They may skip big vacations, but "No trip is as exciting as life with seven children under one roof."
Agnieszka (Agnes) is a wife and mother of seven who lives in Poland, and last February she set up an Instagram account called Family fun by mum (@familyfunbymum). It shows how beautiful and joyful life can be in a large family. She spoke to Aleteia about why she set up her account, and how she and her husband manage such a large family.
Aleteia:So where did this idea for “Family fun by mum” come from?
Agnieszka: The words of Pope Francis kept coming back to me, that the world needs the testimony of families, of normal family warmth. The family is a unit of great importance to society, where children are supposed to learn from their parents’ example to love others so that they can become responsible citizens. Much sadness and loss of social cohesion come from the fact that the family is neglected and left at the mercy of various influences of contemporary ideologies, such as materialism — and consequently, unrestrained consumerism.
For many years I’ve been active in various social initiatives with the aim to support and promote family. But all these communities were very local, and the people involved have values very similar to mine. So one day, I decided that we can’t live only in this fuzzy warm environment, that we have to show our family life more publicly. I know that, unfortunately, there are already communities where a large and happy family is seen very rarely.
Do you think your account can have a real effect on someone’s life?
When I look at my life, I know that many of my decisions came from seeing something in someone else’s life that amazed me. After all, we are attracted by examples.
I often get comments saying that it’s incredible that you can still smile with such a large group of children. Some mothers write that they are exhausted with only one child, and when they see our family, they wonder where we get so much joy and enthusiasm.
Or I get private messages from women who would like to have another child, but unfortunately, they’re afraid to tell their husband, mother, or boss about it. I try to encourage them, saying that if such a thought comes and there are no medical contraindications, then they shouldn’t be afraid. Fear isn’t the best advisor.
Don’t your kids complain that mom is publishing their photos on Instagram?
I call it family apostolate. I explain to the children why I do it, that we are a special family and we are lucky that we can help others by showing them how we live.
Through our account, I want to share with others our organizational tricks, and other parenting advice that worked in our family. I also try to dispel some myths — for example, that as a mother of a large family I have no opportunity to grow and develop on a personal level. There are no better opportunities to learn time management, patience, and conscientiousness than with our children. No one tests us more than our children.
Share a few secrets with us. How do you logistically manage such a large family?
As far as parenting style, I am a great supporter of freedom and responsibility. If children can do something by themselves, then we let them do it. My house is not spotless. I try to coordinate housework and involve the children in all aspects of it, depending on their age. For example, the boys are responsible for buying bread in the morning, and they organize among themselves whose turn it is. All the children take turns unloading the dishwasher (which we run after every meal). We delegate tasks, but as parents, we have to keep an eye out and make sure that everything works.
You have a habit of posting festive photos on Sundays. Do you have many family rituals?
One of our family traditions is that we try to eat at least one meal a day together. Nowadays, it’s always breakfast. Dinners are much harder right now because our older children have various extracurricular activities. Our breakfast together is at 6:30 a.m., so I get up early. I admit it’s very hard for me, because I like to sleep, but a meal together is very important to us. It gives me the opportunity to look our children in the eyes, and I can see if everything is fine, or if they’re worried about something. It’s a time to chat and set the plan for the day. I can’t imagine not having such a “board meeting.”
Do you have time for date nights with your husband?
We’ve been married for 16 years and we already have seven children. I feel that this time went by very fast, somehow, and unfortunately, I have to admit that many times our relationship was pushed to the background because of the children. It shouldn’t be like that. Marriage is an investment for life.
We try to grab moments together, to do each other small favors, to smile instead of nag, or to tell a joke to unload a tense situation. I have to admit, though, that it’s been two months since the last time we had a date night. Thankfully, we don’t have to leave the house to be together. The kids are big enough that once they go to bed, we can sit on the terrace and have time to talk or just be together.
In hindsight, I regret that we didn’t fight more for that time just for us. Ideally, parents should be able to go out alone at least once a week, even if it’s just for a 15-minute walk.
Do your kids ever complain that you don’t have enough time for them?
We shouldn’t talk about quantity, but of quality. You can spend half a day physically present with a child, without actually dedicating all that much time to him. Conversely, you might speak with him for only 10 minutes, but it may turn out to be a very meaningful conversation in his life.
Young parents often think that if they have one child, they can give him all their love and time, but once a second child comes, they won’t be able to provide him or her with the same amount of time and love, because they will have to share it. Luckily, this kind of math only actually applies to material things. Yes, the kids will have to share their room and their toys. However, happiness, love, and time end up being multiplied! Every mother who’s decided to have a second child knows this, and I can say from experience that this is true regardless of the number of children.
Having seven children is expensive — how are you doing financially?
Well, I agree, we have to give up many things. For example, we don’t go on vacations abroad; we visit the grandparents instead. We buy things in discount stores and wear clothes handed down from friends. You have to be guided by reason and moderation in life. What I know is that children are such a great gift that I will never regret having them. No trip is as exciting as living with a bunch of children under one roof.
And the kids don’t mind that their friends go on exotic vacations, while they only visit their grandfather?
I always explain to them that they will travel one day. They don’t have to do it with mom and dad when they are 10 years old. Nowadays, there are plenty of opportunities for people to travel, including work-related travel and volunteer work, and I tell my children they will be able to take advantage of those opportunities in the future.
When people argue that I’m not showing my children the world as I should, it always makes me laugh a bit. The little kids don’t need much; they just want to be with their parents. As for the older ones, I always try to bring some of their friends on our trips, so that they can spend time actively and enjoy it. The fact is, it would mean nothing if I take them to the end of the world if they spend all their time on their cell phone trying to find out what’s going on with their friends.
Your kids don’t have cell phones. How is it that you are such an Instagram mom, and your kids are brought up without smartphones?
I think social media, especially for teenagers, can be very harmful. It’s not that we’re simply forbidding them from having a Facebook account. We talk with them a lot and explain why they don’t need it.
I want my children to have time to think, to reflect. I have the impression that people stop thinking when they have a smartphone. Everyone just stares at the screen. I see it during my commute to work; everyone is on their phone.
Now that I have the Instagram account, when I go to work every day, I also have to fight the temptation to look at what’s on the phone. But I try to use that time for prayer and reflection.