For big families, a good strategy is key

Shannon and Jason Tiemeyer didn’t necessarily plan to get married and have 11 children. And the couple, who married in 1990, aren’t necessarily done yet. It’s a matter of taking their faith — and it’s teaching on being open to life — seriously.

Shannon Tiemeyer, who writes the All This and Heaven Too blog worked outside the home until the family had their seventh child in 2002. Now a stay-at-home mother and home-schooler living in the Houston area, Tiemeyer said Jason earns a little more than $100,000 a year in his position as a regional sales manager for a consumer products company.

“He makes good money, and it would go very far if we had just a few children,” Tiemeyer wrote in an e-mail interview. “Actually, numbers mean different things in different parts of the country, depending on the cost of housing and the cost of living.”

“As with anyone, making ends meet isn’t always easy, but we have never gone without.,” she added. “We have plenty, we really do, but we drive older cars and don’t have much in savings.”

That means taking things as they come and taking it on faith that things will work out. It also means that the family cannot pay for expenses that might be taken for granted in other families, such as college.

The oldest four Tiemeyer children, ages 22 to 17, have jobs and pay their own way to attend community college, Tiemeyer said, while their parents continue to pay their living expenses.

“We buy them a used car when they are around 19 to get them to and from school,” she said. “We pay car insurance and cell phone (bills). We do not pay for college, but try to make sure that is as easy as possible by taking care of all the other things. (Jason) and I realized that we focused much harder on classes when we paid for them ourselves. When they graduate from college the car will be given to them. Until then we take care of it as long as they are in classes.”

The 13 members of the family live in what Tiemeyer called “an older home that needs lots of work” and finds adventures near home or visiting relatives rather than taking extended family vacations.

“We live a simple life, but a good one,” she said. “We have cable TV and all the electronic extras. We are not hurting by any stretch.”

Facing the unexpected

In fact, the family has managed to build up savings a few times, only to have them wiped out by unexpected medical expenses, including surgery to correct a congenital heart defect for their fifth child and a huge hit when their two youngest, twins, were born in 2012 and had to spend some time in the hospital.

“Each time Jason and I were thankful that we had what we needed,” Tiemeyer said. “God must want us to trust in him.”

That’s often a theme of Tiemeyer’s blog. Around the time the twins were born, she wrote about questioning why God would send the family two more babies in front of one of her children.

Her 4-year-old son said: “God told me in a dream that we are just supposed to love them! … We just need to love them; the rest will work out. You do love them, don’t you?”

“Duh, mom, at least my kids have it figured out,” Tiemeyer wrote on her blog. “It really is that simple. If you have one child or 20 your job is very simple. We are just required to love them. God does the rest.”

Loving them does not mean giving them everything they want, or everything they see advertised, or everything “everyone else” has.

“I have learned that kids do not need all that is expected to be giving to them,” Tiemeyer said. “Actually they tend to be smarter, kinder and happier when they don’t get all that they want or what society seems to think they need.

“Big families do not need to put their kids in every sporting activity or dance group,” she said. “We have so many opportunities to play and learn these activities with each other.”

They also don’t need to leave the house to find friends or playmates, and the family does not need to buy 11 versions of every toy or piece of furniture. For example, they do have a video-game system, but one $300 Wii does it for all of them. Food bought in bulk — a necessity when cooking for more than a dozen — costs less, Tiemeyer said, but she found clipping coupons to be too time-consuming to be worth the money.

The family does have a 15-passenger van, although its an older model that they bought used and have kept for years, and the cost of heating and cooling the house doesn’t change much based on the number of people who live there. Laundry, however, is a constant expense.

God’s generosity

But none of that compares in importance to the trust in God the Tiemeyers have always relied on, using natural family planning to space their pregnancies.

“We follow the teachings of the Church on this one and have never regretted it,” Tiemeyer said. “We challenged ourselves to trust God’s generosity, if we were open and generous to him by being open to new life he will be generous with us and help us provide. I know it might sound cliché, but it has always been the case.”

Of course, the family still worries about money, and Tiemeyer worries about the pressure on her husband to provide for so many people.

“Over the years we have found that God provides when we let him,” she said. “He provides in the big ways and in the little things. Our thought has always been that there is always room for more.

“We always give pause and think, ‘What if we get pregnant again?’ and then we smile and answer, ‘We will hug and kiss that baby forever, just like the rest of them,’” Tiemeyer added. “What I am saying is that we don’t throw caution to the wind and just ‘chance’ all of our encounters, but a baby is not losing the gamble in our minds. Another life is always a blessing, and God keeps proving that over and over again.”

Tiemeyer added that limiting their family would be akin to limiting God’s beauty within their home.

“We feel so blessed to have been open to life,” she said. “We know that all are not called to have families as large as ours. We are just thankful that we were called.”

Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.