Family life is busy and exhausting, and that’s just with two, maybe three kids. Any more and most parents would start to hyperventilate. But not so for Jeni Bonell, the amazing mother of 16 children, who says she feels blessed to have such a large family and wouldn’t want it any other way.
Why have so many children?
Jeni never thought she’d have a big family. In fact, she never even wanted to have children, but clearly, the situation changed somewhere along the way.
“A lot of women say they have a moment where they think, ‘Yes, I’m absolutely done and I’m happy with where I am,’” says Jeni. “I’ve always been very grateful for each child that we’ve had, but I’ve never had that feeling yet. I’ve always been thinking, ‘This kid’s just so amazing, and I love them so much, I wonder what the next one might be like?'”
Listen to Jeni Bonell on Feed Play Love:
Practicalities of daily life
Naturally, a larger family requires a few custom-made changes around the home.
“We’ve obviously put an extension on our house at one point,” she says. “I think we had five children in a two-bedroom house to start with, and then we did an extension – and by that stage, we thought we might have a few more, maybe three or four. We accommodated for that, and in the meantime, we’ve put in a lot of bunk beds.”
The family car has progressed in a similar way. “We started with the Tarago, we moved up to the Hiace, and then we went up to the big 16-seater bus,” laughs Jeni.
Excuse me. You have how many children?
Jeni admits that outsiders are fascinated by her family; however, she doesn’t mind because she is equally fascinated by large families, what they do, and how they manage things.
“I like to read and watch other big families as well, probably from a slightly different perspective because we’re we’ve already got a big family,” she says. “I have the same fascination, so it’s fine.”
However, when the whole family is out and about, people tend to stare. “Sometimes I’ll get one of the little kids to come over, and they’ll tap me on the shoulder, and they’ll say, ‘Mum, they’re counting us again,’” she laughs.
How do you cope with pregnancy?
Having 16 children means that Jeni has spent a lot of time being pregnant and dealing with morning sickness, but clearly, she can cope.
“Physically, I think some women are made to have these families, and some are not and obviously because I’ve been blessed with this many children, I was one of the lucky ones that were made to have a big family,” she says.
However, Jeni has found that she’s made various emotional adjustments and has learnt a lot on the way.
“I’ve learned more patience as I’ve gone along,” she says. “I’ve learned leadership skills; I’ve learned how to organise and manage a crowd.”
Sticking to a budget
Caring for a large family does not come cheaply, and Jeni stresses the importance of adhering to a strict budget.
“I don’t think you could run a family that size without a good budget and it does get tight from time to time,” she says. “But my husband Ray does an amazing job at supporting us all … and I guess it’s all about priorities and what you want to spend your money on. We consider our kids’ education and those kinds of things the most important, so that’s where our funds normally go.”
You would think there’d be little time to connect with each child, but Jeni is adamant that she makes time each day for each one. “It’s about prioritising and being intentional with your time,” she says. “I’ll find any opportunity to spend some time with each child each day, it could just simply be, you know, one of the younger kids holding the peg basket for me while I’m at the washing line and we can have a little chat while we’re out there, or one or two can come on a grocery run with me, it might be a late-night chat with a teenager.”
However, when it comes to fussy eating, Jeni has no time at all. “One meal gets made, if you don’t like what’s on the menu, we might adjust a little bit, leave the sauce off or something like that, but other than that you’re welcome to have some toast and noodles or some cereal and that’s it.”
Organisation is the key
What with three huge loads of washing to do every day and umpteen costumes to make for Book Week, it would be hard to take a break. And if you did take a holiday, would it be relaxing with 16 children? Well, the whole family recently did go on holiday, and surprisingly Jeni found time to relax, especially as she organised the entire holiday in advance online.
“It took all the stress out of it,” she says. “So, I could actually go, and I got time to watch a movie with the hubby, and we had a swim in the pool, and it was really nice, I totally enjoyed it.”
Organisation plays a vital role in managing her clan, but even Jeni, who must be the most organised mum in Australia, has her doubts. “Like the other mums out there, I’m thinking I wish I were like them, I wish I was more organised,” she says. “But I think life is messy and you’ve got to stay a bit flexible, and if you have too many rules and regulations, then you can’t stop and enjoy yourself.”