Family–the people we laugh with, cook with, cry with and eat too many bowls of ice cream with after a particularly difficult week. Each family is their own extraordinary combination of zigzags and polka dots and triangles, with each member bringing their own, special qualities to the mix. For a couple of families in Woodbury this mix is just a whole lot bigger.
• Nine children
• Five boys and
• Ages range from
11 to 30
• Ten children
• Six girls and
• Ages range from
6 to 18
Debbie and Mike Brocker met in college. “We met when we were both attending Gustavus,” Debbie says. One evening, Debbie ventured to the student lounge and switched the communal TV from a game that some students were watching, to an episode of Sesame Street. “Just to see what they would do,” she says with a laugh. Mike was one those students. “I was thinking, ‘This might be a girl I could ask out,’” he says. And he did.
Like many couples, the Brockers had conversations about starting a family before they got married. They knew they wanted kids but just how many would come as more of a surprise. After the couple had their sixth biological child, they felt compelled to adopt. “God laid it on our hearts,” Mike says. “We wanted to adopt in an area we felt had the most need.” The Brockers adopted their last three children from Ethiopia, completing their family with a total of nine kids.
“One of the deepest joys is seeing their friendships grow,” Mike says. A joy that the Brockers’ children share. “I enjoy always having a friend or someone to hang out with,” says the Brocker’s 15-year-old daughter, Bethany. “It’s like a revolving door at our house,” adds 16-year-old Danielle with a laugh.
Of course, it’s not always smooth sailing. With nine children and two adults come 11 separate schedules to keep up with. “Deb has a color-coded calendar book,” Mike says. The couple attended 210 basketball games in just one season.
In the midst of all of these schedules, the Brockers still find time to sit down for dinner together. They also pray together each night, a tradition they started 30 years ago and continue to this day.
Two of the Brockers’ sons and two of their daughters-in-law now work with Mike at Legacy Wealth in Woodbury. “It would be difficult to find such quality people elsewhere,” Mike says. The Brockers never dreamed they would become such a large family and they never dreamed they would work together, but, “It’s really been a blessing,” Mike says.
Brenda and Kyle Benning met on their college bowling team. Brenda was a transfer student looking to meet new friends at the University of Minnesota-Duluth when she met Kyle and they fell in love. Similar to the Brockers, before they got married the Bennings discussed having kids. “We actually talked about having four kids,” Brenda says. “He was raised in a family of five and I was [raised in a family of] three, so four was right in the middle.” Not having kids was never an option.
When the couple experienced infertility issues, they decided to go the adoption route. After the Bennings reached that magic four number, their family didn’t yet feel complete. The magic number grew from four to 10. Nine out of the Benning’s 10 children came to them in domestic adoptions and the couple’s sixth child is biological.
As parents of a large family, the Bennings’ parenting style is significantly different than that of a smaller family. “The kids are teaching each other,” Kyle says. “You’re actually helping your kids teach each other.” The Bennings also have some children who experienced trauma prior to their adoption, so Brenda and Kyle tailor their parenting style to be trauma-sensitive, meaning they don’t follow the traditional model of discipline.
The Bennings purchased a 12-passenger van to fit their large family, and with a multitude of different schedules to keep up with, they spend a fair amount of time on the go. “I’m running taxi from about 2:45 p.m. to 6 p.m.,” Brenda says. The Bennings feel that their large family has taught them to let go of things that don’t matter, but one thing they hold strict to is bedtime, giving the couple time to decompress and enjoy adult conversation.
The family spends quite a bit of time participating in activities together. “One of the fun things is if we go do something–like a trip to the museum–it’s cheaper to just get a family membership,” Brenda says.
The Bennings are also thankful for the diversity in their family. “Large families give you more opportunities to see diversity in each other,” Kyle says. Not just diversity of race—which the Bennings also have in their family—but diversity of thought.
No matter the size of your family, it’s those individual connections, those moments of learning from each other and loving unconditionally, that truly create a special mix.