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In 2005, who's in the vanguard of the "counterculture," living a truly "alternative lifestyle"? For my money, it's Jim and Nadine Reinhardt of Burnsville.

In this age of families averaging 2.1 children, the Reinhardts have nine youngsters, ranging in age from 18 to 3. This is the first time since the first year of their 19-year marriage that they haven't had a child in diapers.

Walking into the Reinhardts' modest home, you'd expect to see a harried mother, a father desperate to escape to a TV baseball game, and a living room without an uncluttered square inch. But on a recent visit, I was welcomed into a spotless kitchen by relaxed and smiling parents, and a passel of helpful, polite kids.

I listened with amazement as the older girls described the family's recent 30-hour drive home from Zion National Park in a 15-passenger van. I had visions of mortal combat over an iPod, Oreo debris everywhere, and parents ready for the insane asylum. But 11-year old Liz bubbled: "We had fun the whole way, playing in the back seat, talking and having contests. I love being in a big family."

Jim and Nadine Reinhardt don't have advanced degrees in Parenting Studies. They've just got a few good ideas about what makes for family happiness -- ideas our culture has largely forgotten

The first is about the source of happiness. Every day, cultural messages insist that happiness means getting what we want (or think we want). But the Reinhardt household has turned this message on its head. There, happiness comes not from "getting what I'm due," but from interdependence and loving self-sacrifice.

Children in a large family, Nadine says, quickly see that harmony requires teamwork and generosity. "The five girls share a bedroom, so they've learned to be patient, respect each other, and work together."

Jim --who works from home as a rehabilitation counselor -- points to a wall chart listing each child's daily chores. "The kids know that chores aren't a burden," he says. "They're part of serving one another with love."

"I don't always like doing chores," says Mary Reinhardt, 16. "But I have friends who don't have to help out, and I see they don't appreciate their parents or what they do for them."

The Reinhardts' ordered approach to family life frees them for a full schedule of activities. The kids are fine, award-winning students, accomplished musicians (I've heard one of them play) and avid athletes. Nadine home-schools the younger children, and both she and Jim coach sports teams. A few years ago, Nadine -- trained in costume design -- even found the time to sew 100 costumes for a church Christmas pageant.

The Reinhardts' second insight concerns the importance of connecting effort with rewards. Contemporary parents often believe they should do all they can to smooth their children's path in life. But the Reinhardts stress the self-respect that comes with earning your own way.

"We can't afford to do a lot of things unless our kids pay for themselves," Jim says. The older kids foot the bill for their extra-curricular activities, books and uniforms at Bloomington's Trinity School, contribute to tuition, and pay for half of their piano lessons. Mary and Becca -- 16 and 13 -- earn money by cleaning houses, and Ben and Charlie --18 and 14 -- by delivering water softener salt to neighborhood homes.

"At first, I thought it was unfair," Ben says. "But now I see that I've learned to manage money and my own schedule. I think I'm prepared for life."

Finally, the Reinhardts stress the importance of clear rules and expectations -- curfews, no sleepovers, and the like. We baby boomers can find it hard to say no to our kids, because we're often tempted by a desire to be their pals. The Reinhardts use their parental authority to try to build character.

"We discuss everything with the kids," Jim says. "But in the end, we make choices that will help them become virtuous adults -- honest, generous and self-controlled."

Even so, there's plenty of room for fun. Jim says that two essential ingredients for family happiness are "music and humor." Using "found" materials, the family has built a wonderland in their back yard, with a rope swing, a waterfall, a treehouse and a soccer kickboard that doubles as an outdoor movie screen.

What motivates the Reinhardts' countercultural approach to life? The family, which belongs to St. Bonaventure Catholic Church in Bloomington, says religious faith is central. "We feel we have a calling to family life," Nadine explains. Their faith, she says, gives them the overriding sense of purpose, strength and joy they need to anticipate each new morning.

And what a morning. Every day, Nadine rises at 5 a.m. with Jim to work out at the YMCA. Afterward, she sometimes runs the 4 or 5 miles home to her nine children --still smiling.

http://www.startribune.com/stories/587/5529925.html (Dead link, now!)