I had the pleasure of going to school with the author of this list: May is Mum to four. And sister to ten. That’s right her parents had ELEVEN kids. Growing up I was SO intrigued by her family.  Now, having had kids I find it mindboggling that a household could possibly function with so many people in it. Not mention the HUGE respect I have for her Mum and Dad for a) getting through it b) making humans as lovely as May. Here, she tells us what it’s like to grow up being ‘One of Eleven Children’:

  • It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you decide to have more than three children you are utterly insane.

  • After you have your first child, people ask when you would like another. After your second, people ask if you would like another. After that, people ask why the holy heck you would like another.

  • I’ve officially reached the number of children where people have stopped saying, “Congratulations” and switched instead to, “Good luck”.

  • The NHS should prescribe TV licenses as contraception given the number of people who find it hilarious to question if we have one.  (Actually, our TV was broken at the time but that’s by the by, alright?)

  • Perhaps I am naïve but, as the third eldest of eleven children, four doesn’t really faze me. I’ve had a really good experience of growing up being surrounded by ten clothes-stealing-raucous-snitches with the same big teeth and eyebrows as me.

  • Yes, there are downsides. You have to sacrifice important things like space and privacy. Luckily we grew up on a farm so there were plenty of escape routes – the field, the hay barn, the aptly named isolation unit (for sick pigs and errant siblings.)

  • There are other sacrifices too. Take holidays for example, which were often a 2 hour car journey to Birmingham to visit our grandparents with a sibling kicking your shin whole way and never a Thomas Cook all inclusive with pool.    

  • We were lucky to go on some good holidays to Center Parcs though. Not a cheap option for a big crowd and I therefore acquired the ability to curl into a small enough ball to slot into a car footwell alongside a four year old with a coat over us and still manage to find breathing space for us both.

  • ‘Squeezing in’ also meant that if you drew the short straw you had to sleep on the (surprisingly comfortable) sofa.

  • The downside to this being that the living room is in the middle of all bedrooms so snoring and flatulence was in surround sound.

  • It also meant you were awake as soon as the earliest riser was.

  • However it did guarantee you breakfast in bed each morning. Plus you had the authority to demote your siblings off the sofa and on to the floor for the entire duration of the holiday.

  • We’ve had to make similar sacrifices with our children when it comes to holidays. Think less Hotel Du Vin and more Hotel Du CamperVan.

  • It’s not all about missing out though. Being in a big family means there’s always lots to celebrate. So much so that my 2 year old, whenever handed a phone, automatically breaks into singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

  • Growing up in a crowd, you develop a (life-long) complete inability to see something you would like to eat and save it for later. It won’t be there later so you must eat it now, all of it, even if it is an entire sherry trifle at 6.45am. And quickly, because if somebody catches you they will fight you for it. It’s a survival skill.

  • The kitchen was truly the hub of the home, with the table at any one time being resting place for any strange combination of belongings – a collection of Play Doh creatures (always brown – keeping the colours separate with so many contributors was impossible), some Food Technology GCSE coursework, Just17, the Sunday Times crossword…

  • I don’t remember a Sunday at home that didn’t involve a roast dinner. Dad always took pride in cooking and carving the meat, while mum nailed the roast potatoes and always had a way of making the vegetables interesting. The perfect team.

  • Mum was always up early and coming down for breakfast was like walking onto the factory floor at Ginsters with a production line of packed lunches on the go. There was always one of us standing over her on quality control, making dissatisfied noises over today’s sandwich filling. I remember complaining that we never got to have Um Bongo or Iced Gems like my school friend, Lorna. If only I could go back to my then self – what my mum did to keep us all fed and happy was nothing short of incredible.  

  • Ah, my mum. People used to ask me how she did it and I would laugh it off as if that is some sort of silly question. She had us older ones to help out, of course! Only now do I realise that managing tears and tantrums from toddlers and teenagers in tandem is no mean feat, and that me occasionally cleaning a bathroom/younger sibling’s behind was merely a small drop in a very large, poo-filled ocean.     

  • I can’t downplay my dad’s role though. I’m not sure if it was a skill he acquired through raising lots of children but he was always good at staying calm and finding a solution, on whatever scale. I remember one occasion when he was getting us ready for school as my mother was away (presumably in hospital after giving birth to one of my siblings) and the hairbrush was nowhere to be seen. He acted with determination and quick wit, selecting an appropriate Stickle Brick for the job – we were good to go.  

  • Dad was also best at budgeting so he was often appointed the role of chief food shopper. During the BSE scare we ate like kings, dining on T-Bone steak pretty much every night! Dad also liked to stock up on box loads of crisps that none of us really liked because they lasted for ages.

  • History has a way of repeating itself. My husband stops at M&S on his way home from work most nights as he’s calculated the perfect time to pick up yellow stickered food. It’s reached the stage where the staff know him and point him in direction of good deals. I have to ban him sometimes while we make our way through the reduced price Dim Sum, Aberdeen Angus Beef Burgers and Harissa Peperonata Focaccia that’s jamming up the freezer. He’s got so good at it, I think he could scale up and roll it out as a business – HelloNotSoFresh.    

  • The car was always full (somebody always needed taking somewhere and siblings would volunteer as willing passengers to escape the chaos).

  • As were the bathrooms (also a good place to escape the chaos).

  • And the washing machine.

  • But never the fridge. The food shopping literally got unpacked straight into our mouths.

  • Christmases were and are amazing – the excitement is contagious. So too, sadly, is the norovirus, which is why Christmas 2007 will not go down as the best.

  • When you are living with lots of people, sickness bugs can tear through you like wildfire. This is not the time you can appreciate close living quarters, sharing bathrooms (if you were lucky to get there first) or buckets. There is always one person in the household acting smug that they managed to escape the illness, only to catch it two weeks later than everyone else. This is normally my brother, Eddie, who does everything two weeks later than everyone else.     

  • We may share the same teeth and eyebrows but there is an end to our similarities. We have all chosen different career paths. I have lucked out as among them include a midwife, a physiotherapist and a (nearly) dentist. I just need some of the younger ones to take up plumbing and beauty therapy and that is all my maintenance issues taken care of.  

  • Keeping in touch with so many siblings can be tricky – until Whatsapp came along. Much like the kitchen table, the group messages are a strange concoction of kid’s artwork (this time belonging to the grandchildren), photos of nights out, something weird that somebody wants diagnosing, exam results and the like.     

  • Sometimes I wonder where my day has gone then I realise I must have spent at least 2hrs replying to the 186 messages that came through in the past 24 hours.

  • When I say 24 hours, I mean 24 hours. The younger siblings always message late, while watching something inspiring on television or feeling ‘conversational’ after a few drinks, my mum (still incapable of switching off or lying in) normally checks in at 4am after letting the dogs out while the peak time for us older siblings is around 6.50am while spooning Rice Krispies into a toddler. Plus there is normally one of us (never me) out of the country in another time zone, smugly posting sunset selfies for the rest of us to wake up to. Git.    

  • My parents made raising a large brood look easy. Perhaps they are the masters of deception. Perhaps I was too caught up in my own growing up haze to notice the hard work they were putting in. Perhaps it is only through becoming a parent myself that I have been able to appreciate the challenges they must have dealt with.

  • However my parents did it, there is no denying it is a big job. So, why have we not stopped at three?

  • My husband asked the other day if there is any chance I could give birth to an adult! I’m sure most nurseries employ a more favourable adult:child ratio, and we’re talking people who have qualifications in looking after children. So really, why have we not stopped at three?

  • Well, I don’t have any qualifications in looking after children. I’m not going to pretend I find parenting a walk in the park (although there are lots of those). I’m not making life easy for myself, but what kind of life do you end up having led if you always select the easy option?

  • Growing up in a large family has set me up well for parenthood. It’s given me this ability to zone out in chaos – the mayhem, madness, melee – it often just washes over me. And re that quick eating practise, it’s useful when I only have 5 minutes in between picking Babybel skin out of the carpet and racing out for the school run. Plus the lack of privacy I have become accustomed to means I’m not bothered when my 4 year old wants to tattoo my leg in biro while I’m on the toilet. Welcome one and all.

  • I haven’t yet found another use for my ability to curl into a footwell sized ball, but I am sure it will come in handy again one day.

  • Being one of eleven has also given me an irrational fear of being lonely. I’ve learnt to enjoy the chaos of a busy household so much so that, on the rare occasion I am home alone, I feel uneasy. My siblings have provided a constant source of company, and now my children do too. I seem to have this urge to fill my life with people who mean something to me. Having kids seems a fun way to do that.

  • Love is a funny thing, you would think it had a limit, that you would somehow have to divide it around, but it doesn’t work like that. The more you give, the more you get back, then the more there is to divvy out. It’s kind of addictive – I think that’s my problem! If only I could say the same for time.

  • That newborn head smell is pretty addictive too.

  • The idea of a large family might seem nuts, but it’s my normal. Through it, I’ve learnt there is no such thing as a perfect family – no perfect age to start having children, even if you decide never to, no perfect number of children, no perfect age gap between children. If there is love there you can build something special, whether there are two of you or twenty.

  • All that and, of course, I am utterly insane

  • .

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  • Reply Milly June 6, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Brilliant description of the absolute joy and chaos of growing up in a large family (mother of one, sister of eight) x

  • Reply Valerie Darroch June 6, 2017 at 9:53 am

    What a lovely story, full of warmth and wit, and what a good-looking family!

    I grew up in a household of 8 kids and 3 adults for 4 years of my childhood after my uncle was widowed – he and my four cousins (aged 5, 4, and 2-year old twins) came to live with us – me and my siblings were aged 7, 6, 4 and a newborn at the time. We were like 3 sets of girl twins at the time plus an older brother and a baby girl. It was the late 60swhen everyone was broke and we lived in a tumbledown big house with a holes in the roof but it was a gloriously joyful time in all our lives. I have the utmost respect for my parents opening their lives to 5 more people when we were already a family of 6. I totally agree with your columnist – people often make negative judgements about big families without understanding the many positives of love multiplied by many. Bravo for a great column!

  • Reply Now That’s What I Call A List 2017 – Mother of all Lists December 30, 2017 at 4:29 pm


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