Big families, more to love, more work

South suburban focus Most of my friends have two or three kids and wonder how I manage four. Sometimes I wonder, too. I think of a family I know from church. The father, John Harper, is superintendent of Plainfield School District 202. He and his family often sit just rows ahead of us. He sits on one end, his wife on the other, with their children quiet and quite angelic in between-all seven of them. Ever notice that large families seem to run smoother? Housework manages to get done, more home cooked meals seem to make it to the table, the kids are all in clean clothes and the parents are so calm. What do they do know that we don’t? Angela Colarelli, who lives in a tidy, well-kept duplex in Lockport, says children of large families work together-they have to survive. Angela and Pete Colarelli have seven children-Madeline, 11, Emma, 9, Joseph, 7, Sophia, 5, John Paul, 3, 1-year-old Katie and baby Michael who was just born in December. “The older kids have chores. The girls are responsible for their room and Joe is for his. All four make their beds and help with other things like dishes and vacuuming. The main thing we try and teach the kids is that we always pick up after ourselves and we should leave a room better than it was when we got there,” she says. Not only do the Colarelli kids know what is expected of them, they know what to expect. “We raise our children on routine,” Angela says. “Dinner time, nap time, bed times, they are the same everyday. Unless it is something really important, I try not to mess with these schedules.” Angela and Pete have been married 12½ years. And over that time they have made decisions based on their faith and values, putting faith and family first and the rest of the world second. It is a united front, a strong sense of purpose that navigates this family. Both Pete and Angela admit it is very hard at times not to let outside responsibilities overtake family life. Sometimes, you have to say no to things that may be fun, but don’t fit in with what you are trying to accomplish. “We really try to limit the activities,” Angela says. “One of the kids had been invited to three birthday parties the first week of school. We had to set a rule, only one birthday party a semester.” Angela says the kids are also allowed only one sport a season and can play one musical instrument. “If we didn’t limit them, we’d spend all of our time in the car and there wouldn’t be any time left for anything else.” The kids are sometimes disappointed when they are not allowed to overbook weekends with parties and activities or stay overnight at sleepovers. But Angela and Pete always keep the bigger picture in sight. “We want the kids to have time to play with each other as well as with friends,” she says. Maintaining individuality in such a large family has not been a problem for the Colarelli family. “Individuality happens naturally,” Pete says. “Each of our kids has their own interests. Madeline plays volleyball, Emma loves gymnastics and to play school, Joseph is the Jack of all trades (sports, guitar, etc.), Sophia is the total student and loves school, John Paul just wants to be loved and cuddled and with Katie it is still early to tell.” While it may come naturally, Pete and Angela say if they see their children showing a passion or strong interest in something they make it a point to encourage it. The kids don’t get a lot of one on one time with Mom or Dad-most of the time they are all together whether eating, doing chores, playing games or general goofing around. But Angela says she does still find special moments with each child, some planned and some not. Angela does not work outside the home. Pete is the director of development and public relations for Lockport Township High School. The kids attend private schools. Angela and Pete make ends meet by shopping simple-not a lot of junk food and snacks-and eating home-cooked meals. “We will splurge on pizza or go to a nice restaurant once in awhile,” Angela says.

Angela and Pete say they don’t have it all figured out and that they deal with the same kinds of problems other families do. They just keep setting goals and trying new things until they find solutions. “If you really want to talk to a family that has it together, we know one with 14 kids,” Angela says.

Jean Dunning covers the South and Southwest suburbs of Chicago for Chicago Parent. If you have story ideas or would like to be a part of the South/Southwest Parent Source e-mail list, e-mail

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