WHY having a super-sized family means a super-sized Mothers’ Day...
“Being a mum; it’s everything to me. My life would be empty without my kids.”
Virtually every mother has echoed those sentiments, though for Emma Hamlin, the words could not be truer.
She’s mother to 10; her brood range in age from 20-year-old Mitchell down to four-year-old Charley.
None of her children are twins; Emma has been pregnant 10 times in the space of 16 years and is only 37.
This Mothers’ Day, she will be swamped with cards, flowers and declarations of love, just as she always is.
“I always planned to keep every Mothers’ Day card I was given, but it has proved to be impossible,” says Emma. “We constantly run out of storage space. So I keep them until the new ones arrive next Mothers’ day then sadly have to let them go.”
The tidiness is one of the things that impresses visitors through the front door at the family’s five-bedroom rented house in Barnsley. The other is the peace.
It’s only when you start to look for them that you realise there are children everywhere, quietly doing their own thing while mum and dad are interviewed.
It’s a bit like a scene from 101 Dalmatians, only with very well-behaved puppies. There are children in the kitchen, amicably sharing out after-tea sweets from a giant bucket of Haribo, children who can’t fit on the over-flowing sofa happily sitting on the floor at their siblings’ feet and teenagers quietly on Facebook in a corner.
There is no bickering or tormenting going on; everyone seems to co-exist in complete harmony. Occasionally, little Charley or her year-older brother Alfie come to stand a few feet away and listen quietly.
Politely, Shannon, 15, approaches and asks me if I’d like a cup of tea.
I remark that I’m surprised by the calm. “Ah, that’s because you’ve fallen into the same trap as everyone else,” says Lee. “People stereotype us. They jump to the conclusion that if you’ve got a big family, you’ve got no control over your kids.
“They also assume you’re spongers, living on the dole. That you’ve had more children to claim more money. We’d have people say that to us and it hurts.”
The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The Hamlins, who shot to national fame when they featured in Channel 4’s three-part documentary 14 Kids and Counting a few months ago, claim nothing from the state.
They get child benefit, the same as any other parents, but they work for their money and run their home on a tight budget. They shop wholesale and buy in bulk. Their chest freezer is stocked with half a pig at a time and they are bargain-hunters.
“I fed 14 people tonight on £12,” Lee tells me proudly. “I went to Barnsley market, bought two chickens, a load of salad and some good bread. We ate healthily and no one went hungry,” he beams.
He and Emma work part-time as care support workers and have recently set up a small business, Up Close Events, organising celebrity after-dinner speakers at nearby Brooklands Hotel.
“We set it up because we’d like to be able to give our kids more, like all parents do,” says Emma. “It would be nice to afford a holiday, all together. Over the years we’ve managed to take most of the kids away one or two at a time. But usually we settle for a day in Matlock or Cannon Hall Farm.”
Emma says she could claim disability benefits if she chose to; her spine was badly damaged in a car accident four years ago. “But I want to work; I always have. I do it for two reasons – my own sense of pride and to set my kids an example. I want them to grow up thinking this is what you do in life.” If you think life at the Hamlins’ sounds way too ‘The Waltons’ to be true, listen to this; as I chat to Emma and Lee, I realise the room has virtually cleared of children. It seems the older ones are calmly getting the younger ones ready for bed upstairs.
When little Alfie wanders down in his pyjamas I half-expect a plaintive little plea for a story, but no; he heads towards the family’s industrial-sized, 11kg-load washing machine with his school uniform. At five years old, he voluntarily sorts it into whites and coloured loads.
The way this family functions is quite remarkable. It runs better than many a home inhabited by two children.
“This is normal,” she says, sensing my surprise. “I watch TV shows like Supernanny and am amazed at how wrong some parents get things. I find it hard to believe how little control they have over their children,” she says, without smugness.
“We used to have a chores rota, but we stopped bothering with it after a while because everyone naturally does things to help. Older ones wash up after themselves and help with the younger ones without us even asking. They are all really close; they love each other,” says Emma with pride.
“They are all good kids. We like to think it’s because we teach them respect for us, for each other and for other people.”
There is also order and plenty of rules, adds Lee, 39: “We do have to be strict and have a structure to our family. It would be very difficult without.”
Getting up times start at 6.40am; Shannon and Callum have to catch a bus to school in Penistone, the oldest are off to college and Emma packs Dillon, 11, Ellie, 10, Fallon, seven, and Alfie, five, to school in their seven-seater and takes them to school in Hoyland. She comes home with Charley, four, to tidy up – by her own admission she’s nigh-on obsessively house-proud – then when Lee has come back from work, she starts her shift.
Bedtimes are staggered according to age and there are rarely arguments, says Lee: “Our children don’t roam the streets; when the older ones go out, we always know where they are going and they know they need to come home at a reasonable time.They have respect for us.”