The Septuplets Turn 10!
Living with a Full House
"In many ways, parenting them now is more difficult than when they were little," confesses Bobbi. "With babies, every day is the same. You can go through the motions blindly. Now we have to be on our toes constantly in changing situations -- teaching them self-control, respect, and more."
Kenny calls the stage his children have entered "the in-between years," when they're no longer malleable little kids but not yet potentially rebellious teens. "Things will get interesting when they start turning 13 and 14," he says. "We hope this isn't the calm before the storm."
As devout Baptists, Bobbi and Kenny feel that a relationship with God is central to ensuring that their eight offspring become caring adults. "Right now our children attend church and believe in the Bible because we do," says Kenny. "When all of that is actually theirs, it will hopefully have a positive effect on them during their teen years."
The children's access to the media is also carefully controlled. "We keep a tight rein," says Bobbi. "That's the way Kenny and I were raised." Christian music and TV and educational television, such as the Discovery Channel, are on the approved list, along with family-friendly shows, such as Hannah Montana and High School Musical 2. Only Mikayla has an e-mail account, accessed with her parents' permission and on their computer in an office off the kitchen.
All eight do chores, says Bobbi. They tidy their rooms, change their bed linens, feed the cats, and more. As the oldest, Mikayla has recently added more grown-up tasks. She occasionally mows the lawn and babysits her siblings. The family has an imaginative fee structure: Mikayla earns $3 an hour for watching her siblings, while the others each receive 50 cents for behaving while their parents are away. For Mikayla, there's a bonus: She enjoys having the house to herself after the younger ones' bedtime at 8 p.m. Once, Bobbi and Kenny returned right after the little ones had gone to bed, and Mikayla exclaimed, "Couldn't you have stayed out longer?"
Mikayla's independence appears to come from having been homeschooled. After Bobbi taught the lessons, Mikayla decided which homework she'd do when. The approach worked well, with Mikayla scoring high on standardized tests. Her big adventure this year has been going to a regular junior high. She's not feeling like the odd one out, though. "It's a new regional school," says her mother, "so it was unfamiliar to all the kids."
The septuplets have always attended the town's regional school, which is large enough to divide them among several classrooms and let them develop without being compared to their siblings. With Mikayla's new schedule, Bobbi has been able to take a part-time job, working during school hours on the production line at the same factory where Kenny works and thereby supplementing the family's overstretched income.
The McCaugheys' finances are a balancing act. During the past year they've dipped into savings for day-to-day expenses, Kenny says. Bobbi still makes much of the children's clothing. Vacations are camping trips at nearby state parks. Other outings are rare, but not just for financial reasons: Nathan and Alexis can't keep up during, say, a walk through a mall.
The day after the big photo shoot, the McCaugheys have a get-together for friends and family. While Alexis picks out "Jingle Bells" on the piano in the living room, Bobbi and Kenny put out platters of food on the kitchen's breakfast bar. In the family room, Bobbi's mother, Peggy Hepworth, and youngest sister, Michele Bailey, sit with Kelsey, looking through photographs from the kids' early years. The other children jump and climb on play equipment in the backyard.
As everyone digs in, Bobbi and Kenny's stepmother, Val, reminisce about a day the two of them managed to transport seven infants in seven car seats to the hospital for tests. Friend Vicky Skiles, whose husband, Mark, is watching over the outdoor play, reports that she recently saw one of the kids climbing on the equipment unsupervised. Kenny smiles. "I'm going to have to set up a security camera to keep track of them," he says.
Camera or no, he and Bobbi look forward with optimism. The McCaugheys have survived the challenges of the septuplets' early years with the support of their faith, family, and community -- the bulwarks that will sustain them as their energetic children move into the future.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December 2007.