Managing a large family
My wife and I have six children. The youngest is 11, the oldest 20. In between there are teenagers - 13, 14, 16, 17. As anyone would expect, raising a family of this size poses challenges.
Try travelling with six children in tow. When the oldest was 10 and the others were significantly younger, my wife and I took them around the South East Asian region - Manila, Kuala Lumpur - and within Borneo we would travel in a car to Kota Kinabalu and Kuching, the capitals of Sabah and Sarawak respectively. We learned very quickly the cost of travelling on planes and preferred to fly on low cost, no frills airlines. Air Asia was and still is our favourite. It was the only way to fly 8 people out on a modest budget. But the logistics can be a nightmare as we had to consider several things before we even left the country for a holiday. Milk bottles. Diapers. The pram. The clothing. Where to eat, what to eat, what can and what cannot be done once we arrive in our destination. My wife is an excellent organiser in this area and takes no chances in preparing for any eventuality. I got the finance organised. I worked out how much it would cost for meals out and for entertainment. Money would be split between me and my wife. We learned to brief the kids. We told them where we would be going. They wouldn't know what to expect in those places of course but we always warned them that we should stay close together at all times. In Manila, this theory was put to the test. We went to Robinson's, a huge department store in Makati. There was an arcade.
As soon as the kids saw this, all hell broke loose! The kids ran, all in different directions and I was having a cold sweat!The place was full of people. In seconds, they were gone and I could not see their heads. The youngest was in my arms and there was no way I could look for them all on my own. I think my wife had gone to another section. What saved the day was that I was holding the tokens. Relief! As soon as they ran out of game tokens they came running back for more (now how did they find me?) and this was my best chance to tell them that I would be staying put in the same place and they were given instructions to come back to the same place. Did the 6 and 7 year olds understand my instructions given the noise levels around them and the temptations? Maybe not, but fortunately they all came back to daddy and nothing untoward happened.
Swimming time in the hotel. Never leave the kids unattended at the pool! If I had not been there, I would have lost my only son. He was 8 years old at the time. As soon as he saw the pool, he threw away the towel around his waist and jumped straight into a 2 metre pool! In seconds, he was waving his arms frantically in the water. I had not even changed. With my pants on I jumped in, held him and fortunately there was another person who helped to pull him out. It was close, too close!
It became a significant reminder to me and my wife that no matter what we say to small kids, a parent has got to be around at all times.
Another time we were in Singapore and we were trying to get inside a crowded train. I cast a quick eye on my wife and counted the number of kids. One, two, three, four, five ... Where's the sixth? Where's my son? The door was closing and he was still on the platform. It was too late to get out. I signalled to him that I would wait for him at the next station. Did he understand this? When we arrived at the next station, I kept an eye on the people as the train doors opened. Please Lord! And there he was walking nonchalantly at us as if nothing had happened. As parents you know the dreaded feeling when you don't see everyone accounted for. Even though he was fifteen when this happened, my wife and I can still recall the anxiety.
As the number of kids increased, we also changed cars. From the Toyota Kijang, a seven seater, we upgraded to a Korean-made Hyundai H1 which can fit all eight of us with space for luggage at the back of the car. I cannot forget each time I looked into the car mirror to see what was happening at the back. My kids grew! My son became uncomfortable having to rub shoulders with his sisters at the back. It was a sign that as the kids grew and needs changed, changes had to be made to our lifestyles.
My wife stopped work as soon as we had two children. In the beginning, we hired maids to help with the laundry and dishes but as soon as we felt they were old enough to do some housework, we stopped hiring external help and got the children to share in the housework. At first, I arranged the timetable and I did not entertain any questions. When they got to their teens I decided it was time for them to decide amongst themselves how they would split the work. We told them what work they had to do and the rest they would have to negotiate. This didn't always work perfectly. They might forget their duties or Mum would shout to get their attention but generally the work got done. They all learned to iron their own clothes and we taught them how to use the washing machine and the dryer.
FinanceWhen the kids were in primary school, my wife would normally pack their food for them. As they got older, I realise that they needed to learn to manage their own money. I give them a monthly allowance for school food and another allowance for things they may want to buy for themselves. How they spend it is up to them. It is interesting to hear their thoughts.
My youngest asked, "Do you think this is enough?" "Well, learn to use it well," I said.I observe how they spend their money. They need not ask me or their mother for permission. The money is theirs. They realise the school food allowance is perhaps just enough and it is difficult to save money from this. The other allowance is more discretionary in nature. They have a choice on what to spend. I notice they use this to go out with their friends to watch movies and I have also seen them using the money to buy story books of their own liking. They usually get a birthday cash gift from me and their aunts. This increases their overall money and provide them with more discretionary spending. Compared to the girls, my son spends much less and he tends to spend only if required. Giving them the freedom to decide how to spend their money teaches them to do the mathematics themselves - how to total things up, what change to expect and what to do with the balance. My youngest daughter's mental mathematics capability has increased considerably as a result.
They all have their own savings accounts. Upon reaching 18 I said I would hand over the account to them. I also said with freedom you will have more responsibility.
If there is one thing in the house that means the world to me and my wife, it has got to be the education bit. We are no tiger parents but we both believe in the importance of having a good education. Not just good results in school. But having the mind to think and make your own decision, to think things through before making a decision.
The children can see that with interest and effort in what they do, results will come. The younger ones see how the older ones work really hard in school and are now rewarded with places in universities studying the courses they want to study.
The groundwork for this has to be laid when the kids are born. My wife and I read regularly to them when they were young. We gave them some freedom to choose children's books they liked. We encouraged them to take part in debates, story telling competitions, writing competitions, dance and music. They enjoyed all this. We felt stretched but also felt that the activities were worth the time for their own development.
What we are still learning as parents
Love, humility, openness, forgiveness.
Each child is different. Each is endowed with special gifts. Each is special in his/her own way. As parents, my wife and I are aware of their differences but we also celebrate their differences. Each child is worthy of being loved. They are God's gifts to us.
As parents we don't have all the answers. We strive to learn from other parents amongst us and take in the good lessons.
We learn to talk to them. About their fears, their failures and also their achievements. They are more thoughtful these days, the things they say more nuanced. What is not spoken we understand. Parents feel this all the time. They can sense when their kids are ok or when they are not.
We also ask forgiveness from our kids. For the times when we were too busy to pay attention to them.
Our hope for them is that they will love us, remember us and the lessons we and life have taught them. Our hope is that they will bring joy and cheer to the lives of people they meet and make the world a slightly better place to live in. Seeing them grow up has brought us much joy.
P.S. I told them about beBee and how excited I am to be on this platform. I've even shared the articles I wrote with them. Future beBees maybe? :)
Front: Shoshanna, Syncletia, Stephania, Sibyllina, Seraphina.
Back: Vernon, Julnorris (my wife), me.