On growing up in a big family (a letter to my children)

CampingAs your momma, there are always things buzzing in my mind that I hope each of you will remember, or know, or understand about what’s most important in this life.  But in this particular moment I’m thinking about how it’s been for you growing up at the beginning, or in the middle, or as the tail-end charlie of our big-ol crazy family.

I hope in the future you’ll remember life with us, your clan, as the great adventure that it truly has been.   There’s always someone around to watch a movie with you, or to loan you a belt, or coax into helping you drag the trash out to the road. (“Quick, the trash truck’s coming!”)  In adulthood often that looks like helping each other move, or bringing each other dinner after the arrival of a new baby.

I’m hoping you’ll feel close enough to share those favors around, and to help each other out in the many transition times life doles out.  Family adds a blessed cushion to all sorts of challenging days, whether those days involve hard things like illness or car breakdowns, or joyous things like new babies and wedding planning.

I know it’s not always been easy to parent-share in this big clan. I wish there’d never been times I dropped the ball, missed a clue that you needed to talk about something, or wasn’t there for you.  I always desperately long to be there, whether I can be or not.  Not being able to meet everyone’s needs Brothersperfectly….honestly, that’s what I hate most about being a momma of many.  (Though I suppose even moms of one or two feel that way sometimes.) Each and every one of you is precious.  Amazing.  Incredible.  Worth focusing on.  And it kills me to think there are moments when you didn’t feel like you were in the very center of my heart.  Because you are. Oh, you are.  Never doubt that.

SistersBut even in hard moments, God is there.  When you’re feeling lonely or sad, or like people don’t quite understand,  remember to lean on the only One who understands you perfectly.  The One who hears every thought before you think it.  The One who gave His life for you. In good times and in hard, I pray you will lean on Jesus for your best, truest companionship.Having fun

People these days have funny ideas about scarcity and wealth, and sometimes they make assumptions about families like ours. I hope you see it clear.  Even though we’ve always had more than enough of the essentials, truthfully there’s still been  sharing, making space, releasing something for a time to be a blessing to someone else.

Some people think a kid having to share anything is a shame.  But understand this clear:  poverty is not about that last hamburger getting split two ways, or last night’s leftover dinner getting warmed up for today’s lunch.  There’s nothing poor or shameful about a bike getting passed down four times, or a favorite t-shirt going through three kids before it finally becomes a carwash rag.

At the beach house

No, the worst kind of poverty is the relational kind– getting to adulthood without people around you who really care about you.  It’s possible to get through your whole life without ever having to share a bedroom or a t-shirt– have every luxury known to man, in fact — and still experience that kind of poverty.  The best and most lasting wealth on earth, aside from being in relationship with Jesus, comes from being in relationship with people who really care about you. Knitting sisters

Sure, those friends aren’t always siblings– there are precious friendships to be had with people who don’t share our last name or our DNA.  But wow, there’s a special power in a friend who is also a sister or a brother. So as you go out into the world, remember to also hang onto the family God’s given you.

Whether you realized it at the time or not, you learned lots about good relationships growing up in our clan.  Those experiences have made you stronger, kinder, and more generous.  Remember those lessons, and be on the lookout for the lonely, the people who need the kind of wealth, of friendship, that you can offer.  In this hard world, I want you to be a friend.  And knowing each of you, I’m sure you will.  Each of you in your own unique way is generous in heart and spirit.

Finally, I need to say this again:  I love you.  You are amazing and precious and special, each and every one of you.  I have been so blessed to share this life with each of you.  I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.  Go forward with confidence and enjoy everything that God has given you!

Ostyns at Christmas 2014






  1. Beautiful!

  2. Gary Coryer says:

    Spot on! I grew up poor but we never knew it. I never felt poor, rather I was amazied at all the opportunity in my mountain home. Our world outside the home was wild and carefree. At home we learned caring and responsibility. I thought everyone grew up like that until I went out into the world and met folks who grew up impoverished in the important things. That was when I realized I was actually wealthy in all the important things as a child. Thanks to my parents and grandparents for the wonderful up bringing. Mary, your letter to your kids brought those feelings all flooding back. Your kids are very lucky and I’m sure they will cherish their youths and their lives.
    Gary in Vermont

  3. I love love love this Mary! Things I want my children to know and more. What a wonderful letter for them to treasure.

  4. Lovely! Mine are little still: 7 kiddos 12 years and under, but I see the oldest growing so fast. I want him (and them all) to know how desperately I love them all… even though I’m not always available for every story, every show and tell, evey…..

    Different topic: but do you recommend any good resources for parenting middle school boys?

    Thank you!

  5. Beautiful. Thank you.

  6. Being a Mama of 14, Wow, this was point on! As I read it I felt as though I could have written it myself. I had to laugh about the garbage truck…our children have been there done that many times. I often wish my children could see how much my Mama heart loves them each one. I’m now in a season of life that I don’t want things left unsaid, these too are the things I want to share. Your blog is a blessing, thank you for sharing.

  7. This right here is why I always wanted a big family. I didn’t get it, but I wanted it. Families/siblings are priceless treasures.

  8. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Important stuff. I especially loved the bit about “true poverty” and things being passed down and sharing not being poverty. It is *hard* to get that across to our kids (and with everyone around us working hard to give their kids everything materially (it seems to me) a challenge to me daily to keep believing we’re not “short changing” them when they don’t have “half the stuff”.) Thank you for this piece. Bookmarking it 🙂