The average American family today is fairly small — at least in historical terms. The average American mother has roughly 1.9 kids, below the population replacement level rate. For context, just 40 years ago, almost half of American mothers had four or more children and just 11 percent of American moms had just one kid. Today, only 14 percent of American moms have four or more kids. And it’s no small wonder why. According to government figures, raising just one kid costs about $250,000 (and that’s if you do it on a budget).
Still, some American parents go all in and end up raising not just basketball teams, but a few subs just in case. One of those parents is Justin Hill, a 37-year-old father of seven who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Olya. They run their own parenting website called Living Notes and started having kids 15 years ago and while they never explicitly planned to have a big family, they never called a halt to all the procreation. They still haven’t.
Justin spoke to Fatherly about the challenge of raising lots of kids at a time when and in a place where that’s unusual and the joy of having a really big family.
Our oldest child is Nikolay. He’s turning 15 this year. And then, we have Nadya, who is 12, Yeva, who is nine, Vaselisa, who is six, Evyianne, who is five, Elia, who is two, and Elisey, who is about to turn one. They came one at a time, but Elia and Evyianne seem like the Irish twins even though they’re about two years apart. They’re always together and they play off of each other in the way twins do.
I come from a family with five kids. I’d always thought, you know, four or five kids would be great. But, when my wife, Olya, and I got married, and we had our first kid and I thought, Well, I could be fine with one or two. It was a difficult time. It was a big adjustment. We really learned that when you become a parent for the first time, you realize how much you don’t know. But after we had our third child, the world just changed. We realized that having a big family would make us happy. Still, we never planned to have seven kids. We just had one kid at a time.
A lot of the parents that we talk to say, “I can’t imagine having seven children. I have it so hard with just one.” They’re right — it is really hard with one or two kids. Because when you just have one kid, that child wants 100 percent of your time. There’s no one else. When you have two, it’s kind of the same, but it’s double the demand. So, yeah, it’s very difficult. But somehow when we had our third baby, our two kids who were a little bit older started helping. Yeva had a built-in playmate. You start realizing that you have a little bit more time as a parent when the kids interact with each other. The hardest part is really investing the time early on to teach habits, discipline, routines, and rules. But the older kids help the little kids learn that.
Having a bigger family, of course, brings legitimate challenges. Budgeting money is hard. Budgeting time is hard. We have to pay more attention to details, but, at the same time, we didn’t have seven kids at once. You learn as you go.
That said, learning is hard. Every time we have another kid, it’s like: How could we forget what it’s like? In some ways, parenting is experiencing the same things for the first time. But you get a lot of perspective from that. Not everything is an emergency. We know that. And we’re really good at potty training. With the last two kids, one of them was potty trained in less than a week.
One of the things that I love about having a big family is that I have children right now from a baby to a teenager. We get to experience a lot of different stages, and childhoods all at once. We get to see and enjoy the experiences of having an older child, who we can talk to, and a toddler, who is full of joy. We’ve prolonged the amount of time we’ve been around children and childhood, which is a wonderful time. We’ve been through childhood seven times together.
Sometimes people ask us: “Is it ‘right’ to have a big family?” There is no right or wrong. We never would have continued to have more children if we didn’t feel like we were capable and confident to walk the path that we’re on. We knew, going in, with each additional baby, that there would be times where we just had to put aside sleep. We expected these things, coming into it. We knew that there were certain things that we would have to sacrifice. We prepared for them.
People ask if we’re going to have more kids all the time. We’ve learned to never say never. For right now, we’re just enjoying our kids. Are there going to be any more children in the future? We’re not saying no to it. But we’re happy with the way things are right now.