What It’s Like to Have Nine Kids

(Photos Courtesy Rachel Campos-Duffy)
Rachel Campos-Duffy explains.

Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy caused quite the stir recently when she announced that she and her husband — Representative Sean Duffy — are expecting their ninth child. Here, she shares with Sarah Schutte her thoughts on raising a large family in today’s rather hostile culture. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Sarah Schutte
: When people find out how many kids you have, what question do they ask that bugs you the most?

Rachel Campos-Duffy: By and large I get a lot of positive feedback. But I did notice that when I announced that I was pregnant with my ninth, it made some of the tabloid news as well as some of the political blogs, and what I found fascinating is that the comments on the Daily Mail or were largely positive. It was on Politico and The Hill where many commenters had awful things to say about people with large families. And it was so much misogynistic stuff like “Keep your legs closed,” or comments that I’m basically an environmental terrorist — a lot of comments about our carbon footprint, which thought was fascinating as well. I just found it interesting that it wasn’t the pop-culture blogs, it was the political blogs, that seemed to be critical.

SS: Why do you think that is?

RCD: I think part of it is that obviously, for some people environmentalism is their religion. Just before I announced my pregnancy, AOC posted a video saying, “young people are wondering whether they should have kids,” because she thinks the world is going to end in twelve years because of climate change. What she doesn’t seem to understand is that all our environmental problems, our medical problems, our political problems are going to be solved by humans. And so more humans seems like a good idea to me.

SS: Why nine kids?

RCD: I mean, I didn’t have a number in mind. We didn’t plan one of my kids; they just kind of happened. So I’ve just kind of taken each one as a blessing sent to me by God. To be honest, this last one was kind of a surprise. I thought I was getting a little old. But apparently not!

SS: How would you rank the importance of cultivating friendships among your kids?

RCD: I wouldn’t say that a big family is for everybody, and I’ve brought my kids, for example, to New York City, and I can tell you it’s much harder to raise that number of kids in a city like New York than it is to raise them in rural Wisconsin where I live. So it’s not for everybody, but there are a lot of beautiful things that happen in large families, and you touched on one of them, which is that friendships are formed among siblings. They fight, my kids fight, there’s no question. There’s all that, but in the end, I don’t have the need to do a lot of playdates — they have friends outside of the family, but they also have very close friendships and they play very well with one another. Most of them are only two years apart.

I would say that the best compliment I have gotten is from teachers who say they can tell that my kids come from a big family because they can see that they anticipate other people’s needs and they don’t think the world revolves around them. They have to help, and there’s a lot of cooperation and teamwork that happens in a big family. And there’s also a lot of work.

I always tell my kids there’s some wonderful things about being in a big family and there’s some drawbacks. And hopefully they’re experiencing more of the good parts about having a big family. But, I mean, the bad parts? Look, we’re late for everything, and it drives the kids crazy. And it doesn’t help that I’m Latina either, and so you add that and nine kids . . . it isn’t good. It’s can be tough to get everyone out the door.

SS: Oh, I completely understand! I’m one of seven.

RCD: Where do you fall on the number?

SS: I’m the oldest.

RCD: My husband is the tenth of eleven, and when I first entered into his family, I was so fascinated by how many siblings he had. I’m really fascinated by birth order, because when I would talk to his siblings, it would seem like they were all part of a different family. Their experience, depending on whether they were the oldest or youngest, seemed very different. The level of responsibility they had, or the amount of leeway they got. With the younger kids, the parents kind of got a little more tired, a little more lenient.

SS: What role does faith play in your family life?

RCD: It’s a big role. I think it’s kept our marriage strong and given us a sense of direction and purpose. And I think the family is only as strong as the marital unit. I think that’s been really good for us in terms of sharing the most important and lasting values. We pray together, we go to Mass together. It’s not always perfect by any stretch, but I think we all have a general direction and sense of what’s important in life. And both Sean and I come from families where family is really important.

SS: You’ve talked a little bit about how faith has played into your marriage — I think you and your husband have been married for 20 years now? How do you maintain your marriage in the middle of busy schedules?

RCD: So there’s ritual, right? There’s a lot of ritual and tradition around being Catholic. There are weekly rituals: You go to Mass, you pray at night, you pray around the dinner table. We do have very busy schedules, and it’s tough with Sean’s schedule in particular, but when we’re all together, that’s just part of who we are. It’s not even something we really think much about, it’s just part of what we do. I’m so happy I married a fellow Catholic because I think that marriage is tough enough — that’s one area that’s just not something we argue about. There’s no contention about it because we’re both on the same page.

My motto as a parent has always been that my job isn’t to get you into Harvard, it’s to get you into Heaven. And I think a lot of parenting can be simplified by following that motto. My daughter goes to a very liberal university, and she said that she was sitting around at night in her dorm with a bunch of other college kids, and somebody brought up the question, “Would you rather your kid be smart or kind?” And she was the only one in the group who said she would prefer to have a kind child. I thought it was a really sad commentary on our culture. But I do think that’s kind of interesting. What do you value? What’s the priority?

Every kid is going to be his or her own individual, they all have their own style of doing things, but if being a good person, being kind, being considerate of others is your priority — versus all the other things that the world is telling us that we have to do as parents in terms of extracurriculars, and showing up to this, and going to this game, or making sure they have this material object — especially for a busy mom with a lot of kids, I think that simplifying is better. At least that’s what’s worked for me.

SS: Do people ask/show concern that having so many kids mean you can’t give them enough love and attention? How do you respond to this?

RCD: I think that’s a legitimate concern. But I have to think that it can go the other way too, right? Maybe having very few kids means they get too much attention, get too much done for them, or become too self-centered. I think there are pitfalls on both ends of the spectrum, and it is a constant struggle to make sure that we’re trying to see each child as an individual. Because they are individuals. They are given to us by God, and they’re each special and unique in their own way, and they have to all be loved and in different ways and acknowledged for who they are as individuals. That’s a hard thing to do when you have a lot of kids. But then again, another thing that’s really great about having a lot of kids is you get a lot of chances to get better at parenting. Before our oldest daughter went off to college, we actually had an exit interview with her. We sat her down and we were, like, “All right. Give us the skinny. What did we do well? What did we do poorly? What would you have had us do differently?” Just having that humility to know you can improve, that you should improve, that there’s always room for improvement, and be willing to hear it and take that criticism. It’s not always easy, but having a big family gives us a chance to keep getting better at the process.

SS: How would you respond if people say you are taking advantage of public services and eating up public resources by having so many children?

RCD: They should look at my tax bill! I pay a lot of money in taxes. When I first got married, Sean and I actually qualified for government benefits, but we never took them. That’s not to judge anyone who did. But I work hard, and so does my husband, and we support our children as best we can. I know there are folks on the left who think I’m an “environmental terrorist,” and all this kind of stuff. I think I’m raising some good, interesting, smart, productive, conscientious kids and putting them in the world, and hopefully they’ll give back more than their carbon footprint. Of course these are very silly, liberal concerns. I don’t personally worry about that very much, but as long as they bring up the question, that’s my answer.

SS: What part of the home means the most to your family? Where do you gather together the most?

RCD: The kitchen. Our kitchen sort of connects to our family room, so I’d say we’re around the kitchen the most, and then the family room. I love to cook, so we spend a lot of time as a family in the kitchen. And in our family room we have a little altar where we keep liturgical objects — candles, prayer cards, and things like that. So we’ll pray together in that room as a family.

SS: What is your response to the idea that “women can do it all, be it all, have it all”? Because I know you have a career, and your husband has a career, and now you have a large family. How do you balance that?

RCD: I was an at-home mom for 14 years, so I think that that’s important to note. And I decided out of necessity to go back to work to supplement the family income based on the number of kids we have. I initially started off part-time, and I still kind of am part-time. I’m a Fox News contributor; I do a lot of my television hits from a local TV studio in my hometown in Wisconsin. I travel to New York about twice a month, and I do some speeches as well, but I would say I’m really blessed. When I first started stepping into working, I started off as a writer, then as a spokesperson for the Libre Initiative. I’ve always been blessed with really, really great bosses, whether it was at the Libre Initiative or at Fox News. Both places have been very family- and mommy- friendly, and I’m just really grateful to them for that.

I don’t think women can have it all at once. It’s tough, but I think we all just find a way to manage. I can see both sides of it. I know what it was like to be an at-home mom and not feel very appreciated or seen, but I also feel like it’s been good for me to see working moms as well, trying to pursue their passions as well as be there for their family. What’s really incredible about this time in history is that there are real choices that we can make as women about how we want to lead our lives and how we want to be present for our family. In some ways, things are harder for women, but in most ways, they’re easier. And one of the biggest changes is that men are better. They are more cooperative and better partners in marriage. And I think men, unlike a generation or two ago, really want to be part of their children and family’s lives.

I have a show on FOXNation called “Moms,” and one of the topics we’ve discussed is paternity leave. You have Serena Williams’s husband leading the charge on paternity leave, which to me is a great symbol of where men are at, they really feel the need to be providers and parents. So I think there are a lot of really great advancements happening in just the culture and the mindset with men who are helping women lead better lives. I don’t think today’s fathers get enough credit for that. And I get it, you know, women are, like, “Yeah, we don’t get credit for doing what we do, and they get a big pat on the back for just showing up.” I understand that, but we should also just go “wow, our lives, our partners in marriage are better than they were a generation ago.” We should see that as progress.

SS: Do you ever get to take a break from politics?

RCD: So when I went up to our cabin a few weeks ago, it was a real news detox for me. I didn’t realize how much I needed it. I do have cable up there, so I can catch a little bit while I’m there, and I read articles on the Internet just to stay a little bit in touch, but I definitely was not as in touch as I normally am during a regular day at home. I do think the news, if you talk to anybody at Fox who was there pre-Trump and post-Trump — I joined the network post-Trump, which is interesting. So I’ve had a lot of opportunities to talk to people who have been with the network for much longer than I have, and they will tell you that the news cycle moves much faster, is much more intense than it ever was before. And it’s not just social media, it really is Trump. I think he’s made politics more fun, but for some people he’s made them want to pull their hair out. But it can be really intense, and I think it’s important for everybody to have some balance. I don’t think everything has to be so politicized. I  think that’s a real danger that our country is in right now, where some people are just politicizing everything, and I think a lot of bad things happen when politics becomes almost like a religion versus a means to an end.

SS: How involved are your kids with politics? Is it something you guys talk about a lot or bring into the home?

RCD: We do talk a lot about it, and our dinner table is where we break all the rules. They say you aren’t supposed to talk about religion, and that’s what we talk about. We talk about their lives as well.

Look, my kids have a front seat to national politics in a way that I never did. I remember just watching Larry King with my parents, and that was about it when I was their age. They have met the president, and they go to speeches and help out at campaigns, and they’re at political rallies, and they go onto the House floor whenever they’re in D.C. to punch in their dad’s voting card. So they understand it’s not just politics, but they really know how government works at a level that I simply did not. And so most of them like politics, they’re very curious about it. And I have to say that as tough as it has been for us as a family to have a dad whose job is most of the week in D.C. — and that’s made it hard on our family and there’s a lot of drawbacks — but one of the really positive, beautiful blessings about it is that my kids have had that front-row seat, and they have been able at very formative ages to be in the halls of Congress and to be in the gallery, to go to hearings with their dad. I think that it’s amazing. It’s especially amazing because, for Sean and I, we hadn’t been inside of the Capitol until he was elected. So it’s been a privilege; it’s an honor for the kids, and to know that my kids have had that experience.

SS: Do you enforce a dating policy for your kids?

RCD: Coming from a big family yourself, you probably see this in your own family,  the first child always has stricter rules and things get a little more loosey-goosey as you get down the line. So my older teens can date. I don’t have any specific rules. I’ve learned you just can’t have hard-and-fast rules when you have kids who are so different as individuals because there are certain kids who can handle certain things and some kids that can’t. Even TV viewing evolves. You start with “you can’t watch that,” but now they’re all together and they watch the same stuff, stuff I never would have let my oldest watch. While you want things to be predictable to a certain degree, you also have to acknowledge as a parent that each kids is very different, and that’s just the way it is. It’s not always easy to explain.

SS: I think that makes sense, and it sounds like you and your husband have formed this really beautiful parenting style. It’s very encouraging to hear it.

RCD: It’s not perfect, but the good part about having a big family is that if one child doesn’t like you at the time, there’s always a bunch that do.

SS: If your kids could only remember one thing you told them, what would it be?

RCD: Jesus, I trust in You. In our family we call it the world’s shortest  prayer, but it’s the best one.

Sarah Schutte is the podcast manager for National Review and an associate editor for National Review magazine. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, she is a children's literature aficionado and Mendelssohn 4 enthusiast.


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