In 1994, after giving birth to seven children, Mary Jo and her husband Michael Jackson began adopting more. They now have 18 children, ages 2 to 29 and 12 of them are still living at home. And they are planning to adopt two more. Richard Schlesinger reports.
The Jacksons are choosy about which children they'll adopt. They only choose kids who are the most difficult to place. Kids who are older, kids who have problems.
"Hard to place, that's what we want. We also felt it wouldn't be fair to other people for us to be in line trying to get a healthy baby. We'd already had seven healthy babies," says Mary Jo.
They found their first adopted child, Bryan, on the Internet. Nine months later, Michael went to a Russian orphanage to bring him home.
"The first night that I had him we were in a hotel and I put him into bed after giving him a bath and he sat up in bed and looked at me and said, 'Papa'," says Michael. "Then laid back down and he went back to sleep. It was very emotional to me and made me feel good."
Ten children later, the Jackson's say they've never had second thoughts.
"I wouldn't trade any of them, and yet, they are rejected children is about the best way to say it. And yet, none of them are. They're wonderful kids. They have a great deal of potential. And I think we like uncovering that. We like seeing that," says Mary Jo.
Running this family takes equal parts love and logistics, and it's more than a full time job. Just like a drill sergeant Mary Jo has to know what her troops are up to every moment of every day, and her kitchen is her command center.
At the Jackson house, some kids have doctor's appointments, Rory has surgery on his hand, Brian has a new leg to try out, and six kids have to go to the dentist, at the same time. There are therapy appointments out of the house for Bridget and Mercy, therapy appointments in the house for Rachel and Brian.
There's homework to check, arguments to settle, and every day, Mary Jo does 5 loads of laundry before she makes dinner for 14.
While Mary Jo manages the house, Michael, who's an engineer at Bayer, manages the money. He gets good health insurance, and the family gets by on a strict budget. "How do we do it? We set our priorities differently. I mean we don't have a boat in the backyard that we take out every week and it's been five six years since we actually have been on a week-long vacation anywhere," he says.
Planning for Christmas begins months in advance. The goal: 5 presents for each child. One hundred presents for 18 children. The older kids won't come home for Christmas, but the whole crowd was home for Thanksgiving.
A Jackson Family Reunion
Even by Jackson family standards, it was a full house when 48 Hours brought together the entire family: 7 biological children 11 adopted children, 3 spouses and one grandson.
It's difficult to have all the Jackson's in one house at one time. But it wasn't always this way. There are a lot of memories for the seven birth children of Michael and Mary Jo Jackson: Patrick, Sara, Meg, Timothy, Paul, Erin and Liam. They grew up watching their family grow bigger.
Sara, one of the birth children, says that the sibling bond is instantly formed. "For me it works as soon as I see the child, they instantly feel like a sibling," she says.
Meg thinks she understands why her parents adopt so many children. "I really think they think it's what they're supposed to do," she says. "I think when they go into the orphanage, and then once they adopt one, they see the other kids in the orphanage. And they see the bad conditions. And it's just hard not to keep going with it."
In fact Mary Jo admits she's still haunted by memories of a group of children she saw in a Russian orphanage.
"They turned and saw me, and just like a little flock of birds, they stood up and they all went, "Mama, mama, mama," she says. "I still see in the night sometimes, I still see those little children getting up and running to me, "Mama, Mama, Mama."
More often than not, the Jackson's have decided they can do more. Eighteen children later, they are still not done.
Michael and Mary Jo Jackson have already decided to adopt again. This time, they are adopting not just one, but two more children, both from an orphanage in Bulgaria.
"Our goal has always been to raise good people and if our children turn out that way, then I couldn't ask for anything else," says Mary Jo.