Ink Slingers Martina Mom So Hard Series

9 Ways Two ‘Isms’ can Coexist in Your Large Family: Catholicism and Minimalism

MOM SO HARD Finessing the Intricacies of Your Modern Catholic Family

Not Naturally Organized…Naturally

It wasn’t long into our marriage that one of us (uh hem, me) decided that living with clutter and mess wasn’t suitable. Of the two of us, it became like that episode of Everyone Loves Raymond where they leave the suitcase on the stairs at the end of a trip to see just who would take it upstairs. Determined to see who would “cave” first, Debra and Ray both refuse to take the suitcase upstairs, each for their own reasons.

Not that our reasons were anywhere nearly as exciting or sitcom worthy, neither of us were particularly neat people to begin with. Married life both highlighted and compounded this problem, and while I didn’t feel pressured into doing something about it, it definitely came down to my feeling like I’d had “enough” and it was just time to make a change. I couldn’t stand looking at the endless mess due to…if I’m being completely honest here…laziness. I couldn’t pin it on anything other than our collective laziness as the reason why we lived in piles of papers, unpacked boxes, sink filled to the BRIM with dishes, clean dishwasher fully opened and unloaded (it simply became another location in which to pull clean dishes, just like the cabinets and drawers).

The Family Grows – and so do the logistical challenges

As our family grew, so did the challenges of incorporating strategies and ideas that lessened those everyday stresses. It was a lot like shoveling sand against the tide – futile. Add to that, you’ve read over and over again that I’ve said I’m not naturally organized, and you can see how I had all the ingredients for the perfect storm. Over the years, the desire to declutter was always there. What I lacked was vision and focus. Oftentimes, I would sit down to work on a project only to be derailed by hitting a brick wall on what to do next. Frustration often won out and so I would throw my hands up, give up, and walk away. It would take me sometimes years to finish a project – sad, right? The garage became the bane of my existence. After each move, it was filled with all the unpacked boxes and furniture I couldn’t part with. When we downsized, our garage was stuffed so badly, you couldn’t even walk around in it. I had to open the garage and work on boxes from the outside in, that’s how bad it was. By the time I had the first two house garages completed, we moved. One house we lived in seven years, and the other five. I often joked that as soon as the garage was unpacked, it was time to move. 

The Stakes are Finally Raised

Then we decided to move, upsizing our house after downsizing – that’s a whole OTHER post, friends. We moved in the summer and I gave myself ONE YEAR to get that garage in order – the tightest deadline, ever, lol. With our kid count at seven at that time, I had to get to work thinking about needs and how to organize the garage and I got to work.

I know the current secular push is to evaluate what you have and keep what “sparks joy” but for our large family (and maybe yours) it never really touched on sparking joy so much as it came down to sentimentality (within reason) and practicality.

Large families, by our nature, have different needs than a single person, married couple with no kids, and even small families. Add to the mix that we are Catholic, there are things that we will need to have multiples of or hang onto from one kid to another.

I finally told myself there wasn’t a problem with having a lot of something, but it really came down to its use and could it be stored adequately between uses. And that became my foundational rationalization. 

Let’s get right down to it – how do we make this happen?

So, how can Catholicism and…minimalism coexist, especially within large families?

The good news is they aren’t mutually exclusive. The Tiny House infatuation that has taken over America the past few years has highlighted something good about having less that everyone can benefit from. And even large families can benefit from this practice, too!

  1. Implement good cleaning habits. If you aren’t naturally organized, you will probably have to work a bit harder to create inroads to more organization in your family. When I began turning over a new leaf, I looked to Fly Lady for help in not just establishing good cleaning habits, but working through ways to organize. I’ll admit at the time, I only had two children, one in school and a baby at home, but as our family grew, what I learned from Fly Lady became foundational to my success.
  2. Three boxes. When you’ve got a good cleaning schedule in hand, the next step is to assess what you have and decide how to pare down. This is when three boxes come in handy: trash, donate/sell, and keep.
  3. What time of day works best? This helped immensely when it came to starting a decluttering/paring down project. Night owls might find evenings are a good time to work on a room – I’m not a night owl, so I tend to pick a block of time or a weekend and hit it hard in the morning. I rarely work on something all day long, as that just leads to a lot of frustration and overwhelm for myself. I also tend to find a burst of energy the day before trash goes out in making those final decisions on things we don’t need. Sometimes it translates to getting tossed, and other times, it means things are bagged up and put in the van to take to the thrift store. 
  4. Take your bags of donate items to the store NOW. Don’t delay. Don’t be like I was for years, driving my donate bags around town for no good reason other than just…laziness, lol. I think the record for me was something ridiculous like four months of bagged donate items in the back of the car. Never again. We have three thrift stores within a handful of minutes around, two of which within spitting distance (there’s my East Texas popping through, y’all!) of the grocery store, so no real reason not to stop by and drop those bags OFF!
  5. Take inventory of the items you DO need to keep multiples of or store for a time. Because we are large families, there WILL BE certain things you accumulate and with good reason. This varies from family to family. I’m not going to tell you to ditch X – because if I do that, and it’s something you may actually truly need, that doesn’t work. What I am saying is think it through, decide if the need is sentimental or practical, and decide where and how you will store said items. If you have the space and proper storage bins, those are things that can help factor into keeping items your family will use again. In our home, we keep shoes and clothes stored, and a lot of them! They are all stored in bins in the attic. Because our birth order alternates, we tend to hang on to clothes for a while. This has always been a practical need for our family, but that might not work for other families. Additionally, keeping garments for sacraments from one child to another is a practical need. Minimalism for large families should leave room for items we know we’ll need down the road. Plus, sentimentalism has value I’ve found isn’t worth tossing. 
  6. Toys. We have large families. I get it. Keeping toys out or easily accessible doesn’t always jive with the feel of minimalism, but there are some clever ways to tackle that. Tuck toys behind the doors of small or large furniture. Some other ideas can include a cabinet, drawers, or even a coffee table with drawers for specific toys. Barring that, if you have the space and the ability to set this up, you can peruse Marketplace on Facebook for some fabulous steals for storage. We have two locked closets in our house, one for school supplies (our former homeschool closet) and a game closet. Inside each, I was able to find two 2×4 Expedits for a steal from a local person who was moving. I have one shelf unit in each closet, and in the game closet, it contains baskets filled with sorted toys. Keeping the toys locked helps us decide when we rotate toys through and keeps the kids excited when new toys come out to play!
  7. Clothes. To keep clothes from getting out of hand, we keep bins in the kids’ closets to toss clothes that don’t fit as they grow out of them. Once in a while, we empty it, and decide what will be stored for the next kiddo, donate it to friends or the thrift store or just trash it if it’s too far gone!
  8. Books. I am a HUGE fan of books and it’s one of the few things we do not part with unless they are beyond repair. That said, you can always pare down on religious books and bless others in your community if you have an overabundance like I might – uh hem. Consider joining a local Catholic group on Facebook or elsewhere that you can both request books as needs arise as well as find takers on your overflow book stash.
  9. Rosaries, sacramentals, and consecrated material. This is one area in particular that I won’t tell people to pare down unless you have good reason. Rosaries, sacramentals and consecrated materials tend to tell a story: given by a loved one or picked up on a special trip, they should have a loving place in the home. Sacramentals that are plastic or have no sentimentality to it can be gifted to someone in need. If they are blessed, broken, and beyond repair, please please please properly dispose of the sacramentals. This includes any books that have been blessed as well. To read more on how to properly dispose of these sacred items, visit this site for more information.

As you can see, having a large family doesn’t mean you have to own all. the. things. We don’t have to be drowning in things because we think our large family requires it. The emphasis here is on active and ongoing discernment of balance in the family. There will be seasons when you will need more of X and guess what? That is TOTALLY fine! As long as the active discernment is in play, you will be able to assess your family’s needs and adjust accordingly. 

What works today, may not work tomorrow for the family. And you know what, friend? That also is totally OK. 

Thank you for reading this installment in the series MOM SO HARD – FINESSING THE INTRICACIES OF YOUR MODERN CATHOLIC FAMILY. This series is focused on taking a look at the Faith through the lens of being a Catholic mom. Using a spiritual foundation as our starting point, we walk with you and share candid and practical elements that make up our days. We will look at primary spiritual elements, recognizing that without God, nothing is possible. How do we start our day? How do we end our day? If God does not bookend our days (at a minimum), we can start to see how feeling overwhelmed or worse can creep into our day. Even the most mundane of chores and activities can be done to glorify God. 


9 Ways Two Isms can Coexist in Your Large Family



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The Rainbow after the Storm

The Rainbow after the Storm

I always told myself I’d be satisfied with the family size we had, whether that was one child or many. And so it came to be that five more children would follow the first – and in an order that proved God has a sense of humor, girl boy girl boy girl boy. What we didn’t expect was the storm that was brewing unbeknownst to us. It would be years before the rainbow finally showed its face.

When we got pregnant after #6 was born, we started to brace ourselves for what was to come. We had recently downsized from a rather large home into a much smaller one to be close to our home parish. Multiple daily trips there and back for Mass, youth ministry, RE, volunteer meetings, parent meetings, children’s choir, altar boy trainings, weddings and funerals, and spiritual direction, it just seemed like the right move. We wanted the neighborhood – or so we thought – until we realized that our size 10 shoe of a family was being squashed into a size 5 shoe of a house.

But it wouldn’t matter.

That was November 2014 – almost four years ago when our entire family experienced our first and most devastating miscarriage. It was the most devastating only because we didn’t see it coming. It was my grief, my husband’s grief, our grief together as a couple…then there was our children’s grief, both individually and collectively. And lastly, it was our family’s grief. It was almost too much to bear, but we muddled through it. We gave her a name right away, following our birth order, of course – Felicity Gertrude, or baby Gertie. We asked her in our nightly prayers to pray for our family and the practice of normalizing her place in the family began with such mixed emotions.

My due date came and almost went. I realized it on the actual day as I lay in bed, ready to go to sleep. Sad thoughts crept into my head, but I brushed them aside. I made it a priority to focus on the fact that God is good all the time. I had spent a considerable amount of time in grief after the loss of our little one and allowed myself to experience all those emotions.

Our oldest was 18 at the time and always went to her own favorite Mass time, while the rest of our family went to our usual 9:30 a.m. Mass time. Going all together as a family was a rare treat, usually only enjoyed on Thanksgiving. And so it happened that the first Mass we went together after our loss on November 15, 2014 was ON Thanksgiving. The woman leading the rosary before Mass prayed the St. Gertrude prayer at the close of the rosary – and that’s when I lost it. Ugly cry, don’t care WHO sees me, this crying is happening NOW kinda cry. We were all together – our whole family – because during Mass, heaven and earth meet and our lost little was with us.


Little did we know losing Gertie would be the beginning of multiple losses. Soon after her burial on Our Blessed Mother’s solemnity, the Immaculate Conception, we would find ourselves pregnant again in January – Michael Christopher. It was cautious optimism followed by almost instant grief. A week passed from learning of our next baby to his death. It was over almost as soon as it had started.

The numbness sets in.

Loss three would be the following January 2016 – Sarah Olivia, whom my daughter named. My due date was to be our anniversary, on the actual date. I found solace in this connection, but it was stacked alongside inevitable grief. God was done with our family here on earth, I was sure of it.

Remember when I said I had always worked hard to be happy with our family size? Six children appears to many as a very large family and sometimes the outside perception is that it’s too many or pangs of sadness aren’t necessary seeing as we already have “too many children” by society.

And yet both mine and my husband’s heart desired to continue to be open in the face of what felt like a continued string of miscarriages – lost babies.

It wasn’t until I saw the look of sadness on my sweet Josie’s face when we became pregnant for a 10th time that I realized the depth of the grief and impact of those losses on our family. However, my hcg numbers were strong, everything looked good, the doc (and personal friend) had me on progesterone (again). It was more hope than we’d seen since my pregnancy with #6 in 2011. I did my best to assure my sweet five year old girl that it seemed like we might get to meet this little one.

And so we did. In January 2017, we welcomed our sweet Emmaleine Rose (Emmie to friends and family). When I was pregnant with her, I did a lot of soul searching, talking to God, and putting in petty requests like, I want her to have green eyes and curly red hair. He, however, did NOT give me a red headed green eyed girl like I wanted, lol, but she has the MOST FABULOUS brown curls and STUNNING blue eyes that may turn green, as most of our kiddos have some shade of green or hazel eyes.

My pregnancy with Emmie was by far one of my most physically difficult, ending up with SPD, which made it practically impossible to walk, and affecting my ability to walk even months after her birth. And yet my pregnancy with her carried with it some of my best memories. I cherished each moment we had together. I talked to her, played with her when she rolled around like a barrel and tried to break my ribs with her feet – fun times! 

I wrestled quite a bit with coming to terms that these beautiful children first belong to God and that ultimately I shouldn’t dwell on despair of their losses. That’s easier to type and read than it is to really take in and make my own. I credit our priests who lifted our family in those hard times and availed themselves to us when we needed them most, showing up late at night to talk to us and help us out after they had no doubt invested 12+ hours into their work day already, or just sending a text to see how I was doing. Pastoral didn’t even begin to cover how they made our family feel in those troubling times.

Looking back, I know it wasn’t only the hope and desire of a baby after three losses that brought that catharsis full circle. Instead, it was a combination of Emmie, our priests, and the complete surrender to God’s will that brought a final sense of peace.

God is in control.

And God is good, all the time.


Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Parenting Sarah Vocations

A House Full of Joy

“Don’t you have any hobbies?” “You know what causes that?”

You’ve heard it all before. The probing questions, the not-so-discreet counting as your brood passes by, the eye rolling when you announce, again, that you’re pregnant. To you, tired mama, I say, it’s worth it. It’s worth every rolled eye, deep sigh, or rude comment you are forced to field.

We still have a long road of parenting ahead of us and maybe one day, we will have more sleepless nights and endless diapers.  But for now, we are in a baby lull. We are given a time to focus on raising only people who can walk to the car or go to the bathroom independently. It’s an odd place to be, after so many years of dependency. But it is a good time to reflect on the gifts we’ve been given.

After the gawks and stares, the next comment we’ve all heard is, “I don’t know how you do it!” or even more pointed, “I only have one and I’m losing my mind!”

Oh, how different six is from one. Had I been given six babies growing into six toddlers, all at once, I’d definitely have even more wrinkles than already I do! But life doesn’t generally work that way. God eases us into big family parenting, one (and the occasional two!) at a time.

Our first children came fast and furious, one after another. Those were hard years filled with sleepless nights, tantrums and meltdowns (sometimes not from the kids!), and sweet, sweet snuggles. On the oldest’s fourth birthday, I juggled a toddler and infant as I served the cake and ice cream.

That boy is fourteen and our “baby” is very nearly four. As I serve her birthday cake next month, there will be no toddlers or infants to juggle. But the years in between those two are filled with siblings and laughter and love. We wouldn’t have it any other way. There have been difficult seasons, but even those are laced with a joy that can only come from the big love of a big family.

There is a specific love that comes from following the will of God, from being open to bringing new life into an already filled-to-brimming home. Our walls are filled to bursting, but our hearts are as well. Six kids isn’t six sleepless infants or six screaming toddlers. It’s six friends, six helping hands, six joke crackers and table setters and board game players. It’s late night giggling, homework helping, and partners in crime. It’s six built-in, forever by your side, best friends.

Yes, this life requires sacrifice. But so does anything worth doing. The taste of reward is that much sweeter when sacrifice is required. It takes sacrifice to save for that beach vacation or a vehicle upgrade. We work hard for our material goals. Our spiritual goals are that much more important. Raising souls for Christ’s army? Equipping those souls with siblings to assist them along the way? When you step back and look, you realize that the sacrifice isn’t all that big, in proportion to the reward.  

When I look around our kitchen table and see smiles, hear laughter, I know that it’s worth every wrinkle, stretchmark, and sleepless nights. When I look down the pew at Mass and see the fruit of our marriage literally filling the pew, I know it was worth every worry and struggle and frustration. Christ said, “Let the children come to Me” and I’m sure He also meant, “The more the merrier!”

Ink Slingers Mary P.

Four Reasons I’m Welcoming a Fourth Baby

Four Reasons I’m Welcoming a Fourth Baby


I came out on Facebook last week. Came out as practically-a-Duggar, that is.  More specifically, I revealed that I am having a fourth baby by posting my 20 week ultrasound picture. In my real-life social circle, four children does not a large family make. In fact, families with “just” four or fewer are in the minority. However, out there in the greater society (and in Facebook land), it’s a whole different story. Even having three, my husband has received many comments at work about his “many” children. Four definitely seems to be past the line in the sand between “sane” and “insane” these days. There are many out there who just can’t understand why on earth anyone would want that many children.  Some days I even ask myself why. Children are needy, and loud, and messy, and they interrupt my grand plans for my day, and my life. Children require sacrifice. Why would anyone want to sacrifice so much?

Truthfully, I don’t want to sacrifice. I think if I were holier, I would. But as it stands, the sacrifices are carried out begrudgingly most days. So, then, why am I having another child who is going to demand so much of me, and seemingly give back so little? It’s not because I’m insane (although I might be). And it’s certainly not because I enjoy being pregnant. Here are some of the real reasons:

  1. Children actually “give back” a lot more than we give them credit for. Sure, there are days when I feel like all they are doing is taking from me, but those are just feelings, unreflective of reality. My children give me so much. They give me kisses and hugs when I’m sad or not feeling well. They give me countless reasons to smile and laugh with their adorableness, and even their maddening antics. They give me perspective on what really matters in life. They give me lessons in how to get to Heaven, with their innocence, purity-of-heart, and quickly-offered forgiveness. They give me unconditional love. (Seriously, who else on earth loves as purely and unconditionally as children do?!) Perhaps most importantly, they give me opportunities to die to myself and become more like Christ. All those sacrifices they require of me? Those are—paradoxically—gifts, when looked at the right way. A life of comfort and self-indulgence is not a life that would bring me closer to Jesus and Heaven.
  2. Each of our children is unique and non-repeatable. Some people think that once you have a boy and a girl, any other children would be redundant. But, having four children is not like having four televisions. They are not objects, which can render one another superfluous. Each child brings his or her own unique personality and gifts to the family and the world. Each has an individual purpose and calling, and every life —no matter how short-lived— has a ripple effect. Our hope and goal is that each of our children will make the world a better place, while winning souls for Christ. So far, each of them certainly has made our home a better place. 
  3. Siblings are a gift. I have six brothers and sisters. Growing up in a large family was not always easy or enjoyable. But I was always grateful for my siblings. They were my built-in friends, and they taught me about life and love. They still do. Siblings fight and make mischief together, teaming up to make their parents’ lives difficult at times. But the love among them is stronger than all of that. My children are so excited for another sibling. It’s rare to hear of any children among the families we know who aren’t excited when their mothers are going to have another baby. A new child multiplies the love in the home, rather than taking love from other children. 
  4. God called us to. I know this sounds silly to the non-believers out there, but hopefully fellow Christians can understand this point. My husband and I don’t believe that our lives are our own, to live strictly according to our own wills; we believe in seeking God’s will in all we do. Sometimes His will seems to align with what we want, what makes us comfortable. But more often than not, God calls us to go outside our comfort zones and do something that doesn’t necessarily make practical sense. On matters of family planning (and really, in all matters), we know that God is much better equipped to be the final decider than we are. He’s the only one who can see the whole picture. When all we may see are the “costs” of each baby, God sees the blessings and the provisions that will come with each new life. He sees the whole future laid out in front of Him –the purpose of each soul within human history– whereas our view is so myopic. My husband and I live in awe of that fact, and so we don’t believe that our fertility is meant to be carefully controlled according to our own desires, or cost-benefit analyses. We sought God’s will about a fourth baby, and he answered us with a pregnancy. It’s as simple as that. No other reasons even matter.

I was nervous about letting the cat out of the bag about this pregnancy. Some of my friends have received less-than-kind responses when announcing their own fourth babies. I know there are people in our life who just do not understand or think positively of our lifestyle (although, thankfully, every single person who commented on the ultrasound picture was gracious and kind). I don’t know what certain people are saying behind our backs, but I realized that it doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t be embarrassed or secretive about our children. Each of their lives is infinitely valuable and worthy of celebration, because each is created in God’s image and through God’s love. If pressed to draw one, my own line between “sane” and “insane” would be between those who see the value of every human life and those who don’t.  

 How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers! (attributed to Mother Teresa)

Domestic Church Guest Posts Homeschool Resources

{Catholic} Homeschooling Multiple Ages in a Large & Busy Family

It’s daunting to think about schooling many children, all different age ranges, in a busy house.

It takes a bit of creative thinking but it can be done. Each summer before the year starts, I start praying about our schedule, and I ask my husband to pray about it too.

I have some tips and tricks I have used over the years to have smooth sailing days when homeschooling a large family:

  1. Work with the Littles First – Start the morning with the youngest children.  Playing on the floor, reading stories, whatever works for the ages and stages of your youngest.  Your older children can be working on independent work.
  2. Contain the Younger Kids – When my children were younger, I had a space in our home that I could block off and keep the younger kids contained while I worked with the older kids.  It was a safe, child-friendly spot.  I could hear/see them all the time and I would rotate through some of our larger toys.  One day it would be the dollhouses, next it was blocks and cars, the next it was the kitchen and play food.I could work on some focused activities with the older kids without the younger kids having free reign over the entire house.  In an hour I could get a good amount of work done with the older kids and the younger kids had a focused playtime.
  3. Older Kids Work with Younger Kids – Having older children play with younger children has many benefits.  New readers can get practice reading simple board books and younger children hear more stories.  This year my 6th grader worked with my 3rd grader on learning the states and capitals.  Geography is something he loves and he was happy to share his knowledge with his little sister.
  4. Group Kids Together as Much as Possible – I like family style learning, I enjoy having all of my children learning together.  I think it makes learning more interesting for all of us, as we can all discuss the same topics.  It also makes it easy to have Dad join in on our learning.  In the past I have used a curriculum to group my older three together, this coming year I’m using a curriculum that can group all of my children together.  We are learning about the same topics, just adjusted for the different learning levels.
  5. Relax Standards a Bit – Learning does not need to be rigorous to be thorough, and seat work does not have to equal school work.  Nature walks, trips to the zoo and other activities go a long way to adding a richness to the day.  Spend time reading quality books while having a snack, or listening to books during quiet time, the rosary while on the road are all good things.
  6. Chore Time – Just like learning together is more enjoyable, chores done together can be more fun too.  I have found that in spending 30 minutes on assigned tasks we can get a good amount of cleaning and picking up completed.

What are some ways that you make homeschooling in a large family work in your home?


Raising Saints Homeschooling Contributor Jen blogs at Forever, For Always, No Matter What.  She has one amazing husband and six eclectic kids.  Stop in for a visit as she blogs about their Catholic faith, homeschooling and adoption, all while trying to fit in exercise and healthy eating.  Jen can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.