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By Renee Lapham Collins, Kathryn Mietelka, and Maria Servold |  December 2023

‘There’s Always Enough’

Christmas is coming. For families with children, this time of year brings many challenges and abundant joys. To what degree, though, are those challenges and joys multiplied by having a family with eight, nine, or even a dozen children?

While it is not always possible or prudent for every couple, the Catholic Church teaches that “Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional practice see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2373)

With this in mind, FAITH set out to discover those joys – and challenges – of life for big Catholic families across our diocese. Here’s what we learned.

Meet the Lindleys

Dwight and Emily Lindley of Hillsdale are parents to nine children — eight boys and one girl — ranging in age from 17 to 2. Dwight is an English professor at Hillsdale College, where both parents also got their undergraduate degrees. 

Emily says that, as students, she saw the examples of other large Catholic families in Hillsdale. However, she and Dwight didn’t specifically talk about having a large family in their early years together. As their family began to grow, it was not always easy to accept the reality of yet another pregnancy and child.

“It’s a mercy there are nine months of pregnancy to align your will with God’s and to bring your heart to a place of receptivity,” she says. 

Natural family planning (NFP), she adds, allows married couples to see what is best for their family and marriage through God’s eyes.

“It gives God the ability to help you realize what you want and to do something bigger than you planned,” she says. 

While it can be challenging to have your life “so visible” as a large family, it also allows something grand and beautiful to happen, she says. 

“It’s a special joy to see the relationship between teenage boys and little children,” she says. “The teens enjoy the cute things they do so much, and you can enjoy it together. It helps the teenagers and forms them.”

One of the greatest joys and gifts of a big family is that it necessitates helpfulness among the children, because “everybody needs to be needed,” Emily says. With so many people in the home, many things need to be done, and there are many hands to do them. That sharing of care and love reflects God’s love for his children. 

“God has a big family — there’s room for everybody in it,” she says. “Who cares if there are more people at the table? That’s the way God’s love is. There’s always someone to love and to give the love — there’s always enough.”

The Jaskos: “Children are our vocation”

For Elissa and Nick Jasko of Mason, marriage is their calling, and their children are the way they live out their vocation.

"Faith has always been important to us and was a huge part of our dating relationship," Elissa recalls. "Faith is foundational to our relationship and our family."

The Jaskos have seven children and will welcome their eighth child in May. 

"We never had a number of children in mind, which is good, because, as it turns out, we aren't actually totally in control of our fertility," Elissa explains. "We can discern to be open to receiving life, but God is the one who gives life."

The older children help with the younger children, she says. Nicholas is the eldest, followed by Abby, Ben, Max, Zach, Tressa, and Josh. This family dynamic helps the children learn about how to relate to people of different ages and helps the Jaskos manage the details of their large family. Prayer and sacramentals play a central role.

"We take time to pray together daily as a couple and as a family," she explains. “We also use sacramentals like holy water, blessed and exorcised salt, blessed candles, and medals on a daily basis." 

Of course, the Jaskos also make the sacraments the cornerstone of their faith lives.

"We make regular family confession, family (eucharistic) adoration, and Sunday Mass a priority,” Elissa says.  

The Jaskos homeschool their children and have developed a routine that helps things go as smoothly as possible. They are taking the homeschool process one year at a time.

"There is a lot of life going on in our house," Elissa says. "I have to discern what needs to be the priority for that week or that day, or that hour and let the rest go." 

Nick agrees. 

"When Elissa and I list all the tasks that could be done in a week and then choose which to prioritize, we are on the same page about what is not getting done, and that brings a lot of peace in our relationship and to the whole family," he says. 

Family continues to be at the heart of their sacramental journey.

"We like doing things together," Elissa says. "And that, at its heart, is the most important thing, isn’t it?"

The Hendricksons: finding joy in each moment

Ryan Hendrickson had a big surprise for his new girlfriend, Anne. 

Decades ago, the two began dating in college. Around three or four weeks into the relationship, Anne mentioned that she’d like to have children someday. “I wanted three children,” Anne remembers. “He responded by telling me he wanted to have 13. I said, you've got to be kidding. How many wives do you have for 13 children?”

The couple, who has been married 30 years, today has 12 children, plus two in heaven, ranging in age from 30 to just 10 years old. Seven of these children still live at home and attend St. Mary Star of the Sea in Jackson with their parents.

And now, grandchildren have begun to enter the picture. There are five at present, each of whom brings unique joy to the family.

“I don't really know how to describe it, but when our first grandchild was born, it was just like my heart exploded,” Anne says, tears filling her eyes. “You love them more, but it's a multiplication of your love for your child thrown at that kid. They're just so fun, and I don't have the responsibility of making sure that they're behaving all the time or they're doing what they're supposed to be doing or whatever.”

Anne says the family has always lived frugally, and offered plenty of autonomy to the children, within limits.

“We're not helicopter parents. We let them fall on their face if they have to, as long as they're not going to hurt themselves or anybody else,” she says. “You've got to learn. The children all grew up in a small house with a tiny little kitchen, and everybody's better off for it. I mean, it was so small, but it worked for 26 years. My children have a strong work ethic, they know how to take care of themselves, and they all have a deep and abiding faith.”

And every day, the Hendricksons kept faith with God. 

“We always just focus on what God wants us to do, which is something that I just day by day learned,” Anne says. “After all, as I constantly remind myself and others, the days may be long but the years are short.”

And the Hendrickson family kept faith — and built strong faith in their children.

“People have often commended me and Ryan, but I don’t feel like we have done anything out of the ordinary,” Anne says. “But there is one thing I think made the difference, and that is consistency in daily life of prayer and Mass attendance. We never missed Mass — unless someone was sick, of course, then we tag-teamed. Even on vacation, we went to Mass. It was never an option. Our children were not allowed to spend the night at a friends’ house on a Saturday night if that family wasn’t attending Mass the next day.”

But the Hendricksons went even deeper. 

“Our nightly prayers, those were essential,” Anne remembers. “Sometimes we have prayed the rosary regularly, but not usually. But faithfully we have said prayers at bedtime:

Angel of God was the first and is still the first on the “litany.” The Act of Contrition, the Memorare for special intentions, prayers for the dead, and St. Gerard prayer for pregnant moms and anyone considering an abortion.”

The approaching holidays

As each of these large families approach the Christmas season, each makes it clear it’s not what’s under the tree that matters most. 

It’s who’s around it.

“My favorite is when everybody's home and slowly waking up and sitting around drinking coffee, and the boys will start making jokes or whatever,” Anne says. “I love having everybody together. And I'm starting to appreciate that they want to be at our house. There are probably families out there whose children don't want to be at Mom and Dad's house because it's not fun. And I want them always to want to come home, no matter how old they are.”