Twelve Children, and Room for More

You can forgive Diane Barrow for occasionally wearing ear-muffs in the kitchen. With 12 children aged 15 to three, including four sets of twins, life gets rowdy at times.

But clearly this Mum and Dad are doing something right – Diane calls her brood “my easy 12”.

And they may not be finished yet. Diane, 43, and husband Vaughan, 46, say they would be happy with more children. There’s space for one more in their 15-seater van.

“One of my Mum’s friends had her 15th child at 44 and her 16th child at 49, so who knows what may still happen!” Diane says.

In fact, after two sets of twins, Diane confesses she was hoping for twins again.

“I’ll probably sound a bit greedy but after having two sets of twins in a row, when I was pregnant again I was hoping for twins and thought if it was just one baby I’d feel a bit ripped off,” Diane laughs.

“If God wants to give us more children we’ll be happy with that. They’re his precious gifts.

“Mowing the lawn is my time out. I put the ear-muffs on and life is great. I took some advice from a friend and have even been known to wear them in the kitchen!

“One of the most challenging things is dinner time and bed time. Sometimes it feels like we are so dysfunctional and I’m grateful our nearest neighbours are out of earshot, or at least we hope! Other days it goes well and I wonder what we did wrong on the bad nights.”

The Barrow’s live on a dairy farm in New Zealand, just out of Dannevirke in the centre of the North Island, where they run 280 cows on 120 hectares.

Diane and Vaughan, who met at a Catholic summer school for young people run by ‘Hearts Aflame’, always hoped for a big family.

“A priest once said, ‘Don’t put limits on God’s generosity’ and that has stayed with us,” Diane says. “God’s in control so we let him decide.”

Having four sets of twins isn’t really surprising as Diane’s mother had one set and her grandmother had three.

It was tough at first, especially with sleep deprivation, but life actually became easier with twins than with one baby, Diane says.

“I remember with my first baby, when she got to the sitting up stage, you would leave her playing on the floor and after about 10 minutes you’d have to go in and talk to her and keep her happy again,” Diane explains.

“With the twins, you could leave them for half an hour or an hour, because they interact. You could just set them up with toys and they would pass them back and forward and laugh and carry on. It makes it less intensive for me, because they have got each other.”

As the twins grew older, they didn’t lack for company.

“They always have a playmate at their level, which is quite nice really,” Diane says.

Vaughan says a highlight for him was their first set of twins – which was a surprise.

“After our first child we thought all the scans were a little overstated as there were no issues so with the second pregnancy we decided not to have a scan unless there was a concern,” he explains.
“So we only discovered there were twins after the first one was born. Needless to say we’ve had scans ever since!

“We’ve got fond memories of ringing friends twice, me announcing we had a boy and then Diane phoning to say we’ve had a girl!”

Diane often gets asked how she copes, but thinks families with one or two children might have it harder!

“I really feel for people who have just one or two kids and live in a big city and are miles away from family,” Diane says. “You think, boy that must be hard, harder work than we have got. We are very fortunate having really supportive families.

“I get comments from people saying, oh, I could never manage that, but I think people don’t really know what they can manage if they never try it.

“My Mum had 16 [children] and I thought she made it look easy. Now I’ve got my easy 12. You do things to make life easier for yourself.

“You just think with modern technology, it is meant to make our life easier, so why are our family sizes getting smaller?

“I remember, after I had my first three, the midwife said to me, she had seven or eight kids, that that’s how busy your life gets, no matter how many more you have.

“And I found it the same too, because when you have more, your older kids help. It’s the younger ones who need the constant, hands-on attention, but the older ones pitch in.”

When the Barrow children are aged seven or eight, they start “chasing calves”, and when they are secondary school age they work in the cowshed occasionally, at weekends.

They also work around the house. By the time they are aged nine they all know how to bake and cook and some also help in the vegetable garden.

With so many children, you might imagine the TV gets a workout, but think again. An old television set hides behind a couch and is used “sparingly”. A mobile phone is used rarely and there is filtered Internet, but no Facebook. DVDs are played on the computer.

It’s a simple life, with the focus very much on family and faith. The children attend the local primary and secondary schools and Diane, a former primary school teacher, teaches them religion through the Faith and Life series of workbooks.

There is grace before and after meals, as well as regular family prayer and Scripture readings. The family could fill up “one and a bit” pews at their local church and the children help as altar servers or running the overhead.

“We live by a pretty simple philosophy,” Diane explains. “I think if you can talk to God, keep God as your focus and trust him, he’ll help you manage whatever comes your way.”

Vaughan says they are sometimes asked how they can afford 12 children, but he says it is not as expensive as some would think. There are efficiencies that can be made – clothes get well used, many people are driven around in one vehicle and more people use the same light and heating.

But still there are sacrifices — the children can’t be driven to many different sporting and cultural activities individually, there just isn’t time. So they take part in activities that several can join in at once, such as team sports like rugby and netball.

Having Vaughan’s parents nearby has been a real blessing, particularly when the children were very small.

“Sometimes you’d just want to get out and plonk yourself somewhere to relax, and let somebody else focus on the kids,” Vaughan says.

“When the kids have stayed overnight with their grandparents, it’s been so peaceful in the evenings!” Diane says.

“If the children and I are suffering from cabin fever we’ll go for a walk to relax. I’ve often called that my time out as it helps me clear my head.

“One thing I remind myself of when things are hectic is that many people have a lot worse things to deal with. Having said that, that sigh of relief at the end of the day when all the kids are finally in bed gets bigger the more children we have. I’ll admit to that!”