Cunningham family

The Cunningham brothers John (from left), Rick, Tom, Bob, Joe and Bill, share a moment with their mother, Carol, as she shares memories of laughter, sports and family fun for Mother’s Day.

Families come in all sizes and configurations, and as Mother’s Day reminds people of the love and commitment of mothers around the world, an experienced local mom offered inspiration.

Carol Cunningham, a resident of Smith Village, is mom to six boys: Joe, Bill, Tom, John, Bob and Rick, born only eight years apart from the oldest to youngest. All are now adults, yet there was a time in Carol Cunningham’s life when she had six boys 8 years old and younger in her house.

However, what she remembers about those days isn’t messy bedrooms or crazy schedules.

“All of us have a sense of humor,” she said. “We always had a lot of laughs.”

Cunningham also remembers many years of cheering for her sons. She is an avid sports fan.

“You have to be if you have six boys,” she said with a laugh. “Everything is about sports with six boys.”

In fact, her sons still call her to ask her opinion about exciting games.

“Like I’m some sort of authority,” she said with a smile.

They follow all the Chicago teams, including the Blackhawks, White Sox, Bears and Bulls. She didn’t mention the Cubs because the Cunninghams are Southsiders through and through.

As the Cunningham boys grew up, the entire family played tennis at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. There were father-son games, parent-child games and some seasons that saw the Cunningham boys advance to state competitions.

The boys played many other sports as well, and the Cunningham clan would regularly fill the bleachers. In addition to Carol, Joseph and the boys, her brothers and parents would regularly show up to cheer at the games.

“It is really good for the kids to have their uncles and grandparents around,” said Carol. “They always were so supportive and excited about my sons’ sports. And, it is actually really good for the grandparents, too.”

The time spent supporting the kids in their sporting events brought the family closer.

According to a study by Pew Research, families like the Cunninghams are more rare today than in previous generations. In 1976, 36 percent of women in their 40s had four or more children. Now, only 12 percent do.

Cunningham and her husband, Joseph, settled in Beverly, where he ran his dental office for 45 years at 107th Street and Western Avenue. Joseph died in 2014.

Carol moved to Smith Village in 2019, not too far from where she raised their family.

She didn’t always plan to have a big family, but she knew she wanted to be a mother.

As a young woman, Carol feared that dream might not come true.

Her first pregnancy was twins she carried to term, but they died when they were only a few days old.

Shortly after that, she miscarried. It was devastating.

“I prayed to St. Gerard, the patron saint of mothers,” Carol said. “I don’t want to frighten young women about praying to St. Gerard to intercede for them, but he certainly must have heard me.”

Carol’s oldest son is named Joseph Gerard as a thank you for the divine intervention.

“We weren’t the ideal family,” she said. “We certainly had squabbles and boisterous moments, but for the most part, life was peaceful.”

Even with all her experience as a mom, Cunningham is hesitant to offer any advice for new moms.

“I would never try to direct someone else,” she said.

Nonetheless, new moms could learn a great deal from Cunningham’s example, embracing each day with humor and bringing the family together to cheer for one another.