Read an Excerpt
No–we’re not kidding!
We have nineteen children.
That’s right. Nineteen.
You should see mouths fall open and pupils dilate when we drop that bombshell on unsuspecting new acquaintances.
It happens every so often at a dinner party or other social gathering where we’ve just met someone for the first time. After we’ve chatted about the weather, the Orlando Magic’s latest game, our jobs, or current events, the conversation almost always gets around to children.
“So…how many children do you have?”
We try to be as nonchalant as possible.
“Pardon me? I don’t think I got that.”
“I said nineteen.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
Pat will often add, “I have parented nonstop, day-by-day, for thirty-two straight years and gone to Little League baseball games for twenty-one years without a single year off!”
At this point in the conversation, we’ve experienced a number of interesting reactions. Some people slap their ear with the palm of their hand as if there must be something wrong with their hearing. Others have sprayed us with a mouthful of whatever they happened to be drinking at the moment. But most people just say something like: “Good heavens! Why?”
The best answer we can give is, This is what God wanted for us.
Nope! Having nineteen children is no laughing matter.
“Did you plan on having nineteen kids?”
Of course not. Nobody would plan on having that many children!
“Are you two crazy?”
Crazy, no. Stressed and frazzled sometimes, you bet. Someone has said that having three or more children is like having a bowling alley in your brain. You can just imagine what things are like in our brains!
This is when the challenge comes: “What are your children’s names?”
The person who asks this question always has a look on his or her face that says, “I bet you can’t do it.” But we can–and usually without even stopping to try to remember whom we’ve left out!
There are Jimmy, Bobby, Karyn and Stephanie, Sarah, Andrea and Michael, Thomas, Stephen and David. Then there’s Peter, Brian, Sammy, Gabriela and Katarina, followed by Daniela, Richard, Caroline and Alan.
That’s a final score–so far–of eleven boys and eight girls! At this point, after our new acquaintance’s initial shock has worn off, we’re always asked, “What’s it like?”
Well, it ain’t the Brady Bunch!
It’s wild, it’s crazy, it’s frenetic, it’s a never-ending stream of soccer, swim meets, tennis, volleyball, football, cheerleading, basketball, church youth groups, homework, skinned knees, broken hearts, carpools, runny noses, trips to the dentist, doctor visits, braces, parent-teacher conferences, and… Well, you get the picture.
With nineteen kids, we celebrate lots of birthdays. (Seven in the month of July alone.) And with all nineteen of our kids growing rapidly, we’ve had to shop for clothes about as often as most families shop for groceries. Thank goodness Ruth works for the FranklinCovey organization, where she spends a lot of her time teaching and coaching business executives how to get their lives organized. We have called upon every bit of her expertise to keep things running smoothly in the Williams household.
Still, having nineteen kids around the house means that every day is a college-level course in parenting. The things we’ve learned about parenting could fill a book–and this is the book!
Are we qualified to write such a book? Well…
• We know what it takes to parent children who are born to you.
• We know about raising adopted kids, including girls and boys from other cultures and ethnicities.
• We know the particulars of raising stepkids and dealing with the special problems that arise from trying to blend families.
• We even know what it’s like to be a single parent.
We know all of this from direct personal experience: Pat has fathered four children, welcomed another fourteen kids into his family through adoption, and gained another daughter through his marriage to Ruth in 1997.
Ruth spent years as a single mother. Then, through marriage to Pat, she jumped feetfirst into his “family circus”–despite the incredulous reaction of some friends who warned her, “You’d better take some time to think about what you’re getting yourself into.” After doing what her friends suggested, she decided that the poet was right and that love would indeed conquer all. She married Pat, became a mother to an additional eighteen children of various ages, and has never looked back.
Now, having nineteen kids is no day at the beach. In other words, it’s not easy. Ours is not a “television-family,” where everything is tied up in neat little packages at the end of every episode. A couple of years ago, we had sixteen teenagers all at once. Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a house with teenage hormones bouncing off the floors, walls, and ceiling? It was like living in the middle of a hurricane!
Raising these children to be respectable, responsible adults has been the hardest thing either one of us has ever had to do. When you’ve parented nineteen kids, you’ve seen it all–every conceivable problem and pitfall of every age group, from the tiniest infant in her cradle to the much-taller-than-you young man heading off to find his own way in the world. But at the risk of sounding trite, we have to tell you that it has also been the most rewarding experience of our lives.
Every Child Is a Miracle
The Bible says in Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD” (NASB). And so they are, even though that may be hard to remember when the school principal calls you for the third time in two weeks and asks, “Can you come in for a conference? We need to talk–again! ”
Because you’re reading this book, we’re assuming that you, too, know the joys and pains associated with parenting. If so, think back to the first time you saw that little girl or boy who is “bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh.” Or think back to when the person at the orphanage placed that little hand in yours and said, “You can take him home now. He’s all yours.” Like us, you probably dreamed about what that tiny little guy would become when he grew up.
Like most parents, you have made plans for the new arrival; sacrificed your own needs and wants; saved money (or tried to) for things like college and weddings even though they may seem to be as far into the future as Star Trek.
As parents, we teach, we laugh, we cry–and we get down on our knees and pray, pray, pray that we do and say things the right way so that our precious little bundle will grow up to be a happy, contributing, successful, and independent human being.
Sometimes our children actually live up to our dreams and expectations. And, sadly, sometimes they don’t. As parents, we have experienced the ultimate highs with the children who do it right and the devastating lows with the children who don’t.
The things we’ve learned in the trenches are distilled into this book. But we’d be misleading you if we tried to tell you this is an “advice book.” If there is one thing that stands out in what we have learned over the years, it is this:
There are no simple answers. Just as no two snowflakes or sets of fingerprints are alike, no two children are alike. Just when you think you have heard, seen, and learned it all, something entirely new and unexpected happens–sometimes wonderful and sometimes awful.
Bottom line: We can’t tell you what you should do in any particular situation because every child and every situation is unique. However, we can pass on the benefit of our hard-earned wisdom learned from our own five or six lifetimes’ worth of parenting. We have made mistakes. There are some things we would go back and do differently, but that’s impossible. So we simply keep going, ask for God’s guidance, and do our best every day.
More than anything else, we want this book to encourage you to keep investing your time, energy, and love into your children–even in that daughter who seems to be beyond your reach and beyond hope, and even when that son has long since grown up and flown from the nest. You see, parenting is a lifelong commitment. And despite all the confusion, frustration, conflict, heartbreak, and loud music, the words of the psalmist are still true. Children really are an inheritance from the Lord! And yes, that includes teenage children.