Vanessa Skjonnemand and family in their car. Credit: Ursula Skjonnemand.
It used to be common for people to have three or more children; my grandparents each came from families with three or more children with a few miscarriages here and there. Now, I personally have four children; two singletons and a set of twins, while my two sisters have two children each. In 2013 in Australia, this makes me somewhat of a freak or a curiosity to others.
While the SINKs (Single Income, No Kids) and the DINKs (Double Income, No Kids), have the freedom to race off at a moment’s notice in their tiny compacts and sports cars for a romantic getaway in a hotel suite with a maximum occupancy of two, we mums and dads with four or more kids move at a glacial pace herding our children into oversized vehicles on our way to either an economical timeshare apartment, a campsite or an expensive once-every-three-years vacation.
Most people, when they learn I have four children find themselves compelled to repeat the figure – as though to check that I did, in fact, get the number right. Or perhaps they doubt either their hearing or my sanity? It’s difficult to tell but the look on their faces is always the same – confusion. I like to follow this by horrifying these unwitting strangers with the children’s ages; 15 years old, twins who are not-quite five and a four year old. The thought of having three children under five seems to truly terrify some people. And yet, the reality of big family life is more frustrating, exhausting, expensive, hilarious and surprisingly delightful than you could imagine.
As there is a ten year age gap between my eldest and the twins, the fun didn’t really start until the twins were born. As babies, twins have a knack for baffling their parents (mine are fraternal boys, not identical, so other than for the first couple of days, I was never confused as to who was who). Newborn twins seem to have a shared consciousness, one will sometimes cry to indicate the other is hungry and needs to be changed. I was fascinated when the nurses performed the heel-prick test on three day old Noah and his twin cried instead. As toddlers, they had their own strange dialect of English and were quite happy chatting away to teach other and their little sister who, being only 10 ½ months behind them, appeared to have been given the status of “honorary third twin”.
Until they were able to feed themselves, meal time took forever – let me tell you, twin feeding whether breast or bottle, is an art form which teaches you a whole new level or dexterity and coordination. And boy was I glad when they were all finally potty-trained – three kids under three can make a lot of dirty nappies!
Now that I have one in high school, two in prep and one in daycare, there are three lunchboxes to be packed every weekday (thankfully, the teenager packs his own lunch and catches the bus to school), three children to hustle into the right clothes and shoes and three children to strap in and out of booster seats on the school run – and they all want to talk to me in the car, so it’s very noisy in the back seat.
I avoid taking the younger children shopping, opting instead to stock up on groceries while they are at school because it’s much quicker and cheaper to shop by myself.
My own observations, having been around many children, are that those with siblings are better at sharing – not necessarily because they want to but rather because they have grown accustomed to it and they know they should. Siblings can also be great bodyguards – sure, sometimes they’ll randomly attack each other on whim, but one of my proudest moments as a mum was seeing one of my boys shove a bully who’d dared to thump his little sister. Call me deluded, but I choose to see this as an example of accelerated development in the area of team building.
In short, being a big family can be a lot of hard work and earn you plenty of unqualified condemnation from others but it comes with an abundance of unique and treasured memories from watching your children calmly divide a treat between them, to seeing them comfort each other, to the special photos you snap of them lying in identical positions or holding hands while sleeping. I may not be able to give my children everything they’ll ever want but I did give them the best present a child can have , life-long allies.
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