How to Manage a Family of 22

ByABC News via via logo

Oct. 28, 2005 — -- Holly and Greg Richardson of Pleasant Gove, Utah, had two biological children when they saw a 1990 "20/20" report on orphaned children in Romania and decided to adopt. Since then, they have adopted 16 children ranging in age from 1 to 18 from countries all over the globe.

"Greg and I watched that '20/ 20' show and we knew we had to go," Holly Richardson, 40, said. "We said we just have to help these kids and if we can do more we have to do more. And we did more."

In 1990, the Richardsons brought home their first two adopted daughters from Romania, Alina and Alexandra. Alexandra later died from complications of Down Syndrome.

Many of the Richardson children have physical and emotional disabilities, including two of their four biological children.

"I already had children with disabilities so I knew that I could handle it," Holly said. "All the kids come to us with problems, emotional issues. We seek out the hard-to-place children because we know we can give them a good home."

Most of the children have to deal with cultural differences as well. When Holly told one of her sons to do the dishes, he refused, calling it "girl's work."

"He was 12 when he came here and that was old enough to remember those distinctions from Ethiopia," she said. "He had to learn that there's no such thing as girl's work in our house. He's getting the hang of it."

Taking care of family that does 20 to 30 loads of laundry a week and eight loads of dishes a day on two dishwashers requires that everyone pitch in.

"All the bigger kids are responsible for getting themselves up and dressed, making their own school lunches and helping the little kids as well," said Greg Richardson, 43, who is a software programmer.

Holly has some backup -- three high school students who come in three days a week to help with meals. For breakfast, the Richardsons sextuple the amount of pancake batter. For lunch they wolf down 60 hot dogs or three loaves of sandwich bread. At dinner they can go through nine boxes of macaroni and cheese and make 10 to 15 pounds of mashed potatoes at a time.

The Richardsons were dealt a devastating blow when their house caught fire in May when one of their children was playing with matches in the basement. The fire damage was covered by insurance, but a previous owner had made additions to the house without proper permits and when city inspectors checked the damage, they refused to allow anyone to live there until it was brought up to code.

With 20 mouths to feed, the Richardsons couldn't easily afford the renovations. That's when neighbors stepped in to volunteer, raising nearly $400,000 in money and building materials.

"They turned our house into a show home," Holly said. "People we didn't even know reached out to help. ... It makes us feel awkward, though. We would rather be on the giving end than the receiving end, and I want to teach my kids the same thing."

The Richardsons said they are not done yet. They'll take it one situation at a time, but they say they still have room for more.

The Richardson children at a glance:

The girls:

Tereza, 1, Ethiopian. Almost died from early illness

Rachel, 4, South American. Adopted after a failed first adoption in California.

Rebecca, 5, American. Birth mother was a meth user which caused her severe heart problems.

Katie, 9, American. Rebecca's biological sister. Also tested positive for meth at birth.

Bethlahem, 8, Ethiopian. Adopted last year and just learning English.

Kristiana, 8, Russian. Digits missing on hands and feet

Anna, 11, Romanian. With the Richardsons on a long-term respite visit

Alina, 15, Romanian. The Richardsons' first adopted child who was severely neglected in an orphanage and is still in counseling.

Elizabeth, 16, Richardsons' biological daughter. In a wheelchair from arthrogyposis, a muscular disorder

Mira, 17, from Kazakhstan. Has a prosthetic leg.

The boys

Ammon, 4,from Kazakhstan. Learning English

Tomas, 5, Ethiopian. Learning English

Kerry, 7, from Kazakhstan. Uses a walker because of club feet.

Roman, 9, Russian. Has fetal alcohol syndrome

Halofom, 9, Ethiopian. Learning English

Joshua, 10, Richardsons' biological son. Is in a wheelchair due to arthrogryposis, a muscular disorder.

Ashenafe, 12, Ethiopian. Witnessed extreme abuse in birth family.

Buzaneh, 12, Ethiopian. Learning English.

Michael, 15, Richardsons' biological son.

Aaron, 18, Richardsons' biological son.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events