As a mother of 5 children, I am constantly told “I don’t know how you do it”. Inside the Magic and Challenges of Having a Big Family

“When we meet people who hear how many children we have and how old they are, they are taken aback and ask how we are doing,” says a mother of four. (Image: Illustrated by Caroline Brooks)

Because I’m about to give birth to my fifth child, something I hear almost every week is “I don’t know how you do it”. Strangers are stressed by what they perceive to be chaos, financial burdens, stress and lots of noise when they get a glimpse of our lives as parents of so many young children. Their confusion makes sense – the last time my family size was the norm was closer to 1900 than it was to 2023. Aside from a brief increase in birth rates from 2020 to 2021, families still tend to shrink each year, as people choose to have children later in life – or not at all – or prefer to have fewer children due to economic problems.

But it works for us, despite the shocking prices of swimming lessons, the logistics of changing multiple children into diapers, and other challenges. It’s because there’s a secret magic in having a big family, a comfort and a deep love in having little feet that fidget all day, brothers that bicker like brothers the do in the garden or see the whole family lined up under a blanket for a movie night.

For Jaime Maser Berman, a mother of four in Westfield, NJ, the fun comes from “looking around our (very long) kitchen table and seeing this legacy we’ve created, knowing that when we’re gone, they’ll have each other.” She also likes her children to be entertained, each to have distinct personalities, and to be “fiercely loyal” to one another.

Here are some of the benefits and challenges of having a house full of children.

Chaos is not always bad

Like me, Berman has heard the same comments about the perceived level of chaos that must be present within our large families. But just because it seems crazy to others doesn’t mean there isn’t order and fun. relatively, as we have times when things are bananas, trust me. But for the most part, having such a large family, with young children no less, works out quite easily for us. When we meet people who hear how many children we have and how old they are, they are confused and ask how we are doing. My response is always, ‘we’re just doing it’…and we’re accepting the chaos. Leaning into “chaos” instead of fighting it often means coping with a messy house until the end of the day, cleaning with the kids, changing expectations, and being flexible with schedules.

Travel can be tough

As a large family, we committed to traveling by buying an RV and staying within four hours of home most of the time. This modified travel plan was much more doable and affordable than trying to take lots of kids around the country or the world on a plane, navigating rental cars full of different types of car seats and other obstacles. Berman, meanwhile, is thrilled that her children are older so they can make traveling more doable, noting that the prospect of being on a plane with four children aged 6 and under “isn’t exactly appealing. “. She says: “From time to time I feel like we miss traveling because it would be too expensive to fly our family of six plus our au pair. So for the moment, we go on a trip our holidays, [which entail renting] a house on land for a week or [going] at the Poconos for a few days.”

Su-Mari Hill and her husband Tim have five children, ages 5 to 11. The Vancouver mom and co-founder of iLOLA tea points out that travel in North America isn’t really designed for large families, which has some unique advantages. “opportunities for problem solving”.

“It’s also a little frustrating that most airlines, vacation sites, etc. won’t let us book through their platforms because we’re considered a ‘group booking,'” she says. could not sit together at a table in a restaurant as there are more than six of us [people].”

An expensive business

It’s no surprise that having a large family comes with a high cost that doesn’t necessarily improve at 18 or even 22. than those who have only one child. Steve Sexton, a dad in Temecula, Calif., and the financial adviser and CEO of Sexton Advisory Group, says that while it seems like baby gear is expensive, the most taxing financial burdens come later.

“The truth is that the kind of financial pressures that arise will change as your children get older – which means many parents or future parents are unprepared for the cost of childcare, health care, child care, and child care. education, transportation, technology, enrichment programs, clothing, entertainment and more,” he says. “The cost of raising children adds up quickly and can put a serious strain on your finances. if you don’t have a strategy in place to offset those costs.

He recommends the following to his large family clients:

  • Start early by creating and sticking to a realistic and sustainable budget, and hold yourself accountable for living below your means.

  • Save and invest money consistently, and use tools like 529 college funds, HSAs, and kiddie Roth IRAs to make sure your money works harder in the long run.

  • Find the best home and auto insurance deals every year or two

  • Refinance your mortgage when interest rates are low

  • Consider getting life insurance when you’re young and healthy

  • Take the time to teach your children about financial literacy and good financial habits. This will not only prepare them for life and adulthood, but will hopefully reduce the chances of them being financially dependent on you in the future.

And some tips to survive day to day

There is never a day when we wish we had a smaller family or fewer children. But there are days when it can feel overwhelming, and full hearts are challenged by high bills, emotional needs, and other trials of parenthood. These are the days you need a few hacks from top family experts to get you through. The Hill family notes that they need 14 shoes and socks to get out of the house every day, and there’s only one solution: everyone gets black socks, so two can be removed from the sock basket and they will match. Bright.

They also drew a hard line when it came to children’s activities – one activity per child per season, and no quitting or changing their minds or changing halfway, except in extreme circumstances.

The Hills and Berman say buying in bulk is a must. “Things I invested in were a great dehydrator, juicer, and extra freezer. So when things are on sale or in season, I buy cases and make apple or banana chips , I squeeze fresh lemons and freeze them in blocks of ice for year-round lemonade,” Hill says. “We buy salmon in bulk from boats and berries from local farms and freeze it for the year. We are also that family with an extra cooler and freezer in the garage, life this size is not possible without it.

Ultimately, Su-Mari says waking up to a queen-size bed full of sound-sleeping kids is worth it.

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