We all know life is never the same after you have kids, but what about if you had six? Swedish mum in Singapore Charlotte de Carpentier did just that. She’s one of those rare breed of women who manage to travel the world, pop out a clan of ridiculously cute kids and still stay cool, calm and collected (and look absolutely fabulous). She’s given birth in four different countries, has a couple of degrees to her name and has a refreshingly bohemian approach to life. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff. And she’s not ruling out another baby… We spent a sunny afternoon in the park with her and her junior entourage to find out just how she does it.
Hi Charlotte! We’re in awe of you as a mother of six beautiful kids. Can you tell us a little about each child and their role in the family?
Thank you, we feel incredibly lucky to have them. One of the most amazing things about having a large family is seeing how every child is unique with their own little personality.
My eldest Malouine is turning 10 in July. She’s outgoing, loves sport and art and carries a book with her wherever she goes. In our family she definitely plays the role of the big sister looking after her younger siblings.
Arvid and Astrid are twins turning eight in June, and they are joined at the hip. Arvid is the eldest of the boys and relishes his role as big brother in the family (which sometimes creates tension with his older sister!). Arvid places a lot emphasis on order and can spend hours organising or repairing his most valuable things.
Astrid is the diplomat of the family, calmly solving any issues that crop up. She has a passion for drawing, gymnastics and playdates!
Philippe is turning six this year. He’s a rough and tumble and expressive little boy who uses his loud voice to get his way. Curious and confident in nature, he is the one the other kids send to ask for something when they are too shy. He makes new friends everywhere and always manages to get hold of some strangers’ bag of crisps or biscuits.
Eric is turning four later this year and is very easygoing. He’s affectionate with his family and gets away with most little tricks owing to his innocent look and a winning smile.
Edith recently turned one. She walked at nine months, and loves talking, singing and playing hide and seek with her siblings in the afternoon (they are all very sweet with her).
Did you always want a big family or was it a case of having ‘just one more’ each time? Any plans for number seven?
I grew up in Sweden with one brother and both parents working. I’ve always wanted to have a big family, but had four children in mind. Then I met my husband who comes from a family of six (his sisters have up to eight children each). When surrounded by big happy families it feels very natural to have one of your own, but we didn’t agree in advance on the magic number (they just came along). We are super happy with our six children; only the future will tell if we have more…
Some say the first child is a steep learning curve, the second is double the work, but after that, you don’t really notice the extra workload. What’s your experience?
I definitely think the first child is the hardest. We were young and living in London (without help), so life suddenly looked very different! I found it difficult adjusting to my new role as a mother, and was drawn to other new mums who wanted to talk about life beyond babies. In the beginning we had no routines for Malouine, which was exhausting. Once we had schedules in place life became much easier, and I’ve been a routines mum ever since. We literally had double the work second time around as we had twins. But with strict routines we’ve managed to have long breaks after lunch and child-free evenings, which is absolutely crucial for coping!
You are Swedish and your husband is French. Do you follow the widely held French belief that babies should sleep through from two weeks and that children don’t throw food? Or are you more liberal?
I LOVE the book French kids don’t throw food! Life would’ve definitely been easier if we followed the ‘French way’ of sleep training and strict discipline, but I wasn’t brought up that way and I just can’t leave my little baby to cry (I’m not that tough). Thanks to Cedric’s French background all our kids now sleep through the night (he convinced me to sleep train at 10 months of age). We are firm on them drifting off to sleep on their own, and don’t allow midnight visitors in our bed. My parents stayed with me until I fell asleep as a child, which is very Swedish (lots of my friends do this). This just wouldn’t be possible in our large family, so I’m glad we have a French touch.
We feel strongly about good manners and behavior, especially when out and about. We attract a lot of attention being a big family, and I don’t want people thinking “look at that poor family; they have so many crazy kids”.
Talk us through an average day in the life of the de Carpentier family.
It’s an early start in our house (6am) as we need to have five of the kids ready for three different schools bus departures by 7am. Cedric and I then enjoy breakfast with the baby before he cycles to work and I head out for a spot of exercise. Edith and I play at the park, have lunch and take a rest before the older kids come home at 2pm. The afternoons are my busiest time – feeding hungry kids, helping them with homework and squeezing in French, Swedish, gymnastics and swimming classes. I always make sure to have two afternoons a week with nothing on, as we love putting on music, dancing and just hanging out as a family. Come 5pm every day you will find us in the park having dinner. I love late afternoons here in Singapore and we stay outside as long as possible. The kids are always home, showered and in bed by 8pm so that Cedric and I can enjoy an adults only dinner together.
The biggest challenge for us is to spend quality time with every child on their own (which is very important for their wellbeing). A few months ago we started having Sunday dinner with one child every week (while the others eat early and play upstairs). This has been really great for both the child and for us as parents.
How do people react when you tell them you have six kids (or they meet your brood for the first time)? Your poppets are so cute that it must be overwhelmingly positive, but is there anything you wish people wouldn’t say?
The general reaction is one of surprise, and I often have strangers asking if they are all my kids! I get a lot of questions about how I cope, and I always say that it’s not more difficult for me, it’s just different (I struggled too when I only had one child). My kids happily play together which frees me up to do other stuff. I remember the days feeling incredibly long when I had to do all the entertaining.
I’ve never had an outright negative comment about having six kids, but sometimes a look says it all… The worst is actually when I am travelling home to Europe, and people look on with fear as we are boarding. Thankfully the kids know they have to be on their best behaviour on the plane, so the attention we get is actually super positive (the kids love being praised by the cabin crew and passengers).
You’ve only had a helper for a short time. How would you compare your life pre-help and post-help?
We first experienced the joys of help when we lived to Hong Kong (when we had three kids three and under). It was amazing to suddenly be able to enjoy sans-kids shopping trips and date nights. When we moved to Singapore I wanted to feel like our family was self-sufficient, so we decided to go without full-time help. Instead I used the school bus, did internet grocery shopping and took on a part-time cleaner and babysitter. It was great for our family, and the kids became more independent and helpful around the house (as did Cedric!).
And the worst part? It was difficult to ask friends for help as no one ever asked me back (they all have helpers). It’s a different culture in Europe because families manage solo and take turns helping each other out. In the end I couldn’t keep a spotless house and manage all the kids’ afterschool activities, so shortly after Edith was born our current helper started. We’re so thankful for her and the marvellous role she plays in our hectic household.
You’re a global citizen, having lived in Europe, Hong Kong and Singapore. Where do you think is the best place to raise a family?
Wherever we live around the world we always settle in a green neighbourhood as we lead an outdoors lifestyle. Before we moved to Singapore we lived in tiny apartments (Hong Kong was particularly small), but here we’re lucky to have a huge house right in front of a beautiful park. It makes life pretty relaxing that the kids can run across the road in light clothing and bare feet and play for hours. I think Singapore is a great place to raise kids, and I’m constantly amazed by how quick and easy it is to get around here (we don’t have a car but use Uber taxis and school buses). The only downside of Singapore for me is the heat as we just can’t play outside before 5pm (and the kids often drive me crazy climbing the walls after school). I grew up with cold and rain in Europe and never had a problem with it, and I agree with the famous Swedish expression “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes”.
You seem so calm and collected. Any sanity saving tips you’re willing to share with other mums?
Ha! Cedric and I laugh when people tell us we are always so calm and chilled. We are not!! We’re just like every other family; sometimes all is peaceful, and other times everything goes pear-shaped. We both grew up with parents with relaxed mindsets, who always looked on the bright side and weren’t overly anxious. This grounding has definitely helped us manage the kids in a calm way without helicopter parenting. We also aren’t perfectionists, which certainly helps!
You’re a pretty inspiring woman. What do you do with any precious alone time? What’s your ultimate date night?
I think the key to happy parenthood is happy parents. We love spending time together just the two of us, so we prioritise date night and yearly weekend escapes. It’s really important to set aside quality time, to stay connected and to be able to respect and understand each other. It’s difficult to have longer discussions when the children are around, which is why we value our evenings together.