Strength in numbers: What it’s like parenting 8 children
Riley and Candra Sexton describe their journey as parents of three biological children and five adopted children.
When Riley Sexton first married his high school sweetheart Candra in 1998, he wasn’t sure if he wanted children.
“Our vision kind of evolved over time about what our family was going to look like.”
In the last 14 years it’s evolved and expanded again and again. First came Gabriella, Malachi and Eve.
“After we had our third child biologically, we agreed to kind of just pause,” Riley said.
“After every birth we put a moratorium on, ‘We’re not talking about adding to the family until everything settles down.’”
Hearing a speaker discuss adoption at a faith-based leadership conference in October 2009 changed everything.
“He was just talking about orphan care in the world and how this was one way his family felt they could respond,” Candra said.
“They had had teenagers — 15-year-olds — and they adopted a little baby…and they brought him on stage just really to share how this had impacted their life moving forward and how they were called to sacrifice what they thought their life was going to be like to expand their family through adoption.”
Riley says he and his wife were so moved by the story, they started researching adoption that night.
“I think what God put on our hearts is to be a family for kids that might not have a shot at a family.”
Over the next four years, they adopted Jude from South Africa and brothers Henok, Mikius and Abenezer from Ethiopia. They went on to adopt Chloe, who has cerebral palsy, through Alberta Child and Family Services in 2015. The couple now has eight children between five and 14 years old.
So, how do they do it?
All of the children help around the house, that includes doing their own laundry. Eight-year-old Jude acts as a sous chef for his mom and there are no complaints about what’s served for dinner.
“We have a rule… at the table, that the food that is on the table is the food you get,” Candra said.
“I am not a short-order cook. So they eat what it is and actually it’s really expanded some of my kids’ tastes and palates over the years. We’ve had some struggles but they know that that’s what’s for supper.”
The couple has budgeted ever since they were first married but with eight children to feed, house and clothe, tracking every dollar has become even more important (especially when monthly groceries can be the equivalent of a mortgage payment).
“One sport. One music. We have some specific boundaries so that we don’t spend crazy amounts of money on extracurricular.”
The practical implications of raising eight children have meant adopting a 15-passenger van. Riley jokes that he wants to find a bumper sticker that says: “Coolest vehicle ever — said nobody.”
The Sextons live away from their extended family, but they’ve connected with babysitters in their community in order to secure couple time twice a month.
“We still need to get out on dates. We still need to make sure we’re a family once the kids move out,” Riley said.
Candra says they’ve made time for each other ever since their children were little and even talk to them about how it makes them better parents.
The couple says raising eight children has actually made them less judgemental and more generous with other families.
“Lots of times when we meet people they’re like, ‘I have two, I don’t know how you do it with eight,’ or ‘I have one, I don’t know how you do it with eight,’ and there’s this kind of shame embedded there,” Riley said.
“I think the fact parents are noticing that should encourage them that they actually want to parent well. They want to be involved in their kids’ lives. But we don’t have a lot of people celebrating that you’re actually doing a better job than you think and this parenting thing is really hard.