Rorate Caeli

Guidance for young parents: how to raise a big, holy Catholic family

After posting a video of a Catholic family with 15 children -- that boasted eight religious vocations -- we asked our readers (see here) to write into us and share their stories on what it's like to raise a big family, and what they did or are still doing to make their family holy, happy and peaceful. Here is one of those stories.

Please consider sending your story to Rorate (see here for very flexible instructions) to post in this on-going series to help inspire young Catholic couples to forgo the abuses of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and simply go fourth and multiply with faith and confidence in a loving and all-knowing God: 

By Maeana Cragg

Some people may think we’re crazy.  Others may think that we are just foolish.  Few have ever said that directly to us. 

In fact, after asking the obligatory, “Are they all yours?” most people are kind enough to tell us what a beautiful family we have.

There was a time when a Catholic family with at least seven sweet little stair steps was not extraordinary at all, but quite typical.  Somewhere, we seem to have lost that beautiful part of our Catholic identity.  Honestly, I’m not sure how, as the Church’s teachings on family, on contraception, and on the blessings of children have not changed. 

There is so much peace, so much joy to be found giving your will entirely to God.

My first baby was a hard baby.  Now that I am a slightly more experienced mom, I realize just how hard Ethan was.  He spent most of the first part of his life sobbing.  He wouldn’t nurse to sleep, but had to be rocked in a special bouncing rocking rhythm that his daddy perfected.  We quickly realized that a crib was an impossibility with this beautiful little boy, unless we wanted to spend the nights standing over him, both hands on him.  

I could go on and on, but the point is, if we had decided when to have another baby from a perfectly rational, perfectly human point-of-view, chances are, the next wouldn’t have come for years, if at all.  Instead, we got our sweet Asher 18 months later.  

This little guy was so different from his brother.  He didn’t do very much crying, but took the whole world in with his big eyes.  He was also very physical.  He loved hugs and snuggles and had a sweet and sensitive little heart. 

Ethan would sit quietly for hours reading books and doing puzzles.  Asher would sit with him for a while, but would then pull him away to dance and wrestle. In so many ways, Asher was just what his big brother needed and Ethan was just what Asher needed.  We had our two darling little boys. 

I couldn't imagine my heart having enough room for another, and then, 17 months later, Colin came along.

Colin was Mr. Personality.  As a baby, he smiled constantly.  He was able to put on entire shows at 18 months old that would make the whole family laugh so hard, we were gasping for air.  Physically, he was somehow able to keep right up with his brothers. They were now the Three Musketeers.  

We had three amazing sons, all three years old and under.  If I had to pick a point during my motherhood where I could have said, “That’s it, that is all I can handle”, it would have been then.  The house was never organized, laundry never put where it belonged, and dinners were simple, to say the least.  I was even teaching flute lessons in the midst of it all.  Most days, I barely held on.  

Humanly speaking, I certainly didn’t need another baby, but that was before I met my darling girl, Clare.

God knew I needed a little break, and so there were over two years between her and the boys.  She was sweet, petite, and the boys all adored her.  I now had my girl.  “Now you can stop”, said the world.  God said, “Trust me”, and fourteen months later, he gave me her Irish twin, Lucas.  

He continued to shower me with blessings as my beautiful, independent Celia arrived two years later (she walks Lucas upstairs when he’s scared), and two years after that, I got my cutie-pie, Gavan.  God apparently thinks I do well with boys, as I am being blessed with my sixth in just a few weeks. I can’t begin to describe how much easier life is with seven helpful children than it was with three [Rorate emphasis, and a big phew!].

One question we often get is how we can possibly afford all our children. Hand-me-downs are wonderful.  Because my three oldest boys are pretty much the same size, I just found a tote for my Lucas that had more clothes than he could possibly wear.  I was able to give many away, and there are still plenty for both Lucas and his little brothers later on.  

Homeschooling makes it easier, as no one cares about the latest fashions.  If they had their way, they’d stay in their jammies all day.

Food is so much cheaper when you buy in bulk, and very little goes to waste.  We raised our own steer, our own pigs, and our own chickens for meat, and we have our own dairy cow.  Honestly though, if we weren't able to do that, we would be able to do just as well by buying on sale at the local grocery stores. 

I grew up with a very frugal mom, and she taught me well.  Children don’t each need their own room.  In fact, I wouldn't be able to separate most of my children, even if I wanted to.  They bicker and fight, like all brothers and sisters do, but one of the biggest punishments I can give them is telling them they have to play in separate rooms.

Which brings me to another concern people have when it comes to having a big family, how can I possibly give ALL those children the attention they need.  

First of all, I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom.  My children often get more attention from me than they want.  More importantly, a family isn't only about how the parents interact with their children. My children are horrified when they read books about not wanting a baby brother or sister.  They are offended when a character describes a little brother or sister as a pain. Instead, my kids like to talk about how Ethan was the least lucky baby in our family, because he only had Mommy and Daddy to love him.  

They then go through each sibling, each of whom is luckier and luckier because they each have one more person to love them until they get to the last baby, who is the luckiest of all, because he has Mommy, Daddy, Ethan, Asher, Colin, Clare, Lucas, Celia, and Gavan to love him. 

It is so easy to be scared, to listen to the world, the world that tells you that you are nothing without a career, that having a bunch of kids is insane, that trusting in your God, in your Church is foolish. 

It is even easier to live a life where you are everything to a bunch of insanely amazing kids, and where trusting in an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God is the most intelligent thing a person could do.