- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
For many teenagers, the first year of college is overwhelming. Matthew Jenkins, now 20, was underwhelmed.
“It was so quiet,” the St. Leonard native noticed.
Jenkins also never had grasped the concept of cooking for one, so he was quickly feeding all of the other students on his hall. As one of 10 kids, he had good practice taking care of others, and he is one of many kids in Southern Maryland for whom this isn’t just an occasional favor or sacrifice, but a way of life.
And these kids say they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why they do it
When they got married in 1989, Matthew’s parents, Paul and Tina Jenkins, were torn between whether or not they wanted to have two or four kids, so they compromised and decided to have three.
However, after giving birth to her first two, Matthew and Zachary, 18, Tina suffered a miscarriage, which caused her and her husband to look into adoption.
As the adoption was processing, Tina learned that she was once again pregnant and that the daughter she was planning to adopt had two siblings herself.
“So we went from two to six kids over the course of three weeks,” Tina Jenkins said.
All of the children Tina and Paul have adopted over the years are considered special needs in some way, which Tina said she has learned to consider more of a calling than a challenge.
“The blessing of children is that they force you to focus beyond yourself,” she said, continuing that she and her husband still were waiting to hear about the adoption of what would be their 11th child by the time this story was published.
The nine children of Mary and David Portner of Port Tobacco were no accident.
“We actually talked about 12. I was eighth of 11 children so I knew I wanted to at least replace myself,” said David Portner, who married his wife in 1981.
“I think that’s what attracted us,” Mary Portner said.
The couple’s oldest daughter, Jennifer Roberts of Gloucester, Va., already is following in her parents’ footsteps. At 29, Jennifer is the mother of six and was actually pregnant with her second daughter when her mom was pregnant with her last.
“I think the experience of having so many babies around prepared me to have my own. There was never a long period of time when I didn’t have a baby,” Jennifer said.
Managing the budget
The key to having a large family in a tough economy? Staying away from processed foods. That’s what both the Portners and Brad and Christina Anderson of Hollywood, parents of eight, said.
Christina Anderson said she makes her own bread and laundry detergent and only eats out for special occasions “or if someone’s visiting and they want to take us out,” she chuckled.
She said she takes turns taking one kid at a time grocery shopping and whichever son or daughter she’s with gets to pick out some type of treat, or they stop at a fast-food restaurant on the way home.
Though Tina Jenkins, Christina Anderson and Mary Portner all stay home during the day, they said living within their means and saving where others may spend cuts down on costs.
“You focus on people as opposed to things. Things like a vacation every year and a new car every couple years. That’s not our focus,” Tina Jenkins said, continuing that her kids do painting and yard work around the house and always get jobs when they have breaks from school.
Christina Anderson also said her kids grew up constantly doing work around the house, which she said she believes has given them a sense of maturity and a work ethic.
“They don’t complain and they do a good job. It’s made them not only stronger physically, but mentally,” she said.
“We’re not shopping at Macy’s and Nordstroms. Walmart and Target and sometimes consignment stores are our best friends,” Tina Jenkins said.
She said hand-me-downs are also a huge money saver for her family.
“If it’s in good shape and the next one can use it, we pass it down” Tina Jenkins said.
“You have to share a lot,” 10-year-old Patrick Anderson said. “Four-wheelers, toys, my dirt bike, the Xbox.”
The kids in the three families said they not only grew up sharing clothes and toys, but rooms as well. Beth, Becky and Emily Portner, 16, 14 and 10, all still room together but said they’ve learned to enjoy it.
“It’s like a constant party,” Becky said.
“When you think about it, bedrooms only need beds in it. You don’t need computers and TVs,” David Portner said.
Both the Jenkinses and the Andersons said they also conserve space by having the youngest children share a room with their parents.
Living together, schooling together
Despite differing circumstances, the three families all also opted to home-school their kids.
Mary Portner explained that with her husband in the military the family was constantly moving and when the family was looking at its second move to Hawaii, Mary said the Catholic schools there were too expensive. That led to her researching home schooling.
Though the family never ended up moving to Hawaii, Mary Portner decided to give home schooling a try anyway, and said it has worked out well.
“It’s really annoying what people assume,” Beth Portner, 16, said about home schooling. “They’re surprised when I’m normal.”
“You’re not,” quipped her sister, Emily Portner, 10.
“People are surprised when we’re like the best people they’ve ever met,” Becky Portner, 14, laughed, adding, “maybe that’s exaggerating.”
Christina Anderson said she chose home schooling because she thought it would give her children a better moral compasss.
“We didn’t like where the culture was going. We wanted to foster in the kids a sense of innocence. I think kids are scandalized in a lot of ways,” she said.
Which is not to say she doesn’t let her kids attend school if they want to give it a try — her oldest daughter, Laura, 16, spent four years at St. John’s School in Hollywood, where her son, Bradley, attends now.
“I just thought it might be a little exciting,” Bradley said, continuing that the transition “wasn’t that bad. I just kind of got right into it.”
Laura Anderson, on the other hand, said she preferred being home-schooled.
“I wanted to be able to do all my schoolwork and rush outside,” she said.
Laura Anderson and her mom both said that growing up with so many siblings did give Laura a maturity that separates her from her peers.
“When she’s around children her own age she feels bad for them because she sees through the ‘cliquishness’ and the immaturity,” Christina Anderson said about her daughter.
Despite their siblings being their classmates, all three families said their kids had plenty of social interaction through sports, church, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and volunteering.
“We’ve all had very fulfilling social lives,” Zachary Jenkins, 18, said of himself and his siblings.
A well-oiled machine
When it came to day-to-day management the families said organization was key and for the Andersons, this came in the form of cubbies.
“The kids get a basket and run around the house and pick up all the things that shouldn’t be where they’re at,” she said, continuing that the kids then put whatever they find into an assigned cubby.
She said there is a cubby for each room in the house and each kid, as well as separate cubbies for games and items to donate.
When asked what the largest challenge was in the Jenkins household, the unanimous answer was “laundry.”
“We have two washers and two dryers that never stop,” Paul Jenkins said. “And that’s like cleaning. We never end cleaning.”
He said after dinner every child has a different task ranging from loading the dishwasher to cleaning the floor to wiping down the table, which Paul said shortens the process to about 15 minutes.
“A lot of people come in our house and they’re amazed it’s not a mess,” he said.
Despite their sizes, the families also said there were no instances of children getting lost in the shuffle.
“When you have so many you really recognized that every child is different,” Mary Portner said.
“And one thing we realized is the way we disciplined them didn’t necessarily work for all of them. For Gene, timeout was the worst thing in the world, the rest kind of enjoyed it,” David Portner chuckled.
Paul and Tina Jenkins said they still try to maintain a weekly date night.
“If your relationship isn’t a strong one, this isn’t going to work,” Tina Jenkins said of family dynamics.
“I went to college and planned on being a career woman,” Tina Jenkins said. “Now, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than this.”