Family of 19 Relies on Chore Lists, Laughter

ByABC News via GMA logo
August 15, 2002, 4:26 PM

S A R T E L L, Minn., Aug. 16 -- Early morning at the Dunham family home, the coffee is brewing, and all is peaceful but not for long. Soon, there is a bugle call to wake the kids up all 17 of them.

The Dunhams, who live in Sartell, Minn., are what you might call a mega-family, and running a family this size is much like a military operation, with mom serving as the general. First, there is a wake-up call for the four littlest girls.

"OK who wants Cocoa Puffs, and who wants Rice Krispies?" the mom, Paula Dunham asks.

Next, she rouses the five older girls, and then finally, all eight boys.

"When you have this many, you have to know what you're doing otherwise you just sink," Dunham told Good Morning America.

The Dunhams are a minority in a country of mostly two-family kids, but they're not alone. An estimated 3.5 million U.S. families have four or more children. Like other extra-large families, the Dunham family came together through a combination of birth and adoption. They had eight biological children, adopted three and in May, they adopted six Filipino siblings who were already in the United States. They plan to adopt the seventh sibling in the fall. Other extra large families are blended families from two previous marriages.

Yet the organizational skills that the Dunhams have adopted can serve as an example for families of any size.

Big Family, Two Bathrooms

For the Dunhams, everyone the eight biological kids and the nine adopted ones has to pull their weight by completing chores that range from clearing the dishes, to mowing the lawn, to cleaning the bathrooms.

The latter duty is especially important: the house's 17 children and two adults have only two bathrooms to share. The space shortage means that mobilizing the troops can take some time. But once mobile, they travel in one or both of the family's two 15-passenger vans.

After attending church, the family heads to the supermarket, where they pick up four pounds of deli meat, three loaves of bread, countless bags of chips and three gallons of milk. It is enough for one lunch.