Big family: People stare at them when they go out

National statistics indicate that families here are shrinking. But some families are bucking the trend.

Six children.

And no helper from day one.

Housewife Hoy Tsui Ling, 43, is mum to John, 15, Magdalene, 12, Hannah, 10, Elizabeth, eight, Joshua, six and Anna Faith, two.

She and her husband, Edwin, also 43, did not quite count on the big brood.

"I planned for two. My husband planned for four. But in the end, we are blessed with six," she chortles.

"They have brought me so much joy. I am so thankful."

Madam Hoy is one of those who have bucked the trend, unlike national statistics that indicate families here are shrinking. The average household size in Singapore has fallen from 5.3 members in 1970 to 3.4 in 2014. Families with two children continue to be the norm among women, with 35.5 per cent of those aged 30-39 years and 43.2 per cent of those aged 40-49 years having just two kids.

Madam Hoy says that when the family go out for a meal, people would sometimes point and stare, so much so that she has got used to the attention.

"A lot of people are amazed. You can tell people get a bit shocked when all of us enter a lift at one shot," she says.

Managing a household with six children is no easy task.

Using a roster, the children help their mother out with chores such as washing clothes and cooking.

Says Madam Hoy: "Since we have no helper, we do everything ourselves. We want to train our kids to do things themselves, instead of relying on others."

Their eldest, John, plays a significant role.

Madam Hoy says he sets his alarm to wake up first, then he gets his siblings to arise.

They live in a five-room HDB flat in Pasir Ris. It is not the biggest of spaces, but Madam Hoy says it suits them fine.

Even then, there is a boys' bedroom, a girls' bedroom and a study room. To save space, the children sleep on bunk beds.

Madam Hoy homeschools all her children. This allows her to keep track of them, instead of being dependent on a school's timetable.

"Since they were young, my husband and I wanted to be the ones to inculcate the values we hold for ourselves in them," she says.

Their learning environment is a collaborative one, where the older siblings help the younger ones with their homework.

On a typical day, the children finish their lessons by 3pm. Between lessons, they take turns practising on the piano.

Edwin, who works as a civil servant, takes the reins on weekends - that means field trips to museums and parks.


Despite the large number of children, Madam Hoy does not find it overwhelming.

"We work together and when it becomes part of the routine, it doesn't feel like there is a lot to do," she says.

Of course, it means there will be some bickering among the siblings, but Madam Hoy sees this as a good thing.

She says: "The first thing they see is one another, all the way till they go to bed. This can cause them to squabble, but it also helps them understand each other better."

In fact, she starts panicking when the usually raucous house gets too quiet.

She laughs: "They have become such a big part of my life, I get so uneasy if I don't hear them."

Big families featured previously

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Mr Omar Abdul Rahim and his wife, Madam Zurainee Osman, both 44, have five boys and three girls. Three years ago, the youngest was four months old and the oldest was 13. The couple see their children as blessings from God.

Mr Omar, an interior designer, said: "He decides the number. We go with the flow."

The family of 10 squeeze into a five-room Housing Board flat in Sengkang.

For Madam Zurainee, the trick to managing such a big family is prioritising.

"Cooking and taking care of the children come first. The rest comes later," she said.

To cope financially, the children are trained from as young as three or four to look out for bargains, such as the cheapest toilet rolls and housebrand soaps, she added.

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Ms Lennie Tan, 40, and her husband, 43, who works in a technology firm, have seven children, aged two to 17.

The former preschool teacher quit work after her fourth child was born.

Her day in the five-room HDB flat in Upper Aljunied starts at 5am.

She wakes the children up in twos for their shower. When they are done, they wake the next two. They set off around 6.30am in the family's seven-seater to drop them off at their schools.

Ms Tan says with a laugh: "I'm the chauffeur and do-everything person. But it's not a chore. I am loving it."

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In 2013, Pastor Henson Lim, then 49, and his wife Serene, then 44, trained their brood of seven to do household chores, such as washing up after each meal and doing the laundry.

"It's good training in Singapore, where kids are waited on hand and foot. There's no such thing as I eat my meal and wash my own plate and cutlery," said Mrs Lim, a former media manager, who became a full-time mother eight months after her first child was born.

Their seven children, then aged four to 15, are homeschooled in their maisonette home in Bishan.

Chai Hung Yin

This article was first published on Jan 24, 2016.
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