2:26pm Tuesday 27th January 2009
By Jackie Storer
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have six. Victoria and David Beckham currently have three. But why would couples who do not have the multi-million pound resources that celebrities have, choose to have more than two children?
After all, the world is set up for two parents and two kids. Tables are set for four. Most cars can only fit two child seats. Even family rooms in hotels are designed for mum, dad and two offspring.
And then there is the expense. In 2006, a survey by financial services provider Liverpool Victoria suggested that the cost of bringing up a child from birth to their 21st birthday had risen to £180,137.
For some families the rate for childcare is prohibitive — on average about £152 a week for a child under two — and often means at least one parent, usually the mother, having to give up work to raise her brood.
There is even an environmental argument against having more than two children.
According to the Optimum Population Trust, families should limit themselves to two youngsters, as introducing more people into a finite space increases competition and decreases access to resources.
So why do we make life more difficult for ourselves? Why not stick to what is expected of us by keeping the numbers down, thereby reducing the expense, the hassle, the critical looks and the endless sleepless nights?
We spoke to three Oxfordshire mums, who know only too well the problems of raising umpteen children, but say the joys of having a large family certainly outweigh the pitfalls.
Former English teacher Anna Tamblin, 36, says having four children under five-years-old is hard work — but it is often other people's perception of her decision that is more difficult to overcome.
"I think some people find it strange to have such a large family and so close together," said Anna, who is married to Steve, head of PE at St Birinus Boys’ School in Didcot.
"You do get comments like 'are they all your children?' which is odd, as I think they all look alike.
"I don't think people believe anyone would choose to have more than one or two children — it is something that happens to them, rather than a plan."
For the Tamblins, having a family was always on the agenda —though the number was not entirely a decision down to them.
After Sophie, aged four, came twins Emma and Elodie, aged two-and-a-half, and then six-month-old James, a welcome addition.
"We were shocked when we had the twins in terms of 'how were we going to manage?' and certainly weaning was the worst," said Anna, who lives in Childrey.
"But I was still very broody after I had the girls — and now I am not. I say James was a surprise, but clearly he couldn't have been because we never got rid of any of the baby equipment. Now anytime something is finished with, it leaves the house.
"I don't think we were looking for a child of a different gender particularly — it was more about the number of children.
"I think they benefit so much from being in a large group — it's that constant party feeling. There's a lot more learning experience, a lot more fun to be had."
But having a large family comes with its restrictions. "I can't go out to lunch with the children because if one of them needs the toilet, we all have to go," said Anna.
"And some people don't invite you around to their house because you've got four children — they think it’s too much chaos."
For solicitor Emma Gilmour, 38, having one or two children was never a choice — because when the time came, she gave birth to triplets.
"It was a surprise, especially as I was initially told I was expecting twins," said Emma, whose daughters Eve, Grace and Lily are now aged six.
"When we thought there were two babies, everyone was really positive and said 'how lovely'. When it turned out to be three, the attitude changed and it was, 'how will you cope, you poor thing'."
But cope she did. For Emma, who was studying to qualify as a lawyer when she had the girls, managed to secure the highest marks among more than 1,400 full and part-time students at the country's biggest law college.
Now a part-time solicitor at Morgan Cole in Oxford, she says the early years were the hardest.
"I think life is easier if you have two children, because everything is geared up for that number," she said.
"When you have triplets, everything is specialist and you end up having to look on American websites because they are the only ones who cater for it.
"The price of a buggy suddenly goes up from £200 to £800 when you have three. Only one supermarket near me has a shopping trolley with three baby seats.
"I can't take the girls swimming on my own because you are only allowed to take two children."
But Emma, who lives in Chilton, near Didcot, with husband Stan, says she believes the children benefit from being triplets.
"The girls learnt to ride their own bikes really early on because I made everything a competition," she said. "They can swim and they get on really well. They also have permanent playmates."
IT manager Natasha Heaton says she was a teenager when she first realised she would like to have three children. “I think it is because I came from two and quite liked the idea of being one of three,” said the 37-year-old mother of Scarlett, six, Indianna, three, and ten-month-old Delphine.
“After I had Indianna, I didn't feel glad the baby years were over — and now I know I don't want another baby.
“Having three makes you realise you can't do everything on your own — you definitely need your partner to help. Shopping is impossible with a pushchair, a basket and trying to keep an eye on two other children. I now do most of it online.
“And why do shops often keep children's shoes and maternity clothes upstairs? Childcare is very expensive too. Luckily, where I work the childcare is hugely subsidised.”
But Natasha, who lives with James, an information security consultant, in Wantage, says she believes having three children has changed her personality — for the better.
“I am very ordered, so at first the chaos-thing didn't work particularly well for me,” she said. “But having the children has meant I have had to relinquish control and I think that is a good thing, because it has made me more relaxed.”
And she believes the best is yet to come. “I think they are going to have a fantastic time. Being sisters is something really special — it is a relationship you just don't have with anybody else.”
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