Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

Large Families

on August 15, 2016

When I was pregnant with my fifth child, I borrowed a book from the library about managing large families. I was very disappointed to discover that the book was talking about coping with two children. I thought: surely our definition of large families hasn’t been so much reduced! If two is large then one must be small, and there isn’t much scope for anything else! What’s three? Super-sized?

I don’t want to minimize how hard it is to have two children, but having more than the normal 2.4 kids takes different management. The more children, the more highly-organised you have to be. So ways of managing large families may seem overly-regimented to those with smaller families.

Probably the hardest number of children to adjust to is one. That first child throws your whole life into disarray as he or she forcibly brings about what you will be considering the “new normal” for the next 18 years. Or 25. Or whatever.

For us, a second child was not so difficult to add. He just seemed to fit into our template of couple and small children. Number three was a different kettle of fish, we think, because suddenly there were not enough adults to go around. I vividly remember the day when I was changing the baby’s nappy (diaper – Ed.) on the floor near where the two toddlers were drinking soup at the table. The baby started screaming because of the nappy. Suddenly our four-year-old noticed that her little brother had a rubber band around his wrist and reached over to prevent his hand dropping off (she was a dramatic child), knocking over her hot soup in the process. Four-year-old starts screaming. Two-year-old joins in either because he thought his hand was going to drop off or because he was going to lose his rubber band. In the space of a few minutes a pleasant, organised little family had turned into complete chaos and THEY ALL NEEDED ME AT ONCE.

1 large family2


By this stage we had to learn some new tricks fast, so by the time we got to four it was a doddle. There were still enough adult hands for one per child. By the time five came along there were some older kids to share the load. And with number six, I practically had to fight to get time with him. Just as well I was breastfeeding.

I decided at one stage to formulate some rules of parenting that I was absolutely sure of. I only had one rule for the first few years – always take the baby’s bootees off when changing a nappy. I’m still sure of that one. When I had two toddlers I added another – buy the same flavour ice-cream for both kids. That one has kind of gone out the window now that they all know about the other flavours. Later on, we decided to make a rule that you can’t come to the dinner table naked, but it doesn’t seem so relevant now that we don’t have toddlers. So I still only have one sure-fire rule. But I do have some ideas that worked for us.

Perhaps my most important realization was that when things are turning to custard, I am the one who has the power to change things. Not the kids, me. I’m the one with the life experience, the big picture, and the power. I can decide to do things differently. We don’t have to go to the library just because it is library day. We can have sandwiches for dinner. We don’t have to do just one more errand today. I can write this article tomorrow. We don’t have to get out all the paints. I can have this conversation later (I know this will date me terribly, but with the advent of cordless phones, there was a seismic shift in communication with small kids around. All of a sudden you could have just one phone call, not a series of 30 second calls interrupted by “I’ll call you back, little one has just sat on the cat/pulled the stuffing out of the chair/fallen down the steps…”) .

1 large family

In a large family, the kids learn early about taking turns, and it is a great argument-saver (and reward system) for the parents too. The kids can take turns sitting in the front seat, going to get the groceries with Dad, saying grace, having the blue cup, and so on. Some families assign each child a day of the week when they get to have all these treats at once! When we had four children we even had routines for who stood where around the pram. There were two handholds so the walking children had their own. Baby in the pram, toddler in the seat, everyone latched on and off we went. We had “the way we do things”, from crossing roads to sitting down for dinner, to climbing trees and choosing videos.
Of course each child is different, and there has to be a balance between routine and flexibility. To me, the organisation and the routines are the structure on which you can hang the variations which each child requires. The children are treated differently according to their ages, capabilities, personalities, and needs; and the family routine changes to reflect this. The guidance each child requires is different. Some of my children were very motivated to change their behaviour by being told off once, but some needed to do everything at least twice, even for very serious things such as shutting yourself into a wardrobe with your little sister and lighting matches. Some of them loved star charts and lists of things to do; one would only be motivated by money. Some would consider having to talk to a stranger a cruel and unusual punishment, others would consider it a treat. We try to have “dates” with each child individually so that they get one-on-one time with each parent. Tandem feeding was also a way of meeting the needs of each new big brother or sister to not quite give up being the baby, and help them to accept the new little one who was feeding on “the other side”. I have lovely memories of the toddler holding the baby’s hand as they both fed.

Have a bag for every activity. Swimming, soccer, music lessons, LLL meetings, errands, general going-out bag with nappies, change of clothes, toys, snacks. That way you can just grab it and go. Once the togs or soccer socks are washed, they can just go back in the bag. If you are really organised you restock it after each trip. If you are not really organised at least the things which are only used for that activity have a place to go and you won’t be hunting for the swimming goggles or the dreaded Cub woggle all over the house every week. You put your stuff in them too – the bills to pay and the parcel to post in your errands bag, the library book to return in your LLL bag. I have a friend who uses flexible plastic tubs in the back of the car for the same thing.
Teaming the children up works best in particularly large families, or perhaps in families with a big age range, so that older children can be paired with younger ones for routines such as the morning rush. We used it on adventures such as long train trips, when we would buddy up the children to look after each other in the stations. We also used it for household chores, pairing a child who already knew how to clean the bathroom with an apprentice.


children at play

Keeping everything in a diary has made such a difference. BD (Before Diary) I was always forgetting appointments, library books, birthdays … Now it is a family emergency if my diary goes missing. I write in all the routine events as well as the appointments and extras that come up, when bills are due; birthdays, as well as ideas for presents and when I have to have bought and posted them; the date for that class I am taking in two weeks, as well as the time I need to set aside to plan for it; everything.

In the back of my diary are everyone’s bank account numbers, IRD numbers, cell phone numbers, all the things that I don’t want to search through a filing cabinet for. I look in my diary many times every day, and think of it as my extra brain that remembers mundane details while I am busy remembering the name of Thomas the Tank Engine’s sidekick. The other day when we were facing a day of two fundraising events, two soccer games, an opening ceremony, a birthday party, and running a teenagers’ skating trip, my teenaged son got out the blackboard and we all made a chart of exactly who had to be where, when, and with what. It worked beautifully!

Our family started off as a small family (there’s no other way, unless you begin with quads), and its dynamics and routines have changed with it. There was the “growth” stage, where we were adding more children, and life was filled with small child activities and preoccupations. Everywhere I went I had to take all the children with me, like a row of little ducklings. There was a huge change when the eldest reached an age where she could be left at home, and then when she could babysit others. Suddenly we could all do different things at the same time, which required a whole new set of management tricks. Then we transitioned into a six-child family of teenagers and children, with different dynamics, and the baby spending lots of time at the soccer field and being passed around groups of teenagers. And now, after years of babies and preschoolers, we are at the stage of having children leaving home, and only one child under 10. Life has a very different focus.

I usually think of my six-child family as a medium-sized family, and admire mothers who manage their eight or ten. I am often surprised when people think six is a lot. It has become my norm, so I think of it as a norm for everyone else too. Until I read a book which considers two children to be a big family.


by Carolyn Driver-Burgess,
Used with Permission from La Leche League New Zealand, Aroha

If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to an accredited La Leche League Leader. In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking or Internationally

If you have found this article helpful, La Leche League Canada would appreciate your support in the form of a donation at so we can continue to help others breastfeed. Thank you!





Your Comments are Welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: