Q: What do you think each other’s parenting superpowers are?
JIM: Jeannie is much better at parenting than I am. She’s tireless and very good at making things special for the kids, like decorating their rooms and giving them individual attention.
JEANNIE: And Jim knows how to do the rewards. I can’t get the kids to do certain things, like going out to the garden to work. And Jim is like, “If you guys pull weeds, I’m going to get McDonald’s.” He gets into their heads, basically, because he has the mind of a child.
Q: What are the craziest parts of having five kids?
JEANNIE: Because Jim and I both come from large families—he’s one of six and I’m one of nine—five kids never seemed like a big deal. We always figured out a system to make it work. Then, during quarantine, all the things we had in place to maintain structure vanished instantly. No more sitters, school, camps, helpers, outings, etc. Suddenly we were like, “Oh, my God! We have FIVE kids!”
Q: Who is the disciplinarian?
JIM: I’m definitely the hammer. It’s usually about taking their screens away.
JEANNIE: He’s strict about screen time whereas I’m like, “I need that screen time, Jim. Let’s just give them the screens because I can’t fight about screens all day!” I’m more focused on what room you can eat food in and what time the kitchen is closed—because I’m tired of cleaning it all day and all night.
Q: Why did you decide to livestream your family dinners on YouTube?
JEANNIE: During the virus, we knew people would be dealing with some loneliness and need a break from the news. The idea was that we’ll have them watch us eat dinner. It’ll be funny! We’ve been approached about a reality show, but we’ve always been against it.
JIM: I have friends who won’t share photos of their children on Instagram. But there’s a difference between Dinner with the Gaffigans, which raises money to feed health care workers, and going full Kardashian. And the secret benefit is that we’re forced to have dinner together. It makes the kids behave on some level and educates them to care about the community. We talk about things that are happening to people that are much more serious than “I didn’t get to go to a birthday party.”
“It’s incredible how meaningful dinnertime conversations can be if we just set the right intention. Growing up, family dinner was always a priority, and I’m so thankful for having had that.”—Drew
Q: Have they always been community-minded?
JEANNIE: When I was in the ICU on a respirator in 2017 with a brain tumor, that was the most terrifying thing ever. You realize you’re not breathing for yourself. You can’t move. You can’t do anything. I wrote a book, When Life Gives You Pears, about it. I was lying there watching all these people who didn’t even know me saving my life, and it just struck me that there are angels on earth. I knew that we were living a very privileged lifestyle, and I didn’t want my kids to be narcissists. So I made a promise to God to focus on this.
Q: How are you dealing with this weird school year?
JEANNIE: A lot of people don’t know people who died, but we do—and it’s real and it’s tragic. Some people have to send their kids to school or they will lose their jobs. We’re not in that category, so we feel that choosing to do distance learning for the first semester is the responsible action for us, especially with five kids in four different schools. But people have to do what’s right for them.
Q: Who do the kids go to for help with schoolwork?
JIM: Jeannie bears the brunt of that, and for us, it’s a study in gender. The girls are very self-sufficient with remote learning.
JEANNIE: We’re not generalizing! Our girls just kind of took to it a little better than the boys did, at least in the initial emergency distance learning. The girls never miss a Zoom whereas our boys will miss their Zoom meetings even if we’ve got 10 alarms set.
JIM: Our kids look forward to Zooms, though, because they’re dealing with us all day.
“He’s strict about screen time whereas I’m like, ‘I need that screen time, Jim. Let’s just give them the screens!’”—Jeannie
Q: What have been the silver linings?
JEANNIE: We’re safe, we have a roof over our heads, we have food to eat. There are a lot of people in worse situations. And I would never see my teenagers otherwise, so we’re actually experiencing them a lot more, even though I was going nuts—I mean, they eat all the time, the laundry was insane. But we all got closer and became more of a cohesive team than ever before. Sure, there was a lot of screaming and crying. [deadpans] And sometimes the kids got upset, too. But we had incredible moments with each one of them that we would have never had if they were off at school or if Jim was traveling. That was the bright patch in all of this chaos.
JIM: I’m the ultimate complainer, but I see how lucky we are.
Q: What’s family time like now?
JIM: We’re living in the ’50s, where simple things provide amusement. Taking my younger sons to a car wash was like going to Disney. And then, the entertainment of going to drive-throughs. Life has become smaller. The highlight of my day has always been having dinner with my family. But now, after dinner, it’s like, “Well, I guess, it’s time for bed.” It’s a very strange journey.
Q: Jim, you joke about junk food and being lazy. But Instagram reveals that you’ve been growing tomatoes and hiking. What’s going on?
JIM: The mathematics of hiking are just better than those of walking on a treadmill. The pandemic really opened me up to gardening because it’s something I can control. I can work on it and see a result in a couple of days. I bring in corn and zucchini and cucumbers and tomatoes.
JEANNIE: I’m like, “Wow, I’m glad you found time for a hobby.”
JIM: [deadpans] I’m feeding my family.
By Laura Morgan | Photo of Jeannie & Jim: Getty Images | All others photos courtesy of the Gaffigan Family