Determined to be a mom: Burkes manage eight-child household 

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The Burkes with their eight children.

To honor parents and guardians and their approach to parenting in different situations, The Sentinel-Echo will be highlighting various families and their lifestyles that will be featured in the Friday editions between Mother's Day and Father's Day.

It was Katie Burke's 23rd birthday when her doctor told her she would never have a baby.

Burke said she was completely devastated by that announcement because her mother was from a family of 10 children and she enjoyed the large family get-togethers.

"I was determined to prove that doctor wrong," she said.

Burke succeeded in that mission - she and her husband Jeremy now have eight children that include his biological son, adopted children and others who are in the process of adoption. The Burkes have also served as foster parents during their marriage.

Her journey into being a mother came a year after she learned that she could not bear children. Burke has taken in her now-deceased sister's three children. She drove through the storms of Hurricane Katrina to get son Zavier from Cincinnati's Children's Hospital.

Her family expanded more when she got custody of two other children. But she reveled in being a mother despite the challenges she faced as a single parent.

"It's hard to find someone when you have children," Katie said. But she met Jeremy Burke at church, they began dating and when they found themselves with some well-deserved free time, they took a weekend trip to Cade's Cove in Tennessee - a place the family still visits as often as possible.

"That's where Jeremy proposed to me - on my birthday," she said. "He proposed on Saturday and we got married on Monday."

The couple, then with four children, has continued to expand over the years. The household now consists of eight children - sons Kobe and Zavier, 17 and 14, respectively; daughter Jordan, 12; daughter Averie, 11; son Tate, 10; daughter Nora, 8; and sons Wyatt, 6, and Leo, 4.

Zavier was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome when he was around 4, but Katie said he is now considered as having mild autism and has battled to overcome his disabilities.

Tate is wheelchair bound and mostly non-verbal and much of the family's time is spent caring for him.

Jeremy currently is a full-time student at the University of Kentucky and is one semester away from graduating with a degree in respiratory therapy. He also works full time while Katie cares for the children.

Juggling the many duties of the large family is workable, Katie said, because the household operates on teamwork. The family home has three bathrooms and the children are allowed 10 minutes each morning in there to accommodate the flow when school is in session.

"They all have mirrors in their rooms to get ready, everyone has to make up their beds, straighten their rooms and put their dirty clothes in the laundry every morning and everyone except Tate has chores to do," Katie explained. "Everyone but Tate and Leo can dress themselves and we pick out our clothes for the next day the night before, so that really helps. We have a couple days a week where we have no technology - no one is allowed to use their tablets or phones."

Nor does the family spend much time watching television. Jeremy and Katie both love the outdoors so the family spends time outdoors, playing in the large back yard that has a swing set, pool and trampoline. The children play often with the family's two Great Danes. Their property has a wooded area where the family takes walks and hikes. With Tate being in a wheelchair, he often stays with Katie's mother who lives next door, during these excursions.

Some of the children are involved in extracurricular activities - one is in cheerleading, another is in band, and another is in choir. Kobe recently got a job and all children are continuing to do their NTI classwork while in-person school classes are prohibited.

The plus side to having that many children, Katie said, is that "everyone has someone to play with," although she admits that the girls are more prone to sibling disagreements than the boys. But overall, everyone pulls together to comfort and help one another, even youngest child Leo.

"He's a rough little boy," she said. "If anyone gets babied, it's Tate. If someone is having a bad day or just feel 'yucky,' the other ones check on you and try to help you."

Leo was an unexpected surprise, she said.

"Jeremy and I went out one night - on my birthday - and found out about Leo, who was 7 weeks old. So we got him," she said. "I either get a card or a kid for my birthday!"

With that many children, Katie said she spends approximately $600 a week on groceries, buying approximately four days of food each visit and pre-planning meals. Each family member gets to choose a favorite meal each week whether it be breakfast, lunch or evening dinner. The overall favorite, she said, is shrimp and green beans.

"Shrimp is expensive but we're beach people and that's as close as we can get sometimes," she said, laughing. "We also have special days, birthdays and "gotcha" days - the days they joined the family. We have a break in birthdays from April to July 23 but we have three birthdays around Christmas and we always have to have Jesus a birthday cake. We don't go out and spend a lot of money on gifts - the birthday child gets to pick their favorite meal and that's how we celebrate. "

The Burkes get moral and spiritual support from their church, Freedom Christian Church, which has just launched a class for special needs children. That program allows Katie to enjoy the church services without the distractions of caring for Tate.

Maintaining a balance may seem difficult to most, but a routine keeps the family on track and Katie describes the children as "easy." Katie's mother and cousin live nearby and provide a break so Jeremy and Katie go out to dinner alone once a month.

The Burkes have also served as foster parents and Katie realizes the dire need for people to serve in that capacity.

"There are so many children who need fostering," she said. "We really need foster parents. Kentucky has the highest number of children needing foster placement than any other state. I would encourage anyone who loves children to become a foster parent. I'd have 20 more if I had a place to put them and something big enough to drive them in. "

Currently she drives a small bus to accommodate their large family because the van she would need costs around $50,000. She provides the name brand clothing her children prefer by bargain shopping and the couple continues to coordinate the schedules of needs of each child.

"You have to pick your battles," she said. "Don't sweat the small things. Otherwise, there would be constant chaos. Our kids are so good. This is successful for us because we've learned to roll with it. If you try to control everything, you'll lose your mind."

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com

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