Faith, patience and a big van are keys for large families

The Bible says children are a blessing, yet for the last 50 years American families have been diminishing in size.

Some families still hold the tenet scared, however, and and revel in the joys of a large brood.

“I think a lot of times big families are considered odd these days and sometimes we get asked odd questions,” said Wendy Bond, mother of 11 children who range in age from 2 months to 17 years. “But I think of it so positively.”

Parents said the dynamics of a big family are a blessing, and children said being members of a large family teaches them leadership, tolerance and responsibility.

“You always have someone to play with and my mom says the kids look up to you, so being a good example is something we do for our brothers and sisters,” said Meghan Bond, the oldest child in the family.

The Bonds, the Cooks and the Hutchins — who have 11, 10 and 12 children respectively — have developed methods for parenting their flocks.

All three families have 15-passenger vans and carefully crafted schedules which enable them to drive children to their respective activities.

The Cooks, of Silverdale, and the Bonds, of Bainbridge Island, said their greatest challenge is balancing childrens’ activities. The bulk of the youngsters in both families are involved in sports.

“Our record was 19 games in one day,” said Helen Cook, whose children range from four months to 17 years old. “Our kids ref and play, and some had to ref three games that day.”

Frugality is important with so many mouths to feed, and it has even become a kind of sport for the Cooks. Helen said if she doesn’t save 50 percent on her grocery bill, she hasn’t done a good job.

Despite her best efforts, though, the family still spends $1,000 a month on groceries. Bond said she often shops at Costco, and all three families said they keep a large stock of food on hand.

The Bonds, Cooks and Hutchins are all Christian — although not Mormon or Catholic like many people assume — and all home school the children for at least the primary years.

“I think it came out of wanting to be together,” said Bond, who has a bachelor’s degree in design. “I really wanted to be a part of their educations, also.”

All three said faith was a critical part of the families’ fabric.

“It allows us to have an arbitrator outside the family, a higher authority to take your case to,” Paul Cook said.

Marcy Hutchins of Seabeck said her greatest challenge was helping the children cope with their troubled backgrounds, which often included numerous foster homes. Many of her children also have special needs.

Having eight teenagers within three years of one another also was trying, Hutchins said.

“It was nothing like I expected,” said Hutchins, who currently has five children living at home. “I thought that love could heal all the wounds of the past, but that’s not necessarily how it is. They have hurts that will always be there.”

Since Hutchins’ children are older — ranging in age from 10 to 23 — she had time to open the Mustard Seed Christian Bookstore in downtown Bremerton last year.

“We lost five kids in two years” when they moved out, Hutchins said. “It was bittersweet, but it sure gave me more freedom.”

The other mothers stay at home with their children and facilitate home-school classes with the aid of cooperatives.

“I taught aerobics through number seven,” said Helen Cook, who has a bachelor’s degree in physical education. “I taught on Friday, had (a baby) on Saturday and went back and taught aerobics on Monday morning.”

The parents had a variety of advice for couples thinking about starting a large family.

Wendy Bond and Helen Cook said organization and flexibility are key.

Hutchins said children need a lot of room, so plan on expanding your home.

Follow-through and consistency are important elements of keeping order, Paul Cook said, and he offered some special advice for fathers: make sure your wife can get out of the house to socialize and cultivate outside interests.

“Make sure your attention is to your wife, because her attention will be to the children,” Paul Cook said.

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