Now this is not my big family story, but the big family story from a wonderful family I know. Katie is kindly sharing her journey as a mother as part of the motherhood theme for this month. (Katie also contributed many fab tips in the Planning With Kids book.)
The first time I read this post by Katie I cried. This post tells such an honest and beautiful story of the family life of a big family. You can also clearly feel the love and respect Katie has for her husband, her kids and herself. So from me – thank you Katie for sharing your gorgeous story with my readers. xxx
We are a family of two parents (Mum and Dad) and eight children. We are fairly heavily weighted with our eldest, who is twelve years old, being the only boy. So! Seven daughters with our baby eighteen months old, and one set of twins who are nearly three.
If anybody had told me at the age of eighteen that I would find myself at the ripe age of thirty-nine with eight children I would have laughed, or maybe cried, or most likely not believed them! I remember telling my now father-in-law that there would NEVER be a time that I would not work I had not studied this long and this hard for nothing! I was going to make something of myself and the arrival of children was not going to stop me!
After baby number one (1999) I resumed work three days a week when he was eleven months old. We desperately needed the money, and to be honest, I was going crackers at home. I had gooed and gaaed. We had been for daily walks. Dropped in to the Grandparents. Visited the park, the zoo, read books, played trains, cars, banged saucepans, eaten play dough. My God I thought I was going insane! It wasn’t him that needed stimulation, it was ME! I needed some adult conversation. I needed to use my brain for some higher order thinking. I needed to laugh and chat with people daily. I felt incredibly isolated. My parents cared for him two days a week, and one day a week he attended childcare. My husband always dropped him at childcare and I had the glorious job of picking him up.
What I had not accounted for was the difficulty I would have leaving my baby regularly in someone else’s care. I remember walking into childcare one day and seeing our ‘baby’ sitting on a little chair independently. I had not even known he could do that. My eyes filled with tears. I felt that I was missing all these precious moments that I could never experience again. And yet, I really needed to work. Not just for the money, or my career, but more for my mental well-being.
Then, baby number two (2001). It was getting better. I was busier. So, back to work one day a week when she was six months old. Baby number three (2002) was born, and that was the end of my working life to date. I was happy to finish working at this time. I seemed to have acclimatized to the pace of being at home. I was used to having the children around me all day, and I had relaxed, let go, and was enjoying my role. I had friends who were in a similar position and I felt well supported.
Most importantly, I have a husband who supports me in my role as a stay at home Mum. Financially, emotionally and physically. My husband is a commercial property developer (a really, lovely, grounded one!). We are incredibly fortunate that his hours are flexible and he pulls his weight BIG TIME around the house and with the children. Otherwise, I would not manage. My Dad was telling me the other day what a fabulous husband I have. “Yes Dad, I know. I chose very carefully!” “No,” he said “It was good luck”. Ohhhhh……no!. I remember thinking when we were getting married, “Oh well, if I am a totally dreadful mother, any children we have are going to have a totally fabulous father.” I was so right (about him!). I am not ‘Mother of the Year’ but I do try to pull my weight!
At the end of the day, we are in this together. When things are at their worst, and we feel like failures. When the children are attacking each other or telling me they hate me or hate each other or hate our big crappy family, we look across the room, lock eyes and quietly smile to each other. We can see the humor in the worst of them and us. We don’t expect them to be perfect. We certainly aren’t. We understand that being part of a big family is horrible sometimes. It’s horrible for us sometimes too. We do our best, and get it right most of the time, and I think this is enough. We totally love them, and we encourage and support them the best way we can. We try to keep it real and about them and not about us. Their achievements are their own and whilst we are proud of them, the glorious and victorious moments are theirs.
Even though I am a full time stay at home Mum, it takes a lot of help from different people to keep our show on the road. We have a nanny one and a half days a week. We began this twelve months ago when one of my parents became unwell. My parents had been such a steady and enormous support to our family. And did so willingly and lovingly. We had not really factored in a time this support may not be there. So, we had to readjust and draw in regular help from outside the fold. It has been a total Godsend. The idea was that our nanny would look after the children whilst I got around to jobs like – cleaning out the pantry, tidying the children’s wardrobes, and gardening!
The reality is that when our nanny arrives I high five her out the door and I only come back if I ABSOLUTELY have to! I can only do this because our nanny is beautifully kind and capable with our children. My parent’s in law take the twins when they are able to one day a week, and we have a fabulous extended family whom I know I can call on. We have an amazingly divine community of friends who help us with drop offs and pick ups. It has been an enormous leap for me to say to people “Yes thanks, that would be great,” when an offer of help appears. I like to think that between my husband and me we can manage ourselves, but the reality is we can’t.
These one and a half days I spend shopping (for groceries, and often items of more significant pleasure). I go to the children’s school assembly once a week. I try to take one of the school children out for lunch each week We attempt to stay within the confines of the school lunch break, and the school has been very supportive and encouraging of me doing this. The children totally love it! And so do I! They choose where they would like to go and what they would like to eat. It is usually a local café. We get to chat – a little or a lot, depending on the child. It is such a really special time. When they see me enter the playground the school children all come running to see whose turn it is to be lunching out!
I also try to meet my husband for a coffee and a bit of hand holding (I still love holding his hand!). We get to have an uninterrupted chat about whatever is topical for the family at the moment. And savour the peace.
I am a great fan of the weekly menu planner. The children generally choose a night each. I encourage the bigger children to flick through cookbooks or use the internet. Staples are chop suey, chicken schnitzel and veggies, and teriyaki chicken. I shop once a week at night at the local supermarket with a detailed list. I find having menu planned and prepared a list saves a lot of indecision and money. I buy fruit and veggies twice a week from a great local green grocer.
Most days, I bake something for afternoon tea. I love cooking and baking, so it’s a little bit of home therapy for me, and gives the kids enormous delight when they arrive home from school to something scrumptious! Sometimes the stay at home littlies help me, and sometimes not, depending on my level of patience on the day. There are always plenty of offers of assistance to lick the bowl. Then it’s fruit until dinnertime at 6pm.
Relentless! I am ALWAYS washing. I no longer hang clothes on the washing line – in fact; we don’t have a washing line. Everything (except woollens) goes in our fabulous dryer, which shrinks nothing. I used to iron everything – until number eight. Then, I told myself I would give myself a twelve month reprieve from the daily ironing of anything I could lay my hands on. And the more stressed I was the more insane items I ironed. (think cloth nappies, dish cloths….they do stack neatly when ironed flat….I know…what was I thinking?). I now do a lot of smoothing. And do you know what? You can hardly tell the difference! All those wasted hours!
The manifestation of my slightly obsessive nature has become firmly entrenched in the children’s appearance. I am completely adamant that their hair is brushed (sprayed, gelled – whatever it takes to control it) each day. I still brush all of my children’s hair, from the twelve year old down. I realise this is a total rod for my own back and completely stupid and I should let go a bit. Loosen the reins. Relax. Well, I can’t. I think it stems from the fact that I don’t want us to be a big, SLOPPY family. I want the children to know that we care about caring for them, even though there are a lot of them. That it is important to present yourself well. The children must have a bath or a shower each day. It clears and organsises my head somehow that they are neat in appearance (and don’t smell!).
People sharing time with our family will often comment quietly to me, “You’re very lucky”. I know their intent is kind, but seriously, I feel it’s far from luck – its hard work! I had to carry all eight babies for forty weeks, or thereabouts. I did not have easy pregnancies. I was sick- constantly. And the births hurt – a lot! And truly, that was all the easy bit. We are devoted to our children in the most grounded and real way we know how. Giving up my career – I really feel I have sacrificed something else that may have been great. I am certainly not complaining, and I do not regret my decision. I am just trying to do my best at the job I have chosen. I would not change a thing – most days!
You only get, as my brother-in-law says “One dance around the chook house”. So we are trying to make it a good and memorable one. I am conscious of the children’s memories of their childhood. The bits that will stick.
I am a more generous person these days. Motherhood and probably life in general has done this for me. I am faster to compliment (often random) people on clothing, hair, children, children’s behaviour that I admire. I would never have done this at eighteen. I was far too busy waiting for people to compliment me.
I had my ‘Planning With Kids’ book out on the kitchen table last night. My Dad was proudly showing my brother the ‘features’ I had written. This morning, my two year old tore out the tribute page that Nicole had written to me, and I was actually quite fond of. She ripped it into tiny pieces and threw it with great gusto on the ground, looking at me defiantly. “*!+#!!!**!!” I thought to myself! It really is all a work in progress!
Katies’s Chocolate cake
I would love to share my chocolate cake recipe. I would hate to think how many times I have made this chocolate cake! It makes quite a big cake. I use a square tin, or two loaf tins.
- 125 grams unsalted butter (softened)
- 2 eggs
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 1 ¾ cups SR flour
- ½ cup cocoa
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- Dash vanilla in 1 cup full cream milk
- Mix dry ingredients (I don’t sift – ever!)
- Add wet ingredients
- Beat together with electric/hand mixer for approx 5 mins
- Bake in moderate oven (160 C) for 40-45 mins.
Ice with chocolate icing. Approx two cups icing sugar, 1/3 cup of cocoa, one tablespoon softened butter and water to mix.
Has motherhood taken you a journey you never expected? (And Katie you are an amazing mum!)