Before he had kids, Dave Tracey had lots of theories about how he would raise them.
“Now I have lots of kids and no theories,” joked Mr. Tracey.
Like most parents, Mr. Tracey, 46, continually reflects on his role as a family leader while rearing sons ages 4, 7, 9, 11, and 18, and daughters ages 15 and 20. He and his wife, Karla Tracey, didn't plan on a large brood, but they adapted to it as the children were born. Note the two-bedroom addition to the three-bedroom home on seven acres in Springfield Township they purchased 21 years ago.
“We are Christian and we love children. And we think of it as God's challenge,” said Mr. Tracey. “We never felt really capable of raising a large family. It
would seem, as we were capable of having another child, it came along.”
The joys of creating a strong, nine-member family far outweigh the hardships, he said. Of course, they don't get many invitations. “Nobody invites a family with seven kids over,” he said.
Even church potlucks are focused on making sure everybody gets fed. He squeezes in a men's Bible study group Saturdays at 7 a.m. so he'll be home as the family is rising. But going out alone with Karla is a logistical challenge that seldom occurs.
His most difficult adjustment was learning to work less in order to have more time with the youngsters.
“My father worked very hard and he raised me with a very strong work ethic,” said Mr. Tracey, who is an industrial arts teacher at McTigue Junior High School in Toledo.
After graduating from Bowling Green State University, he and Karla started a business making planter boxes, filling them with greens, and distributing them to stores. The work could easily add 40 hours to his week.
“I had to come to grips that I couldn't let my ego get caught up earning more money,” he said. Time with the children, he decided, was more important.
The Traceys live lean and debt-free, buying only what they have cash for. “I think it allows us to be better parents because we are not caught up with worries about paying off a lot of bills.” The five youngest children attend private religious schools and the two oldest have scholarships at Miami University. All seven are at home this summer.
Mr. Tracey does not take on extra tasks and committees at school, church, and in the community, but he coaches his children's track and soccer teams. The family's after-school routine of sports, dinner, clean-up, homework, and bedtime, with prayers and back rubs for the younger children, requires attention from both parents to keep it moving.
Especially challenging is handling each child's distinct temperament while still treating everyone fairly, he said.
“I don't know that we're tremendously better parents with the younger ones but we're less stressed out and less critical,” he said.
A competitive runner in college, he has realized the value of accepting whatever a child achieves. “I'm learning that being critical is the worst thing I can do ... I can encourage them, but there is no sense in my trying to drive them to be the best soccer player they can be. That's got to be inside them.”
He is the disciplinarian more often than Karla, overseeing the loss of privileges and offers of rewards. Punishments, he has learned, are most effective when carried out within a week. Consistency and follow-through is tough with seven. “Sometimes when we're especially busy, we slip. It's harder to do.”
Among his parenting models are his sister and her husband, who have nine children, and his mother. “She put everything into being the best mother she could ever be. And she's the best grandmother.”
Actually, he does have some theories about raising children, and chief among them is, there is no one way.