Below I’ll be examining the Sullivans from the TV Show 16kidsandcounting Shown on Channel 4 March 2013 9pm, all quotes mentioned below are as mentioned in the series on Channel 4 should you wish to watch this yourself. All non specific opinions given are my own.
This week we met the Sullivans, and their attitude, for me, summed up what the documentaries are about: Don’t judge us just because we’re not like you. “Don’t mean we are doing something wrong just something different to what the rest of society is doing.”
I think Channel 4 still grabbed hold of the stereotypes in order to get viewing figures: With an advertisement for “Rich and on benefits” in the commercial break leading up to the documentary, and a voice over saying, “Who rules the roost when you have 16kidsandcounting”
Kris Marshall narrates “Tonight two families try to keep control of their ranks. The Sullivans run their brood according to a strict routine. Whilst the Salims try a different approach: ‘It’s the kids that are the master of the house.’ But despite the challenges, these big families just can’t stop adding to their numbers.”
Kent, one family has an army of kids to keep in order. The Sullivans, 7 boys and 5 girls: Ben, 20, Stephanie, 18, Caitlin, 13, Harry, 10, Eddie, eight, Sidney, seven, Paddy, five, Oliver, three, Joseph, two, twins Anna and Libby, 16 months and last but not least Isobel who is just three months; And parents Mike, 39, and Tania, 37, have no slacking, their home is their castle and they run the house like a fine tuned engine.
They receive only child benefit as Mike works as a Carpenter from his shed, Tania runs her online Larger Family Life website from the living room, and the children are home educated in the kitchen. It’s no wonder that Tania has received so many enquiries about home educating since the show, as she makes it look so easy home educating her four children aged 5-13, running a nursery for her 5 preschool kids, and carrying her 12th baby – all whilst looking fab!
I think Channel 4 still tried to show an element of making them seem a little isolated by showing the party for “just the family – there’s enough of us” and saying that “The Sullivans tend to base their education indoors”
I feel this narration is inaccurate – especially as the Sullivans are planning to take their children on a 3 month road trip around Europe!
Tania says, “There’s a difference between mixing with the outside world and being sucked in by it” and explains that Home education means that the children can work to their own abilities (and even siblings abilities vary), they are not stuck in traffic, don’t have to go out in the rain, and do not have to worry about uniforms, PE kits and trainers.
“Society is uncomfortable if you are not doing what is expected of you, so you chose to home educate rather than to send to school. You don’t wear certain clothes and you don’t watch certain programmes, and don’t follow certain bands. What we are saying to the kids is that you are free to choice what you can do, without that pressure of what other people think you should be doing.”
Tania’s older children are also taught outside of mainstream education, partly over the internet. Caitlin (13) is an academic year ahead of her age, and already planning her career. She is doing a short 12 week childcare course. She’d like to work in a nursery, and it would be good work experience because they have a couple of nurseries around. The interviewer says, “I thought you meant being at home would be good work experience.”
All Caitlin’s workmates are ‘virtual’ and that she wouldn’t be able to meet up with them. Caitlin says she wouldn’t be missing that much.
Caitlin does get to mix with other girls at Girls Brigade.
Home Education does not mean that the children are socially isolated – as seen by the children attending Boys and Girls Brigade.
“Several evenings a week the children get the chance to meet up with kids outside of the family and let off steam” Socialising is important. They are supervised so we know they are safe.
They are members of the boys and girls Brigade which helps, instill values it is important because it teaches them about having pride in their appearance, and about treating people well and building good character. Like them to be smart, and give them a bit of self pride.
A lady at boys brigade says that the children are not at all attention seeking, that they are good kids.
Tania’s children are an absolute credit to her. Even at the party, where it is just family, Tania expects good behaviour. She says it is important to have boundaries and to be consistent: When a parent says something – that’s it. She tells us, ”I’m not their buddy, or chums, I’m their mum.” They are kept in-line with routine. “Without routine there would be meltdown after meltdown.” The Sullivans have rules and the naughty step is utilised.
The lady at the scan place says that Tania is in control completely, she only has to look and they know.
“We prefer to do something differently to the rest of society are doing. But we are happy with that. And so if our children grow up and are comfortable with what they want to do and how they want to be, then that will serve them well. To be strong enough to say, no I’m not going with the flow, I’m happy as I am thank you.”
Pregnancy risk myth
Kris Marshall narration has sprinkling of language which I felt made it seem that Tania was at risk with having the baby “the risks of child birth all too well;” “an anxious countdown,” “not every pregnancy has run smoothly.” With mention of how the more sections means the more scar tissue (this is the 5th), but for Tania “the rewards of child birth out-weigh the risks.”
There’s going to be risks with any pregnancy. Miscarriage is a difficult thing to go through, and after 8 miscarriages it to be expected that any woman would be a little anxious. I think you could see how hard this has been for Tania.
“I feel blessed to be able to carry them and to have a baby. If I can then I’m happy to have more.”
They had 7 boys and 4 girls, so baby number 12 was a surprise. They prefer that. The children want to call the baby Zelda. But when she is born she is called Isobel. This “birth day,” a very moving video of the birth that the Sullivans are kind enough to share with us, is shown alongside the 18th birthday celebrations of one of the Salim children, who has been working hard on her future and deserves some fun.
Planning for the future
Mike says that they’re not stupid and that they’re not doing this (having children) for some sort of record. Kris Marshall explains how they own a 5 bedroom house but says that the new baby is “displacing the twins from the parents’ bedroom” – like it’s only lack of space, rather than the fact that at their age (15 months) most children have, generally, moved out of their parents bedrooms.
One of the children says, “you don’t plan a baby around room.” Again, generally, if you waited until you had everything ‘just so’ before having a baby you might never have one.
They have a three year plan, where they dream of moving somewhere rural, with land and being self-sufficient. They have been working towards this dream for years. I think that this was well contrasted with the Salims who also had dreams and things went wrong when Mohammed lost his job.
For Questions you may have about this family please look here
Photos copyright of Larger Family Life not to be taken without their permission