Big families are increasingly hard to come by these days. But, as I wrote in a recent article, many people would likely be happier with a bigger family than the average two that has become the norm in many countries around the world (and in a number of countries it is now creeping closer to just one. The total fertility rate among OECD country members was 1.7 in 2017).
Lisa Canning is one of those people; but she admits it took liberating herself from the mindset of the small family norm, and worrying less about what others think, to truly embrace how much she herself enjoys each new baby.
Lisa describes herself as “an interior design and lifestyle expert”, and lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and their seven children aged nine and under. For the past 11 years, she has run her own interior design business, and she also writes a blog which focuses on interior design, productivity, and motherhood. She has recently written a book entitled “The Possibility Mom”, and made appearances on various television shows in the past. She describes herself as a Type A personality who likes to plan.
Given having 7 children is now looked on as fairly ‘out there’, running a business alongside having 7 children in 9 years sounds even harder! Yet, Lisa says it is likely her and her husband will have more babies.
According to Lisa, her Catholic faith informs this choice, and she has chosen to be very open to life. She views her fertility as a gift and invites God into the decision of when, and how many, children they have. She loves the very powerful feeling of holding her babies in her arms, and also feels that her children have helped her to realise that there is a lot more to life than yourself and your own needs.
That is not to say that she hasn’t had her doubts and fears. She wasn’t always convinced that she wanted a big family. In fact, it wasn’t until after the birth of her 4th child that she figured out how to feel less overwhelmed, hold onto less, and focus more on what felt productive to her and made her genuinely happy.
She describes a ‘breakdown’ point where she figured out that a lot of exhaustion was wrapped up in comparing herself to other people, while hiding the things that she really loved – and motherhood was one of them, despite sometimes feeling that others questioned her choice to have four children.
So, she went on a journey of realizing that she had to be confident in that. She discovered that motherhood and openness to babies was something which personally made her feel fulfilled and made her happy, despite wanting a big family being an increasingly “unusual” choice.
Lisa found that giving up control was a turning point, and experience has shown her that giving up control has led to some awesome things which she just couldn’t have planned on her own. For her, this has meant trusting in God and His plan for her life, and walking in faith.
So how does she give so many children enough attention? She says people forget that you get the love of siblings, not just the love of mum and dad, and she feels the greatest gift you can give a child is a sibling.
Should everyone have 7 children then? Lisa’s answer to this is “absolutely not”. The decision to have more children is very personal and not a one-size-fits-all model. Instead, it is something that a couple has to talk about and discern very carefully and responsibly. And those considerations will look different for everyone. Lisa says her and her husband have taken it one child at a time.
Lisa is also careful to make clear that she does not do everything on her own. Part of her strategy for life is a decision to have a full-time, live-in nanny to help her to achieve the big family she desires, as well as pursue some of her other dreams. She has carefully re-designed her life to ensure that family life doesn’t get too over-whelming for either her or her husband. She is also a big believer in not feeling guilty for getting what you need as a mum – and that might mean getting a babysitter just so you can have some re-charge time. Another interesting thing she says is that having your first child is still definitely the hardest bit!
She wants to change the conversation on what success looks like, with success meaning life designed around what matters most to you. For her, being very intentional with her time and not multi-tasking, but instead carefully boxing work time and ‘being present to her family’ time, is important. She has gone on her own journey in deciding whether working or staying at home is best, and has decided on a middle ground.
If you’re someone coming from a place of fear about whether or not to have another baby, or a feeling of not wanting to let go of control, Lisa’s advice is to trust that incredible things can happen when you’re stretched. The ultimate question for her is: What would life be like without one of her children?
You can listen to Lisa for yourself here.
Shannon Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.