I’m the eldest of 8 kids, here’s what I’ve learned about parenting a big family

Posted in Family.

I’m the eldest of eight kids. Amongst us, there are three different mums and three different dads. Surprisingly, I had an un-confused childhood – it was just confusing for everyone else!

In short, I have one brother, one ‘half’ sister, three step-brothers and two step-sisters.

I’ll break it down for you- hope it doesn’t break your brain!

My mum and dad had two kids. When they divorced, they each married a new partner, both of whom had their own kids (two for one and three for the other). Then my mum and stepdad had a child of their own when I was nine years old. This meant I now had a grand total of seven siblings, me being the eldest of eight kids under 10.

 Large family in the kitchen

We all had different living arrangements, which saw myself (the eldest) and the youngest sister of the tribe being the only full-time kids of my everyday household, with the other siblings coming to stay at different times. And of course, I went to stay with my dad, step-mum and step-brothers sometimes as well. It was some pretty impressive organised chaos, I must say. 

See? Not confusing at all

To me, they are all just my siblings. No halves, no steps. Just brothers and sisters in this crazy, blended family. This was my normal, and always will be. But it wasn’t always easy.

Weekends and school holidays, for example, could see our house suddenly swell from four members to eight overnight.

As the eldest of this motley crew, there are many things I recall from our childhood that my siblings don’t even remember. Like the fact that nobody but me was ever made to wash the dishes (they were too little. Yes, even my step sister, who was only three months younger than me); or babysit the younger siblings (they were too young); or hang out the washing (they weren’t tall enough).

Apparently, I was the only one old, tall or responsible enough.

What I’ve learned

As a mum of two kids myself now, there are a few things I learned from my time as the eldest of eight. In particular, there are things I have decided I will not do with my own kids, no matter how many I have.

Maybe they might help your blended family too?

Don’t make your eldest child more responsible than the younger kids

It didn’t matter the night or the crowd; when there were dishes to be done, I had to do them. The rest of the kids got to share the task of drying and putting away the huge load I had single-handedly washed.

All I’m saying is, the resentment, anger and sense of unfairness in the world was real for me. I developed a deep hatred for washing dishes, and resentment towards my parents and siblings because younger kids can do WAY more than parents think. Just ask their older siblings if you want the truth. Little layabouts.

At 16, I moved out and avoided washing my own dishes. Dishes are dead to me, man.

Older sister helping younger sister with game

Don’t make your eldest babysit ALL the kids, all the time

I began my babysitting career at the age of nine when my youngest sister was born. Both my mum and step-dad had multiple jobs each to make ends meet, as well as night-time jobs as members of a band. They needed care for their newest kiddo – and I was it. At first, it was just a couple of hours here and there so they could get the shopping done, or set up for a gig.

But by the time I was 14, I didn’t have a weekend or afternoon to myself because I was babysitting. Often, our parents weren’t home till daylight, and I could be found asleep in the lounge after having cooked for, fed, bathed and put to bed up to five mini siblings, and collapsed on the couch in exhaustion.

All I’m saying is, it’s too much for a child. Even a responsible, tall, teenage one. Limit how much you make your eldest babysit their siblings. The resentment I built up about this over the next few years drove me away from the whole family, moving out at 16 to escape the babysitting (and the dishes).

Bad mouthing the other mum/dads

Hey, divorce is hard. I totally get it and let me tell you right now, so do your kids. But the feelings a child has to process when one parent speaks ill of the other aren’t things young kids should have to deal with.

All I’m saying is, keep that shit to yourself.

Don’t expect them to ‘love’ each other right away 

Getting to know an entire set of ‘new siblings’ isn’t something that all kids find easy. It’s like entering a playground where everyone knows each other, and you’re the new kid. Maybe you’ve got your little bro there for some support. Maybe you don’t (because he lives with Dad, and you live with Mum).

 It takes time for kids to build up a rapport, get to know each other and gently, ever so gently, think of each other as siblings. Thrusting them together and expecting them to act like brother and sister after a few short weeks or months is unfair. Give the kids some time, space to be themselves with each other, and they’ll figure it out. They don’t have to ‘love’ each other. But they will learn to tolerate, maybe even like and THEN possibly love each other. It’s really the best you can hope for.

Don’t forget the one-on-one time

Every kid needs time with both mum and dad. Every kid needs to know they’re special enough, even amongst eight needy, noisy kids, to spend one-on-one time with. They get you’re busy. They get you’re tired. They are too, with all these extra kids around, and they just want their mum. Or dad, as the case may be.

 I wish I had more time alone with my mum and dad. And even with my step-mum and step-dad. One-on-one time is so important for your parent-child bond. As an adult – this DOES spill over into my adult relationships with all of my parents. Those who spent time with me as a child, are the ones I feel understand and know me best.


And a couple of little last-minute points to make

School stuff as Christmas presents

I know it’s hard to be able to afford all that stuff for each child (boy, do I know now). But just one special gift that means something to them, and them alone is all it takes. They WILL remember the years of receiving pencil cases and school skirts as gifts, while their friends (and quite often, step-siblings) received new scooters, bikes, etc. Take it from me.

Don’t move into your new stepdad’s place on your kid’s birthday and expect them to like it

Hey, shit happens and timing sucks sometimes. But ye gods – if your moving day is also your seven-year-old’s birthday, DO make them feel special. My own inner seven-year-old just begs you to do this. Please.

In closing, my life’s mantras are “f– the dishes” and also, “don’t make the eldest kid do all the hard stuff”.

I’ve gotten better at the dishes over the years – hey, I’m a mum of two and someone’s got to do them, right?

But I never make my eldest kiddo do all the hard stuff. Her little brother is perfectly capable of lots of that stuff too.

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