One of the most important decisions in my life was to marry my husband and bring into this world 13 amazing children.
My husband and I decided to have a large family partly due to our faith and partly because of certain influences I encountered as a child. When I was in kindergarten I made a friendship that would last a lifetime. This early childhood influence impacted on me rather deeply. My friend was a very happy and confident girl who was from a family of 14 children. She once told me that if she felt she had no friends at school her friends would be waiting for her at home!
Her words have never been far from my mind. Her siblings were her friends. How impressive! I wanted that for my children. As the years passed I endeavored to emulate the love and self-giving lived by that family. However, it is easier said than done!
Pregnancy for me was a beautiful and exciting time. However, it was not without the normal difficulties most expectant mothers experience. I was tired, I felt fat and ugly at times and frustrated by my limitations. I remember parking our family sized mini-van in a shopping carpark and when I returned another car had parked too close making it difficult to open the driver’s door. I tried to breathe in and approach from another angle but I was far too pregnant for that and not getting any thinner by the minute! Around to the other side of the car I went, opened the door, wiggled across the passenger’s seat, up and over the hand brake and onto the driver’s seat! Even writing these words exhausts me. Like many women I was sometimes irritable and suffered from varicose veins, headaches, sleeplessness, back pain, swollen ankles, threatened miscarriages, placenta previa and a massive hemorrhage. However, those first moments after giving birth made it all worthwhile. I will never forget them, what a privilege it is to be a mother.
I wanted to share in everything my children did, felt and said. It is well known that the first five years of a child’s life is the most formative and sets the trajectory for future behaviour. I wanted to be the guiding hand behind that trajectory – gently shaping their consciences and behaviours. However, this demanded not only a lot of effort but also a fair amount of financial sacrifice. For example, one year we had so little money my husband and I bought each other a milk bottle container for Christmas. As insignificant as this gift was the children had a fabulous time discussing who’s job it was to put out the container the night before the milkman’s early morning run! The joys and memories that money can’t buy!
Our first home was very humble in a beautifully wooded area with a fabulous backyard for the children to play, have fun and use their imagination. Our home was nearly always clean and tidy, freezing in winter and hot in summer, full of laughter, screams, and tears at times- their’s and mine. Unfortunately, we suffered many insults and were often the brunt of other people’s jokes. Some asked, ‘Why go to this extreme and have so many children?’ ‘Don’t you have a TV?’ ‘Why don’t you sleep in separate beds?’ or ‘Is she pregnant again?’
I often compare raising a large family to running a multi-million dollar enterprise. People don’t usually criticise a high paid executive or CEO for putting in long hours of work, sleepless nights, numerous meetings and debilitating travel commitments to grow a successful business. On the other hand, people will criticise those who put in long hours, sleepless nights, and numerous late night discussions with children and debilitating travel commitments from home to school to extra-curricular activities in order to grow a successful family. For me it has been worth the effort and the sacrifice!
Our openness to life and our faith gave us the strength to embrace the joys and difficulties that a large family faces. However, we are also human and I often worried over finances, lack of support and my ability to cope. In the end, the important thing was to keep to our convictions, listen to positive and encouraging people and understand that difficulties come and go and it is all worthwhile.