More rare than decades ago, large families create unique joys, challenges

Gwen and Todd Pesch are raising seven kids who range in age from 2 to 18. "We never set out to have a lot of kids," said Gwen. "I thought a big family was four or five." She is frequently asked how she does it by moms who have a lot fewer kids. O...

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Gwen and Todd Pesch of East Grand Forks are raising a busy family of seven kids. Posing in the backyard of their home are (from left, back row) Leah, 17; Levi, 18; Livia, 15, and Linzy, 12, and in front (from left) are Laura, 8; Gwen holding Landon, 2; Todd, and Lola, 6. "They are all each other's best friends," said Gwen. (Submitted photo)

Gwen and Todd Pesch are raising seven kids who range in age from 2 to 18.

"We never set out to have a lot of kids," said Gwen. "I thought a big family was four or five."

She is frequently asked how she does it by moms who have a lot fewer kids.

Other than that, she doesn't field a lot of comments about their big brood.

"I think a lot of people keep their comments to themselves," she said. "I think a lot of people think we're crazy."


She and her husband Todd, 46, a locomotive engineer for the railroad, are the parents of Levi, 18; Leah, 17; Livia, 15; Linzy, 12; Laura, 8; Lola, 6; and Landon, 2. All live at home in East Grand Forks.

"At five, we thought we were done," said Gwen, 45, an English teacher at Central Middle School in East Grand Forks.

"Number six was a surprise. You'd think by then you would know how to stop that."

Then, a few years ago, Todd had colon cancer and doctors told him, because of his chemotherapy treatment, he would be unable to father any more children.

"Six months later, we were pregnant," she said. "We got this prize at the end-this little surprise."

The Pesch family tree is laden with large broods. Each of Gwen and Todd's parents was raised in families of six to 12 siblings.

Their Catholic faith "indirectly" influenced their decisions about having children, Gwen said. "It seems normal to have a large family."

And it's a busy one.


Some of her kids babysit or work at a daycare center and hold other jobs, she said. Five of them play hockey.

"We're running so much."

The cost of raising them all is "scary," she said, "although it doesn't seem like it when they're little. It seems more doable."

"We have three drivers now," she noted.

Her children are tuned into to money issues.

"They know what things cost and that they can't have everything they want, unless they earn it," she said. "They aren't deprived, but they don't have things that others have."

'We all do our part'

They also know what it takes to keep the house in order.


Gwen has no rules "set in stone" about what work has to be done when, she said. "We play it as things come along. We all do our part."

"We have a lot of socks flying all over," she said with a laugh.

Sometimes she'll just set a timer and everyone cleans for an hour.

"I'm not one of those people who micromanages things," she said. "I don't want my kids to think that because they were raised in a big family, it had to be so militant."

"Family comes first in our house, and I feel blessed because my kids do help out. They'll say, 'Mom, you look tired, go and lay down. I'll take the kids.'

"Or I'll come home and the whole house is cleaned."

Gwen keeps track of each person's activities on a master calendar, she said. "Everybody is a different color."

Her kids and their friends hang out at home, she said. "We tend to have a lot of people over all the time-I like that. I like getting know their friends."


Her home is "pretty happy, kind of crazy."

When she does errands, "I never bring everybody," she said. "I almost never bring half of everybody."

Her kids get one-on-one time with her, she said. "Sometimes, I'll just have a day-it'll be 'Leah's Day.' "

Or she'll do things with a couple kids at a time.

"Even though they do like their one-on-one time, they miss the other one if they're not there."

She's found that, while her oldest kids were "pretty easy, well-behaved," she said, "as we've gone down the shoot, the younger ones are more free spirits, more entertaining."

Five children

Ryan and Heather Dreger of Grafton, N.D., just welcomed their fifth child in June. Their son, Elijah, joins Bella, 10; Scarlett, 6; Kate, 2, and Esther, 1.


"We finally got our boy," said Ryan, who's 37 and works in Park River, N.D.

"We hadn't really decided we wanted a large family, it just kind of worked out that way."

Like the Pesch family, he and his wife, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom, encourage their kids to do chores around the house.

"We try not to make it too military," Ryan said. "They do tasks like cleaning their rooms, cleaning up their toys, clearing off the table (after meals).

"The oldest two help with the younger kids."

Their enthusiasm for helping "comes and goes," he said. "They're helpful when they want to be. "They're starting to realize what happens when they don't. They're learning that they need to do things even it they don't want to."

He and Heather post a "chore chart" for the kids who earn some money for pitching in.

Because they're living on a single income, the cost of raising a large family is a concern, said Ryan.


"You have food, diapers and supplies."

He has changed jobs when demands on his time became excessive, he said. "That has made it a little harder on us."


He doesn't get a lot of questions or comments from people about having a large family, he said.

But when Heather is out in public with the kids, she "is looked at a little differently and sometimes gets comments like, 'You should've been more responsible.' It's challenging at times."

"It's really amazing how society looks at kids, like it's inconvenient or not cost effective to have kids anymore. Society looks at kids differently than even 20 or 30 years ago."
"(It is) turning a little bit more selfish each year, and that may be why people feel more comfortable making those kinds of comments," he said.

Brittany DiStefano, 27, of Grand Forks said her large family draws attention too. She and her husband, Nathan, are raising six children under the age of 10. (She asked that the children's names not be made public.)

"People make snarky comments like, 'Do you know how that happens?' or 'Don't you have at TV at your house?' " she said. Or they assume the kids are going to run wild.

Because she and Nathan have "a whole mix of different backgrounds, each child is different; different traits pop out," she said. "People give me weird looks."

Yet when Nathan is out with them, "He'll get praise for caring for so many kids."


At restaurants, "people look at us with dread when we come in-like, "Oh, no, there's five of them,' " she said.

"But everybody compliments us on how well-behaved they are. Those comments kind of make you feel good."

The DiStefanos keep expenses in check by taking the children to the library, local parks and free community events; shopping at secondhand stores, and eating out at restaurants that offer free kids' meals.

"We have no cable, no WiFi, no extra luxuries that we can live without," she said.

Each child has chores to do, for which they get an allowance, and "(they) know to keep their toys in their rooms-that reduces clutter," she said.

"They clean their rooms before they go to bed."

Each of her children gets one-on-one time with their parents, "because they are all individuals and have their own personalities and their own needs."

Her husband likes to take the kids on outings, she said. "He takes the oldest three fishing, individually and together."

As families grow, the number of children becomes less important, DiStefano said.

"When you reach four, it doesn't matter. It doesn't get any more difficult."

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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