Patrick and Carissa are the proud parents of eleven children, ages 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, 7, 4, 3, 2, 2, and 1, with five more in Heaven. Patrick works as the Director of Human Resources and Operations at Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto. Carissa is the author and illustrator of a Catholic children's book series, The Little Douglings. She is a homeschooling mom, Catholic speaker and blogger. The Douglas family are parishioners at Immaculate Conception Church in Sutton, Ontario.
1. What does a typical day look like in the Douglas family?
Carissa: Patrick breaks out his inner superhero and with the help of his side-kick older kids, making sure everyone is up, dressed and ready for morning prayers and breakfast. He heads off to work and passes the torch to me...in the form of a kiss and sometimes a coffee. The kids spend the morning doing schoolwork, usually finishing by lunch or shortly thereafter. We pray the Angelus, have lunch, and the five kids under five nap. Then, a lot of playing, reading and LEGOing ensues. Once chores are done, some days are crowned with attending daily Mass, and/or praying the rosary, ending with night prayers and age-appropriate group bedtimes. We allow for LOTS of parent down time in the evening, as well as a date night as often as we can.
2. What is the greatest joy and greatest challenge of raising a large family?
Carissa: We are surrounded by love, smothered by it - we wake up with love invading every last inch of our bed, even laying across our heads.
And during the day, if we're struggling in one moment with one of our children, we need only turn our heads and find we're met with a big, sloppy toddler smile, or a little one anxiously awaiting some snuggle time.
That's also one of the greatest challenges... it wakes you up a little too often, especially when you really would prefer to sleep.
Patrick: The challenges of a large family reside in its very nature: it calls you to die to yourselves daily, thrive in the mundane and to trust that God can help you rise to meet the many demands heroically and selflessly. It challenges you to trust in an almost supernatural way.
3. Why is it worth it?
Carissa: We're very aware that what we're doing (although seemingly insane) is a gift. It's a gift to ourselves, as each child helps to challenge, stretch, humble and refine us. God works very specifically through each of our children and I know, as much as I still need to grow, I would be a much more self-focused, stubborn comfort-seeker if it weren't for this vocation.
Patrick: It's also a gift to the world, as the children raised in large families have to learn to think of others from an early age. Large families naturally foster patience, selflessness and responsibility, as together we work to meet the needs of the smallest family members and contribute to the care of our home. You learn very quickly that, although you are loved beyond measure, the world doesn't revolve around you.
4. How do you afford it?
Carissa: It's mostly a lesson in prioritizing. We discern need verses want and find that we're able to save a lot when we detach ourselves from the spirit of materialism. We share, we pass down clothing and toys, none of our children have hand-held electronic devices.
Aside from swimming lessons, we don't have them enrolled in extra-curricular sports and activities, but that works out just fine as we seem to have enough members to form a few teams of in our own backyard.
Patrick: We've also learned that God is ready to sustain us when we offer Him our yes. Almost as soon as we have a need, we're often overwhelmed by God's prompt, faithful provision.
5. This year's theme for the National Week of Life and Family is "Love Grows by Giving." How does that play out in your family?
Carissa: For husband and wife: love abounds with mutual self-giving. It's that self-sacrificial love that gives completely, without holding back, and then that love does indeed grow in a very tangible way...until it's about to burst out nine months later! That has played out almost annually in our home.
Patrick: As far as the family goes: The blessing of large families is that they naturally foster a spirit of generosity. It's not always easy, but growth is often uncomfortable and challenging.
6. What does your family do to witness the joy of the Gospel outside of your home? What is your involvement in your parish or the broader community?
Carissa: We know that parenting, while a blessing, is also challenging, so we try to offer support to other families in any way we can. Patrick runs a dad's group for local families seeking to raise faith-filled kids, and I've authored a series of Catholic children's books that share ways we can foster a relationship with Christ, and offer an example of what it is to be an authentically Catholic, contemporary family.
Patrick: Our children are witnesses, in that they are joyful and very empathetic in nature. They enjoy visiting nursing homes and spending time with the elderly, who seem to crave the presence of children.
Angelica (8 years old): I love singing to them. One man calls me Miss Hollywood!
7. What do you do to encourage your children to make faith and a relationship with Jesus a priority in their lives as kids?
Carissa: Children are highly influenced by mom and dad. So, I've learned that if I want my children to have a relationship with Christ, then I have to work harder on my own relationship with Him. I need to pray wholeheartedly, I need to make Christ the center and highest priority in my life if I can even hope to have them do the same.
Also, I teach them to talk to Christ in the Holy Eucharist. I tell them to talk to Him as though He were their closest friend, and eventually, I've found that that's exactly what He becomes.
Patrick: We make use of the many gifts of our Catholic faith. We introduce them to the various saints, and they often find a special, personal saint that really speaks to them. We make use of holy water, icons, crucifixes and beautiful images that are given prominence in our home. We read stories and watch shows that have Christian themes. We really enjoy the discussions we have with the children afterwards.
8. What is your advice for other families looking to incorporate faith into family life?
Patrick: If you can somehow work daily Mass into your lives, we can assure you of the many graces that will come from the effort. Even one extra Mass a week has made a big difference in our lives.
Carissa: I would say, do everything you can to ensure that there isn't a separation between your faith life and everyday life. Your Catholic faith should flow seamlessly into all aspects of your life, it should direct your path and become the most important factor in any decision you make. Your children will notice if there is a big difference between Sunday Mom and Dad verses the person you are throughout the rest of the week, so let your faith be steadfast and integrity be one of your defining attributes.
Also, play with your kids, have game nights, laugh a lot, have dance parties, lip sync battles, let your children see that your faith, which is the driving force of your life, has not made you dull, or dreary, but alive and joyful.
After all, He came that we would have life, and have it to the fullest!
May 14-21 is the National Week for Life and the Family. The 2017 theme is "Love Grows by Giving." For more information, visit the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.