Family is big to Sean Carlo


Mary Caros
Focus on Adoption magazine

Sean Carlo is father to 15 children with 11 of them still at home. How does he cope? One child at a time.

Sean Carlo and his wife Debbie started thinking about adoption some time after their fifth child, a daughter, was born. They often looked after four neighbor girls and found it too quiet and boring when the girls went home. They knew then that they’d like to have other children living in the home, but they didn’t want children to come and go--they wanted them to stay. A brother and sister joined the Carlo family about 10 years ago, then another brother and sister, and then another. Then about a year ago, a sibling group of two brothers and two sisters joined them. And then there were 15.

The best thing about a large family, says Sean, is that there’s always someone to talk to, someone to do something with. There’s always something going on and people visiting. But it’s not like the stereotypical movies, crazy with all kinds of kids. It’s not regimented to the extreme, either. It’s somewhere in between, he explains. He says people who come over are always shocked that the house is orderly, calm and quiet.

Sean learned about being part of a large family early. He would get dropped off at his paternal grandparent’s house, which is still in the family, when his parents went grocery shopping. “All of the cousins and aunts and my grandparents and great-grand parents, and my dad’s cousins were there. I guess that’s where I learned about living in a large family,” he says. “I learned to share and I learned patience, because there was only one bathroom. And I learned that everyone can contribute, and that there was always some way to help out. Even a small child can bring a cup into the kitchen. Everyone is a valuable part of the team and has a significant role to play.”

Sean and family now live in Youbou, a small community on Vancouver Island, where everyone knows everyone and most of the Carlo kids have worked as pin setters at the last league-sanctioned, hand-set bowling alley in Canada. Here, they enjoy dinners and camping with other large families to whom Sean and Debbie look to for advice and support.

Sean and Debbie even get out for a date night once in a while, and Sean sometimes finds time to indulge his passion- flying airplanes. On the days when Debbie has the kids out for appointments, and his daughter is working, and if the weather is half-decent, Sean heads to Victoria for a couple of hours of flying time and lunch at the café with his eldest son, an airport maintenance engineer.

As if raising 15 children were not enough for this father, Sean also volunteers with the Royal Canadian air cadet program, the St. John Ambulance cadet program and conducts workshops and presentations on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which affects several of the children in his family. Carlo says he hopes to break the cycle of prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol by getting the word out and by teaching people how to help and mentor FASD children. Carlo believes FASD is 100% preventable, and the more times he can get to a conference and teach people, the more people can help to break this cycle.

Carlo says he couldn’t imagine life or going back to life before all of these kids. “People said we were lucky after our first because he was great, then when our second was born and he was great, they said, ‘Well, it won’t happen a third time!’ Then our daughter was born and she was wonderful, too. But the difference between the third and fourth (child) was a huge difference. Not everyone fit in the car and the difference in workload seemed huge. But after that, each child has just fit right in!”

Sean Carlo’s parenting tips for large and small families

1. Have a hobby: Sean still has hobbies—he’s a member of the Victoria Flying club and so is his oldest son. He shares his aviation passion with the kids and Debbie teaches them her love of sewing. They draw the children into the things they’re doing and try to create a well-rounded family.

2. Do dishes in shifts: the Carlos do meal clean-up in 10-minute shifts so that no one gets overwhelmed and everyone, even the littlest, gets to help. The clean-up gets done very quickly and everyone feels part of the team that makes their’s a successful house.

3. Get advice: Sean and his wife stay close to other large families and Sean gets advice from other dads, like Dave Gilbert, and from anyone he can. They do a camping trip every August with other large families, and use the time to discuss strategies and bounce ideas off of one another.

4. Be a champion: Sean is an active and strong advocate for children and adults with FASD. He does speaking engagements, conferences, workshops and he and Debbie meet personally with their children’s teachers and employers to ensure that they have the information they need to help the Carlo children succeed.