We caught up with the expat at her home in Dubai to find out how she manages it all we never planned to have nine kids. We just decided to let as many come as may. There’s Connor, 22 – my husband’s son from his first marriage. Then Luke, who is 15 this year, Grace, 12, John, 11, Faith, nine, Hope, seven, Joy, five, Matthew, four, Mark, two and Timothy, who is five months.
I think the biggest change about becoming a parent is the matter of realising you can’t be selfish any more. Of course, that happens first when you get married. Then with the first child on the way, you can be less selfish... Then with each child, it becomes less and less so.
FROM TWO TO THREE WAS THE BIGGEST JUMP. I think it’s because there are two of us so it’s “one for you and one for me”. And then there’s a third one – but you find a way. As it went on, we just kept adding to the mix.
IT’S SUCH A SWEET BLESSING TO SEE THE OLDER ONES CARING FOR THE YOUNGER ONES. For them to learn that for us to work as a family, we have to work together – they are lessons for life. There will always be someone above you and someone below you, and the younger ones have all the older ones to look up to. It’s beautiful as a parent to get the chance to see such gentleness in your children.
THEY ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS. Not in what they are exposed to or in the behaviour we ask for, but they are all very different in terms of their personalities and interests. John loves history. Grace loves the arts – she’s just had an article published in 7Days – and she loves cooking and horses. Teaching them a love for learning and where they can find answers is really important to us. My husband is a pilot, which means we have the opportunity to take the kids to places that will enhance their learning and passions. For example, he took John to Germany to go to the war museums there. It’s been amazing and we are really lucky in that respect.
WE EDUCATE OUR KIDS AT HOME USING A CURRICULUM FROM THE UNITED STATES. It works well for us and we enjoy being part of their learning process. At the same time, our religion is very important to us – it’s important for us to teach them that they are not the most important person in the world and that they are here to use their God-given abilities to help others. That’s our goal – to give them that message. You can be a genius, but it’s of no use if you don’t use it to help others.
I HAVE A HELPER – SHE HAS BEEN WITH US FOR ABOUT TWO-AND-A-HALF YEARS AND SHE’S WONDERFUL. But the kids are all involved in the running of the house. We keep organised by teaching them how to tidy up after themselves. And the kids love chores – they cook, they clean, they put their laundry away and they love it. They are responsible. We don’t have a chore rota, we all tidy up after ourselves and we teach them that if you see a mess, you fix it.
WE ALL SIT DOWN TOGETHER FOR MEAL TIMES. We eat well – we eat fruit and vegetables with every meal. The kids are not picky – hamburgers, seafood, pizza... Our Luke is the master on the grill – he makes pizza at least once a week. We are big breakfast eaters – pancakes, waffles, eggs.
And the other thing with eating, is we teach them that this is what is provided and to be thankful for it. We say to them, “You may not love it, and that’s OK, but this is what we are having for dinner today.”
I HAVE QUIET TIME IN THE MORNINGS BEFORE THE KIDS WAKE UP. I get up at 6am and I have coffee and I exercise, or a meditate or read. The kids all get up at about 7am or 7.30am. From Joy down, they all take a nap at about 1pm and I try to do the chores that are outside of the house during that time. We tend to do everything together – we love the beach. My husband surfs and paddleboards, the boys surf, Grace and Luke both dive, Faith snorkels – she is waiting for her 10th birthday so she can start diving too.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS EASY TO BE A MUM. They fight – they’re human. But I think we have to display selflessness in our actions. And we have to show them that there are consequences to their actions, good or bad.
MY GOLDEN TIP IS TO NOT LET THEM SEE YOU REACT IN ANGER. Go away for a moment if you must... I strive for that, perhaps imperfectly. For example, if they are bickering, I’ll go to them and say “How did you respond to that just now?” I’ll give them help with dialogue. I think it helps them see that it’s important if I stop what I’m doing and go to them to help them and show them what I’d like them to do and how I’d like them to behave. That’s the key – if you find yourself asking them the same thing over and over and they still aren’t doing it, I tell myself “OK, Jackie, you’ve lost sight of your job”. I might be cooking or be busy with something else, but the most important thing is to teach this child to do as they’re told in a kind way.
SOMETIMES WE LOOK AT EACH OTHER AND LAUGH AND ASK, “WHO ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE IN OUR LIVING ROOM?!” But I wouldn’t change it. It’s an incredible thing, it’s a blessing. I think it’s important for people to know our children are not an inconvenience. It’s our responsibility to spend time with them, to teach them good things. They are born empty of knowledge and so we have to teach them how to be kind, how to be honest, how to share. It has to come from us.
PEOPLE ASK QUESTIONS. And sometimes they can be quite rude. I try to just think of a kind response... I’ll say, “Yeah my hands are full, but it’s better than empty hands. Children are a gift.”