How Kevin Heldt maintains his joy (and his sanity) with nine (!) kids under his roof.
Tell us about your family.
My wife, Brianna, and I have been married for over 15 years. We have nine children—5 biological daughters and 4 children we’ve adopted from Ethiopia: Anna, Yosef, Biniam, Kaitlyn, Mekdes, Tigist, Mary, Alice, and Beatrice. We moved to Denver, Colorado in 2008. We were lifelong Californians previously. I’m an electrical engineer.
You have by many accounts a large family. How do people react when they see you around town?
There are a range of reactions. In Denver, people are more “live and let live” in general. We aren’t subject to a lot of staring. Most people say positive things like “Christmas must be fun at your house!” A lot of people are genuinely curious about us. Some people do make negative comments. Overall, though, people are well-disposed to our family.
How do you have the energy and time to care for your wife and nine kids?
Regardless of how many kids you have, your kids are going to take all of you. So in that sense, having a big or small family doesn’t matter. With more kids, the love multiplies. It’s not about the number of kids, but about the ratio of helpers-to-”helpees”. The hardest stage was when we had four kids 3-and-under. We’d get the kids to bed at night, pick up all the toys and just lay on the couch utterly exhausted but also amused about how tiring it was. But once your older kids are able to start helping out, things get a lot easier.
Did you and your wife set out to have a large family?
Not at all. We had the typical Western 21st-century assumptions about marriage and family. We thought we would wait 5 years to have kids and probably have two or three. Early in our marriage, we were appalled to learn that the tertiary effect of birth control pills was to make the womb less hospitable for a baby to implant. This could cause an abortion if ovulation occurred in spite of the primary and secondary effects.
My wife threw her birth control pills away and we had many conversations in those days about what God created marriage and family to be, how we should view our fertility, and how children are supposed to fit into life. We came to question so many of the assumptions that our culture takes for granted. Then we had more powerful realizations as we started having our kids. We couldn’t believe how much we loved our first baby! A few months in, we looked at each other and said, “This is what everyone is trying so hard to avoid?”
In time, we decided we were going to be open to life and open to the children God sends us. So far, that’s worked out really well. I regularly look around with wonder at how blessed we are and what a beautiful life God’s given us.
How do you react to “having less kids is green” arguments?
There are fundamental (and often unspoken) philosophical ideas lurking beneath those ideas that I firmly reject. Most people don’t ask the question about how much we’re a product of our culture. And, a product of our time and the place we’re in. There are norms we all take for granted. But, are they good?
We should be responsible stewards of our families. If you can’t put food on the table, you have to take that into consideration. When you look at when a lot of these family planning ideas gained traction, whether you’re going back to Malthus or Sanger, there are a lot of hugely problematic ideas. Clear connections to eugenics. Misplaced aims of achieving utopia on earth. Denial of the dignity of every person derived from our creation in the image and likeness of God.
Look at Margaret Sanger’s initial intentions, for example. She saw there was a sorry state for a lot of families. Mothers were ignored and their health was compromised. She sought to respond to those real problems. But in the end, she made the problem worse. Even though she herself was against abortion, her legacy is inextricably linked to the modern-day Planned Parenthood phenomenon and the horrifically high number of babies aborted each day.
In America, there’s definitely a militant approach to tradition and history. I want to be on the side of God. Children are a blessing. Humans were made as the pinnacle of all creation. I believe we share our humanity with Jesus Christ himself. We’re not like the other animals. There’s this view that humans are a blight on our earth, rather than stewards of it. So, I think these arguments are wrong.
Most days, though, I’m just focused on staying awake and putting food on the table.
What compelled you to consider adoption?
Neither of us grew up thinking about adoption or having a big family. In 2004, after we experienced a miscarriage, we grew even more aware of the fragility and beauty of life.
My wife had the idea of international adoption. She started researching it and, to that point, we hadn’t honestly thought much about life outside of our country. Our hearts became open to how many children in our world have grown up without parents. We came to think that adoption is something we would do someday.
Then I was reading Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place for a second time and God showed us we should adopt now. As it turns out, we sent our application in the day before the news dropped that Angelina Jolie was going to adopt internationally. That changed the adoption landscape dramatically, in both good and bad ways. That adoption went super fast. All of a sudden we were bringing home our two sons.
We always ask: How has becoming a dad made you a better person?
A better question is how has it not? Humans tend toward selfishness. Fathering is a built-in crucible to form your character and to make you better than you otherwise would be.
We always ask: What do you believe is your finest fathering skill?
Being present and being myself with my kids. At some point after being a father for several years, I saw a lot of dads who weren’t really comfortable with their kids. They maybe hadn’t gotten really comfortable with the idea of fatherhood in general. I like to be myself with my kids. I enjoy their friendship. They’re just people who happen to be younger and smaller.
We always ask: What’s one thing you’ve learned from your father?
Self-sacrifice and hard work aren’t just good things, but natural to the state of fatherhood. I tend toward laziness. From my dad, I learned it’s a good useful thing to go to work and earn a living. It’s a good thing to serve your kids and help them go to bed. Giving yourself away throughout life in big and small ways is what my dad taught me.
We always ask: What is your favorite activity to do with your kids?
Singing. Making them laugh. Basketball. Ping pong. Settlers of Catan. Playing catch. Having meals together. Anything we all enjoy doing.
Do you think you’ll have more kids?
We have a 15-passenger van, so we do have room to grow—4 empty seats still! Our baby is still pretty little now, but if God blessed us with another baby (or more) in the years to come, we’d be thrilled.
You can count me as one happy customer of having a big family. I’d recommend it. It will change you, but life will change you one way or the other. I’m serious: I can’t believe how grateful I am. I’m just this goofy guy and I have 10 people in my life who I’d do anything for.
Postscript: We love interviewing dads with all different experiences and views on fatherhood.
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