WARROAD, Minn. - The 18-member Heppner family has refused several offers to be featured on a reality television show.

They feared what the final, edited version would be.

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"When you sign a contract, you sign your life away," Miriam Heppner said. "And you have no rights. You can say something in one context, and they can move it to a different context and make it say something totally different than you have intended."

There is ample reason for Miriam and DuWayne Heppner to be suspicious of reality shows, which prefer footage with shock value. The story of raising 16 children could be sensationalized, causing harm for the kids. With 100 hours of tape to work with, a show can take any spin it desires.

But then, a production company for The Learning Channel knocked on the Heppners' door. And the door was opened. The four-person production crew recently completed seven days hanging out with the family, which has eight times the average number of children per household.

TLC has a reputation for family programming. And the angle of the show, an hour-long production scheduled for airing in January or February, was a positive one.

"The motivation behind the story is the idea that if we can do it, other families with fewer children can do it," Miriam said. "Hopefully, others can pick up on some things that we've had to do to - basically, survive.

"Some moms feel overwhelmed and walk away from the family. This is where my heart is - to encourage young moms."

Miriam was young - 18 - when she had her first child. That started a string of 26 consecutive years where she was either pregnant or breast-feeding.

For the record, their children are: Jemima (27), Benjamin (25), Samuel (23), Josiah (22), Joseph (20), Abraham (19), Micah (17), Moses (16), Solomon (15), Joanna (13), Susanna (12), Abigael (10), Elizabeth (8), Zachariah (7), Rebecca (5) and Rachael (3).

Six are out of the house now. Several of the older boys work construction with DuWayne. This summer, they've been building a home on an island near Northwest Angle. Miriam is a traditional stay-at-home mom who also finds time for distance running.

So, how have the Heppners not only raised 16 children, but also home-schooled them?

To begin with, faith is a necessity, Miriam said. "We've relied on God for his wisdom and help," she said. "There were times I felt horribly overwhelmed, especially when I was young, but he came through to give me an idea I hadn't thought of myself."

Teamwork among the siblings helps. So does having a big garden and marksmen to put venison in the freezer. An acceptance of having fewer material things also is necessary.

"We have limitations as far as finances and things, but many benefits as well," Miriam said. "I can't imagine life without any of these kids. My life is so fulfilling that I can't imagine doing anything else with it."

Now, with only 10 children in the house and older ones around to help with their younger siblings, life is a cakewalk, at least comparatively. At one point, 15 lived at home.

"There's not nearly as much laundry or meals," Miriam said. "Plus, we have systems in place. There are charts with each child's chores that day and with their daily routines. We've learned a lot over the years."

They also fielded questions about the emotional, as well as the practical. "They were especially interested in how we were able to connect with our children individually, being there are so many of them," Miriam said.

The film crew will return in September for more interviews. Miriam hopes their older two children who live out of state will return then.

And maybe there will be a 19th family member around. You see, Miriam's time recently has been consumed with an attempt to adopt a child.

"It's been a long, long gestation period with this one," she said.

Bakken reports on local news and writes a column. Reach him at 780-1125, (800) 477-6572 ext. 125 or rbakken@gfherald.com.