Monday 9 October 2017

The Challenges and Benefits of a Large Family

I have never considered mine to be a large family. I was one of five children and I have five of my own and see them as five individuals rather than a large group. Over time, I have come to realise that we are often seen as a large family. Including my mum-in-law there are eight of us. As a mum of five and as part of a busy household I have learnt so much over the years, we have also had to make some sacrifices. There are so many benefits to being part of a big family and there are also some challenges.

The Challenges

Time and Attention
The most obvious thing is that your time and attention is split between multiple children. You have to balance the needs, demands and behaviour of lots of people, sometimes at once. Often when children have a problem or something is bothering them they don’t have the words to tell you, or it takes time for them to screw up the courage to tell you what is wrong. You have to spend time with them and hold your tongue until they are ready to share. This is harder when there are more of them. I make sure that I spend alone time with each of them, even if it’s shopping together or doing laundry with one of them. It gives us time and space. Of course sometimes it’s not time that is needed. Most days I come home from work and find all five need to vent or complain or ask for what they need. Then it becomes a process of trying to get them to take turns to complain, tell me they are hungry or excitedly tell me about their day before someone gets upset at not being listened to and the opportunity is lost.

Clubs and Activities
I have also felt sensitive in the past to the fact that I can’t invest as intensively in my kids. I know parents who will take their children to multiple clubs, activities and after school classes. I just don’t have the budget and capacity to do this times five, especially as a wokring mother. I have often felt guilty that my children are missing out or will not reach their full potential because of this. As they get older and are starting to do well at school, I realise that the time not spent in structured activities and classes has been spent in them enjoying their children and letting their character develop. The younger ones also learn so much from the older ones. My youngest two both surprised their nursery and reception teachers with how articulate they are – mostly because they spend so much time with their gobby older siblings (I won’t mention the language they pick up from older brothers that they shouldn’t, like the time a two-year old Darling exclaimed “Buddy hell guys!” in a moment of frustration).

Silence, quiet time, peace….hahahahaha
One day I popped out of my house to buy milk and bread. I live off of a noisy main road. It felt sooo peaceful and quiet outside by comparison, I was just stunned that it was noisier in my house that day than outside with the traffic and people. My sisters often wonder if I am just deaf to all of the noise, but I have learnt to filter everyone out when I am in the middle of something. You become selectively deaf.  But every now and again I have to beg for a few minutes of quiet.

This might seem like an obvious one, but it isn’t at the top of my list for problems with a large family. As a Muslim I believe that Allah (SWT) provides for each of us and that our sustenance is decreed the day we are born. I have heard time and again that a new baby brings an increase in pay or income. I also find that a lot of the things that people spend money on with children can be avoided with a bit of planning and thought – think more hand me downs and less designer prams that are too heavy to get onto the bus.

Other People’s Issues
This is one of the ones that can really set me off: people’s bad attitude and offensive opinions:
“Oh my God, how many do you have?”
“Are you going to stop now?”
“You are going to stop now aren’t’ you?”
“How do you manage”

What if I turned that on it’s head and asked nasty questions back?
“So can’t you have children then?”
“Can’t you manage more than two?”
“Isn’t your child lonely on it’s own?”
“Your not getting any younger you know”

I would never say such hurtful things and frankly it’s no one else’s business. But when it's the other way round it seems to be open season for anyone to take aim and say thoughtless things.

The Missing Invitations
This is probably the one I found the most painful in the past. As my family grew I realised we stopped getting invited to things: weddings, parties, even family dinners or days out. I love to socialise, party and be around people, so this was tough for me. I understand that it costs more and that sometimes people want a quieter time. Most of the time I will say no or send only one or two people, but it used to hurt not to even get asked. I thought it was something that I was overthinking until I asked the question in a large family forum, I got an overwhelming response from people who had found their invitations dwindling or disappearing. It used to hurt, especially the idea of my children being left out of things and especially as they got older and noticed more. But in recent times I have gotten round it by inviting everyone to mine for big occasions or planning alternatives around the same time.

One lady on the forum had a beautiful response – that as the kids get older, there are enough of us for a party any time and everyone else will want to be apart of it.
Another lady had an awesome idea – every holiday season they would head to a cabin or holiday for just them and create their own memories.  That is something that would be just heaven for us.

When you have so many others to attend to, the time and energy left for yourself can be very little. Quiet time is a mystery and down time is when you fall over on your bed, out for the count. Self-care is less about a relaxing bath or lie-in and more about trying to drink your morning coffee while it is still hot. If you are not careful you can end up resentful and exhausted from giving so much that you feel burned out and as if you have little left to give. For this reason I have always advocated prioritising and making time for self-care, even if it means something else has to be sacrificed or pushed further down your list. If you don’t care for yourself first as a mother, you end up with very little to give those that rely on you. For these reasons I have got the kids to do chore and enforced earlier bedtimes so that I can find small slots of time for myself to do yoga, exercise or have some coffee and chocolate in peace. I set boundaries and ask for them to be respected: every Friday 9-10am after the kids have been dropped to school and before my work for the day begins is golden time. No-one is allowed to disturb me and everyone gets to know it.

The Good Stuff

Being Organised and Efficient
You have to up your game – whether it’s better routines, a family schedule or weekly planning. To manage a bigger family, you have to get organised and efficient at everything you do. We have weekly meal planning, chore schedules and regular routines for the day and week so that everyone knows what to expect. When I had baby number five, a friend commented I would surely leave work now? She said that she couldn’t manage three as a stay at home mother, how would I manage five as a working mother? I told her I was strong enough and I just would. That’s no offence to stay at home mothers, they are the backbones and foundations of our society. But when you have more children and more to do, you have to just get on with things and get good at managing your time.

Being Strong
As a parent in a big family, you have so much on your shoulders and often so many challenges. You find yourself stressed, anxious and sometimes you think you can’t cope and feel like a complete failure. Slowly you come to realise you are battered and bruised but still standing. You are getting on and doing it. Sometimes you have done more in one day than people do in a week. The challenges and the hard work lead you to grow more than you would have expected. You become stronger, more decisive and put up with less bull from people.

Discipline becomes a different ballgame when you have more children. One child throwing a tantrum or misbehaving is challenging, five or more doing it is anarchy and bedlam. It can’t happen. Plus you are probably too frazzled dealing with one of the others and the tantrum-thrower most likely realises no one has even noticed or can hear above the noise anyway. I often find that my five are better behaved or easier to manage than other people’s one or two children. With five you just don’t put up with nonsense and you have enough experience that you nip it in the bud or plan ahead – for example taking food and activities with us when we go out to keep the kids fed and occupied. Of course there are always exceptions, Gorgeous is in a league of his own when it comes to forgetting where he is…

You Learn to Budget
Whether it is re-using things, passing things down from one child to another or working out what is really essential, you get good at it. You get better at meal planning and shopping – pasta, lentils, rice and frozen veg are a yes, processed food is an expensive no. Every new trend on the television is a no, getting your children to choose one thing over another and decide what is really worth buying is a must. You accept you can afford less and you find free days out and take picnics. By now I am a master thrifter and my trips to the charity shop wind my children up but they get everything they need and more alhamdulillah. I am mindful that my husband works hard for his money and although I am not the best at managing my income, I make sure I never waste a penny of his wages.

You Become Generous
I grew up with my grandparents running an open home, with guests coming and going all day. My parents were a lot more private and once my grandparents went back to Pakistan, the open house ended and things got quieter. I missed it and promised myself I would run my home as my grandparents did. And I have: children, neighbours and extended family and friends dropping by at all hours, always welcome and always offered tea and biscuits or dinner. There are people from the masjid knocking on our door looking for my husband or people stopping to ask if he could do a job for them. We have the philosophy that where you can feed eight you can feed ten or twelve, make a few more chapatti’s and open the circle wider to let in a few more guests (we eat sitting on a cloth on the floor). I bulk cook most things so that we end up eating most things for two days in a row, there is usually enough to send some to the neighbours or my parents and hubby will take some to the masjid.

You let go of Perfectionism
You have to lower your standards, the kids won’t do the chores as good as you would, but they are learning. Your home gets messy, but it is full of play and laughter. Your party doesn’t have an exact seating plan or perfect decor, but you can bet it will be fun and people won’t forget it in a hurry. You let go of perfect but embrace productivity. You get so much more done in this way.

Everyone learns to do their bit
The kids do their chores, grandparents offer respite, the neighbours help out. You humble yourself and say yes to any offers of help.
The older children help out with the younger ones. One of my friends runs parenting classes and somethings she hears often from South Asian and African students is that it is so much harder here to raise children alone. Back home the whole community contribute to the raising of the child, here parents and especially stay at home mums are coping with everything alone. Bigger families often know that this is not realistic and rope in anyone they can.

Serving Others 
A friend of ours was in hospital for an operation and had a stream of family coming to visit. An elderly gentleman in the adjoining bed complained that no-one ever visited him. Our friend got his family to sit with some of the elderly people in the ward that didn’t receive visitors whenever they came in to see him. I am raising my children with the spirit of service.  Whatever they do in life needs to be with the intention to please Allah (SWT) and serve others. When we are out I get them to give up seats, help others with bags and hold open doors. As they get older I expect them to look out for their grandparents and undertake voluntary work in their community insh’Allah.

Life is a Party – You are Never Lonely
As my children get older, the conversations we have are pure pleasure, whether it is Little Lady telling me about her latest life hack or Little Man’s interest in world news. I am never bored. Tired, fed-up sometimes, but never lonely or bored. There is always a little one who wants a cuddle or someone that needs to vent or is in the mood for conversation. The kids band together to make dens, throw the babies a picnic on the trampoline or join the neighbours kids to spend all day playing in the garden. I learn something from them every day and they continue to surprise me as they grown and mature.

As time goes by, I am more and more grateful for the blessing of my children and my big family. Even with the noise, the stress they sometimes bring me, the criticism of others, the things I have had to give up (like my sanity, hot coffee or sometimes my peace of mind), I know I am one lucky mama alhamdulillah. I feel surrounded with love, I feel strong and competent, I feel like Allah (SWT) trusted me with this because he knew I could handle it and because He loves me.

This blog post is dedicated to my lovely mama who raised us five siblings with limited income, no help and minimal English in a strange country far from her own family. I am just in awe of her xxx


  1. Blogger needs a 'love' button like you would on other social media sites ��

    Best blog post yet. I loved reading it. So insightful.

  2. Just loved this post! Absolutely spot on about the benefits and challenges of large families.I too have five children though mine are older than yours and I've experienced much of what you've spoken about. Just a wonderful post.

  3. Lovely post MASHAA ALLAH...

    I am such a private person and expecting my first child... was wondering what would happen and hw i would manage later if i had more children as i am so anxious with this first one.. especially as this baby came unexpectedly after many years of infertility.

    Big families seem like a lot of work also a wonderful adventure and lots of fun ALHAMDULILLAH. I always love the sound of a full house and laughter.

    ALLAH keep blessing you and grant u and u family all the best in dunya and akhirah. ALLAH will definately honour u on Qiymamah for increasing the Ummah of His beloved Habib Muhammad SAW.

    Love from ur sister in South Africa ��

  4. Your joy in your family is evident for all to see. i wish you all the happiness in the world

  5. I'm a mum of three and I agree with so many of your thoughts. Especially about learning to being strong and that you are never alone. Thank you for writing and starting this blog. I have learnt a lot through it. Jazak Allahu Khairan