The UK and US birthrate is 1.9 children per woman; Hong Kong has the current lowest in the world at 1.1; Niger has the highest at 7.6. I think it’s safe to say that in the Western world, a woman with more than two toddlers in tow is more likely to be pelted with eggs and asked if she knows what causes that than to receive a smile of encouragement. Yet there also seems to be a fascination with larger families, from the obsession with the Beckhams’ poster family of four and the Duggars’ 19 kids and counting, to films like Cheaper by the Dozen (and sequel), and Yours, Mine & Ours. Talking about family size can get you into a minefield of debates involving feminism, population control, reproductive rights and other thorny subjects. However, as the eldest of four who always wanted more siblings, and with a larger than average extended family, and while admitting that the title of this post is clearly untrue and deliberately provocative, I am happy to affirm that big families are GREAT. Here are a few exceptional fictional and real-life families of seven to help prove my point.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
About: The seven Pontipee brothers (Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank and Gideon; parents deceased) work on their family farm. They do manly things like chop wood and raise barns, and spend the movie trying to get over their semi-feral ways.
Achievements: Dubious at first. They’re all handsome, strong, hard-working and (eventually) well-mannered, but fairly misogynistic to begin with. Adam boasts that he always gets what he wants and can get a wife the same way too, in a single day. While he does seem to have fallen in love with Millie, he also immediately dumps on her a pile of dirty laundry, unwashed crockery, an untidy house and the care of the unruly bros. Even when you’d think he knew better, in the middle of the movie he tells his brother Gideon to get over his love-lornity, since ‘one woman’s pretty much like the next’!
He then incites his six younger brothers to kidnap the women they love. While the brothers go along with it, employing some underhand means to do so (knocking out rival suitors, posing as said suitors to trick the women into a kiss, gagging the women as they pass through an avalanche-prone crevasse…), they eventually regret this terrible decision and everyone gets happily married at the end. Even Adam is humbled by the birth of his daughter and ends up realising that it’s actually not ok to treat women like cattle. Happy reconciliations all round; it’s a moral achievement.
Why seven? Adam hints that his parents might have liked to have more children, but were sadly prevented from doing so by Mr Pontipee’s untimely death while felling a tree. Quoth Adam, referring to the brothers’ alphabetical naming system: ‘I figure [Pa] was planning on using the whole 26 letters right down to Zachariah’. We don’t know what Ma thought about it except that she chose the Biblical naming system. Cutely, Adam and Milly continue the tradition and name their daughter Hannah. One feels the arrival of a baby girl heralds a new era for the women of the family.
The Von Trapp Family
About: Georg von Trapp has seven children with his first wife; in the film they are named Liesl, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretel. However, the children’s real names were Rupert, Agathe, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna and Martina. After marrying ‘Fraulein’ Maria (events not shown in the film), they have three more children: real-life names Rosmarie, Eleonore and Johannes. You can read about them in Maria’s books, starting with The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.
Achievements: These guys really kicked some butt. Georg was a decorated war veteran; Maria was originally determined to become a nun; they survived going bankrupt; they emigrated to America, setting up a music camp and an Austrian relief charity; as a family, they toured the world singing musical masterpieces for their supper. Before emigrating, they also publicly resisted the Nazis: the family conscientiously objected to singing at Hitler’s birthday party; Rupert refused an invitation to become a doctor for the Nazis – a wise choice given the human experiments later set up in the concentration camps – and Georg turned down a summons to join the navy. After Georg dies, Maria and some of the children become missionaries in Papua New Guinea. For all the faults that they may have had, that we all do, this was certainly a remarkable family.
Why seven? We don’t know the whys and wherefores behind the original seven, but we have some details about Maria’s three. She stated in one of her books that at the time of her marriage:
I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children.
Slightly disturbingly, this article quotes Maria’s autobiography to suggest that she really did not understand what marriage would entail, and that she didn’t want her own children – at least to begin with. In fact Maria would have had far more children had she not sadly suffered a number of miscarriages. She was even advised to abort her youngest child due to her ill health (which she did not agree to). As for Georg, he seems to have been an excellent father, although his comment, on the birth of their first child, that the baby looked as all newborns do, like little monkeys, made Maria well up and has always stuck with me.
About: Mr Weasley works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office at the Ministry of Magic. Mrs Weasley appears to be a housewife. Their children are long-haired Gringotts banker Bill; dragon-hunter Charlie; goody-two-shoes Percy; joke shop owners Fred and George; downtrodden Ron; and feisty Ginny.
Achievements: The family’s contribution to the defeat of Voldemort is near-unrivalled. At risk of life and limb, they all sign up to the Order of the Phoenix and some of its most dangerous tasks: Fred dies in the Battle of Hogwarts; George loses an ear in another battle; Mrs Weasley kills Bellatrix Lestrange; Mr Weasley is mauled by Nagini; Bill is mutilated by a werewolf; Ron destroys one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes – the list of their achievements and sufferings for the cause goes on.
Why seven? The fact this family is larger than average is never really brought up (except perhaps for some Malfoy-esque snipes that they can barely afford to feed so many hungry mouths). When Ron opens Slytherin’s locket, a Horcrux, the manifestation of Voldemort that pops out delivers some intriguing insights into the potential motivations of the Weasley parents. Voicing Ron’s fears, Voldemort says he was ‘Least loved, always, by the mother who craved a daughter’. But indeed, is it a coincidence that Ginny is their only daughter and also their last child? Regardless, there’s no shortage of big-heartedness when it comes to the Weasleys. Top family.
Bonus: Anne of Green Gables also births seven children.
Although this post is meant to be light-hearted, and I don’t wish to stray into any of the minefields I mentioned above, I hope it serves as a reminder not to look askance at large groups of children out in public (even if they’re having tantrums in John Lewis), and an encouragement to anyone, including my future self, who may be terrified about over-reproducing.