Oh the dreamy summer days....the sound of my teenage step-daughter swinging in the hammock with her toddler sister, the baby perched on her bouncy chair, surveying her half-brother and his friend playing football, my husband hanging out the washing whilst I get dinner, and the sound of music drifting on the breeze whilst my eldest step-daughter reads....
When I was a child, I used to dream of both having and being in a big family. I had only one sister and longed to have more siblings and, growing up, came to believe that big families were innately happier than smaller ones. I had a vision of family that included my own and 'adoption' of other children, in whatever form, of big age ranges and an enormous house in the country to contain the happy chaos of multiple children.
Now my weekends and holidays are full with a minimum of 5 children at any one time when my husband’s teenage children come and stay – often accompanied by an assortment of friends and cousins along for the ride. It has been such a joy to see the way in which they have embraced their two younger siblings and I joke that I hardly see anything of my toddler all weekend, such are the opportunities for her to play with the older kids. Screeches of laughter accompany the sound of jumping on the sofa or the trampoline, little feet wobbling around in older teenager’s high heels and the sweet voice of my daughter asking her computer-obsessed brother if he will go and play Playdoh with her.
I have a theory that more children is actually easier than fewer. In a big family, everyone mucks in and keeps everyone entertained. My middle stepdaughter is a wonderful babysitter to my toddler and I have no qualms about entrusting her care to her older sibling. She’s wise and sensible and fun to be with and my toddler adores her and her other half-siblings. And the fact that she is centre of attention when they come to stay creates ample space for me and my husband to relax and do what I enjoy over the weekend too!
I believe also in the importance of multi-generational living, or at least spending quality time, together. My parents and my husband’s parents are regular and frequent attendees in our children’s lives and, as outlined in other blog posts, are crucial to enabling my husband and I to continue our work and parenting journey. Whilst it’s a cliché to admit that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, diverse perspectives and ages, along with colours and cultures, are important for me to expose my children to.
My eldest daughter walked at a relatively early age (10 months) and I’m sure that had much to do with having older siblings. Additionally she is being exposed to music that neither my husband nor I know much about so that, in complement to the inevitable nursery rhymes and children’s songs she is learning, she frequently requests Mika and Adele to dance to, as well as waking up to Vivaldi streaming through the house. It is a childhood rich in multiple and diverse influences.
As family structures shift to include later marriage, blended families and opportunities for inter-generational living, it's a joy to see the possibilities this can open up in helping to raise warm, inclusive and open families.
Mum, stepmum and honorary foster mum. Passionate about fulfilling the potential of all the world's children - both big and little. Serial entrepreneur and life traveller now living in Paris. www.carolinewatson.org