The Big Family Thing garners lots of interest on a number of a few predictable fronts.
Are they all yours?
Did you always dream of having a large family?
Are you _________________________________?
(enter stereotyped denomination/church affiliation here)
What kind of vehicle do you drive?
How are you going to pay for college for all those kids?
(answers: yes, no, no, 15 passenger van, no idea)
We're also often asked how we make sure each child feels like they have time with us, what we do to make each child feel special, insuring that they don't get lost in the mob. These are excellent questions, given that it is a true challenge to show each child the adoration we feel for each on an individualized basis. We are intentional about taking a kid with us on errands, swinging through Coffee Bean for a special drink and some one-on-one time. We have some other techniques as well that could be a whole blog post on its own, this business of making a big family feel connected and treasured.
But what we are not asked is something that I feel is most central to The Big Family Thing.
And that is about how Mike and I protect and nurture our marriage.
Believe it or not, I find that it's not the danger of a kid getting lost in the crowd...it's the danger that our marriage will be and that we won't realize it for a while.
Our days start pre-dawn, with the early risers making their racket as they head to the university campus, to jobs and exercise routines. Mike generally hits the office early, while I catch up on emails, work issues and news, perched on my bed with a gigantic mug of coffee. I try to knock out reams of work early, letting the younger kids sleep in a bit before we hit the books. A couple of days of my week are spent speaking or doing media shoots and we navigate the homeschool waters through a lot of flexibility, help from adult sibs and creativity. The house is a center for family, business, school, work outs, friends, general chaos.
And it's the primary stage upon which Mike and I conduct our marriage.
There are things that are easier now that we are beyond the toddler stage with all of the kids. But there is not a lot of literature out there about how to run a household and make time for your spouse when the household is full of people ranging from 6 year old twins to a 23 year old neuro-biology major. We love still having all of our kids at home and are soaking up the experience of having them still here on location, the adults, the teens, the tweens and the twins.
It's a unique challenge. This is the house that rarely sleeps. The late-nighters greet the early-risers over the coffee pot. The routine is routinely the lack of routine.
For years, Michael and I had a standing date night, every Friday night. It worked well, when our oldest kids were teens. They would juggle the little kids for us and we would make sure to keep Saturday night clear for them.
But something shifted. The oldest kids became adults. Our next generation of teens is even more involved with friends and activities.
And Michael and I are more tired. Not in a pity kind of a way. But we just are. We are both crazy busy with work and speaking schedules. Blessedly. But still.
We've landed somewhere that works for us right now and maybe a couple of these things will resonate with you. You have to break new ground when you're married to the mob.
1. Make Date Night about 'time' instead of 'where' and 'what'.Back in the day, it was extremely important to me that Mike and I have a once-a-week slot of a couple of hours at a favorite restaurant. This was the definition of Date Night. But as our schedules have become even more complex, I've adjusted my definition. Now, we are deliberate to make sure we have some 'us' time, but are far less concerned with 'what' the date is. There are weeks that it simply works best to take a long walk, snuggle up to watch a movie, get up early to linger over a cup of coffee together. If 'Date Night' was still predicated on an event, we'd be a sorry sight. But by focusing on what the real treasure of what a 'date' is, to take the time to laugh, to talk, to reconnect, it becomes possible to make that time, regardless of childcare issues, budget, calendar constraints, etc.
2. Occasionally get a little mean.Our house is generally a revolving door. Various people run in and out, friends swing through, dogs yap, groceries disappear. Even though I often office at home, I've tried to keep pretty broad borders when it comes to the kids and their friends. I want them here. I want to experience their friends, observe their friendships, take the opportunities for conversation and laughter. We extend the same policy to our teens and adult kids alike.
We also have to get a little mean on occasion. And we do frequently shut down the lights, lock the doors, set the alarm and kick out the buddies. While our borders are extremely broad, we are still raising small children in this home. This home is the seat of my speaking and media business. It is the place where we lay our weary heads at the end of the day. And to that end, it cannot be an open frat house all the time. So sometimes we get a little mean. And shut out the lights.
And protect our marriage and our time in the doing.
3. Maintain a stronger-than-average sense of humor...and disclosure.Maybe you've seen some of my kids' posts on Facebook or Instagram. And I'm here to validate what you've seen.
Mike and I will post notes on our bedroom door letting our kids know that we are busy 'kissing' and they are not to come a'knockin'. If you catch my drift.
There's just no space to be surreptitious in a household this busy and large. We have no shame in calling a Do Not Disturb every now and then. And the beauty of it is, our kids think it's quite grand. And embarrassing. And grand.
And worthy of the occasional social media post.
But we think it sets a great example for our kids. Marriage requires time, privacy, quiet, connection. We are living our marriage on the stage of a packed home with lots of kids. It has to preach. It has to teach. It has to tell our love story. Because this is where our kids learn about love and life and commitment. This is the classroom.
When you're married to the mob.