LEWISPORTE, N.L. – In today’s world, raising and homeschooling a family of 10 can seem daunting beyond all measure.
But for Dean and Stevie Stairs, it’s been a world of rewards and wonders.
Now living in Lewisporte and running their own music-based business through the Citadel House, the Pilot spoke with the couple on their many experiences with such a large family.
The Stairs’ hotel
During the three-year period where all 10 children lived at home, Dean says in both population and workload the household functioned like a hotel.
“With 12 people at home and three meals a days, that’s 36 meals a day – it’s like running a café or hotel,” Dean reminisced. “It’s a bit of a blur for me, there was so much going on during that time period.”
But with the responsibilities of a large family comes the same large support network. From four loads of laundry a day to the cleanup after mealtime, rotating chores were utilized to ease the burden on Stevie and Dean.
The couple agreed that what really makes the family manageable is the attitude of taking things one day at a time and to not let any hurdles along the way overwhelm them.
“We never saw the obstacles of having a large family,” Stevie said. “It never seemed overbearing and as the kids got older they helped each other.
“It’s true community living, there’s no room for being selfish in a large family. We just take the task at hand and enjoy it.”
This sense of community living that particularly flourishes in such a large family has also contributed strongly to building character and a sense of responsibility among the siblings. For Dean, this is reflective on just how important the family is to society at large.
“The family is the smallest social unit in any society, it’s where everybody learns how to interact with one another,” he said. “If things begin to fall apart at the family level, it extends to all of society.”
Thriving and surviving
Both Dean and Stevie came up from much-smaller families of three and two respectively, but Dean says the decision to have such a large family did not come as a big shock to their parents.
“We got married when we were 20, and our life has been one of making the non-standard decisions,” Dean said. “So my family wasn’t too surprised.”
Because of Dean’s career in the Canadian military, the Stairs have lived in various places across North America. It was this continual moving process that encouraged the decision to home school.
“In the end, homeschooling was going to work with our lifestyle. We knew we were going to be a bit different anyway, so we thought why not go one step further,” Dean said with a laugh. “Homeschooling provided some kind of stability and built-in friendships. It gave us an opportunity to take advantage of the responsibilities of a large family and incorporating that into discussions about character-building, what good character and all those kinds of things mean.”
While time and financial restraints prevented activities like joining local hockey teams, the family found many ways to pass on the same team-building lessons those activities would provide.
In 2001, Dean retired from the military and the family settled in Lewisporte. Now that five of their children have moved out on their own, Stevie says it’s very fulfilling to see them become independent.
“Now to be at a place where we can look back to see everybody blossoming into their own lives, it’s been a wonderful process,” she said.
Dean agrees that they experience the same rewards most parents do, just at a multiplied number.
“I think any parent would answer those questions in much the same way, we just get to see it 10 times,” he added with a laugh.
But the family has also faced its share of hardships. With the passing of their ninth child Gideon at the age of four, Dean says witnessing the stages of grief among his children was particularly tough. Gideon passed away due to cancer in 2008.
“That the most difficult experience,” he said. “And while we as parents we’re grieving, to see the children moving through teen years, into adult years, and the stages of grief they go through – it’s something as a parent you don’t want to learn.”
The road ahead
Currently four children remain home, with the youngest sibling Sam at age 12. The workload has certainly slowed down on some fronts, but Dean and Stevie keep busy with the Citadel House – recording musicians and hosting concerts.
Stevie commented on one particular readjustment with cooking, and the need to relearn her old skills with last year’s Christmas get together.
“I’m an adaptable person, and changing from cooking big meals to small meals I’ve quickly gotten used to,” Stevie said. “[At Christmas] It was a definitely more of a transition to pump the meal sizes back up.”
As well as his focus on recording and offering a venue to musicians, Dean also has his mind set on doing some more renovations to their Lewisporte home to add a few additional bedrooms for any future family reunions. While none of their children have kids of their own, Dean says reassuringly that future family reunions may prove to be quite massive and energetic.
“It’s been a wonderful life, but it’s certainly not over yet,” Stevie said with a smile.
We have been covering the Stairs for a long time! Check out what we have in the vault: