Have you seen the new show Bringing Up Bates on UP TV? Gil and Kelly Jo are the parents to 19 children and have one grandbaby with another on the way. The show chronicles what life is like with three children already married – two that live close by and one who lives in Florida. Everyday experiences for smaller families are heightened when you are taking care of children ranging from 2 to 25. Here are a few facts: they currently have nine children who can drive, a simple two-day camping trip means bringing 56 outfits, they don’t know many families who only have two children, the family consumes 165 bowls of cereal along with 40 gallons of milk and they have owned 29 vehicles since 1988.
I had the chance to interview Gil and Kelly Jo and learned what makes them a “big happy family,” their #1 tip for parents going through a chaotic day, how they save money and even how they handle negative feedback from others.
Question: What makes you a big happy family?
Kelly Jo: “We try to begin each day with Bible study and putting God first and that really is the foundation of our family. What makes it happy is our faith. We try to make sure that our children and each other feel like a priority because it’s easy to get busy. It’s easy to neglect the most important people. We try to focus on having one on one time and group time together. The communication and relationship is what makes it happy. A happy home is not how big the house is or how many children you have. What makes it happy is the love inside the home.”
Question: What’s the number one tip you want to share with other parents going through a hectic day?
Kelly Jo: “Team work is essential. If you have ever played sports in school cooperation exists. Team members are happy to help each other because they know the end result is going to benefit them all. If you can cultivate that type of spirit in your family – there is a lot of work to do to run a household – working together as a team can make it more enjoyable and make it run smoother. That involves doing things together.”
Gil: “Stop and realize the people in our lives are way more important than what’s going wrong or what’s broken. Take time and really focus on the people in your home. Your children, husband, wife, family – you don’t want to ruin these relationships with anger, frustration or high expectations while getting some project done or impressing someone else. Sometimes we shortchange the people we are closest to us. People are so important. I have to remind myself constantly that I’m not here just to get a project done.”
Question: How do you see that God prepared you to raise so many children and be the example you are now?
Kelly Jo: “We didn’t know this was the road that God was going to take us down when we got married. We didn’t plan on having a big family. I think it was something that God started to place on our hearts to have children. Then He had to teach us how to love them because it was easy for us to be selfish and have our free time and the extra money in the pocket to do what we wanted. I can remember a time when we both prayed for God to give us the love for children He had because we realized we did not have that. That was probably the greatest preparation.”
Question: Is there something you are focusing on now that you want God to change in your life?
Kelly Jo: “You never know what’s going to happen. The greatest prayer I have as a mom is for contentment and peace in the midst of whatever circumstances come our way. That’s a valuable thing we can give our children because they are going to have conflicts in their lives. Their faith, relationships, college and growing up – they are going to face conflicts and hurt feelings. The best things we can give them and show them is that God is there and that He will get us through if we can be content despite our circumstances.”
Question: Do you encourage your children to participate in extra curricular activities?
Kelly Jo: “We do a lot of church sports and they are very active in group sports. We encourage them to pursue whatever avenues they feel like. Lawson is pursuing a music career. Nathan told us he wanted to be a preacher and he planned a mission trip to the Philippians last year. He coordinated the whole project and he is planning on taking a group back. We’ve had several children who have pursued being an EMT and being involved with the fire department. They have a broad variety of interests and are very involved in many social groups outside of our family.”
Question: Have your children pursued interests that you weren’t initially interested in?
Kelly Jo: “They know how to come to us and make an appeal. We ask them ‘why do you think this is a good idea. What do you think about this?’ We really try to involve them in the benefits and outweigh the risks of anything they want to pursue and we try to be their biggest fans and their biggest supporters if they decide to go ahead with it.”
Question: What are the main qualities you guide your children to look for in a potential spouse?
Kelly Jo: “You need to think about when you see a married couple come in the house. When they leave we often hear our children saying, ‘They have a great marriage or he makes a good husband.’ I ask them, ‘What quality makes you say that. Because that is the quality that is going to stand out to you and you need to look for those qualities.’ They tell us someone who is spiritually minded who shares their faith in the Lord, who would spend quality time and knows how to communicate. Different children notice different things and I tell them to make a list and to realize there are no perfect people, but there are things you notice in a person that makes them a good husband.”
Gil: “I’m thankful that each one has decided to include us in the whole pursuit of relationships and want us to be a part. I feel grateful to be at a place in their lives where we are a team together.”
Question: Where do you typically shop and do you try to grow food or come up with creative ideas to cut the bill?
Gil: “I tell people you should try to work as much as you can, make as much as you can, live as cheap as you can, and help others along the way. We used to have really big gardens and realized it took a lot of time and effort to do it right, but we hope to get back to it. We try to find the best buy. We go to thrift stores and we shop around for the cheapest place we can find it. We try to get the best buy and we don’t always buy the name brands. We don’t have a lot of waste. We try not to buy stuff unless we need it.”
Kelly Jo: “Gil will negotiate a lot. He asks if he will get a better deal if he buys the whole thing. Normally they will give a reduced price if we buy in bulk. Instead of a bag of apples we will buy a case of apples.”
Question: How do you store the food?
Kelly Jo: “We have two refrigerators and an extra stand up freezer and we have a lot of cabinet space.”
Gil: “To be honest, no matter how much we buy – it goes fast. Five pounds of bananas is gone in one day.”
Question: Being on TV means being in the spotlight and you are going to have people with positive feedback and negative feedback. How do you handle some of the negativity that comes?
Kelly Jo: “We talk to our children and we try to not read what’s on the Internet. We see it sometimes and we try to realize as a family that people who have critical things to say are not our enemies. Usually the critical things they have to say are because they have a misconception or they heard part of a story. We realize they are not our enemy and ultimately we want our kids and ourselves to pray for our critics and realize they don’t have the whole picture. We try to ask ourselves if there is some truth to what they are saying that we need to learn and we need to work on. Sometimes our critics have been the people who have helped us the most when we really look at what they are saying and we realize there may be something right about what they are saying. We think about if there is some way we can present ourselves that will glorify God in spite of the misconception.”
I love how Gil and Kelly Jo focus on connecting with the heart of each of their children. It’s easy to make assumptions that everything has been simple and everything is figured out, but they didn’t begin this way! Thank you Gil and Kelly Jo Bates for sharing your lives with others and being such a huge encouragement for other Christian parents and grandparents. What do you think about the show?
You can check out the show Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET on UP TV. UP TV is on many cable systems and also on DISH Network on channel 188, DIRECTV channel 338 and Verizon FiOS channel 224.