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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Got a Big Brood? Need Advice? Mary Ostyn's The Mommy to Ask.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

To offer some counterpoint to my last review, I decided to read a book that swings in the complete opposite direction from What I Thought I Knew. A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family by Mary Ostyn comes recommended by my younger sister, who knows a few things about the topic in question. At 30, she manages a brood of 5 kids aged 10 and under. To say I admire her is like saying I kinda like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups - vast understatements, both. She's a kind and loving mother who runs a very tight ship. Even the best of moms, though, may feel a little bit crazy sometimes, which is where Ostyn comes in. If you think your family life is a little hectic, try this on for size: Ostyn runs a household of 12. She feeds her brood on $80/week, homeschools all 10 (4 biological, 6 adopted from Korea and Ethiopia) of her children, and might even want to adopt more. She calls herself a sane woman - you be the judge.

Ostyn addresses the pesky FAQs mothers of large families face most often: How do you afford to feed/clothe/educate 10 kids? Are you really able to meet the needs of each child when you have so many? Do you ever feel done? And, most common of all: Are you out of your mind? Curiously, she doesn't talk about the ever popular Are all those kids yours? To the other questions, she calmly explains that her family lives frugally; shops sales; cultivates a garden; gratefully accepts hand-me-downs; and avoids expensive vacations, all in an effort to cut costs. Yes, she's able to aid each child by limiting extracurricular activities, encouraging communication, playing together, and emphasizing family over everything else. Does she feel as if her family's complete now? Not necessarily. In fact, she says, "I have a long history of lobbying for just one more child" (12). Is she just the teeniest, tiniest bit crazy? Mum's the word on that one, but she certainly sounds sane. Her advice is so clear, so practical, so doable you'll find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about - if Ostyn's got her family of 12 under control, your clan of 6 should be a snap.

Ostyn hits on so many different subjects that I'm just going to highlight the ideas I especially liked:

15 Minutes Better - Feeling frazzled, Ostyn decided to spend just 15 minutes a day focusing on being a better mom. She plays card games, starts tickle fights, helps with projects and initiates real conversations with her children, all of which put her more in tune with her family.

Disciplining Through Service - When Ostyn's children pick on each other, she "punishes" them by making them perform an act of service for the sibling they've wronged. I love this idea!

Division of Labor - Ostyn goes into depth about her method of assigning chores and getting her children to help around the house. The key, according to her, is to focus on the must-do tasks and keep a laidback/flexible attitude about the rest. As delegation is something I struggle with as a mother, I especially appreciated this section of the book.

Celebrating Each Child - This is by far my favorite chapter. Citing Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, Ostyn encourages parents to figure out which "language" speaks most effectively to each child. She says:

Children all need opportunities, but they don't need the exact same opportunities. Our children are unique. Our parenting of them should honor that uniqueness rather than trying to cram them into one mold that doesn't quite fit anyone (179).

Quality Time - Ostyn encourages bonding through good, old-fashioned, unplugged kinds of ways - playing board/card games; enjoying bike rides together; shooting hoops in the driveway; talking; listening. "Quality time," she insists, "is more than mere proximity" (182).

Now, I'm not saying I didn't have any issues with the book. I wish Ostyn had gone into as much detail about how she handles all the food (shopping, cooking, even recipes) as she did about housework. I also would have liked to see photographs of her family as well as how she organizes things like her pantry, laundry room, etc. Questions kept popping into my mind that I would have loved to ask her, most pressing of which is, "How in the world do you fit in time to manage your Ethiopian daughters' hair while taking care of so many other things?" Luckily, Ostyn maintains an extremely helpful website, where she tackles all kinds of questions, going into further detail about how she manages her household. Check it out here. Want recipes? She's authored a cookbook called Family Feasts for $75 a Week. Who knew?

A couple other issues - Ostyn makes a lot of references to God, faith, prayer, etc. If you're a non-religious type, this might drive you crazy. I'm very religious, and it still made me a little nuts. Also, I objected to some of her views about public schooling. I also think Ostyn's a little too serious. I mean, a mother of 10 children has got to have some good stories. Tell them, sister! If you prefer your advice in a more funny, down-to-Earth style, check out Because I Said So and my friend Charlotte's blog - both are hilarious, very real looks at mothering a big brood.

Overall, though, I enjoyed A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family. It's chock-full of good, practical advice. Mary Ostyn deals with the day-to-day details of parenting with the end in mind - she's dedicated to raising kind, hard-working, responsible adults. Her devotion to her children is obvious. If you're looking for advice from someone who's been there, Ostyn's your man, uh, mom.

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: G


  1. You're so sweet...a liar but sweet! I am glad you enjoyed it. We must be related because I too wanted more info on the food issues! That is one of the biggest issues we deal with around here! :)

    Love ya

  2. It's interesting, because though I've never read her books, I'm very familiar with her blog, Owlhaven. It's really quite a popular site, and she's a well-known blogger. It was interesting to read a review of her take on life from this angle.

  3. Thanks for the shout out! I've heard of Mary Ostyn's blog before and was vaguely aware that she wrote a book recently. I think I might check it out. $80 a week on food? I spend at least 3 times as much :(

  4. What an inspiring read! I'm totally getting this for my grandma. She raised 5 brats--er, I mean, lovely children--to be fine upstanding adults. She digs stuff like this, and I of course, love hearing her share her tactics.

  5. Thanks for the great review!

    Just wanted to relieve the minds of people feeling guilty about their own grocery bill-- I actually spend $800 a MONTH for groceries to feed 11 people, which is $200 a week. My cookbook "Family Feasts for $75 a Week" is quoting weekly costs for a family of 4.

    Mary, mom to 10

  6. Thanks for the comments, everybody. Mary - so sorry I got that figure wrong! Thanks for setting me straight and relieving some guilt. LOL.


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