A new series offers a fascinating insight into bigger families that reveals how both the parents and children cope.
As anyone who’s ever seen The Sound of Music will know, large groups of wailing children are annoying. The von Trapps’ wailing is more tuneful than most, although, let’s be honest, still pretty irritating. But for the parents of last night’s 15 Kids and Counting (Channel 4), a new three-part series on Britain’s most over-sized families, chaperoning a mere seven siblings must look like a walk in the Alps.
The documentary’s title referred to Sue and Noel Radford, with their 15th child on the way and no plans to stop at that. Family life was predictably rowdy. "It’s mad living in this house. You never get peace – if you do, you’re lucky," said one of their young sons, sounding as though he’d aged a decade for every new addition his mother had popped out.
The logistics were mind-boggling. The school run required a minibus. Putting dinner together was like running a school canteen – seven kilos of potatoes just about stretched. Indeed, the baffled check-in lady for their flight to Lanzarote seemed to think she was dealing with a school trip. You wondered why they didn’t register the house as an academy.
The opening episode focused on the parents, which was a shame as the snippets we did hear from the children were far more intriguing. You certainly felt sorry for the little ones, more frequently referred to by number in the course of a panicked roll-call than by name. Oddly enough, for all the monumental sacrifices they’d made in raising sports team-sized families alone, the parents’ compulsive need for more and more kids made them seem self-centred, and tedious company.
The obvious question was why anyone would do this to themselves. One explanation floated was that both parents had been adopted, and when pressed they did seem to carry a lot of emotional baggage about their biological parents. This was touching, but if only someone had suggested an easier way to show dedication to their offspring – a nice bumper sticker, perhaps?
The other family featured had a more traditional rationale. The cameras followed as the Sullivans triumphantly returned from hospital with new-born twins – thereby increasing their total to a paltry 11 – before settling down to their customary evening’s gospel study. Both committed Christians, they insisted every new child is a pre-ordained blessing from God. The children were home-educated too, because in schools "there are things like bringing in early sex education for the very young ones – we don’t agree with that". Not surprising really, given the worry that the children might be shown a picture of their own family when being taught the perils of failing to use birth control.