For the Daniel family of Berkeley County, there’s never a dull moment.
With seven children ages 3-15, life is full of ups and downs, but Patti and Ben Daniel wouldn’t have it any other way. The high school sweethearts knew they wanted to have a large family but never knew how large it would actually be.
“I don’t know if I expected a family of seven, but I definitely wanted a large family. The more children you have, the more selfless you become,” says Patti, whose bubbly personality and positive outlook often throw people off when they find out about her large family.
“I think people expect me to look frazzled and wear frumpy clothes,” she continued.
“At first when I had three children under the age of 3, it wasn’t a smooth ride, but I realized that instead of being an obstacle, it was really what I wanted life to be about,” says Daniel, a College of Charleston graduate who still takes time for an occasional facial or early morning workout.
And the sentiment is the same for the Macmurphy family of Mount Pleasant. With five children ages 1-10, Kimberly and Jay Macmurphy knew they also wanted a large family, and Kimberly jokes that Jay would have 10 children if he could. But she admits that having a great sense of humor is critical, and she’s “learning to let go of my Type A control issues.”
The Macmurphy’s have learned it will take an extra 30 minutes to get anywhere and that being organized will save time and anxiety, but the additional effort is more than worthwhile. “I’ve realized the kids are only little for such a short time, so I need to cherish it and not sweat the small stuff,” says Kimberly.
No matter the family size, it’s all about being happy. Harold and Shanequa Renee Singletary of Charleston have been married for six years and have two daughters, Marianna, 7, and Malaya, 2, and there’s always time for fun, says Shanequa.
“We cook with the girls, play games, stay active and travel as much as we can. When we’re in the car, I’ll put in one of their silly song CDs and they get excited, we clap and sing together,” she laughs. “The best part of having a family is the liveliness in our house and in our lives.”
So how do all these families, no matter their sizes, maintain this happiness?
According to Mount Pleasant-based family and child clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer White-Baughan, it’s all about each family defining their own contentment. “I think the word ‘happy’ is overused, especially when it comes to family life,” White-Baughan points out. “Family life is a mixed bag; parents and children aren’t always going to be happy. The ideal that we have sometimes in our heads about what a family ‘should’ be, gets in our way for all of us to have a ‘content’ family.”
White-Baughan thinks there are many factors that play into having a content family life, and it all starts with the role of the parents. Here are some of her suggestions and what works for these local families:
1. Be the child’s role model.
Parents are the role models to what contentment is. They are the teachers in life, and what they do and the choices they make are powerful things for children. Happiness is a choice, and it comes out of being grateful for the simple things. Also, become a role model when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. When the kids see you active, eating a healthy diet and not sitting in front of the TV for long periods, they will model those same activities.
For the Macmurphys, they already are stressing the importance of their children understanding conflict resolution.
“We have a no-tattling rule, except when one of them is bleeding or in harm’s way,” Macmurphy says. “They need to learn conflict resolution skills for later in life. They need to work it out on their own, and they’ve figured out that if they can’t, then they come to us.”
Not only does this empower the children to make decisions, it also showcases the Macmurphys’ commitment to building their children’s independence.
2. Use “Parent Survival” and don’t be afraid to continue to grow as a parent.
Parents want to survive and thrive in parenting, and the way to do that often is to not have overriding expectations of a “perfect” life. Your own personal growth is essential; when children see parents changing and willing to take in new ideas, they will, too. Don’t use phrases such as, “That’s the way I’ve always been,” or, “That’s just the way I am.”
For the Daniel family, each child tells their parents daily their one happy moment and one sad moment of the day. This routine not only helps the kids, it also helps the Daniels understand their children more.
3. Let your child’s personality blossom.
From a ballerina to a soccer player, children have their own personalities and it’s imperative that parents let them grow into who they’re meant to be, says White-Baughan. “Sometimes parents aren’t aware that they’re projecting upon their children what they want their child to be. Instead, it’s important to accept them and reflect their specialness, and that child will flourish.”
According to Macmurphy, all five children have surprisingly individual personalities, “Watching each of the children’s different personalities emerge and seeing what gifts they have is so amazing. Same gene pool, same parenting, same environment, but still everyone is their own person.”
4. It’s about quality, not quantity, when spending time with your children.
White-Baughan admits that being a parent is difficult, especially in this day and age. With both parents working full time, the kids in day care or at extracurricular activities, there’s only a short window of time to spend together as a family. She suggests unplugging from the world if possible.
“Parenting is time spent together. It’s all right to watch a program, but have interaction between the breaks. But don’t spend long hours in front of the television or use it as a baby sitter.”
At the Singletary home, Shanequa and Harold cook with the girls, play family games on the Nintendo Wii and sometimes surprise the girls with an outing.
“If we’ve had a rushed or hectic day with little downtime, Marianna and I will head out on ‘an errand’ to enjoy a treat like a Coke float or ice-cream cone,” says Shanequa. “It’s usually a surprise when this happens, but it always makes her smile.”
5. Give them a spiritual outlet.
No matter whether you define yourself as religious or spiritual, it’s the responsibility for the parents to attend to the spiritual life and see the divine spark in their own children. “As a parent, they should reflect that spark back to the child,” says White-Baughan.
For both the Daniel and Macmurphy families, the Catholic Church and church activities are what have kept their family bonds so strong. When asked her secret to a happy family, Macmurphy says, “Put God and family first before work.”
6. Hug them! And don’t forget to hug your partner, too!
All kids need affection. There are some families who have children who are touch-sensitive, but for the most part, appropriate affection is the cornerstone of healthy families, says White-Baughan. And don’t forget about your partner — showing your love for them is imperative, even during the busiest times. It’s another way you act as a role model to your children.
“Now that we have teenagers, Ben and I go out at least once a month. And when we don’t go out, we have cheese dip-movies night,” Patti Daniel says. “We make nachos, rent a movie and just snuggle. I like those nights the best!”