What's It Like to Live in a Family of 12?

The average American family has fewer than two children. To some, any more than two seems extreme. But with 10 kids the Fisher family has found there’s always enough love to go around.

To chronicle life in the Fisher family, Matthew Lomanno spent a long weekend with them, capturing their activities on black and white film and listening in on daily activities. The Fisher Family is: parents Damien and Simcha with children (listed oldest to youngest) Lena, Dora, Clara, Moses, Elijah, Sophia, Lucy, Irene, Benny and Cornelia … and Boomer the dog.

According to a recent CDC report, NH has the lowest birth rate in the country with the rest of New England close behind. Still, some, like the Fishers, are choosing a home full of children, with all of the attending activity, noise, craziness and fun.

Many people can recall a time when large families were common. Within a generation or two, an accepted and even celebrated cultural practice has become a fringe reality. With more than the allotted amount of children (say, three), one becomes subject to the open, public and unrequested critique of these family choices. Strangers, unable to contain themselves, unabashedly approach to comment:

“Looks like you have your hands full!”

“You do know how that happens, right?”

“Is this [amount of children] it? Are you finished?”

Or simply, “[expletive]!”

As Western birth rates continue to decline, some families are choosing to have more — many more. Bucking the new tradition, these large families become counter-cultural, opting for personal development within a familial structure, even if at the expense of career development, financial stability and material expansion. This inversion of contemporary Western values leaves the majority baffled, but the benefits are many.

One such large family is the Fishers. Living just outside Keene, parents Simcha and Damien are both writers, and their 10 children range from 16 years to three months old. The environment at home is not idyllic in any romantic sense: much like an emergency room, constant movement and activity swirls about, and commotion seemingly reigns. Messes are made. But older children care for the younger. Board games are spontaneously played while homework is finished nearby. One of the boys prepares a meal. Someone reads in the corner. They share computers and devices. At the end of the night, everyone has a regular clean-up task.

This atmosphere has allowed for individual independence within familial dependence: these children are their own persons with unique interests, strengths and challenges, but each is always supported by affectionate parents and siblings. With an abundance of real, tangible interactions and relations across ages, everyone plays and grows and works together, ultimately becoming more human in the process.

Elijah (11) welcomes Damien home. Simcha was pregnant with Cornelia, who was born in February. Damien, a reporter, recently rejected an offer at a major newspaper, which would have required moving the family.

Siblings Speak:

“My friends don’t have minions. And they don’t have as many strange in-jokes.”
 – Lena, 16

“Sometimes, it takes a while to get into the bathroom.”
— Sophia, 9

“We drive a tank instead of a regular car. “
– Clara, 14

“At Christmas I get a lot of presents, because there’s a lot of people. ”
— Lucy, 7

“If you have a good trick to play, you can play it on lots of people.”  
– Moses, 12

“We take up two whole pews at Mass.“
– Irene, 5

“There’s always someone to help you. If one person won’t, there is a million more you can ask.”  
— Elijah, 11

“I sleep with them in my room, and they read books to me. Jungle ones.”
— Benny, 3

Lucy (7) plays in the woods near home.
Sophia (9) performs her nightly duties efficiently, wearing roller skates.
“You can ignore the giant mastiff [Boomer] chasing its tail and eating out of the garbage because it’s not the most chaotic thing going on.” – Lena, 16
Benny (3) and Lucy play on the trampoline.
Clara (14) helps to prepare dinner
Benny  volunteers regularly in the kitchen. Simcha and Damien emphasize freedom over control. “Given the choice, I will almost always choose cleaning up a mess over keeping things under
reasonable control,” she wrote recently on her blog.
Lucy, Elijah, Sophia (9) and Moses (12) share an online moment.
“There’s so many coats on the coat hanger, I can’t find my own.” – Lucy
Simcha gets a hug at bedtime.


Categories: Features