Seventeen kids, one faith

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Amy and Bob Hambleton, parishioners of St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, know exactly what their vocations are - quite simply, they're parents.

With 17 children ranging in age from 3 to 28 years old, they have had their hands full with family responsibilities for almost three decades.

"It's kind of cool that we know exactly what our vocation is," Amy said. "It's kind of obvious."

Although both Amy and Bob grew up in large families - she's one of 10, he's one of seven - they never planned to have such a big family of their own. When they got married in 1980, they had never discussed how many children they might have.

"We never thought about it really, but we let God decide," Amy said.

Now, 29 years later, the couple is literally surrounded with children. Even with the four oldest married and moved out, they still have 13 children living at home. In addition, they are grandparents with eight grandkids and two more on the way.

So how do they manage so many kids, each with their own distinct personalities, interests and schedules?

There are definitely challenges, according to Amy and Bob. Laundry is a big one, even with the family's two washers and dryers. For a family with so many children, switching from winter to summer clothes and back is a weeklong chore.

Another challenge is simply trying to keep everybody up to speed with what's happening. It's easy to forget who's been told something and who hasn't.

Scheduling can also be difficult, even though Amy and Bob try to keep things as simple as possible. For instance, the kids are limited in how many activities they can participate in, and they are only allowed to do swim team during the summer and play sports during the spring. Still, eight of them are playing on six different teams.

"As you can imagine, it gets a little complicated," Amy said.

Still, Amy and Bob have learned to manage things over the years. One thing that has helped is home schooling, something Amy has done for every child.

"It just makes for a close, tight-knit family, and when you have a close family, your kids stay close to your values," said Amy. "Your kids internalize your values very easily and it's easy for them to grow up. They don't go through all the torture that other teens do. It doesn't exist and they seem to turn out fine."

Teaching the kids at home also has helped simplify the day-to-day schedule.

"You don't have to get the kids out for school, you don't have to get the clothes ready, you don't have to pack lunch, and you don't have to do homework when you get home," said Amy. "Just schedule-wise alone, there are a million reasons to home-school."

Bob has his own business - Hambleton Lawn and Landscape - which he runs from the house, making him available to spend time with the children. So far, seven of the oldest sons and the oldest daughter have spent time working for him.

Bob sees that as a benefit because his children can watch him work toward his goals and follow his example.

And if that's not enough family support for the children, they can always spend time with their cousins - 10 of whom live in the house next door to the right and 10 of whom live in the house next door to the left.

"On sunny days, you'd see about 20 to 25 kids out in the court playing hockey," said Amy.

Another thing that helps Bob and Amy raise their children is their ability to take some things in stride. The family has learned to be organized enough without driving themselves crazy.

"I'm a little more firm and I kind of like things in a row, but over the years, I've kinda found myself saying, 'eh, whatever,'" Bob said. "As long as no one's dying or falling off the house, sometimes you have to let it go. Otherwise you'll drive yourself insane."

Some things are OK to let slide, the couple has learned. Religion, however, is not one of them. God is a crucial ingredient in the Hambleton household.

The family attends daily Mass at St. James Church in Falls Church and prays the rosary. In addition, they maintain an hour of perpetual adoration a week and try to attend confession regularly.

"It keeps religion as a focal point in that we're here for a reason, and not just to go make as much money as you can or just live life and then, poof, it's all over with," said Bob. "There's something beyond that."

Of course, nobody is perfect and the Hambletons say they are no exception.

"We've had our struggles and we've had to talk to the kids and say, 'you've made a bad decision. Let's talk about this,'" Bob said. "And then, sometimes chaos rears its ugly head. You just have to be vigilant. I think it's helped us, at least for me, because it shows us what real sacrifice means."

All in all, Bob and Amy consider themselves blessed.

"We've had people ask us, would you do that over again? It doesn't even cross our minds," Bob said. "Here we are now and this is what He has given us. All our children are gifts."

"We couldn't be happier or more blessed," said Amy. "The reward would be seeing them turn into great men and women. They are open to life and in touch with our family's values."

Everything they have, Bob and Amy attribute to their trust in God.

"We've learned over the years that the more you trust in God, the more He gives you and He's never going to let you down," said Amy. "The bigger the problem, it just becomes easier to sit back and pray because we know that He'll take care of it. It might take a few years for it because He's getting everything ready, but we know we don't have to worry about it. That gives you peace, which makes you happy, which keeps things from being so hard."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009