Welcome To My Fishbowl

on Saturday, January 2, 2010

When people discover that Mark and Sandra De Hoogh have ten children, their reactions are varied. “Wow! You look so young!” “Are you Catholic?” “Don’t you have a TV?” or the most common “Have you worked out what’s causing it yet?”

With the characteristic sense of humour required to raise a large family, Sandra’s serene response is “Yeah, we have and I’m surprised you’ve given it up!”

Mark and Sandra have been married for 21 years, and have ten gorgeous children together. Eldest daughter Ashley is almost 19, Rowena 17, Jordan 15, Caleb 13, Naomi 11, Isaac 9, Gabrielle 7, Timothy 5, Brayden 3 and baby Kyler is 18 mths. The family live on a property outside of Dungog, and the kids are home-schooled. If that sounds incredibly saint-like and overwhelming, Sandra is quick to dispel any myths of super-mothering powers.

“I don’t want people to put me on a pedestal because I’ll just fall straight off it. But it is possible to have a bigger family than society says is ‘normal’. Breeding is easy. It’s the life you live after you have a family where the challenges are.”

Sandra says the biggest challenge of having such a large family is the realness and transparency. “There’s no-where to hide or pretend in a big family. I can’t be a hypocrite, or the wheels just fall off, and ‘if Mum ain’t happy, nobody’s happy’. A big part of it is being not too proud to admit that you don’t know what the heck you are doing sometimes.”
But the hardest thing is also the best reward. The family have a terrific ready-made community when someone needs a shoulder to cry on, someone to talk to or play with. “In a smaller family, if someone is busy, you might not be able to find the right time to be able to talk to somebody, but in a big family, there’s always someone available.”

Having ten children is something most people baulk at, but Mark and Sandra have been intentional about growing a large family. “We never found a good reason to stop. It’s not that we just love kids, although we do, but we love people. We just want to do life with our kids.”

And the De Hooghs hang out a lot. After some negative school experiences, the family decided that home-schooling was a better fit for them. Accidentally, they discovered that they enjoy learning together, and although the door has always been open for the kids to attend school, so far they have all chosen to be educated at home.

There are no school lunches to prepare in the morning, but feeding a family of twelve requires some planning. “We don’t use a microwave, because by the time you’ve heated the fifth dish, the first four are cold.” Two trolleys are required for the monthly ALDI run, and the family cruise the outlets for bulk foodstuffs, buying for up to six months at a time. Because they live on a property, Mark is able to raise beef cattle for the table, making meat considerably cheaper, and also has a dairy cow for milk. Buying in bulk at the Sandgate fruit and vegetable markets saves money too. Still, the monthly food bill is between $1000 and $1500.

Cooking could be a chore, but the De Hoogh family has an ‘everyone has something to contribute’ policy. “Rowena cooks 3 meals a week. All the big boys are ‘in training’ for one night a week and Naomi does one night too, so I’m almost out of the kitchen!” reveals Sandra gleefully. And she admits, she does enjoy cooking alone that one night.

But what is the cost of having such a large family? Though it doesn’t come cheap, Mark and Sandra have made it a priority and found ways to make it manageable. “We’ve learned to live more simply, without the things people feel are culturally necessary. We found a lot more substance in the things that were free, in doing things together and functioning as a family.”
With a family of a dozen people, there is a lot to do to make everything run smoothly. “I don’t have the energy or desire to be the big boss, standing over everyone to lay down the law. We had to start running our family based on relationships, instead of rules and regulations. Everybody is a valuable contributor. We praise them for whatever they do offer, and that praise inspires them to want to do more.”

“We had to outline the minimum things around the house that had to be done everyday, food, clothes, transport, and ‘stuffonomics’. We wrote it out and said ‘What do you want to contribute?’ I was blown away when Ashley said she’d do all the washing. She’s happy and feels no guilt. She does it because she wants to not because she has to. It’s so freeing, so liberating. I believe that’s the best thing I’ve learned as a mum. But it’s really hard to do it this way, and I’m only just getting it.”

“This season is one of living with anticipation of what people were going to offer, instead of expectation. It was a big bridge to cross and we are still walking it out!” You get the feeling that the journey is mostly a positive one. The children are well-mannered and considerate of others, their love for each other evident in the way they relate. The family exudes a sense of togetherness, their home a haven for all who enter.

Little Kyler toddles about with his gorgeous toothy grin, a picture of cherubic babyhood. With a precious family of twelve, are they planning to add to the joy and make a baker’s dozen?

Sandra smiles with a twinkle in her eye. “We never say never.”


Brian Miller said...

regardless of the size..."The family exudes a sense of togetherness, their home a haven for all who enter." that speaks volumes...

awesome! happy new year!

Wylie said...

What an awesome article & an awesome testimony! My husband is the youngest of 12 children. His father is also the youngest of 12. When the immediate family gathers, it is always a minimum of 80+ people. Our 3 boys are somewhere like 32, 34 & 36 on the list of grandchildren on my hubby's side. I grew up with 1 sibling, so it was a different world! God bless you & your precious family. Happy new year Sande!!!

Arizaphale said...

Brilliant! You are a total inspiration. I have been thinking lately about the idea of writing up everything that has to be done and asking the family to suggest what they could contribute...not sure how my husband would cope with this however :-). He's pretty good around the place but he doesn't expect enough from the kids and he hates these kind of 'formal' arrangements. He would rather life just 'happened' and then he gets surprised and resentful when it doesn't ! :-D

Warren Baldwin said...


What a wonderful article about a wonderful family. Thank you for sharing this. Your humility may prevent you from seeing it, but you are an inspiration to a lot of people!

Hope you guys had a wonderful Christmas and New Year. God bless your family.

Note: hopefully you will be getting your book soon.


Lisa Buffaloe said...


I'm so impressed with you and your family. Size isn't the issue but the love that you show one another--beautiful!

Happy New Year to you all!

Andrea said...

This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing! I definitely agree it is not about the size, but what the relationship they have with their kids.
May GOD bless them beyond measure.

S. Etole said...

"anticipation instead of expectation" ... I like that. Blessings of provision for your new year.

Teacher's Pet said...

I read this with love...love that you have for your family. Thank you so much for sharing.
Much love,

quixotic said...

Wow, what a great article! I'm constantly amazed by how well large family manage. Somedays, I struggle with one child.

Growin' with it! said...

how cool to read a little bit of your story! i've enjoyed getting to know you in bloggyland and now to hear more about your family and life in general is a treat! fantastic article!!

Laura said...

I love you even more after reading! And, um...would Ashley like to come visit??? You all are truly an inspiration. Our smallish family can learn much from your work ethic and giving to one another. Sometimes we take each other for granted over here. I love the part about the built in support network.

You guys rock! Happy New Year.

Deb said...


You! Your family! Amazing.

Each child contributes something.

And you're not the rule enforcement officer.

What a relief to let go a little and let them.

I'm learning that even if I'm not in Aussie, maybe I should still do as the Aussie's do.

You're one smart mum!

Sweet dreams.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Ah, my dear friend!!!! So thrilled that you are receiving the applause you so deserve!!!! You are an extraordinary woman with an exceptional husband and family!!!! Prov. 31 says it all!!! You are beautiful, dear Sande...I am so privileged to know you, my friend!!!! Allow me to give you a standing ovation!!!!! You are simply amazing!! I love you!!!! Janine XOXO

Sandra said...

No matter what size your family, that is a great way to be described and admired.
It's a fantastic article.

Renata said...

Sande - what a great article! You have a lovely family. I am inspired by your grocery bill - ours is about that & we only have half as many people - I guess we are still buying our own meat in. Thanks for sharing this article! I think large families are wonderful!

Patti Lacy said...

Wow! Thanks for an inspirational sashay through your life and this article!

My tiny nest of four sounds...tiny. Does a dog named Laura count???


The Things We Carried said...

I would have had ten children :). Sande I love your humor and approach to life. I also appreciate a woman who makes me feel like my six children was a small family after all ;).

Tesa said...

Congrats. Great article! It's a nice way to get to know you and your family a little better. I only have 2 children and sometimes it feels like 10 (or at least I tell myself that!).

Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus said...

Such fun to see how life works in your home and your family. And what a lovely family you are. Thank you for sharing the story.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Just stopping in to say...Love you!!! Janine XO

Mari said...

What a great article. I really enjoyed reading it and learning more about you!

Jill Kemerer said...

I enjoyed this. It seems that large families get a lot of backlash nowadays. Kudos to them!

Terri Tiffany said...

This is a wonderful article!! I love how your family all takes on responsibilities:) You can truly be proud:)

Naomi said...

This was a lovely little read :) How blessed you all are!!!

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Hello, dear, dear friend...must be crazy at your house... no 'puter time, huh? Sending you much, much love and prayers!!! Janine XO

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Wow, some days I wish I had had what it takes to keep having children. I'd love a big family!

Patti Lacy said...

Missin' you, girl! Should I mail tiny scraps of paper???!!!!!


Jenn@Spejory said...

I love this article! Reading helps me feel I know you better. I loved your quotes. If I could do it over, I'd have had more children. You are truly blessed.

Warren Baldwin said...

Just checking in to say "hey."

Sandra said...

Wow! I don't even think I realized how large your family was. I love your response to the "what causes it" question. I agree with how having a large family keeps you closer. I've often said that having a small house has kept my family of 5 close. We pretty much always know what is going on with each other.

Lori Nawyn said...

A fascinating look at a wonderful family. Thanks for sharing your story.

Shelle said...

What a great article...i always love to read a positive article about homeschooling...so many are against it. it is a very different way of living having a large family, we love it.

We praise them for whatever they do offer, and that praise inspires them to want to do more.”

i do need to do this more...the little i do helps tremendously...trouble is i living with a messy & he has 7 kids lol

Patti Lacy said...

Sandra, thinkin' of you.

P.S. Also missing The Things They Carried. Can't Even Click On. Do you know...
Miss y'all.

She Writes said...

It is too long since you have blogged! Give us a post, girl :)!

Peter Stone said...

Hi There,
Great to find another Aussie blogger :)
Loved this post - ten kids! I'm only just coping with the two, but we did have a late start. The questions people ask, very funny.
Especially loved how you run the family based on relationships, not rules & regulations.

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