmas and birthdays are hard, because what do you get the kid? We don’t need Barbies or American Girl dolls or a bike. She asked for triplets for Christmas. She doesn’t want to be the baby anymore.
People hear that I have eight kids and they think I’m a parenting expert. I’m not. I’m an expert on my kids; I don’t know the first thing about yours. What I do know is that there’s no right or wrong way to parent. I did some things I know other parents think are weird, but they worked for me. I breastfed all my kids for a year and a half to two years. I breastfed the last one for three years. It was tough to go anywhere, even to the grocery store, because I was afraid the kids would starve. I would breastfeed and then run to the store as quickly as I could on Sunday mornings.
I never wanted to be away from them. I’d pop them in a carrier and tote them around with me while I did laundry. I’d put three in the triple stroller and one in the carrier on my chest and walk around Target with the others following me. We spend a few weeks at the shore every summer, and people would say I looked like a mother duck: walking to the beach carrying the big umbrella, with eight kids in a line behind me carrying their snack and their beach toy. Now that they’re getting to be older, my husband and I have still never gone away overnight. The only time I’ve been away from my kids was when I was in the hospital, giving birth to another one. Even when they were little, we never had babysitters and I never asked my parents for help.
I don’t mean to come off judgmental — having babysitters or grandparents watch your kids is totally normal. I just always felt like these are my kids, it was our choice to have them, and we’re just going to do what needs to be done. It was crazy, and chaotic, and there was so much laundry, and of course there were times I’d call my husband and say, “When are you coming home? How much longer?” But it never crossed my mind not to do it, and I never thought about what it would be like to do something else.
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Having eight kids is expensive. My husband makes a decent living as a financial planner, but we’re by no means rich. I’m a clearance shopper and a coupon clipper. Other than our summer trip to the shore, we don’t take vacations. When my kids want to go to the movies with their friends, or go on an expensive field trip, they have to babysit and earn money. We’ve always told our kids you get a little bit of what you want and most of what you need.
They know they’re expected to pay for college. They’ll need scholarships, financial aid, and loans. Griffin, who’s at St. Joe’s now, originally wanted to go to Delaware. He got in, but they weren’t offering much. We sat him down and said, “Look, you can either end up with $100,000 in debt or you can turn down Delaware and end up with a few grand in debt.” We’re not the type of parents that let our kids decide everything. My job as a parent is to help you, guide you, and let you know what the wisest decision is.
Even without all the extras, there’s a lot to pay for. They’re all involved in sports; they play rugby, basketball, soccer, field hockey, and lacrosse. I’m a planner — every kid has their own calendar on a giant bulletin board, so I can look at one day and see what each kid is doing and where they need to be. I try to make it to a lot of games. Sometimes they’re on teams together, and that makes it a little easier. I try to get to at least one of everyone’s games every week, but it doesn’t always happen. Some parents get caught up in that, and I just can’t. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Sometimes I miss a game because I’m home making dinner, and my kids get that.
That’s another thing: There is always, always someone eating dinner. These kids just eat, and eat, and eat. I probably cook six nights a week. I don’t necessarily plan meals — I just cook based on what’s in the freezer. If something’s on sale, I’ll buy the maximum, because we’ll need it. Yesterday I bought four rotisserie chickens. They ate almost three of them for dinner, and I used the rest to make a pot of soup. When it’s macaroni, we’ll eat about three pounds in one sitting. There are very rarely leftovers, and when there are whoever’s up first will end up having last night’s tacos or chili for breakfast.
I’m constantly counting heads, everywhere we go, trying to make sure I always know where all my kids are. I left Kerry home once, when she was about 5. The kids all did a running camp at a park near our house. I packed them all up, got them all over there and didn’t realize until they were all unloaded that I’d totally left her at the house all by herself. When we get in the car now, we do a roll call, and I call my husband to make sure anyone who’s not in my car is in his.
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Parenting’s the kind of thing that gets easier the more you do it. When Griffin was a newborn, I was with my sister-in-law. She gave her 2-year-old a lollipop, and I thought, “I would never give that to my toddler.” Never say never, because never is a very long time. Jack came along, and it was, “Here, have candy, have a soda.”
Someone once asked me, “Do you yell at your kids?” and I was like, “Yes, oh my God, I’m a yeller by nature.” I get frustrated. I’ve used the TV as a babysitter. Sometimes I buy boxed macaroni and cheese. My house is neat, but not spotless. I’d much rather make banana muffins than wipe down the counters. My kids fight with each other, they’re mean to each other, they steal each other’s clothes. They bicker, and I’m sure they curse, and I’m sure they’ve lied to me.
But overall, they’re good kids. As much as they fight, they really do have each other’s backs. They stick up for each other, and they just like each other. They’re content to stay home to watch old videos of themselves and make fun of each other. I know they’re going to make mistakes — you’re supposed to do stupid things and make mistakes, and that’s part of it. It’s how they learn. Griffin and Jack are in college, and I’m not their friend on Facebook or Instagram. Some people say they’re best friends with their mom, but if you’re 50 and your 17-year-old is your best friend, something’s wrong. I don’t feel like I need to keep track of every little move they make.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t rules. There have to be rules. The cell phones are a big one for us. You have to be in sixth grade to get a flip phone, and you have to be 16 to get a smartphone. When you get home from school, you turn in your phone, and then you get to use it again for 15 minutes every hour. At night, all the phones get charged downstairs.
They have chores. The boys do the trash, so that’s mostly Mikey’s job now. Kerry used to set the table, but now that’s Casey’s job. For the other girls, there’s a rotation. For one full week, you take the clothes out of the dryer, fold them and put them on beds. For another week, you’re the one who does the dishes and cleans up the kitchen. They don’t always love our rules, but they’ve come to expect them. Jaimie wanted to go to a party on New Year’s, and we knew there’d be drinking. We said no. She was upset, but I’m not her friend; I can’t say yes to that, and she’ll understand that later on.
We were nervous, as they got into their teenage years, about the kinds of friends they’d choose and the decisions they’d start to make. We’ve been lucky so far — our kids have chosen great friends, and they’ve managed to stay very innocent. But I worry that innocent also means naïve, and I don’t know how long they can be naïve in this world. We haven’t really talked much with the older ones about sex and relationships. I had my husband talk to the boys when they went to college, but that’s about it. Griffin just had his first girlfriend, and Jaimie has never gone on a date. I wish I could say I have dating rules, but my kids don’t really date. It’s scary now, though. They probably should know all this stuff, and they should know what it really means to be careful, and what’s at stake.
I think about what I’d do differently if I had to raise my kids all over again, and I think I’d just try to enjoy it more. It’s hindsight, of course, but I wish when they were toddlers I’d taken more time to have fun.
You’re so crazy busy and so sleep deprived and so worried about them that you forget to enjoy that time. I’d go back and say, “So what, they didn’t go to bed at 7:30. They’ll live.” Any mom will tell you the same thing, which is why they say it’s so much easier to be a grandparent.
I have gotten better. I laugh with my kids more, and we try to do more things together and care less about things like bedtimes. My husband always says, “You’re never going to look back and say, ‘I wish I’d cleaned more.’” I try to remember that. I have eight kids, and I know there are plenty of people who think that’s nuts, but if I didn’t have them, I always think, what else would I do? There’s no other life I’d choose instead.