Thursday, June 11, 2009

No Media Spotlight, Just a Happy Family

From As a follow-up to my post on Jon, Kate and their 8. Enjoy! I know that I did.

No media spotlight, just a happy family
Forgoing own TV show might be bad for wallet, but it's blessing for kids
Published on Sunday, Jun 07, 2009

When my husband, Keith, and I said our wedding vows 13 years ago today, we certainly never dreamed of all the crazy twists our life would take. We had plans for two kids, but ended up with a set of sextuplets and their big brother. We had no plans to be in the national media spotlight (until I became a bestselling author, of course!), and certainly not for having a half-dozen kids in one minute.

Luckily, our brush with national fame was very brief, and we've settled into a comfortable life where a few people in the grocery store give us second glances or even say, ''Hey, aren't you the ones that had all those kids a few years back?''We certainly have never had to deal with the kind of media firestorm that fellow sextuplet parents Jon and Kate Gosselin are currently engulfed in.

Especially in the last few weeks, I have often been asked, ''So what do you think of Jon and Kate?'' And my answer is usually: ''What a mess! I feel so sorry for those kids!'' But behind that short answer hides an overwhelming feeling of relief, a small, guilty ''Better them than us!'' feeling. Because the truth is that Keith and I feel incredibly lucky to be nothing like the Gosselins, aside from the number of kids we each conceived all at once.

Over the years, we have been approached several times to do a television show about our family, and each time we have politely declined. We decided pretty early on that we would share updates on our miracle kids as a way of thanking everyone who had prayed for us and gave donations to support our family.

We had no problem with a few local television crews doing brief pieces, or with print reporters visiting for a few hours. The kids thought it was great fun to see themselves on TV or find their pictures in the newspaper. However, we knew we definitely did not want anything to do with a regularly filmed show that would totally disrupt our kids' routine, since that routine is the only way we keep chaos from overwhelming us.

Each time we've received an offer, we always laugh and say, ''Oh, no, we're too boring for a TV show!'' And that's the truth, because we have tried to give our kids as normal a life as possible. Our kids don't realize that they're unique in Ohio for being the only set of sextuplets, and that lots of people have read about them in my books and columns.

We do all the same things many other families do — sports, church, movie nights and outings when the budget allows. As far as they know, every kid grows up with a ton of siblings, has to share whether they like it or not, wears hand-me-down everything and has parents who inquire about group discounts anywhere possible.

In the early days of Jon & Kate Plus 8, Keith and I watched bits and pieces of it just to see how another sextuplet family got through their days. It quickly became apparent to us that we had made the right decision about not living in such a fishbowl, especially as the seasons went on, their paychecks went up and the problems multiplied quickly.

At the end of each of these viewings, we would shake our heads and say, ''There's not enough money in the world to make that drama worthwhile!''

And now, as it appears that Jon and Kate's marriage is in serious trouble and their kids are feeling the strain of life in front of the cameras, Keith and I feel even more blessed with the life we have made together for the past 13 years. Our marriage is certainly not perfect, and we have each made our share of mistakes, but together we have created a happy, stable home for our 5-year-old sextuplets, Isabella, Sophia, Kyle, Logan, Alex and Lucy, and their 7-year-old big brother, Connor.

Our daily lives are filled with all the craziness that seven kids can produce. We never have enough money, enough energy for each other, or enough time to give each child the attention they deserve. And yet, at the end of each long, exhausting day, we are happy, we are together, and we are making plans for the future.

Of course, we don't look too far into the future, or we'll drive ourselves nuts worrying about paying for braces and glasses and driving lessons (ugh!), not to mention dealing with dating and teenage angst.

Together, Keith and I have weathered many storms in the past 13 years, including a painful struggle with infertility, the shock of a high-risk sextuplet pregnancy, an entire year of sleep deprivation when the six-pack was small, an autism diagnosis for Kyle and many other daily challenges that test our strength and patience.

Neither of us can imagine doing this job alone, or with someone whose heart wasn't totally committed to this incredible journey we are on. Sure, there are days when each of us would like to run away to a deserted island, but since there is no money for plane fare, we stick it out, trying to make each other laugh through the bad days.

I'm no Dr. Phil, but I have learned a few things about marriage in the last 13 years:
• A sense of humor is critical for any marriage's survival. It's even more important after you have kids!
• It doesn't matter if you eat macaroni and cheese three nights a week, as long as you eat it together as a family.
• End every day and every phone call with ''I love you.''
• It's OK to go to bed mad, as long as one of you admits you were an idiot in the morning. (Keith will say he's usually the morning idiot!)
• Even on the toughest days, have an attitude of gratitude and count the good things you have been blessed with.
• Make time to do things together, just the two of you. We try to have an in-house date night once a week where we feed the kids dinner and put them to bed a little early, then I cook some ''grown-up food'' that the kids don't like and we watch a free movie from the library. It's not fancy, but it still makes us happy and holds us over until we can have a real date night out of the house.
• Take time to do things apart, too. We take turns doing dinner and movies with friends once a month, which is a much-needed sanity break from the busy routine at home.
• Do fun things with your kids as often as possible. Even if it's just a picnic on the deck, watching our kids laugh and enjoy themselves makes us feel that we're doing a good job as parents and makes the hard work seem more worthwhile.

So in the end, Jon and Kate can keep their free tummy tucks and hair plugs, their fancy trips and endorsement deals, which come at the expense of their privacy and the family's sanity. What matters most to Keith and me is that we have a life we're happy with, and especially one that our kids are happy with. And so as we look forward to the next year of our journey together, we know that we're in it together, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.

Oh, who are we kidding? We have seven kids, so it's going to be ''for poorer'' for many years to come!

The Hanselman sextuplets — Alex, Kyle, Isabella, Lucy, Logan and Sophia — were born Feb. 26, 2004, to proud parents Jennifer and Keith Hanselman and big brother Connor. Periodically, she shares her tales of life with ''Party of Nine.''


Rach said...

Beautiful and blessedly NORMAL! Their children are blessed to have them for parents.

Thanks for posting this. :o)

Jamie said...

It's so refreshing to see that normal people with an unusual family size are nothing like J&K. And don't want what they have.

(BTW- I decided to post my thoughts on the show after all, it is scheduled for Saturday).