Woman & Home – Noisy, messy but fun… my teens-to-toddlers family!

When I had my newest, smallest children, I sold my Skoda for a seven-seater. Parents in the front. Next row, toddlers – a three year old and an 18 month old – both with upholstered children’s seats, complete with head supports and drink holders, books stuffed into the pocket in front, Teddy Bear Tales And Rhymes on the CD.

In the middle of the two, Paul’s 13 year old daughter dispenses drinks and raisins while barely looking up from her book. And at the back, squished in with coats and suitcases are my 18 and 16 year old boys, both almost 6 ft, knees up to their chins, arms wedged to their sides. They can’t do homework, they can’t read a book, they can’t even get to their iPods.

I know who gets the better deal here. And I feel for the teenagers, because their life is enhanced by – and yet also compromised by – living with toddlers. If they want to watch Friends or Scrubs, they end up having to watch CBeebies. If they have their friends round, little Seth barges in and wants to share their crisps or asks them to take him to the toilet. Or Eve toddles round, a nappy hanging down one side of her trouser leg. It’s so crushing for their street cred.

Everyone has supper at 5.30, even though they probably had lunch at 3, and breakfast at 11. And at 7am, the teens are woken by a tiny army, shrieking, ‘Wake up, lazy bones! Story time!’. And they love them, so they read the story.

The big question is how to accommodate all of them, how to make them feel listened to equally. The teenagers probably need more attention than the toddlers. They are the ones coping with exploding puberty, but the ones who are cross because they’ve missed an episode of Chuggington make the most noise.

I’ve chosen this life and it’s fantastic – I love having children from 18 to 18-months – but balancing five children, making sure they are all heard does sometimes feel impossible. I come home at midday after a 4am start, the part-time childminder leaves and it’s full-on childcare.

I’m a better mum in my forties than I was in my twenties, when I agonised over why they wouldn’t eat my parsnip purée. Though I’m more tired, less fit, the meals are worse and there are fewer after school activities, I’m also less career-driven, there for most of the day and spend more time listening.

Now we’re one down as the eldest is at university, but he has gone into the world with a better sense of caring and responsibility than many of his peers. And now the little ones benefit from having older siblings. They are better speakers, more confident and fight for their place to be heard.

So yes, it’s scrappy and messy and noisy in our house. Yes, my elder sons were horrified when they knew I was having more children. But now? The delight on their faces when they see one another tells me it was right. If exhausting.

6 worries not worth worrying about

The 18 month old who’ll only eat peas will eat everything but cauliflower when he’s 18.

When will they sleep through? When will they stop getting up at 5 am? When they hit 14. Then they sleep All The Time.

The ‘don’t go to work’ tantrum turns into ‘la-la-la!’ as soon as your back is turned.

Terrifying when they’re 12 and tiny, but they won’t be beaten up daily, and they’ll learn something other than swearing.

No child needs to be ‘one step ahead’. They’ll do okay as long as they’re loved.

Once you child has left home, the emptiness of a tidy room is worse than the previous mess.