Do we judge mums with large families?

large family
large family 

When I pass a mum of many in the street, I can’t help but wonder how she does it.

As they push their double prams with older kids tagging along each side, these mums make my life with two little ones seem breezy.

While I’m gliding past these mums with my compact single stroller and toddler scooter combo, I smile ... but I’m also silently questioning their sanity.

Perhaps, though, these mums can see straight through my smile.

Alison Henderson, a mum of four, says: "Strangers tend to get a look on their faces that says 'you're insane'." Currently expecting a fifth child, Henderson says some family members greeted her exciting news in a rather unexciting way: "oh, you’re not having another one, are you?"

But it’s the repeatedly asked questions she finds most rude: "How do you afford it?", "This baby will walk out, how do you feed them?" and "Do you love them all?"

Another mum of four, Alison Benson, says she's realises that "most people are amazed at how we cope, and probably wonder why we do it". But she's also grown tired of the questions, and feels particularly judged in the workplace - there, colleagues and clients have asked her questions ranging from the awkward ("Don’t you have a TV?") to the very awkward ("You know what causes this, don’t you?").

While large families are the norm in traditional societies, Baby Love author Robin Barker notes that "large families in western societies have been subjected to comments ranging from awe to ridicule for decades".

And it’s because we have a choice, she says - with the introduction of reliable contraception and improvements in our standard of living, "more and more women started finding other things to do rather than marry and have babies".

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While women now have a choice, for some the perfect choice is still motherhood – many times over. Marisa Giorgi, who is now pregnant with her fourth child, says being a mum is her purpose in life: "I never thought I’d have four kids, but I'm happy for each and every one of them."

Giorgi was 24 years old when she lost her own mum, and says this loss impacted on how she feels about family. "Maybe I felt a void deep down and that's why I chose to have a big family. I'm not sure what started it, but as time went on it felt right," she says.

Kim Langsworth, a mum of five, says she understands why people express shock at the size of her family. "Obviously children are hard work and expensive ... but I run my own race," she says.

And motherhood is a race she’s been running since she was 17 years old. "I was young, uneducated and without family support, but it was the right decision for me. I had my first because I felt everyone needed a family," she says. "I had been adopted into a crappy family and never really fit in, so figured the only family I would have would be my own."

Langsworth notes that she's found other factors can influence how large families are judged. "I think more judgement comes towards where you are placed in life - if you're young without much money or a good job and have five kids, you would be judged poorly compared to those who are older, married and can afford to send all the kids to private schools."

Robin Barker agrees that circumstances can alter the way people see large families. Couples who can care for a large family are quite different to couples who have more babies than they can handle, particularly those who need long-term support from family, friends or government agencies, she says.

For most mums of many, though, Barker feels that the off-the-cuff comments and questions are usually more about admiration than judgement. "So many middle class professional people these days seem to find child-raising so difficult that the idea of more than one or two makes them feel quite faint," she says.

Yes, I admit the idea of more than two does make me feel faint.

So to the mums of many I pass in the street, I apologise if my smile doesn’t quite mask the questioning look on my face. But really, the question running through my mind is more a reflection of my own limits than your decisions.

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