What growing up with many siblings is like
We spoke to youths about life with three or more siblings, and the secrets to keeping a big family together.
When polytechnic student Amabelle Sng, 20, unmutes her microphone to answer questions during Zoom lessons, all her lecturers can hear are the sounds of children screaming, giggling and running.
As for undergraduate Toh Ying Ying, 20, hearing her parents arriving home from work signals the start of a race with her five siblings to see who can hug their parents first.
These are just typical scenarios in the daily lives of youths with big families. We spoke to three of them to find out more about life in their sometimes chaotic households with between three to five siblings.
Sharing is caring
Having many siblings is certainly not all fun and games. So many people living under one roof can be a nightmare, especially during mornings when everyone is scrambling to get ready for school or work.
For Ying Ying, who has five siblings ranging from 9 to 26 years old, her family dealt with this by making everyone operate on different schedules.
Although she attended the same secondary school as two of her siblings, they never travelled to school together, as the three of them would stagger their timings to avoid fighting for the bathroom.
She said: “Sometimes if I’m early I’ll see my brother, sometimes if I’m late I’ll see my sister. But the two of them will never meet.”
Similarly, 19-year-old undergraduate Tan Mei Hwa, whose three sisters range from 16 to 24, has a habit of waking up very early to avoid the “peak hour” at home.
However, night times are still a problem as everyone wants to wash up at the same time. Mei Hwa usually ends up showering first, as her two younger sisters want to avoid her piercing glare.
Aside from sharing the bathroom, Mei Hwa also shares clothes with her siblings. Having four daughters of similar sizes and ages comes in handy, as they can easily share or pass down clothes and school materials.
“We don’t really buy stuff that we don’t need,” Mei Hwa said, “We have a lot of people, so we try to reduce costs as much as possible.”
Amabelle takes this a step further – her primary school uniform has been worn by a grand total of four people: Her 27-year-old sister, Amabelle herself, her 12-year-old sister, and her 8-year-old sister.
Life during circuit breaker
Material possessions were not the only thing that the siblings needed to share and sometimes fight about.
With the entire family cooped up at home during the circuit breaker, Mei Hwa noticed that she had poor Internet connection as everyone was using the WiFi to study or work from home.
In spite of everyone being at home together, they did not get in one another’s way – each used separate corners of the house to do their work, and left one another alone.
For Amabelle, who lives in a three-room flat, studying from home wasn’t as peaceful.
She took a small room in the kitchen instead of sharing one with her three sisters or two brothers, but it was still tough to get any work done. Whenever one of her younger siblings started screaming, she would lose her train of thought.
Amabelle said: “After a while, I knew how they were going to behave, so before class I would tell them I’m having class and don’t want to hear any noise. After class, I tell them they can make it hell.”
Keeping a big family together
Because there are so many people with different schedules, it can be tough to get the whole family to sit down for meals.
Due to a lack of space, Amabelle’s family has to take turns to eat dinner in three groups, with the youngest children eating first.
When they eat hotpot on special occasions, her sisters open their bedroom door to make an extra large dining room, and they sit on their beds to eat together.
The Phase 2 restrictions of social gatherings with only five people did not affect any of them, as they seldom went out as a whole family. Instead, they usually go out in small groups or in pairs.
In spite of having so many people around, all three girls consider themselves close to their siblings.
Every night, Amabelle and her siblings have a “ritual” where they gather in her sisters’ bedroom.
“Whoever feels like talking will just talk out of nowhere,” Amabelle said, “If someone says, ‘Oh, I had a bad day at school today’, we’re just like, ‘Tell us more!’”
Ying Ying’s big family is in a group chat with her cousins, where they are close enough to spam unflattering photos and stickers of one another.
The big families didn’t have to go out regularly or even eat together to be tight-knit. For them, all it takes is sharing the same space to make fond memories together.
Unique family dynamics
When asked about their favourite sibling, Ying Ying said she chooses based on the scenario. As she’s currently in a stage of life where she needs to make “adult” decisions, she finds that she is closest to her 26-year-old sister, who offers her life advice.
“But in terms of stupid things like bringing me water, my favourite sibling is definitely the youngest,” Ying Ying joked.
Amabelle was spoilt for choice. As she wondered aloud during our Zoom interview, her siblings all looked up in curiosity.
“Don’t give that face!” she warned one of them teasingly.
“I would say it’s my youngest brother,” she continued, “He’s cute.”
She then turned her laptop to show her youngest brother waving at the camera.
On the other hand, Mei Hwa did not hesitate to pick her 18-year-old sister, who she shares a room with. They argue every now and then, but it is those arguments that bring them closer together.
Although everyone mentioned that they tend to get annoyed at or bicker with their many siblings, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ying Ying was adamant that she would not want any less siblings.
She said: “I like the chaos. I like the spontaneity, like when someone suddenly comes home.”
“But I definitely don’t wish for it to be more crowded,” she added as an afterthought.
Amabelle agreed that she wouldn’t wish to have less siblings.
“Despite it being chaotic and noisy all the time, they do bring joy… sometimes. Most of the time, they just bring annoyance,” she joked.
While she does have fights and disagreements with her siblings, Amabelle acknowledged that it was great to have so many siblings.
“We grew up together, we’ve made a lot of memories together, we don’t have pretences. It’s just wonderful knowing they’re always going to be there for you.
“We have our arguments and everything, but at the end of the day we’re still a family. Growing up with so many siblings has taught me that blood is thicker than water.“