This article was originally written as a guest post for the UK site www.largerfamilylife.com.
John Wooden wrote, “The greatest thing a father can do for his children is love their mother.” I know from experience in a large family that having parents who love each other is crucial to a child. Among my earliest memories is waiting for dad to come home from work. At the time, I was one of only five children, and my dad was an English teacher at a high school in Fargo, North Dakota. When we heard his car pull up the driveway, everyone would whisper to each other, “Daddy’s home!” After this, we’d scramble to gather around the front door to receive hugs and then mom would give dad a kiss.
That was in the mid-nineties, and I’m now one of sixteen children, but I can honestly say that the most consistent thing I’ve ever known in my family is love. Mom has made a point of seeing that we are all gathered together for all three meals a day—it’s rare to eat separately from the family. Every morning when I was a child, dad would make breakfast for the young children and read aloud classics about friendship like Charlotte’s Web and the Chronicles of Narnia. Mom, too, loved storytelling and would read the Bible and more dramatized history books than I can remember while we practiced our drawing during homeschool.
My parents carefully taught each of us to love and respect each other. When there are fifteen other kids in the house, you automatically learn that sharing is unavoidable. If ever a fight arose between siblings, we were taught an important lesson: that speaking reconciling words, even if I didn’t mean them, taught me to using them meaningfully later on. For instance, many times when I was angry with my younger sister, mom would tell us to apologize to and forgive each other. We would force the phrases “imsorry” and “iforgiveyou” out grudgingly at the time, but today those phrases come to our aid now when we really mean what we’re saying.
Not only did our parents tell us not to fight, they also never fought. I grew up in a peaceful home, where my parents love each other deeply and never argue. Because we saw what it looked like to choose not to blow small matters out of proportion, my siblings and I also rarely fight.
In 2006, my family was featured on the US Learning Channel show Kids by the Dozen. Our Producer, Tracy, was curious about what kept our family together so well. After many interviews in front of the camera, my parents were able to solidify the forerunning message of our family: love. See, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He gave love as the answer. We are to love God and to love our neighbor, and the family unit is where the habit of loving others begins. Even if siblings have clashing personalities, they can learn to love. When troubles hit, love gives a family the ability to help each other through. If one of us is having a bad day, we are surrounded by friends and small children to cheer us up. Growing up in a large family that treasures love is a gift I wish more people had the chance to experience.