large families

Rachael Mogan McIntosh

Here at MamaBake HQ, we are fascinated by the everyday details of family life. How do others manage school lunches? Kids’ chores? The relentless nature of housework? We believe in community, we know there is more that unites us than separates us, and we believe that, in MamaBake-Land, we have a huge brains trust of information on all things domestic.

So how do mums of really big families manage?

We asked three MamaBakers with nine kids each to open up their lives to us. Organised, thoughtful and armed with a great sense of humour, these women have some golden advice to impart. Sit back, make a cup of tea, and enjoy this snapshot of large-family life.

 Gerri: Nine Children

large families

First, let’s meet Gerri, who likes to give her serious-minded eldest a dinosaur sandwich every once in a while to remind him to have fun, and who would keep on having babies if not for a husband who thinks nine is plenty, thanks all the same.

Here’s Gerri:

“I have been married to Rob for 19 years and we have nine kids. Seven boys and two girls. Mitchell is 17, Nathan is 15, Jasmine is 14, Ella is 12, Bailey is nine, Eden is seven, Sean is four, Jamie is two and Archie is thirteen months old.

I never imagined having a large brood. I was always the one handing babies back to their mothers! After we had Mitch, I just found being a mum came naturally. Although we never planned a big family, I enjoy it and would like to add to our brood…although hubby is not willing.”

How do you manage everyday?

“I am a list person. I like to write a to-do list each morning so I don’t forget anything or anyone. It’s not as overwhelming this way. I cope pretty well, the only thing that really brings me undone is the washing/folding. It’s never ending!    I do at least one load a day but it’s usually about three (in my 9.5kg washer). Underwear always goes in the dryer & is last to be folded cause I hate it!

 As for self-care…what’s that?!  I don’t get mani’s & pedi’s, but I do get my hair done every six weeks.   I enjoy “me time”: playing netball and being on the kids sports committees. Who says mums of many are control freaks?!

 I hate untidiness, so in the late arvo I generally crack it and get kids stuck into cleaning up and doing their chores. It’s a bit of a whirlwind but it works. At the moment my three youngest are pushing the boundaries (as boys do) and I like a timeout every so often. I’ll duck down the street without them or hide out the back for half hour while they’re watching a DVD.”

 How much does your grocery shop cost every week and school lunches? How?

“I think we do well with a budget of around $350 per week, although the ferals always complain there is nothing to eat. We eat at the table six nights a week and rarely have takeaway. Mince and chicken are staples and I make basic snacks (cupcakes, scrolls, slices etc) for school. 

I have a production line for lunches. We have six at school. I often joke to my eldest that he must be the only kid in year 12 who still has his lunch made for him!   Everyone gets the same things:  three “snacks”, one fruit, one sandwich or wrap or Salada type biscuit and water. No canteen.

The kids have learnt to trade at school. If they line up at the canteen for a friend, the friend will share their bought snacks. Queues are nothing to my kids, they’re used to waiting their turn at home!

I’m a fan of sandwich cutters. My eldest tends to take life quite seriously so he ends up with dinosaur sangas sometimes to remind him to be silly & have fun.”

 How do you get out of the door in the mornings?

“Getting out of the door isn’t as hard as you might think. They all know what needs doing. I do lunches (takes about 20 mins) then wake everyone about sevenish. I’ll shower while they all get brekky, and the big kids help the littlies. They dress while I give bub a booby feed. The big kids leave sporadically: the biggest boy drives himself about 7.45am, three leave at 8am for the bus and the girls go at 8.15m on their skateboards (we have three schools).

I work a few days a week so on those days I finish dressing the littlies, load the car for the preschool run and the house is quiet and empty by 8.30am. Hubby has it easy! He leaves for work at 5am and has the house to himself to get organised. My pet hate is shoes left lying around. In the arvo, I’ll ask once for shoes to be put away or I take them.”

 What tricks do you use to make family life smooth?

“I can’t think off the top of my head of the tricks I use on a daily basis. They’re just second nature. I use child labour a lot!

Being a mum of nine kids is demanding, noisy, messy & chaotic but it’s awesome!

On Mothers Day I get so many homemade gifts (and I keep them all in a box). When one of the littlies gives me a bunch of weeds with a kiss, I get another from from the others so no one is outdone, I have an almost eighteen-year-old old to talk (argue) politics, society, and world issues with, but I also have a thirteen month-old old who is just learning about the world. I have kids to watch play footy and little kids to go caterpillar hunting with. There’s never a dull moment.

 On the other hand, a simple trip to the zoo (or anywhere really) isn’t just a simple trip. There’s food to make & carry, it’s a constant chore to ensure I know where everyone is and three tired, crying littlies at once is no fun for anyone!

In summary, what’s it really like?

“Like anything, there are pros and cons. Everyone’s tolerance level is different. My husband would give you a completely different take on our family, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The photo above sums it up for me. There’s nothing better than having all of my ferals snuggled up to me.”

Claire: Nine Children

Claire and her partner

Claire and her partner

For another perspective on life as the Commander-In-Chief of a huge domestic army, meet MamaBaker, Claire. Her first three kids were born in two years, an incredibly stressful time. Louise remembers the tough times, but captures for us a beautiful moment at the other end of that baby stage, walking with her twenty-two year old daughter in Bali.

 Here’s Claire:

“I have given birth to nine children actually, six daughters and three sons, in the space of fourteen years and two months. I buried one daughter in 1994, after she was born five weeks early with a myriad of problems. She lived for fourteen hours and was child number four. The remaining children’s ages are twenty-three, twenty-two, twenty-one, seventeen, fourteen, thirteen, eleven and nine. I have one granddaughter aged fifteen months and another on the way. I have the youngest six still living with me.

I am the eldest of nine children and hadn’t actually planned on a large family but being brought up strict Catholic, it kinda just “happened”!

Claire's five youngest

Claire’s five youngest

I was married for seventeen years and have been now divorced for almost six years. Even whilst married, I had majority care of the children and since 2008 I have been on my own with all children 24/365. Their father has chosen not to be involved. Yes it’s been hard work and there have been struggles but I’m SO glad the kids are with me. Obviously it was very difficult to have any time away from the children when they were younger but in recent years as the elder ones got older, I had “built in babysitters”, so I would organise a few weekends away each year. They were my major breaks. In between I would go out with girlfriends on the occasional night out or coffee morning. I also took up Crossfit and while this sounds weird as self care, it really has become a fabulous outlet for me. It increased my self confidence and self esteem sky high, which in turn overflowed to my personal life. I LOVE that early morning workout, it sets me up for the day.”

 How much does your grocery shop cost every week and school lunches? How?

“As a result of Crossfit, we eat Primal/Paleo so our groceries seem sparse but it is 98% fresh food. Our grocery bill (for the seven of us currently in the house) is about $350 a week.

School lunches – I haven’t done them in years. All school kids have to organise their lunches the night before and I often cook extra dinner and make extra salad and put it all into small plastic containers so they can grab it quickly out of the fridge before school. The kids often cook Paleo cakes/slices to have as snacks along with fruit.”

..and the laundry?

“I do between 1-2 loads of washing a day. The kids organise that, by the way, as also the menu and they also do quite a bit of the grocery shopping. They made the mistake of informing me last year that my grocery shopping skills were crap so I promptly put them in charge of creating the menu and grocery shopping and they do a wonderful job. They also cook and clean.”

How do you get out of the door in the mornings?

“The kids set their own alarm and know what time they have to be out the door to the bus. They have to prepare their clothes and shoes the night before so there are NO last minutes hitches. I’ve taught them to take responsibility for their things over the years. I’ve been known to write notes to the teachers explaining that whomever doesn’t have shoes because THEY left them in the rain/didn’t put them away/left them at someone’s house. It’s the only way to teach them to look after their belongings.”

 What tricks do you use to make family life smooth?
“We cook in big batches all the time. In summer we eat a lot of BBQ’s with varieties of salad to keep it easy. In winter time we love casseroles or hot pots with various meats complimented with mashed sweet potato or occasionally, brown rice. As mentioned above our diet is very fresh and cooked extremely healthily so the simpler the better.”
In summary, what’s it really like?

“I’ve only ever known big families so I guess I just deal with it! I’m also ultra organised! I’ll be completely honest and tell you it’s bloody hard work when they’re young, especially as I had the first three in two years and two months. It was completely unplanned and I’d never do it again. (By the way, I did cloth nappies for 16 years straight too!) But as they grow older, it’s lovely to see them become independent and helpful. I recently travelled overseas with my eldest daughter (22) and it was an absolute pleasure. I secretly smiled to myself when we were walking single file in Bali, me behind her and every so often she turned and asked, “You okay, Mother?”.

I love how they look after me the few times I’ve been sick. They have been really helpful and supportive of me, especially as they’ve grown older and seen me do it all on my own. Earlier this year I met my soulmate and the kids are over the moon that he will be joining our family. He’ll be emigrating from England to join us soon, and has two kids of his own, so all up, we’ll have ten kids between us!”

Carmen: Eight Kids

Finally, we bring you MamaBaker, Carmen. She’s in a same sex relationship with Bek, and they share eight kids between them. Delegation and a buddy system keep Carmen’s houseful of Pescetarians (eat a mainly vegetarian diet with a bit of fish)running smoothly, and when the whole gang goes camping, it sounds like a gloriously crazy circus.

Here’s Carmen:

“We have eight kids in our family (two girls and six boys) Their ages are eighteen, sixteen, fourteen, eleven, eleven, eight, eight and six!

Twenty years ago, I was happy being a career woman with absolutely NO children on the horizon! I had a seven year gap between my first and second though! Finding myself as a sole parent with four children was never in my plans… so hooking up with another sole parent of four children was a VERY interesting step! We mostly take it in our stride though.

We are a great pair to be able to bounce everything off each other as a couple. The children are our lives really and that’s our focus. We certainly recognise that we deserve time out… and we get it regularly (yes, we are blessed) as a matter of importance, just to be able to continue each week.”

 How much does your grocery shop cost every week and school lunches? How?

“We are Pescetarian so we eat a mainly vegetarian diet with a bit of fish here and there. We bulk buy everything (we even have our own wholesale account at the local organic suppliers.) We grow some of our vegetables to supplement and we make everything we can from scratch! There is very little packaged food in our grocery shops… in fact, I struggle to find anything in our local supermarkets… It’s difficult to compare our weekly budget with that of other families as we live in a location that means we can afford to feed our family relatively easily and cheaply in the manner we choose.

I manage school lunches by delegating! The older children are responsible for lunches. They can bake and or prepare each lunchbox the night before to make things easier… for everyone. Now we just need to train the boys!”

..and the laundry?

“How many loads of laundry a day? Two on average! Unless we get slack. With a front loader washer, that can take FOREVER! We very very rarely use the dryer though!”

How do you get out of the door in the mornings?

We use delegation and a buddy system to make sure kids are responsible for each other. They do swap around. We get that you can have enough of dragging your feet after someone.

The shoes ALL live in front of the house. So they can find them all there! Mind you, at least one of the boys has managed to walk all the way home from school with only one shoe. I never DID find out what happened to it either! The older children are in high school and just so happen to have early starts on most of the school days (8:10am), this means if they want to be at school on time, they need to help out in the mornings with the routines. Oh and if they really want to help, make sure we get our coffee first!”

In summary, what’s it really like?

“What are the pros and cons of life with so many kids? Pros: always someone to hang out with, challenge, laugh, play, argue/debate, compare notes. Life is NEVER boring or predictable. Camping holidays are quite a party with our tent city. Cons: It’s rarely quiet in the house when the kids are home, life is complicated due to different needs and levels of need! Space is always at a premium (even now the eldest has moved out of home). We still need two cars to get anywhere as a full family but thankfully we rarely need that these days as their independence grows!”

 Final words from Rach:

Thanks Gerri, Claire and Carmen. Good organisation and a sense of humour shine through to us as key elements for managing a large family (and small ones too.) MamaBake HQ tips our hat to you, and we think those kids of yours are very lucky to have hit the mama-jackpot. Now go and have a little lie down please. MamaBake’s orders!

Big Batch Recipe for Large Families and MamaBakes!

MamaBake wouldn’t let these troop-leaders escape go without forking over a good big-batch recipe, so here’s Carmen’s big batch lentil Bolognaise recipe.


About Rachael Mogan McIntosh

Rachael Mogantosh

Rachael Mogantosh

Rachael Mogan McIntosh has three children under seven and just the one husband, with whom she lives on the Australian south coast. The chaos sometimes makes her eyes leak salty water, and her laundry rarely has the freshness of Scandinavia, but the people in her little house bring her enormous joy.

She finds motherhood very pleasing and endlessly comedic. It’s not easy. But neither is making a really nice croqembouche, and in her experience they both come with great rewards, although only one has custard.

Read more of her, here.



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