When I was growing up, long before The Brady Bunch became a thing, I read a book called Cheaper By The Dozen and began what turned out to be a longstanding fascination with big families.
And I mean really big.
Back the 1980s, I well remember an afternoon at the office when all work on our audit team was suspended as we listened in utter fascination to a co-worker named Dan O'Keefe describe his big family life. Dan's widower father had married a widowed woman and instantly created a blended family of 21 kids. My mind reeled with the delightful insanity of that kind of chaos, and we eagerly peppered him with questions about how a family even operates at that level.
His answers, as I recall, involved a whole lot of chili or spaghetti dinners and color-coded toothbrushes. And get this - the family bought two houses, one across the street from the other, in order to give everyone a place to sleep.
I admire the creativity that big-family parents bring to the table.
So it's been with great delight and growing curiosity that I've watched as my friend, Tami, and her husband, Tyler, have been building a big family for themselves. With this summer's arrival of little Ivie, they are up to nine kids; the oldest clocks in at thirteen years old.
Certainly, big families are not for everyone. But Tami and Tyler simply love raising kids and enjoy every minute of their big family life, handling the challenges with considerable grace and good humor. Always eager to learn more about big family life from the pros, I asked Tami to share her story with us.
Here is our lightly edited conversation, along with a handful of photos of the delightful Banner brood.
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From left to right:
Cameron holding Morgan
Cassidy | grey sweater
Hunter holding Ivie
Saige | light blue ruffles
Hailey | navy flowers
Maci | red top
Scarlett | brown dress
Please introduce us to your family And tell us a little something about what makes each person unique.
Tyler and I have been together for 17 years, I am 34 and Tyler is 35, we have been married for 14 years last month. We have 9 kids, the oldest being 13 and the youngest being 6 weeks.
Cameron, 13, enjoys tinkering and woodworking. He creates bows, swords, and shields for all the kids in our house and even a couple of the neighborhood kids; they all come together and act out make-believe mystical stories about their Viking days. Cameron also designs custom armory.
Hailey, 10, spends her days in the garden maintaining the beds, picking produce, and talking to the flowers. She ends up at the chicken coop with her basket full of bugs, produce, and clover, and spends hours reading to the hens, cuddling them, and waiting patiently for eggs. Hailey usually has a younger sister in tow that eagerly carries the basket and picks up bugs. She also enjoys bringing in the garden produce to see what kind of meal she can put together.
Hunter, 9, is a thrill-seeking adventurous one who asks for forgiveness over permission. He loves to read between his adventures and will spend hours creating creatures and scenes with Lego and is always trying to tag along with his big brother.
Cassidy, 7, is very passionate about learning to cook and bake. She’s the first one to offer to help with anything that’s needed and has a personality that is beaming with love, but she will stand her ground for herself and her siblings and loves them more then words can describe.
Scarlett, 5, loves to pick flowers for everyone and always has a dandelion and clover bouquet in hand, also decorated with a few chicken feathers she finds around the yard. She is a big goof and will do anything to make you laugh.
Saige, almost 4, is very reserved and quiet. She would prefer a quiet moment reading a book or playing Playmobil with Scarlett than partaking in anything loud.
Maci, 2, is the spitfire of the family. She flies by the seat of her pants in everything she does. She has some of the best conversations with you and sometimes her thoughts are faster then her mouth. She is full of compliments but also has no problem telling you the food you made is “yuck.” She is a hoot!
Morgan, 1, knows he’s one of the youngest and he will take it for all it’s worth. He isn’t much for cuddling but would rather be standing on tables, sitting on the back of the couch, or trying to sneak through a baby gate to fly up the stairs…and then screaming for someone to help him back down.
Ivie is 6 weeks, and the kids are smitten with her. Someone is always asking to hold her or to rock her to sleep. She is a very mellow baby that loves snuggles and sleeps so well.
Saige may normally be reserved and quiet, but she has plenty of spunk.
Describe a typical day at your house.
The kids usually wake up anywhere from 7 to 9 a.m. with Morgan waking up about 11. First thing, the kids get the chickens out of their coop, feed the dog, guinea pigs, and cat, and then get breakfast going while I clean up a bit or sit with Ivie. They are all over the place after that, playing upstairs or outside, tending to the garden, or working on one of the projects we have going for the slightly dated house we moved into last year.
Lunch rolls around and after eating, we pitch in to get some clean-up done while the three babies go down for a 2- to 4-hour nap. The older kids will then work on their projects that they don’t want the little ones getting their fingers into and/or go outside. Tyler comes home about 4 or 4:30 p.m.; I get dinner started and once it's ready, the kids will come inside and the babies wake up just before we eat together.
We talk about things we have done and go over what our favorite part of the day was. After clean-up, the kids are back outside for a couple more hours before we get ready for bed. Tyler and I usually talk about our day after everyone is asleep and plan for upcoming activities or talk about different ideas we should try with the kids.
Mama bird Hailey gathers up one of her little chicks.
An interesting thing about being the mom of a large family is that you’ve also had the experience, albeit temporarily, of being the mom of an only child, of two kids, of three, and so on. Tell us about how your experience as a mom of a few kids differs from your experience of the mom of many.
With the first couple kids, I was so worried about doing everything the way society said it should be done. It took me a while to realize that neither Tyler or I wanted to do things normally and wanted something totally different than what most families do. It’s taken many years to get to where we are now, lots of trial and error, moves around the country, lifestyle changes, and we are still working on what we can do to not only make today better but set the kids up for their future too.
I’ve come to learn that it’s best for the kids to learn some things on their own. The joy and achievement on their face when they finally figure something out is priceless; their confidence is boosted with realizing that they don’t always need someone to tell them how to or to even just do it for them, that they can succeed with having a positive mindset.
Scarlett's smile is positively contagious. Also, I like her stick.
How do you organize daily routines like meals, baths, and bedtime?
Breakfast and lunch are made by the kids. Breakfast is hardy: oatmeal, flapjacks, all different kinds of eggs, quiche, peanut butter toast, and occasional cereal.. Lunch varies from day to day and is usually a creation from one of the kids: PB&J, soup and sandwiches (we call them sloup and slammies - I think it was Saige that called them that and it just stuck) bean burritos, "health bowls" which are three or four different produces, nuts, crackers, a rolled up turkey and cheese.
Dinner is a bit bigger and made by me or one of the kids if they request something they have a craving for: casseroles of all sorts, instant pot meals, a lot of chili and soups during the cold months, piled high nachos, taco bar, veggie burgers. Every meal has at least two different fruits or vegetables - it's a requirement.
Baths: for the younger ones I’ll have them lined up in the shower (usually need to do 2 rounds of this) I’ll help them wash their hair and they wash the rest of themselves, hose them off with the detachable shower head (which I have learned is a requirement for having children and all of their messes), then we fill up the tub for them to play. This is every few days or so, and more often as necessary.
Bedtime is done by Tyler. One or two kids first go into the laundry room (which we converted into a massive dressing room) to get jammies on, then those kids then go into the bathroom next-door that has a drawer with a basket for each kid's bathroom items. Once they are done, they head upstairs where they can play quietly or read on their bed while they wait for the rest of the kids to come up. We cycle them through the laundry room, to the bathroom, then up to bed all within an hour or so.
Fourth-born Cassidy is the youngest of the "big" kids.
What do you wish parents of small families could understand about being parents in a large family?
There's really not THAT much difference between having a couple kids to a whole van load. You need a bigger pan to cook in or a longer table but all kids have the same needs and it’s all about time management and realizing it just takes a bit longer for a larger family to get the same tasks done.
And Maci is the oldest of the "babies."
How does your husband handle his role as a father of a big family? Does he do anything in particular to adapt to his job of parenting for nine?
Funny enough, when we first were together, we always planned on two kids. Over the years, we realized we didn’t want the typical 2.5 kids, overworked parents, a fancy house, and the latest gizmos. With the arrival of each baby we both learned the desires we wanted were different then traditional families, Tyler has encouraged me more and more over the years to express what I want from him as a spouse and father, as well as what I want our family dynamic to look like. He has flourished as a father and takes his role seriously as we are putting the next generation of humans out there and we want them to not only be a positive contribution to society but we want them to be happy with the lifestyle they may choose.
It can get crazy around here, especially being a stay at home mum that doesn’t have a daily drive to and from work, which inevitably puts you in a different setting and mindset with little chance to decompress. Tyler makes sure I get a smaller break when he gets home from work each day and one day every week to go out by myself to get errands done and take a breather for myself.
His challenges me to be a better person. Sometimes I’ll go into a situation fighting and not wanting to budge, but he seems to know me better then I do and I can’t thank him enough for being my biggest supporter and an absolutely amazing father.
Hailey and Ivie, the oldest and youngest of the girls.
Not only do you parent a big family, but you’ve also made the decision to homeschool. Tell us about your reasons for choosing that lifestyle, and how you manage to weave learning activities into your basic daily routine.
We did everything in our power to get Cameron into one of the top public schools in the state back when he was ready to start kindergarten. I helped in the classroom 1-2 times a week, was involved with the PTA, and partook in as many after-school activities as I could. I went to college for early childhood education so it was a passion of mine to help cultivate the little minds of the future generations.
In kindergarten,there was a lot of “book work” for the kids and evaluation to see how well they could read and write, and Cameron was behind his peers in reading and writing. The end of kindergarten came around and the teacher told me if he couldn’t learn a set amount of reading and writing, he wouldn’t be able to move on to first grade. Cameron and I worked really hard and he was able to pass those tasks to move on. First grade, I was just as involved in the classroom but there was one particular day that hit me really hard and still breaks my heart. It was the end of the day, the rest of the class had finished up their worksheet and were packing their bags to go home, Cameron still wasn’t done and was flustered with the commotion. He quickly got through the worksheet, hurried to get his bag and while he was cramming his folder in his bag, he sat down at his chair and cried. I could tell he was just so overwhelmed with needing to hurry his work and get his bag together and the commotion from the rest of the class. That was the beginning of where we knew we needed a lifestyle change and homeschooling was part of that.
Over the years we have tried public school online and more set book work, but over the last couple years we have come to love the idea of unschooling. We see the importance of the kids learning about themselves, their surroundings, and relationships first over traditional public school curriculum. We feel the kids being more self-aware, being in the right mindset, and learning to think on their own will put them in a better position to learn those more academic skills when they are ready. It took years filled with many conversations between Tyler and me, countless hours of what ifs, research, skepticism from all different directions, and crying because I wasn’t sure if they would fall behind their peers and get teased because of it.
I see a difference in the way the kids learn now. The daily tasks of writing lists, letters to friends, cooking and talking help the older kids learn what’s needed for them to graduate high school and potentially college and beyond. I don’t see them stressed to know a skill by a certain age; they know they will learn it when they are ready. I am far more concerned about the values and mindset they are cultivating for their lives as an adults.
Hunter. A man of action.
For the past 13 years, you’ve always had a baby in the house. How has welcoming a newborn and adapting to each new baby’s needs evolved as your family has grown?
The first three kids were the hardest, but once the older kids established a bit of independence, they've been able to help more with daily needs or even with the baby. There is always someone to help a little one reach for a snack or give a refill to their cup. With Baby #3 through #8, Tyler has had either a 6- or 18-week full-paid paternity leave. With that time, I was able to rest and get baby and me into somewhat of a routine before he went back to work.
Now, with #9, Tyler had to go back to work after 5 days…it was a hot mess trying to figure out our new routine again, more snacks and bowls of cereal were consumed as meals then I care to admit. But we seem to be back on track-ish now that Ivie is almost 2 months old and I feel a bit more physically able to take control of the house.
Cameron and Morgan, the oldest and youngest of the boys.
I can imagine that when your whole family is out in public together, you must get some interesting comments from passersby. Do you have any funny stories to share?
We honestly all haven’t been out together in years, now that I think about it. It does come up when I’m out with just a couple kids though that we have more kids at home and 99% of the time the comment is “Wow, you have your hands full,” followed by “Do they all have the same dad?” and then “Are you done?”in the tone of Please say yes.
We do occasionally run into someone who has a large family and their conversations always make me smile. They say what number they are in the line up and that they loved being a part of a large family, that there was always someone to play with and someone to talk with, even as an adult. If I run into parents of a large family, they are so humble and you can see it's genuine in their eyes when they tell you the best part is when the kids come around for gatherings and that it’s the best feeling in the world to see the people they have created grown up and living a happy life.
Finally, Cassidy gets a turn with Ivie.
How do you manage house work: laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, even keeping the toys picked up?
Well, it never ends - I'll tell you that! We used to do set chores but that created a bunch of fuss and stress for everyone with doing the same chore everyday. We recently switched to the kids just needing to keep their rooms tidy and if I need help with something, I’ll ask and the kids are more then happy to pitch in. So much less eye rolling and complaining from the kids that way.
Groceries: I'll do an order pick up when need be and Tyler will pick that up on his way home from work, and then we toss in a Costco/Trader Joe's trip once a month.
Clean up: We try to implement the whole “pick up when you’re done so we can move on to the next activity” but that’s always tough with toddlers so I'll usually just ask someone to pick up the living room a couple times a day. I must add that having fewer toys is definitely a key factor in how easy that is - think less quantity/more quality toys and things won’t get near as messy.
Toothless. But still smiling.
What aspects of the typical American two-income, 2.5 kids, family lifestyle have you decided to let go of and what new traditions have you started for your big family?
I’d say we let go close to all of it. That was a tough one to break as it’s pretty much ingrained into society to have the best of the best and that material items are important. We have found we enjoy the Scandinavian lifestyle the most, being a part of nature, less clutter, family time, get-togethers with friends, and simple daily activities are more beneficial to oneself and their well-being.
For birthdays, we do sprinkle flapjacks and the kids pick out their dinner and dessert. The kids get one gift from us on their birthday, and gifts from a few relatives; we make a list on Amazon for the kids of what they are into to help the relatives keep up with their ever-changing interests. It’s not about the gifts that are given but how the day is spent.
Christmas is pretty much the same thing. Even if the poor tree looks like it’s going to be swallowed by gifts, it’s just one from us, something from the relatives, and then in their stockings there are a few needs, a piece of dark chocolate, and an orange. We focus more on the food we are making together and the family we are spending time with, so we try and find a new recipe (usually from Norway or England for our heritage) to make for holiday gatherings. The dish will come with a backstory on how it’s important for that culture and the meaning behind the tradition. We pick and choose which dishes we like and want to continue with as our family tradition.
Morgan gets an early lesson in applied physics.
What are the pros and cons of having a big family?
Pros: Constant love, hugs, and snuggles. Always a helping hand for myself or a sibling. There’s always someone to play with. Kids learn more about empathy, compassion, and different types of personalities. You definitely get your money's worth with passing down gear and clothing. Someone is always laughing. Kids learn to be more independent early on. The little stuff doesn’t bother you as much, as you’ve becomes more “seasoned” to the bumps in the road.
Cons: “Family package deals” don’t usually include more than three or four kids. There isn’t usual a quiet space (you need to make sure you make it a priority to make one though). The witching hour will make your eye twitch. When you go through a pandemic-induced toilet paper shortage and actually need it (groceries too). There are freaking socks and broken crayons EVERYWHERE!!
A quiet moment with a pretty rock.
How do you find one-on-one time with each kid during the course of each day? Is that something you do intentionally or do you find that those moments occur naturally?
It’s nice that the babies all sleep about the same time so the older kids and I will work on a project, or cook together. When the older kids go outside, the younger ones will have time with us. We also have a night each week where each kid (#1 through #6) gets to stay up an extra hour or two with Tyler and me to either get out of the house for a bit by themselves, talk, or to just take a breather without any of the other kids around.
Just another day for the big Banner family.
What do you wish more people could understand about big families?
I guess you could say living with a large family is a lifestyle. There have to be two parents completely involved to make it work well. I know we are different from a typical family but when you really see and get to know a large family you will see the immense amount of love that is in the walls of the home. For me personally, it puts you in a different mindset and gets you thinking more about what life is really about and what you can do to be a better mum, a better wife, and a better person.