The Olson family with seven of their eighth children. (Submitted photo)
Catholic families come in all shapes and sizes — for every St. Louis and St. Zelie with nine children, there are just as many Karol and Emilia Wojtylas with much smaller broods, or Elizabeth Leseurs, who are asked to bear the cross of childlessness.
All the same, it is true that many Catholic couples discern the call to parent a larger family, and are able to realize that vocation. Doing so can make them anything from an oddity — “Don’t you know where those kids come from?” — to something almost mythic — “How do you do it?”— in the eyes of a secular culture that emphasizes materialism and individualism.
Three of our Milwaukee Catholic Mamas who parent larger families have generously agreed to share their witness, their wisdom and their faith as they pull back the veil on life with more than five children, answering commonly posed questions and tackling misconceptions about life in a large family.
Was having a larger family something that you always envisioned, or was it a vocation that found you along the way?
Mary Gundrum, mother of 10, ages 23 to 1 (six live at home), parishioner at St. Charles in Hartland: “We both come from larger families of five and six children, and our dream was for 12. As we have grown into having a large family, our ideas have been humbled and we have realized that the number was not important but rather cooperating with God’s will and plan for our family.”
What do you do when you face tough moments?
Krissy Andrastek, mom of eight, aged 15 years to 4 months old, parishioner at St. Mary in Menomonee Falls: “I would say that my super-mom tip for tough moments — and the one thing I have actually improved at — is getting up and beginning again. I have failed as a mom and wife in a million ways — but with prayer, direction, reading and lots of grace, I’ve gotten back up a million times. I’m so grateful for the quote from St. Josemaria, and I try to live by it: “Nunc coepi! Now I begin! This is the cry of a soul in love.” (Furrow 161) On a more human level, I drink a lot of coffee and I love to unwind with drinks and friends.”
Sarah Olson, mom of eight, aged 13 years to five weeks old, parishioner at St. Mary in Menomonee Falls: “I find it’s important to know when to take a step back. I go to my room or lock myself in the bathroom, take a deep breath and assess what everyone needs in the moment. Then I beg the Blessed Mother for help, open the door and tackle each thing or person’s problem one at a time.”
Gundrum: “Through some very difficult times with some of my children over the years, I have been brought to my knees and have realized in a very real way just how little control I actually have. During one of those very difficult times in life my mother offered me the best advice that I live by today: ‘Can you offer this moment, and only this moment to God, and can you say yes to the cross right now?’ When there is a situation that is out of hand or more than I can handle or just annoying like the never-ending wash, I quiet myself and say that little prayer and to the best of my ability, say yes to whatever God is asking of me at that moment.”
Could you describe a time when you were faced with a challenge of having a larger family, and what that looked like in terms of meeting that challenge and trusting in God’s providence?
Olson: “When the economy tanked in 2008, we were having a hard time making ends meet. We were freaking out inside. It was very difficult in a lot of ways, but also the most amazing experience of God we have ever had. Every time I came to God in prayer we were given what we needed.” (The family went on to have three more children during the recession years.) “Most people would say it was irresponsible and we should have prevented those pregnancies. But we never would have been able to grow in complete trust of God if we hadn’t needed him so much and we wouldn’t have our beautiful kids.”
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about larger families — specifically, larger Catholic families?
Andrastek: I think there is some misconception that the mother of a large family must be diligent, sweet and patient — all-around saintly. Assuredly, I have as many, if not more, faults than any mother out there. Other than a high tolerance for mess, I am just not cut out for this life most days. And I try to thank God for that, because it helps me not to be proud — to always lean on God in my struggles, and to grow where he needs me to grow.