Donna and Steven Baer of Chicago are used to having their family become the center of attention when they take a trip to the mall or the community pool. It’s not that they are disruptive, it’s that there are a lot of them – two parents and 10 children.
“Half of them have graduated from high school now, and half are still at home,” said Donna in a phone interview. “Our oldest is 25 and our youngest is 8.”
What for her is summed up as “never a dull moment” is, for most other parents she meets, baffling.
Ten children? As family size has shrunk, so has the number of parents with the knowledge acquired from years of raising lots of children. Parents have launched an entire industry – handbooks, parenting coaches and “Super Nanny” – because they feel stressed by the demands of raising their one or two children.
Puts wisdom on paper
Which is why, maybe, parents of smaller families frequently seek Donna’s advice in raising their children and why, she incorporated her wisdom into her latest book, “Strong Happy Family: Unexpected Advice from an Ivy League Mom of Ten.” The book is a guide to parenting, organization, cooking, holidays and bringing faith into the family.
“When I go to the pool in the summer, I find women would come up to me and say, ‘I heard you have a lot of kids,’” said Donna. “They would ask questions and I would tell them what I did and what worked. Often people would say that my advice was helpful and that I should write a book. Because I was answering the same questions so often, and I was told that my advice was helpful, it seemed natural to just write it down.”
Mom: No desire to be in workforce
A New York native, Donna attended Brown University with such notables, as John F. Kennedy Jr. and Bill Mondale. There she met her husband Steve, and following graduation in 1982, they moved to Chicago where she was made an officer in an investment-banking firm. Upon giving birth to her first child, she realized she was smitten with this new life and had no desire to return to the workforce.
After quitting her job to stay home with their daughter, the couple began welcoming their second, third and subsequent children into their family. With each birth came new questions surrounding family size, but Steve and Donna addressed them with Christian love.
“We hear comments all the time when the kids aren’t around, but not when they are around. I hear, ‘Oh, better you than me,’ and I always say, ‘Yes.’ Or they will say ‘God bless you,’ and I say that he has. Even if they mean it for ill, I assume they meant to bless me,” said Donna. “Scripture says, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ and that is repeated throughout the Old Testament. Children are a blessing, and there is no other area in our lives that we turn the blessing down. We never say no more money, or no more good health. We never say we have enough and please send no more. Yet, we say this over and over and fail to realize that children are a blessing from his hand; that is part of our faith and we respect and honor God’s Word.”
Respectful children require discipline
Raising respectful children demands discipline, and Donna has found many parents assume any type of physical discipline is immoral, but she adds that most don’t have a basis for their morality arguments and assume parents should never touch a child.
“In my experience, moms who have that attitude get angry at their kids and the kids can push buttons that cause rage to build and parents become helpless and angry, and that is where they might harm their kids,” she said. “They don’t always like their kids as they become sassy, rude and in control. Lovingly applying discipline in kids’ language and in an efficient manner is not child abuse. There is a loving and constructive way the Father disciplines us through pain and love, and he wants to reconcile us with himself and bring us in conformity to his will. Our parenting paradigm is from God the Father.”
For parents who are unsuccessful in disciplining their children through “timeouts” and other means, Donna believes it is never too late to start a new paradigm if both parents are united.
“I would sit the children down and tell them that there is a new rule in the family, explain how it works and tell the children you expect them to obey immediately without complaint and without excuse,” she said. “And these are the consequences and the steps we will take to discipline you. If kids are screaming and parents are miserable, then it is time to change and introduce the discipline system. Parents think they will be spanking all day long, but kids are smart and want to avoid pain and being alienated with their parents. They want to be reconciled and if they know you will take action quickly when they disobey, they will begin obeying right away and the home becomes a more joyful place.”
Parenting over 3 decades
In raising children through three decades, the biggest change Donna has seen is the expectation that women should work outside the home. Her eldest daughter has two young children and is regularly bombarded with questions on why she is not working part time.
“Her friends see her as a weirdo for staying home, but people don’t get it,” she said. “There is no substitute for pouring your life into a child. I try to go on Facebook mom groups to see what young moms are thinking and there are these new parenting paradigms such as ‘attachment parenting’ and ‘gentle parenting,’ and really you can divide all parenting styles into child-centered and parent-centered. Lately, it seems we have shifted to a child-centered approach to raising kids. This is the biggest mega trans shift I have noticed in parenting.”
Through observing families who seemed to function well and by asking questions, Donna and Steve developed their mode of parenting and discipline.
“Everybody has advice and the key is to find families you admire, and from all appearances, love and respect each other,” she said. “We asked parents lots of questions, and we read Tedd Tripp’s books on parenting, and James Dobson’s and others. We didn’t agree with everything they said, but they offered sound wisdom.”
Ten Commandments are framework of family life
To raise her children to know God and behave in a respectful way, Donna spends much time in prayer.
“We start with the Ten Commandments as a framework, and the First Commandment is to honor God; that is the starting point and then honor your father and mother, not because they are good and wonderful, but because it honors God,” she said. “It certainly makes raising kids so much easier when you know confidently that God wants them to know and behave in a certain way.”
Another aspect to raising children in a Godly way is the choice to remain joyful, explained Donna, who rallied after struggling with joylessness from the mundane tasks of housekeeping and child rearing.
“The Bible commands us to be joyful, and God doesn’t command us to do something that he doesn’t provide the power to do, and this is more than intellectual,” she explained. “He says he will provide the way to be joyful and I finally realized that it was a choice to be joyful. There are days I forget to choose that and have to remind myself that this is his will. Not to say that I am silly or giddy, but joyful from inner peace. I do realize that this is a supernatural battle and that joy comes from God.”