John Boehner, 1 of 12 Kids: Blessing or a Curse?


Lynda Meineke said the worst part about growing up in a German-Irish family of 12 children was fighting for the one bathroom in their two-bedroom house in Reading, Ohio.

She was lucky, one of three girls who got first dibbs. But her brothers, including the GOP's next House Speaker John Boehner, often had to run into the woods or seek a drain in the basement.

"The girls had no time to dilly dally," she said. "If we didn't get up when mom said to get up, then we lost some time in the bathroom."

Meineke, 51, said, nonetheless, growing up in a large family had more advantages than drawbacks.

Boehner, 61, credits his large family for the social and political skills he says he will need to soonlead the House of Representatives.

But despite anecdotal evidence about having many siblings, experts say that research shows no measurable advantages to family size, although birth order can play a role in intelligence.

"The legend, according to people with 12 children, is that it's a good thing, and it usually is," said Toni Falbo, professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas in Austin. "If the parents are fully functioning, bright, capable and hard working, they kind of organize the children so the older ones are responsible for the younger ones, on down the line, and that can work to benefit the kids."

"Scientific research shows either no benefit on social skills or it can possibly be a negative," said Falbo. "Even if you have all the resources, it's challenging."

One of the most famous parents of 12 were efficiency experts Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, whose children published the book, "Cheaper by the Dozen" in 1948. The story about their large brood was later made into several movies.

Other notables were the Von Trapps of "Sound of Music," and the fictional Waltons, who were based on the real-life family of Earl Hamner in "Spencer's Mountain."

Also in that group were the Kennedys and comedian Stephen Colbert,, who is one of 11.

Colbert has described his Irish Catholic family as "a humorocracy...Singing around the house highly encouraged."

John Boehner was 'Like Second Parent'

Rep. Boehner, R-Ohio, who was second born, has said he took over the role as surrogate parent when his older brother Robert joined the military after high school.

"He was like a second parent," said Mieneke, who was the fifth child. "He'd tell us to sit up straight, wear good clothes, the same sort of things our parents told us. He picked up the role."

In the early years, the siblings shared two bedrooms and their parents slept on a pull-out bed in the living room before building an extension on the house.

Meineke still lives in that house and now works as a waitress and bartender at Andy's Cafe, the bar founded by their grandfather in 1938. Boehner also worked sweeping floors to help pay for college.

"You learn how to share and sacrifice and how to do without in a family of 12," she said. "My father was a bar owner and that was his sole income. You appreciate when you get a new pair of jeans or a coat. We thought we were rich growing up. It made us all better people."

But a 2010 Ohio State University study published in Science Daily concluded that growing up without siblings doesn't seem to be a disadvantage for teenagers when it comes to social skills. Earlier studies had shown that kindergarteners with no brothers or sisters were slightly disadvantaged.

Birth order plays a larger role than family size," according to Falbo.

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