One big happy family

The Radford family
The Radford family
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I’m the mother of one, and that’s been hard enough.

Consequently I’ve never been able to understand why anyone with a reasonable level of intellect would wittingly turn themselves into Mother Hubbard.

The Hamlin family of Sheffield

The Hamlin family of Sheffield

Like too many people, I’d privately condemned the parents of super-brood families as either masochistic or hugely irresponsible.

Why take on more than you can handle? Why have a dozen kids when a couple would do?

And then. I watched Channel 4’s 15 Kids And Counting.

The three-part documentary - dammit, I’d missed the previous two - was billed as a fascinating insight into some of the UK’s biggest families and how both the parents and children cope.

I was expecting some Daily Mail-style rant, said families portrayed as the cast of Shameless meets and gives bloody noses to the Von Trapps.

Sure enough, squeezed into a council house in Guernsey were the Watsons, 14 kids and their single mum, Jo. There you go; bet she’s had them all by different dads, snickered the bigot on my shoulder.

But no; she’d split from her husband, dad to all her kids, in 2010.

There were hellish scenes as she got the kids ready for school each day. But they all got packed off in clean uniforms with, I noted, fresh fruit in their lunchboxes.

OK, there was no small matter of her ex falsely claiming benefits after an accident.

And their 15-year-old got pregnant. But they seemed a close, loving bunch; no kids had been scarred by their mother’s quest for perma-pregnancy.

And then we met home-grown super-family the Hamlins, And I just fell in love with them. You couldn’t help it; they were so damned happy.

Lee and Emma are bringing up her four kids and their additional six, with ages ranging from 10 to three, in Penistone.

Both parents work, they receive only Child Benefit and are so thrifty, their economy skills out to be rolled out across the nation. They spend just £200 a week on groceries - and that includes 84 pints of milk, 21 loaves and 24 toilet rolls. Yet, said Lee: “It feels like we spend our lives proving ourselves to people.”

What was even more impressive was how much the prospect of their parents marrying meant to their children.

When Lee finally proposed to Emma, the little ones sobbed with joy and gladly forsook new trainers and horse-riding lessons.

The question we all ask: why have so many kids - seemed to have its answer in many a super-parent’s own unstable childhood. Having successfully created their own stable family, they just want more and more of it.

Right or wrong? Listen to Lee, who left home at 14 and lived rough in London for five years, then judge for yourself.

His parenting ethos? “In a family large or small you need three things,” he said. “Love, structure and respect.”