Parenting with Seven Children & How do we do it
I was asked tonight about parenting 7 children and how we do it. So, I thought I would share my response.
1. We are a team.
As two working parents, we endeavour to give our children every opportunity available to them (should they commit and work hard enough to facilitate it); but this also means we aren’t available to manage everything at home 100% or be at their beck and call.
We work as a team. 9 family members (one a baby so he gets leave pass for the time being), who all contribute to the household. It might be dishes or feeding the dogs or sitting quietly at Mums work while she finishes with a client, but it is all being a part of the family team. Everyone contributes to their own capacity, and everyone benefits from the whole.
This is not me condemning families who have strong values around parents doing household tasks, “allowing children to be children”. I honour these families and absolutely respect their positions. We need to be clear about our values and priorities and stick with them wholeheartedly, while they work. It just didn’t work for us; and maybe because I was raised in a family where we all contributed, which now works for me too. I was never a good stay at home mum – I made more mess than I ever cleaned.
2. We do not ascribe to societal rules or expectations about stages.
I am utterly irritated when I hear “terrible twos” or “that’s just how teenagers are” … rubbish. This is simply a lazy accepting of excuses for why you don’t need to parent during those stages. And yes, I agree that there are stages, but it is our job to teach, nurture and guide through those stages.
Right now, I have an 18-month-old who is pushing every boundary (and button), he is absolutely frustrated with us not understanding what he wants/needs because his brain is far more advanced than his language. So, our job as parents is to support him in his frustrations. Encourage him to stop (“the tantrum”) and “use his words” as few of them as he has. Generally, his response is “up” (pick me up) or “ball” (give me the ball) or “momma” (which strangely means I want what I am pointing to, usually a bottle). If you stop, listen and remain present with these babes, they will learn, and so will you. If you don’t you will become the parents who moves from “terrible twos” to “I thought twos were bad, try three’s”- of course, this is the case, you gave them a whole year of practice… and imagine what another 12 years of practice will create.
And teens. OMG… the next person who sits in my room and tells me that “it’s normal for teenagers to just sit in their room gaming, not engaging with the family, and never helping with household tasks” I might just stand and walk clean out! NOOOOOO it is not normal! What you have allowed for years is what you are getting now. You are not your teen’s slave, nor their enemy. The relationship you have with them at 15 is dependent on the credits in the bank / the bricks you laid in the early years. At 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9…. Start there. Ask yourself, why your 15-year-old doesn’t want to enjoy dinner with the family? Or a day out? It is not teenagerhood, I can assure you. Our 17-year-old is 100% engage with us, participates in family activities and helps out around the house – and in our businesses…. And before you ask… no she is not an antisocial nerd, she is also very social. She just participates as an active member of our family.
We also have lots of kids in between those ages, currently, 9,9,9,10,11 and they also have their challenges. Hormones are fun . But again, this is an aspect of what is going on for a child, not an excuse for them, or for you.
3. We don’t accept Sibling Rivalry as an acceptable excuse for unkind treatment of each other.
I heard recently how proud a mum was that her children back each other at school yet attack each other at home – as though this was a definition of closeness. And I have been reminded, by my own children especially, “that siblings do fight”, but I do not agree to take this as something we should accept. Disagree yes, argue on a level, yes, but there is no reason for siblings to attack, belittle or physical harm one another. This world is cruel enough, we do not need to build enemies within. I recall a colleague once saying that her family motto was “act with kindness, and don’t be a dick!” it worked for them. Mine is little more like “act with kindness” and “you are responsible for you!” … no matter what someone else does to you, you can only control your own actions – so make them kind and honourable. Apologise (genuinely), when you have wronged someone, walk away when you feel triggered, seek support when you need it. But do not spread your hurt to others, as it only grows, it doesn’t dissipate.
4. We are human and we absolutely stuff up.
We are not perfect parents, my god, we probably aren’t even good parents. We err daily, but we own it. We are open with our kids about our emotions and sometimes imperfect emotional responses, and we encourage them to do the same.
I am known to say to parents in my consulting rooms “perfect parents stuff kids up” when they are worried that their child saw them cry or witnessed them frustrated. Imagine growing up with a parent who never had an emotional response, never made a mistake… that child would grow up thinking that their parents were perfect and that they themselves were broken. That their feelings or mistakes made them less than their parent/s.
Meanwhile, the parent who feels sad and explains that to his/her child, who expresses frustration and apologies for snapping, who breaks the egg on the floor and then cleans it up – these parents teach their children about humanity. They teach them that feelings are perfectly acceptable, that behaviours can be controlled, but even then, sometimes we stuff up. And then they can learn that when you do stuff up, it is then that you apologise, make an effort to repair and move on! Because being human is being perfectly imperfect.
5. Humour and Honesty all the Way
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that humour doesn’t have its place. My gosh, it absolutely does. And for us, it pairs perfectly with honesty. Our 7 babies are each unique and perfectly individually, but none of them are perfect. They know their strengths, they know their limitations, and they also know that growth in both requires hard work.
We have the naturally sporty, the academically gifted, the budding- chef, the rule-obsessed policeman, the musician, the helper, the socialite, the confident leader, the flexible follower, the noisy, the quiet achiever and more.
We also have the tone-deaf singer, the child who can leave the house with one shoe on, the absent-minded whattttt? child, the half-job doer, the non-team player, the dreamer, the sensitive one, the shit-stirrer, the messy one, the bossy one, the rule-breaker, the rule miser, and loads of selective deafness.
There is no pretending around here. There is only owning and growing. Obviously, we all have things we need to work on; and that will never come from us as parents telling them they are perfect from day one. Instead, we celebrate their strengths and use these to inspire growth in other areas. We also try to nurture their ego’s and souls through both. And we do this with a lot of laughter. Children and parents openly own their strengths and limitations, with a smile and an acknowledgement. There is no room for pretenders here.
This applies to us as parent too. My kids love to play Pictionary with me, because I am such a bad drawer. It’s a running joke, that we all laugh at. I’m not sensitive about it, it’s real. I also know that if I wanted to improve I could, I just chose not to.
Honesty is our absolutely Family Rule. This aligned with my Father’s positions as we were growing too. Fess up and tell the truth, the parents won’t be thrilled, but let them catch you in a lie… look out! This is us too. So many times, the child who stepped forward with the truth has copped a task to fix what was broken, but s/he who chose to lie has a far bigger task ahead of them. This aligned with the ideas above, we all stuff up, we all do stupid things – actually I think me more than most but lying about it undermines the core of who you are, and how you value relationships. I would far prefer to be the person who ate the cookie from the cookie jar, then to be the person who no one can trust. We appreciate that testing with lies, and fear about telling the truth is real for children and give some scope around this too – but being a part of our family means being honest and being real.
6. The numbers do not add up
Final point, this is not normal math.
One child – challenging as s/he is your first.
Two children – double the work
Three children – “ahhh I ran out of lap space and hands to hold theirs”
Four, Five, Six, Seven – just another car seat, bunk bed, and potato (or 4) in the evening meal. It doesn’t keep multiplying.
Additions to big families just fit in. I often laugh that people think asking us to have their child/ren is a big ask given the number we have – frankly we don’t even notice. Our gorgeous neighbours often laugh that they lose their kids, thinking they are in their bedrooms, only to discover they have been in our yard, with our kids for hours. For us, an extra mouth to feed, a glass of water to fetch, grazed knee to plaster, is nothing. In fact, we likely have an older sibling who can help with those things anyway.
I do recall someone talking about big families once, and she said it was important to her that she raised her children, not older siblings raising the younger ones. This I agree with. Older siblings are a part of the “team” as above, but they are not parents, and should not feel the responsibility of parents. Cooking a meal during the week, changing the odd nappy, and more recently with a Licence doing a school drop off is all part of the team here – but so is us taking her to events, entertaining her friends, paying for her every “need”, and snuggling on the couch, cos she is still my baby too.
Big families are a choice, but as with any life choice, there are pluses and minuses. For me the bigger the better.
I am only “done!” because (1) I want to enjoy Grandparenting as a stage separate from parenting young children; and (2) Because my darling husband has his divorce bag packed if I add another child.
On a side note to finish…. He (husband) never wanted children!! Hahahahaha. I think the wrong entity (God, Mother Nature, the Universe) heard that and responded with “Challenge Accepted!”