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'There's never a dull moment with seven'

Case Study

"We never sat down and decided to have a big family; it just happened," says mum-of-seven Trish Gannon. "My husband Anthony is an only child, while I have three sisters. The biggest jump was from two to three; after that, it's not so bad. If you're doing things for six, one more just blends in. The kids are 16, 14, 12, 10, 9, 7 and 5. I think we're done now, though. I'm 37 and lots of mums are only having their first at that age, so I'm blessed."

"The best thing is that there's never a dull moment. You get to experience all the 'firsts' over and over like first steps and words. They're great with each other and they learn from each other; there's always someone to play with and they learn to solve disagreements."

Schedules can be chaotic. "Dinners have to be done at a certain time. We might have three in dancing, one in football and one in stage school. There's a lot of time-tabling."

As if she didn't have enough to do, Trish also works as a special needs assistant in a primary school.

She adds: "Having seven is expensive and even going to the cinema takes a lot of organising if we want to sit together. It's teamwork, really."

We often jokingly say, "The more the merrier!" if we're having a party, or getting together a group on an outing, but is it really merrier if you have more all of the time?

As the economy improves, bigger families are making a comeback. Having babies is vital for any society. With an increasing older population, we need lots of mini-taxpayers to pay for elder care and health costs in the future. In countries with falling fertility rates, they have to encourage women to have more babies for this very reason. France offers bonus payments for a third child; Sweden has state-sponsored year-long maternity leave.

Ireland's history of big families is inextricably linked with the Catholic church. As late as the '70s contraception was banned, women were expected to continue churning out babies every year. According to the CSO, there were 20,000 households with 10 or more in the family in 1971. By 1996 it had dropped to 3,000. At the last census in 2011, there were just 912.

Laura Erskine, mum-in-residence for MummyPages.ie says: "Many of our mums have in fact made the conscious decision to have a small family of two children because of the prohibitive childcare costs and rising university fees. Some of our mums who get pregnant with their third are asked if it was planned and those who have four or more are deemed crazy or questioned as to whether they watch television - with the underlying inference that they must amuse themselves with just sex.

"The reality of those families who do have four or more children is that it is most rewarding, that there are economies of scale, and that they do indeed own a television. The only pitfall it seems is that it is difficult for both parents to maintain a career, particularly in the early years.

"Some might see that as a sacrifice while others view it as their life purpose, either way it would be nice to have greater support from the state and employers so that career is a choice available to both parents of larger families," says Laura.

Research by Laya Healthcare has shown that 31pc want a 'big' family but cost puts them off. So, what are the plusses and minuses of having lots of kids? n Each extra child doesn't cost double. Hand-me-downs for clothing and toys help, as do the food bills.

n Children's allowance doesn't rise exponentially, but at €840 for six kids and €1,120 for eight, it can go much further than the €140 for a single one.

n When you go on holidays, you get bang for your buck in self catering accommodation. Small families or couples pay extra for 'non-use' of pull-out beds or one-bed apartments.

n Bulk buying when you're shopping is always better value. If you have lots of kids, you will be more likely to use everything, leaving no waste, whether it's back-to-school stationery, detergent or food.

n There are more kids to share chores around the house. If everyone does a little, it never seems like a lot.

n You have home-grown babysitters - older ones can mind younger ones.

n Your utility bills are cheaper on a cost per person basis. It costs no more to have heating on for one than eight. n Paying for everyone separately; travel, entrance fees, flights etc. It can increase the cost exponentially. n Your car will have to be bigger. For example, a large seven-seater Opel Zafira starts from €31,595 while a modest Corsa saloon is half that at €15,750. n Two parents working may be difficult, making it even less affordable.

Irish Independent