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As the cheesy, synthesized ‘80s tune “Pop! Goes My Heart” filled the living room of the Belzer household, five-year-old Judah began to bounce one shoulder up and down, wiggling both of her legs to the beat.
She grabbed a metal whisk and sang into it like a microphone, while her father, Joe, danced in the kitchen with one-year-old Gracie and three-year-old Corrie .
The remaining nine of the Belzer children gathered in the living room, singing to each other and giggling at their homemade entertainment.
For the family of 14, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence.
“There’s always someone to play with,” said Jennie Belzer, the family’s matriarch. “There is not a loneliness issue. You can always go outside and play a board game or have someone to talk to and be with.”
In addition to the three youngest, the Belzer clan consists of 21-year-old Josiah, 19-year-old Mariah, RBHS senior Andy and twin sister Maggie, sophomore Sarah, 13-year-old Lydia, 11-year-old Noel, 10-year-old Esther and seven-year-old Micah.
The house is “not very quiet. There’s usually always somebody [making noise], and we have to do our chores every day otherwise the house gets out of control,” Jennie, homeschool teacher and stay-at-home mom said. “At one time we had a house with eight kids and only one bathroom and no shower, just a bath tub, and we lived there for a long time, too, and finally I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
After both growing up in families with five children, Joe and Jennie thought they wanted to have four or five kids in their own family when they married. But after having a few, there wasn’t a set number of kids they felt would complete their family unit. The parents would sit down at the dining room table with all their children and feel as if someone was missing, and that was a sign a new baby should be added to their home.
The two oldest, Josiah and Mariah, attend college while the rest, with the exception of Andy and Sarah, are homeschooled. Andy decided he did not want to be homeschooled past the fourth grade, and Sarah started public school in the third grade. She bounced in and out for five years, but decided to permanently attend public school her sophomore year.
However, these full-time students may need some solitude from time to time at the end of the day, and a request for privacy can be a lot to ask for in the Belzer household.
“I’ve never had my own room or really my own area; it’s always been sharing pretty much everything,” Andy said. “But I think I’ve learned how to be a better person because of putting up with complete lack of personal space.”
In a two bath, six bedroom house, the youngest three girls share a room; Noel and Esther split another, while Lydia sleeps on a mattress in the corner of the basement and Andy and Micah share a storage space. Instead of being asked to clean their rooms, the children are asked to tidy their areas.
“You’re never truly alone,” Sarah said as her little sister Lydia loudly sang Justin Bieber’s “Baby” in the background. “Things get borrowed without permission, your room gets messed up and just random stuff in my room is out of place.”
In addition to privacy and personal space issues, the Belzers have to provide food, clothing and transportation, so making ends meet with one single income could seem impossible. But Joe, a Christian Campus house minister at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and his wife stick to their motto that God will bless their family, even if they do spend more money on milk than electricity in a day.
“Everybody in the family sees that we pray that God will provide, and we see all sorts of miraculous provisions,” Jennie said, folding a pair of sweatpants, placing them on one of the 12 piles of laundry on the dining room table. “We always have enough no matter what it is. We wrecked our van and totaled it, and the person that hit us didn’t have insurance, and then someone in our Sunday school class gave us $10,000 to buy a new van. We’ve never not been able to make it through.”
The Belzers have been fortunate; people have donated clothes to their family, and they are frugal with these, passing them down so that they can be worn again by the younger children. As for food, Jennie still has to make three to four trips to Sam’s Club a week, where she buys everything in bulk, from giant rice crispy boxes to 24-ounce Parmesan cheese containers.
Even though they might face financial difficulties, the parents believe the rewards are well worth the sacrifices.
“We think as far as character, the older kids wouldn’t be who they are if they didn’t have the younger kids,” Joe said. “There’s something about having responsibility of another person besides yourself that is permanent throughout your life.”
Even though Jennie and Joe are finished having children, the meaning of family will be treasured for the rest of their lives. They feel content in their family size and look forward to several more years seeing their children grow up, Jennie said.
For Sarah and Andy growing up in a family of 14 has taught them to cherish every moment with their large family, with whom they will celebrate family get-togethers in the future surrounded by their siblings and their own families, and they couldn’t ask for anything better, Andy said.
“My family is my life; if I didn’t have them I wouldn’t be who I am now,” Andy said, “I would know how it would be any different [not having a big family]. …They give me support when I don’t have any, and they help me out.”
By Kaitlyn Marsh