Why these three women chose to have big families
Over the years, the size of the average Australian family has been shrinking. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1911 the average household comprised 4.5 people. That number had dropped to 2.6 by 2011.
But there are those bucking that trend and choosing to embrace a larger brood. Psychologist Kirstin Bouse, author of The Conscious Mother, acknowledges that this has its challenges, with a big family often meaning a big car, house and expenses.
Georgina and her husband, Ethan, a miner, are from NSW. Their children are Paris, Mackenzie, Annabelle, Lucy, Lincoln, Phoenix and Thomas.Credit:Paula Hanson/Ambient Rose Photography
However, Bouse says the benefits are numerous. Having a larger family "brings lots of joy and a sense of aliveness" to parents that might not occur in the same way in smaller families. The benefits to the children can't be overlooked, either. "They ultimately have a greater opportunity to learn patience, sharing, assertiveness and consideration."
Sunday Life spoke to three women who chose to have a big family.
Georgina, 38, and her husband, Ethan, 38, a miner, are from NSW. Their children are Paris, 15, Mackenzie, 13, Annabelle, 11, Lucy, 9, Lincoln, 8, Phoenix, 5, and Thomas, 2.
Growing up as one of six children, Georgina always knew she wanted to have at least three of her own. "But it sort of escalated from there!" she says, laughing. After welcoming four daughters, she felt her family was complete. But on her 30th birthday, Georgina was gifted a "surprise" pregnancy. Having a son seemed to disturb the family dynamics, so she chose to give him a younger sibling.
Her youngest baby was yet another surprise, but she's adamant her childbearing days are over.
Between the births of her babies, Georgina struggled with pregnancy loss. Through those devastating experiences, she realised how important it was to feel she had "no regrets" in her life when it came to having children. Those losses also steered her towards her decision to be a stay-at-home mother, though she hopes to study counselling in the future.
For now, she's savouring her role at home, but it's not without its challenges. The hardest part about having so many children, she says, is simply keeping up with everything, from the running of the household to staying on top of appointments.
"The financial aspect is also tough, because everything is times seven."
She sometimes struggles with the feeling of being pulled in too many different directions. To help manage that, she makes one-on-one time with each of her kids when possible, taking them out for lunch or a hot chocolate.
Time to herself is also a rarity, so recently she packed her bags and went away for a weekend by herself. "I found a nice hotel with a ridiculously large bed that I didn't have to share." She went shopping, buying two pairs of shoes and make-up. ("I tried so many products. Make-up shopping with kids is near impossible.")
She stayed up late watching movies, before relishing a sleep-in the next day. "It was worth every cent," she says. She now plans to go away on her own at least once every six months.
On a day-to-day basis, life isn't all smooth sailing. She describes mornings as "organised chaos", noting with a laugh that, regardless of how much preparation she has done the night before, someone always misplaces their shoes or forgets to brush their teeth.
The housework is endless, too, with three loads of washing a day. But, she says, everyone pitches in. The children all help with cleaning and each gets to choose a meal a fortnight which they either cook on their own or help to cook, depending on their age.
Despite the constant juggling, Georgina says her relationship with her husband, Ethan, hasn't suffered.
Rather, she believes it's strengthened over the years: "We make each other a priority." That doesn't mean they always have time to go out together. Instead, the kids will often organise a date night for their parents at home. "Last time the older ones made pizzas and choc-covered strawberries and babysat the younger kids so we could relax and watch a movie together."
It's that sense of love – clichéd as it sounds – that Georgina believes makes everything worthwhile. "It's endless."
Lelania, 43, and her partner Paul, 44, who works in maintenance, are from Alice Springs. Their children are Tallulah, 16, Marley, 15, Letahni, 12, Kai-Ella, 10, Muriwai, 8, Teakara, 7, Aitutaki, 4, and twins Ngatutai and Teremoana, 22 months.
Lelania,and her partner Paul who works in maintenance, are from Alice Springs. Their children are Tallulah, Marley, Letahni, Kai-Ella, Muriwai,Teakara, Aitutaki, and twins Ngatutai and Teremoana,.Credit:Courtesy of the Lelania Acres family
After giving birth to each of her children, Lelania felt she was finished adding to her family. But soon after, she'd change her mind. It wasn't until her last pregnancy – when she discovered she was having twins – that her resolve cemented. "I feel like I've got to finish on the twins; I can't top that!" she says, laughing.
When Lelania is out with her kids, she attracts plenty of comments. "People say, 'Oh my god, nine kids? I couldn't do that.' And, 'I'm glad it's you, not me.' Mostly people just stare."
Lelania doesn't let such things get to her. More challenging are the logistical issues. For example, her nine children don't fit into the family's eight-seater minivan, so she often has to do two trips to the shops, or enlist her mum's help.
Socialising can be difficult, too. Lelania doesn't often get invited with her kids to friends' houses, conceding it's "hard work" for others to have her whole family over, but says she gets around that by inviting people to her place. Alternatively, they just hang out as a family at home, something they're all happy to do.
Lelania and Paul rarely go out as a couple. "Maybe twice a year we go on a date," Lelania muses, conceding it's hard to find a babysitter. Instead, they prefer to spend time together once the kids are in bed.
While she thrives on having a large family, Lelania admits it isn't always easy. Between squabbling and chatter, it's never quiet. And since her twins were born she hardly ever has a minute to herself. Not that she misses it.
"If there are one or two children not at home, I'm like, 'Where are the kids? It's so quiet, I feel lonely.' Or if I go out with just one child, I feel like I've forgotten something! If I am by myself, I don't really know what to do."
Her favourite time is the evening, when she curls up on the couch with all her children, having a hot drink before bed. "They'll all sit there and they'll be hugging one another or someone's feet will be on the other one – and they're not fighting, so that's great – and I'll be like, 'Aww'."
As her children grow up, Lelania says life is getting easier. The older kids do their own washing, help out with the younger ones, and even make their mum pancakes in bed. Lelania also loves the effect a large family has on her children's personalities. She believes having multiple siblings has made them more tolerant, patient and willing to share.
Antonija, 36, and her husband Ralph, 41, own and manage a caravan park in Queensland. Their children are Alicia, 17, Isabelle, 16, Jesse, 13, Charlotte, 12, Heath, 10, Sophia, 5, Luca, 3, Felicity, 2, and Tiffany, 6 months.
Antonija and her husband Ralph own and manage a caravan park in Queensland. Their children are Alicia, Isabelle, Jesse, Charlotte, Heath, Sophia, Luca, Felicity and Tiffany.Credit:Courtesy of the Antonija Monckton family
Antonija and her husband never put a number on how many children they wanted. Instead, Antonija says, she used to look around her dining room table and simply feel there was "someone missing". It wasn't until her most recent pregnancy – with her ninth child – that she felt the last "missing link" was on its way.
Despite her large brood, Antonija doesn't consider herself to be overly maternal or very touchy-feely. Yet people assume the opposite. "A lot of people go, 'Oh, you must be an earth mother.' No, I'm not."
Antonija's favourite activity is sitting back with a cup of coffee and watching her children interact. "It might be as simple as seeing the older teenagers letting the little kids ride on their backs and pretending they're horses, or the older kids going in and playing Barbies with the little ones."
Aside from raising her children, Antonija also works full-time in the family's caravan park, working from home when there's no one to mind the younger children. She's also in her third year of a nursing degree and plans to work in women's health.
With so many balls in the air, she could easily get bogged down with "mummy guilt" over her inability to give each child her undivided attention. But rather than trying to be the sole support system for each child, she prefers to raise them to feel like part of a unit.
"Their relationships with each other are a lot more important than their relationships with me … So I put a lot more effort into trying to create a really, cohesive loving attachment between all my kids." Besides, she adds, she's a strong believer that mothers don't have to be martyrs.
While she might not prioritise individual relationships with each of her children, Antonija always makes sure she sets time aside for Ralph, whom she lovingly describes as her best friend. She says having so many kids frees them up to spend more time together than if they had one or two children vying for their attention.
The couple enjoy a cup of tea in the morning, and a bath together at night. "It probably sounds weird," Antonija says. "But that's our private, de-stress time when we get to sit and talk."
Antonija also makes time for herself. Once every couple of months, she goes away to stay with her brother for the weekend. She goes shopping or gets her hair or nails done. "It's a reset," she says.
And Antonija's key to ensuring child-rearing remains "awesome" is simple. "Just enjoy them," she says.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale January 20.
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