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Book Review: A Sane Woman’s Guide To Raising a Large Family

I have four children. That’s not, by some standards, a gigantic family (although the floor of my laundry room occasionally makes me wonder if we’ve somehow added a few stowaway children I haven’t met yet). To me, four feels like a lot sometimes. My husband and I both come from small families. We are still occasionally mystified that we manage a crew that cannot be safely transported in a normal sedan, and that we automatically have a parties-of-six-or-more gratuity figured in the moment we walk in a restaurant.

But it’s a good life, and I wouldn’t trade the chaos and laundry for all the sedans in the world. Still, there’s a learning curve involved in managing a larger-than-average family, and I’ll take all the pointers I can get.

So I was absolutely thrilled to learn about a new book by one of my favorite bloggers. She’s Mary Ostyn, of Owlhaven, and I started reading her blog about three years ago. Her story is a striking one: she and her husband John are the parents of ten children, six of whom they’ve adopted internationally. What I have loved about Mary, and the reason I have continued to soak up her wisdom every chance I get, is that she does not pretend to be Super Mom. She loves and enjoys all her children, all while admitting that it’s sometimes hard and messy. She faces parenting challenges squarely, with a wicked sense of humor and a hefty dose of common sense. I had the privilege of meeting her at a conference last summer, and it was such a treat to pick her brain in person!

Her new book is A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family. Though the title indicates that the book is geared toward large families, it’s actually full of practical advice for families of any size. For example, Mary quickly dispels the myth that large families are overwhelmingly expensive by laying out an honest and workable look at their own finances. She offers tips for managing a mega-family without mega-income, explaining how she manages to feed her large crew on only $800 a month.

The practical advice does not stop with the finances, though. She touches on several parenting challenges, including injecting some passion into a marriage, even when you’re overrun with kids (p. 105), common-sense management of room cleaning (p. 121), tips for diffusing sibling fights (p. 163), and a healthy perspective on after-school activities (p.55).

Perhaps most encouraging to me, personally, is Mary’s honest assessment that she’s not a saint. She doesn’t try to make it look effortless. Instead, she offers gems of encouragement like these:

“You don’t have to born with endless creativity. It is enough to be willing to learn along the way.” (p. 83)

“I have a mental image of a patient mother. She never has to beat back frustration. In my image, that mother doesn’t have to choose patience; she exudes it naturally from every tight, well-toned pore. Since I often have to fight for my patience, I’ve sometimes felt inadequate as a mother. But like the airbrushed thighs of models in Glamour magazine, I’ve come to realize that the smiling image of motherly serenity is unrealistic. Maybe even the most patient of mothers churns inside sometimes.” (p. 89)

“Humor is one of a parent’s most powerful allies. You’ll always be more effective when you aim for your child’s funny bone.” (p. 84)

I’m so thankful for this practical little book, and I’ve given it a place of honor on my shelf with my favorite quick-reference books. If you’re in mom in need of some practical pointers, add A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family to your reading list—you won’t be disappointed!

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