Interview with Father of Fourteen and Co-Author of New Book “Better by the Dozen, Plus Two”
By John Jalsevac
LifeSiteNews: What made you and your wife decide to write your book?
Jim Littleton: First and foremost it was, I pray and I hope and I believe, a movement of the Holy Spirit. God has blessed us with a very large family, as you know, and I think that that is a means of attracting some interest to our story and our message. We’ve been given much and we see our large family as a means of evangelization.
We have been moved to address some of the disorders in our culture. And we identify them, as a matter of fact, in our prologue, such as the prevalence of self-centeredness, what happens when God and His will are not our first and highest concern, etc. and the fear - and I underline the word fear - of being open to having more children.
Obviously every individual is seeking happiness. So we address the question, "Does closing the door to openness of life really bring the good and the happiness longed for?"
We also address the prevalence of haste in the dominant culture, how many are constantly rushing, but to what end? We’ve been moved to help our readers, and those who would listen to us speak, to step back and reevaluate why they’re doing what they’re doing.
In the culture there is a great prevalence of fear and a lack of real faith. We’re a fear driven culture. There’s a sense of wanting to be in complete control, which is of course an impossible goal, rather than a deep and abiding faith and trust in God.
The family as the centre for all members is non-existent in most families. We address that and we address the morally relativistic society, and the fact that today’s religion seems to be politics. How people seem to be consumed and obsessed with politics. We maintain that no political ideology is going to solve all problems or bring the happiness that people hunger for.
Of course, we don’t just identify the problems, which I’ve just outlined, but we’re called to be a people of hope and confidence in Christ, and to be apostolic. So we also present solutions. Our primary solution is to realize that we are powerless on our own, that we need to recognize our total dependency on God, total dependency on Jesus Christ and His grace. Those graces come through prayer, and primarily, for those who are Catholic, through the Sacraments, the Sacramental life - living the Eucharistic life, and frequent Confession.
The problems in our culture are not going to be resolved simply through our intelligence and our reason as human beings. Our reason is of course perfected - as Pope Benedict tells us - by faith, by grace. And so we need that grace from God in order for the scales to be removed from our eyes and for us to be able to hear and just recognize the truth and the reality around us so that we can see truth, and live truth in our lives.
Certainly we did not go from - and the book addresses the fact that I was basically a hedonist, was Catholic in name only - we did not go from that point to attending Mass daily as a complete family. It was a gradual transition. We want to encourage people to take the next step, from where they’re at now, in terms of increasing their life of grace.
We have, however, written our book for general audiences, not just Catholics - although we are staunch Catholics, and we express our Catholic faith and practices in great detail. But we’re hoping that any person of good will would be able to read our book and listen to our message and come away with some positive reflections or resolutions relative to their lives.
LifeSiteNews: What has the reaction to the book been so far?
Jim Littleton: We’ve received nothing but positive responses thus far. Now, the book was only released to distribution roughly a couple weeks ago. So, we’ve heard from a handful of people who have read the book, and they were very positive responses. For example, a gentleman that I spoke with yesterday called it "transforming".
As a deeper answer to your question, my expectation is that some people are going to love the book and some are going to hate the book. And I’m happy about that, because I don’t think anyone will be able to read this book and walk away indifferent, or walk away unchanged. You can’t read this book without God working on your soul in some way, whether that’s shaking an individual out of an indifference, or taking a soul who is well along in the path of sanctity and perhaps giving him or her some life and encouragement to, again, take the next step.
In my own experience I don’t think we can win many people over to being open to life in their marriages, to not using artificial contraception, or reversing sterilizations and so on, unless we change their hearts. We have to give them the facts - that’s an important and essential element - but I think what stands most in the way is the element of faith and confidence in God and trust in Him, versus fear.
That fear might be stated in such a way as, "Well I’m not sure that I can handle another child, I have two, and I’m not sure how I could keep up with three; or how am I going to pay for their college education?; or our finances do not seem to able to support another child, etc." And we’re encouraging others to not necessarily say, "I’m going to have all the children I possibly physically can have, regardless of circumstances".
What we’re encouraging them to do is to always be open to God’s will, always discerning God’s will, and bringing in a bigger dose of faith versus reason alone. And being willing to take some risks knowing that God is there for them, just seeing what the value of life really is, the value of a human person, a human soul, versus what our issues, or questions or fears might be. And that kind of puts things into perspective.
LifeSiteNews:A lot of people see having as large a family as you have as a huge burden. In a few sentences can you sum up what it is that has allowed you to see such a big family not as a burden, but as a blessing?
Jim Littleton: Well, recognize certainly the value of human life, the joy that each new baby brings into the family. The family is never the same once a new person is born into the family. And another point is that we didn’t just wake up one day from having no children to having 14 children. It’s a gradual process, so it’s one step at a time. You start with one, eventually you’re at two, and so on. So that’s just the way our life has evolved. Certainly our Eucharistic life, by the grace of God, our constant prayer life in the family, has given us the strength and the courage and the supernatural vision to be open to having a large family.
Certainly a large family has its practical difficulties and challenges, but they’re nothing compared to the beautiful blessing of a large family. And another point is that when one has a large family, of course the young children eventually get older and they’re able to help with the younger children. God’s plan is perfect in that regard.
It can be overwhelming for the family that has perhaps three children now, to think of having fourteen. But it’s actually much more doable than they might realize from their current perspective. Again, the older children help with the younger, and the work and the responsibilities are spread out that way, so they’re not overwhelming for anyone. There’s also a side benefit to that in that all of the family members grow in generosity and everyone bonds much more closely.
LifeSiteNews: What has been the most difficult thing about having as many children as you have?
Jim Littleton: I can’t say that it’s really been difficult. We’ve certainly had our financial difficulties, but that’s not directly or in any way exclusively related to the large family. But we’ve gotten by, and God has provided. We haven’t missed a meal yet, and always had a roof over our heads. And even those difficulties have brought us closer to Christ in that we’ve come to trust God even more. We do live on the edge financially. But having said that, that’s nothing, that’s just nothing compared to the joys and the benefits of a large family.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when a child is born into the world, the world will tell you that that child is going to be demanding, is going to have a lot of needs, that we have to provide for that child. But I think the real and true Christian way to look at that is that the child doesn’t just come in to sap the family’s or the world’s resources, but comes into the world to contribute his or her life and talents and, God-willing, productivity, if that child is blessed with good health. And if the child wasn’t blessed with good health to still contribute with the talents he or she has. Our lives are just so interdependent on others and on these new persons that are being brought into time and eternity.
LifeSiteNews: We live in a very secular, and some would argue, a very evil age. Have you had problems sheltering your children from some of the evils of the age? How have you dealt with this particular problem?
Jim Littleton: We do, for example, we made the choice of getting rid of commercial television, roughly 9 years ago. This is one example. Though we do still have a television, it’s not hooked up to cable or have an antenna. So we only use it for videos or DVDs that I’ve approved, so we do enjoy watching good quality, wholesome movies with the family. In fact that’s a good, unifying activity for a family. We’ll even analyze these movies as case studies for virtue, for example. So we don’t have access to commercial television, cable television, and all the immoral elements of that coming to our house.
We’re not saying that the technology of television and programming is all bad or all evil. It’s not. There’s a lot of good there. We found as a family that it works better not to have access to it, and that we weren’t able to completely control the television when we had it. Where you’re flipping channels and the image is there, and once that image is absorbed into the minds of our children, it’s there.
Having said that, again, we’re very engaged in the culture and the society. We have children who are now college age, and they’ve grown into very mature, well-adjusted adults.
With the internet, we have had one computer in a public area. Through school, when our children have had to be on the internet to complete a project, one of the parents is with them to get them on that particular site, and they don’t have a password to the computer, so there’s not that occasion of sin, in seeking out an impure website, or to stumble upon something like that, which, to my understanding is very easy to do and very common.
We’ve done everything we can to protect the innocence of our children. Our children, however, have not been at all deprived by this. They tend to play more games, be socially interactive, play outside, read lots and lots of books. There’s a lot of other ways to entertain ourselves, then with media.
We also believe that over-exposure to television, i-pods, computers and such, that over stimulation desensitizes the person, to where they’re not able to reflect as well or have an interior life, or have as beneficial of an interior life because of all that over stimulation. Even for example if the television or the other media that they’re being overexposed to is good materials, if it’s over done even that can have a negative impact. Not to mention, our time is a great gift from God. We see that time as a gift that we have a responsibility to use well. So I don’t know how we would ever find time for commercial television in our house. Our time is very full between our family and our work and our other activities.
Our family has, by the grace of God, been very family oriented. We’re very united, and do things together. Older children interacting with and playing with younger children, for example. We’ve not permitted any dating - and we haven’t even really had any challenges to that - through high-school, because we don’t want our children to get into the cultural dating where it’s a means of entertainment. What we encourage in our children is courting, and courting can only happen when that young person is old enough to begin discerning a spouse. And courting is done in a more public arena, with the family or with groups of other young people.
And so we try to evaluate things that are the norm in the culture and decide if this is right for us. If it’s not, be willing to make the radical choice to say, "We’re not going to live that, we’re going to do what we believe God’s will is."
LifeSiteNews:Jim, as the father of the family, you must feel a particular burden trying to support such a large family. How have you dealt with that and what would your advice be to other young men considering the possibility of starting large families?
Jim Littleton: We have to do it with a trust and dependency on God. Yes, I’m charged with the responsibility of providing. But literally I could throw out my last breath just five second from now and be gone. Just the fact that I’m alive and healthy is a great gift in itself, and it’s something that we don’t have control of. In other words what I’m saying is that God Himself is in control. He is attending to every detail of our lives and our needs. Now, that doesn’t mean that He gives us everything that we ask for when we want it, because no good father would do that with his child. He gives us what we need what He knows we need, when we need it.
Again, we have lived on the precipice financially for most of our married life. In recent years we’ve even had some serious financial problems, where certain business ventures of mine did not work out well. My philosophy is that I’m not called to succeed or to be able to guarantee everything my family thinks they need when they want it. My responsibility is to do my best, certainly to work hard, to use my time well, my talents, to provide for my family, and with a sense of dependency on God and trust that He’s taking care of the rest.
We need to face reality that there are always going to be difficulties and challenges in life. That’s part of life, and that’s part of what’s going to have one of the biggest effects on our souls in getting more transformed into Christ-it’s called the Cross.
I would encourage other young fathers to step forward and be not afraid. What’s much more important than providing financially for one’s family is providing leadership for your family, and being the spiritual head of the family that we’re called to be. By spiritual head that doesn’t mean that we’re better than our wives. The man is called the spiritual head of the family, and, to borrow someone else’s statement, the wife is called to be the heart of the family. I make a comment in our book that a head without a heart is a dead head.
We have to obviously work very closely in collaboration and unity and oneness with our wives. Again, to take that spiritual leadership and to be brave and to be strong when it comes to faith and morality. When it comes to the spiritual and moral good of our children, we have to be like rocks, like brick walls. We, as men, have to be men in that sense. Again, not to be tyrants, but to be willing to stand up firm.
We believe that we have a message that’s a beautiful ideal for families to live. But we do not live it perfectly ourselves. We have our fallen human nature. We’re doing the best we can. We fall short in many ways. What we’re talking about here, our message isn’t the Littleton family. Our message is really Jesus Christ. So, at least we have the ideal and we have the roadmap to get there, but we’re on the road like everyone else.