I’m the eldest of five and the mother of four – and I married a man who is one of four siblings – so living in a large family is all I’ve ever known. We live in Ireland now where having a VERY large family (like 10-15 kids) would have been the norm in the previous generation. But nowadays the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, according to the ArcGis website (last update was in 2016), the Irish average family size is 2.7 people and in fact, people’s attitudes to large families can be quite negative at times as this article in the Irish Independent demonstrates.
Mostly, when people find out I have four children, I get told that I must be very busy! (accompanied by a look of pity). I don’t really know what that means as we all have the same 24 hours in our day – so surely we all choose our own ‘busyness’ no matter how many kids we have. I’m sure mums with one or two kids are taking their kids to more activities each so could be on the road just as much. We have just chosen to limit certain things due to time or financial constraints but there are many other pay offs.
Although I know at least nine other families who also have four kids, it’s definitely not the norm and many people can’t relate. So in order to briefly explain how it is, here is my list of 14 things that describe how this lifestyle is different to your average two adult-two child family most people find themselves in nowadays:
1: When you do the weekly shop, be prepared for your groceries to not all fit on the three metre long conveyor belt.
2. Whilst unpacking your groceries, having nerves of steel would help you endure the death stares radiating from everyone behind you in the queue (I do not have steel nerves). You have inconvenienced other shoppers by your generous financial support of the supermarket. In fact, on that note, I really feel that I deserve a little recognition as one of the most loyal and generous customers as I’m sure my weekly bill ranks up there with some of the highest? A personal assistant to greet one at the door would be fantastic, someone to help push that disobedient and elephantine trolley. Even better, a trolley unpacker and repacker would make my day. Especially when I was pregnant – ALL those times, I had such large bellies I gave up using the deep trolleys as I couldn’t reach the bottom.
3. Alternatively you could let ten or so normally basketted people ahead of you, as by the time you’re done they’ll be merrily whistling their way home.
4. You’d need a larger than normal car. Which requires a great level of patience in parking. No, I don’t circle carparks predator-like for the fun of it, I’m just trying to figure out if I can get out of the spots that are available once I’m in them. (Reminds me of my friend who stood up at toddler group with the plastic kiddies chair stuck to her bottom). A couple of times I’ve done a 15-20 point turn to squeeze out. It makes me very sweaty. You will also spend a lot of time in that long car with all those seats, chances are you will have one or two activities on every single night of the week.
5. You’d need to be strong, to turn big steering wheels, to wrestle all the bags out of the trolley into the boot and out again and then all into the house, to strip and remake a whole lot of beds, to hang up and bring in a couple of loads of washing in a day. Otherwise you need to take regular naps alternating with espressos.
6. You don’t need gym membership, see point 5.
7. You’d better love laundry, and you become an expert on the types of washing lines. They actually make me happy on sunny days, especially the spinning type, I delight to see all my washing hanging happy-flappy up there in the breeze. I also love my triple lines hanging under a perspex roof that I can use in the Irish drizzle as well as the two indoor airers that I can carry in and out between showers.
8. Ironically, because you delight to have lots of people in your life, you actually become an expert on stuff – you’re surrounded by it. Clothes, food, toys, books, kitchen ware, furniture, cleaning aids, all the accouterments of life. You learn how to sort and streamline and ruthlessly cull in order to be organised. I’m a frustrated tidy wannabee living with five untidy (fabulous) people who who aren’t too bothered about mess. That’s my problem.
9. You have a constant supply of home-made jokes from all your witty kids. This is our latest: what happens to all the naughty chickens? Chicken Korma. Lol. You also have a constant supply of hugs and kisses and bodies to cuddle. I love it.
10. Your kids form a gang which means they always have friends to play with and you don’t get suckered in to being Ken in Barbie land. Although that can be quite fun if you are playing ‘Say Yes to the Dress’.
11. Hotels don’t recognise you as a family in their packages. If you are not two adults and two kids then you don’t qualify any longer as a family. You must be something else but I don’t know what. Camp sites and home swappers do though and some of the best holidays we’ve had have been staying in places which are far more relaxed and ‘authentic’.
12. Single travellers squeeze into the middle of your group when moving through airports or queuing for a plane. Maybe they can’t see the children as they are only looking ahead but many times my husband and I have been separated by strangers trying to muscle their way past. They usually step aside though if I hand them some of our bags or offer them the snotty toddler to help up the stairs. You need to be vigilant about where each of your children are and like a drill sergeant, start barking instructions. As a result you begin to lack self consciousness or feel intimidated by what others may think of you- you need to be the boss to stay ahead of the game.
13. Board games and meal times are training grounds for life. Your kids have no choice but to learn to share, take turns, be polite and kind, wear secondhand clothes, play with hand-me-down toys, offer up the last roast potato before grabbing it for themselves. They have learnt some of the most important lessons naturally.
14. I’m looking ahead to future family occasions and celebrations where husbands and wives will join our table, and grandchildren too. Our merry throng, even though rife with friction at times, will in all likelihood become noisier and merrier as well as more complicated. Bring it on! I already absolutely love those times with my adult siblings and families, I can’t wait to enjoy them with my own.