Raising capable kids in chaotic times


A rollicking memoir shows how

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – How can we raise children and teens who are capable, confident, and accepting of others?
From a seasoned journalist comes the rollicking true story of a family of nine children growing up in a Midwest college town during the turbulent ‘60s and ‘70s — a family that championed diversity and inclusion long before such concepts became cultural flashpoints.

Inspiring, surprising, and laugh-out-loud funny, “Many Hands Make Light Work: A Memoir” (Aug. 6, 2019, She Writes Press) offers a powerful example to anyone raising children or teens today. The family in “Many Hands” lives during a time of social upheaval and cultural chaos, much like present times. The parents face challenges, such as more kids than money, and more love than time.

Author Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy grew up as the sixth of those nine children. Now a journalist whose work appears in The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and newspapers and websites across the country, she shares this upbeat, true story of how the unwieldy and exuberant Stritzel clan turned challenges into opportunities, and along the way built a family for the ages.

Human development experts say capable children are the foundation of a prosperous and sustainable society. Today’s millennial parents and baby-boomer grandparents alike want their youngsters to grow into successful, kind adults who keep their hearts open to others. “Many Hands Make Light Work: A Memoir,” written in the tradition of “Cheaper by the Dozen,” offers a template for building functional families under challenging circumstances, while remaining a winsome memoir of a Heartland childhood unlike any other.

CHERYL STRITZEL McCARTHY: Cheryl and her eight siblings grew up with a paintbrush in their hands and a song in their hearts. As soon as they were old enough to wrench a nail out of ancient lumber―so it could be used again―they were put to work renovating old houses in Ames, Iowa. Cheryl’s growing-up years included babysitting for a local family that kept a lion as a pet. A real, adolescent-aged lion. Uncaged. Using a flyswatter to defend herself, she survived the lion, and today is a freelance journalist for The Wall Street Journal as well as the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. The Tribune distributes her articles to newspapers and websites around the country, such as The Seattle Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Baltimore Sun, and Orlando Sentinel. McCarthy holds an MBA from City University in London and a bachelor’s in journalism from Iowa State University. She lives in Bellingham, Washington. For information, visit cherylstritzelmccarthy.com





“Many Hands Make Light Work: A Memoir”
Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy | Aug. 6, 2019 | She Writes Press
978-1-63152-628-2 (paperback) | $16.95 (paperback)







In an interview, Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy can discuss:

● How to take strength from the past to face an uncertain future
● The college-admissions scandal: the parents’ message that their high schoolers cannot succeed on their own
● Takeaways for millennial parents and baby-boomer grandparents on building healthy family relationships
● Child/teen safety, in the ‘60s/’70s versus now
● Finding spontaneous joy amid the rush of family life
● Getting teens to cooperate
● What’s been lost, and gained, in the change to today’s smaller families


StritzelPhotoAn Interview with Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy:

Millennials now have young children, and look toward mid-century themes for inspiration. What are the parenting takeaways from “Many Hands Make Light Work?”
My parents had a strong partnership with shared goals. We children had real work, which supplied purpose and built character. Our family’s social rituals provided stability.

What are the takeaways for today’s Baby Boomer grandparents on fostering healthy family relationships?
Expectations are powerful: approach grandchildren (and their parents) with age-appropriate expectations that they are capable. You don’t need to fix their problems. If you try, you send the message they can’t do it themselves. Plus, it stymies their growth.

The theme of change becomes prominent when you, as the narrator, grapple with the idea that nothing lasts forever, and that everything you treasure will pass away. How does “Many Hands Make Light Work” help others deal with that in their own lives?
Three things: realizing the past can live on in memory as a source of strength; reciting comforting prayers (or mantras or family sayings) that calm and energize; and realizing that you were loved and will find love again.

For decades, your family welcomed strangers into their home, to live, eat, and study with you. They are champions of diversity and inclusion, long before such concepts became cultural flashpoints. How did your household, repeatedly absorbing people of vastly different nationalities and religions, remain harmonious?
Expectations. My parents expected their children and college-student boarders to be friendly and open-hearted. We thought everyone who came to live with us would be like our brothers and sisters; our college students felt that and responded in kind. One example: we never locked doors, and had no theft in the 27 years college students lived with us.

One aspect of the recent college-admission scandal that’s not been covered is the message these parents send their children, which is: you’re not capable on your own. The assumption that kids can’t succeed without parental interference is more common today than in the decades in “Many Hands Make Light Work.” How does this attitude compare to your parents?
Besides our father’s career as a college professor, we had a family business of acquiring, renovating, and renting houses to students. Everyone had to work. Our parents knew we could do it: pour concrete, scrape and paint a Victorian manse, or shovel snow from a dozen properties before breakfast. Because they believed in us, we believed in us.

Parents, in their zeal to help their children succeed, do too much. Yet a total hands-off approach to parenting isn’t right either. How did your parents find the right mix of support and letting go?
Train them, then trust them. The mantra “Don’t do for your child what he/she can do for himself/herself” halts the inclination to over-serve youngsters.

In “Many Hands Make Light Work,” you kids renovated houses to rent to college students. You all sang on the job, like a von Trapp family in painters caps! How did your parents get that kind of cooperation from teenagers?
Our parents had zero ambivalence about having us work. They’d grown up working on family farms. They thought it was healthy training for life. We learned complaining didn’t get results. We were going to work anyway, like it or not. Might as well like it, and we liked harmonizing to pop songs.

You grew up in a harmonious household, but there must have been squabbles among brothers and sisters. How did you resolve arguments?
We duked it out! Just kidding, but one episode in “Many Hands” shows one sisterly argument turning into a wrestling match. Family life is a crucible for learning to get along. (Two of my sisters, decades later, became professional mediators.)

Our parents were in charge. There was no ambiguity about right or wrong. For example, it would have been unthinkable to miss Sunday Mass, or at mealtimes to ask for something other than what was served. Children feel secure when parents are dependable authorities.

Your parents had nine children within 11 years. They didn’t have much money. They lived in a college-town neighborhood during the ‘60s and ‘70s, a time of major campus unrest. How did they raise their nine children to be successful adults?
Our family culture was strong enough to resist exterior forces. Outside our front door, the college students of the ‘70s smoked pot, shouted, and threw rocks. Inside at our dinner table, we and our college students had heated discussions about Vietnam, social change, Nixon, and more. We followed the fashion and music of the day. But courtesy prevailed.

How did your parents afford nine children born over a span of 11 years?
They put money into such things as nutrition and education. They didn’t buy anything unnecessary. We cooked from scratch. We managed several large gardens, and preserved what we grew.

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to grow up in a smaller family?
As kids, we felt sorry for only children. It looked dull! Our parents, though, repeatedly said child-rearing was important work, whether you had one child or ten.

What role did faith play?
Catholicism loomed large. It provided structure to the day, the week, and the year. Human development experts say social rituals are essential. For us, that came via church as well as school and family.

When you were 13, you spent an evening babysitting for a local family that had an unusual pet. Tell us more?
Their pet was a lion. A real, uncaged, adolescent lion. When I walked in that house and saw it lounging atop the couch, fear rolled off me in waves. That was a long and terrible night. It’s in Chapter 23 in “Many Hands Make Light Work.”

The cover of “Many Hands Make Light Work” includes a photo of your parents dancing in the living room. With a career, a business, nine children, and numerous college students, how did they find time for joy?
Children aren’t all little at once. Older ones help with the younger. In “Many Hands,” you see how our parents set up the house so we could help ourselves and the group. They installed a drinking fountain so even little kids could get a drink on their own. They lived the title: many hands indeed made light work.

What is your relationship like with your family now?
I feel crazy lucky to have my siblings and their families in my life. They’re a gift.