'I have seven children, I wake up exhausted every morning... but I don't know if I'm done yet' - Irish blogger (41)
Jen Hogan (41) is an author, blogger and part-time civil servant. She and her husband, Paul, have seven children - Chloe (16), Adam (13), Jamie (11), Luke (9), Zach (7), Tobey (4) and Noah (2)
I wake up exhausted every morning. I have seven children - the eldest is 16, and the youngest is two. We haven't got to the stage where we get a full night's sleep. Without fail, Noah, our youngest, comes into our bed every single night. It's not that I'm an intentional co-sleeper - rather, I'm a great believer in whatever gets you the most sleep.
I never ignored my babies crying. I think that the theories about controlled crying are pure cruelty. It's very upsetting to hear those cries. They are babies, and so dependent on you. Nature intended for you to respond to their needs. You learn to recognise the difference between a child giving out and being desperately upset.
I don't mind Noah coming in for cuddles, but he feeds constantly and wakes up. I'm still breastfeeding. Life has been so hectic that I haven't had the time to wean him. But I plan to do it soon. That's where my husband, Paul, will come on board. I will move out of the bed, temporarily, and then, if I'm not there, our boy will be less inclined to look for me to breastfeed, which will help with the weaning process.
In an ideal world, the alarm goes off at 6.30am. Paul and I will try and get ourselves organised before the kids get up at 7am. They start to filter down for breakfast after that. But if I'm honest, there are lots of mornings where I'm still in bed and they are dragging us out, and I'm saying, 'Give me five more minutes, please'. Sometimes you've had such a bad night that you struggle to get up.
I always wanted to have a large family. I had this idea that it'd be fantastic. I don't know where this came from, because I never held a baby until I held my first child, and I come from a family of four.
Some people assume that I had such a large family because I'm a devout Catholic, but that's not the case. I just always liked the idea of it. After Chloe, my first, came along when I was 24, I had terrible postnatal depression, but I still really wanted to have more children. People look at me and imagine that I just churned them out, but life doesn't work like that. I had several miscarriages between the children. All those experiences make me appreciate my life now.
The third child was the hardest to adjust to because it was the first time that I had more children than hands. The workload is huge - when you think of food, washing and housework. You wouldn't want to be house-proud with seven children. There is this urban myth that they rear themselves - they do not! I think people say that so that they can come to terms with the numbers in their own minds. They don't rear each other, but they have each other as friends, which is a great thing.
In the mornings, the trick is to have everybody's clothes laid out from the night before. Often you don't feel like doing this because you are too tired, but it lessens the chaos. Inevitably, someone will be missing a shoe or a jumper. The school is within spitting distance for the young ones, so they walk, and then the others get the bus to their school. Paul cycles to work, because it's quicker. That means he can spend more time at home in the mornings. He's a bank manager.
I work part-time as a civil servant, and then I'm home for 1pm. That's when my childminder finishes work. She looks after the youngest two - one of them is in Montessori - and she has only ever minded two at a time. I've always worked. It was important for me to go back to work, because I found motherhood very isolating. When I get in from work, I clear up the breakfast dishes and start on lunch.
The big thing with having seven kids is that they are all different. Some of them are fussy eaters, and one of the boys would eat you, if you stood there long enough. I try to present the same vegetables in different ways, to coax them into eating them. The older ones come in around a quarter to three, and then it's snack time. Afternoons are for activities and homework. They get changed into their gear, and off we go. We have different things on different days - kung fu, basketball, speech and drama, and piano. I try to get value for money and time, so some classes overlap. Homework is always a battle, and the minute Paul comes in from work, he helps out. We always have dinner together. With Paul, it's another pair of hands to dish up.
I'm about to take a career break to concentrate on writing. I began a blog when I was on maternity leave with Noah. I felt that I had plenty to say about parenting. There are professionals who give wonderful advice, but when you live through it all, you have real knowledge. I wanted to cut through the bull. Doing the blog led to my book - The Real Mum's Guide to Surviving Parenthood. The plan is to write when the kids are out.
In the evenings, when the kids have finally gone to bed, Paul is usually in the kitchen making lunches, and I'm trying to find matches of socks for the next day. After that, we watch a comedy.
The upside is that we have two teenagers who can mind the kids if we want to go out at the weekend. It's important to have time together, because we are the backbone of the family. Sometimes we are so stressed and tired that we could kill each other.
The lovely thing about having a large family is having to meet the needs of a two-year-old and a 16-year-old. There are so many moments of joy. Paul would have the vasectomy talk in the morning, but I don't know if I'm done yet.
In conversation with Ciara Dwyer. For more of Jen's work, see mama-tude.com, @mama_tude, and 'The Real Mum's Guide to Surviving Parenthood' by Jen Hogan, €14.99