'They work hard.' What it's like running a household with 16 kids.


When Jeni first met her husband Ray, she was adamant she never wanted to have children.

“Ray wanted at least four kids. I thought that was crazy. Like, who has that many children?” Jeni told Mamamia.

Now, over three decades later, Jeni, 50, and Ray, 51, are the proud parents of 16 children.

The Bonell family, from Queensland’s Toowoomba, is made up of nine boys and seven girls – Jesse, 29, Brooke, 28, Claire, 25, Natalie, 24, Karl, 22, Samuel, 20, Cameron, 19, Sabrina, 18, Tim, 16, Brandon, 14, Eve, 13, Nate, 11, Rachel, 10, Eric, 9, Damian, 7 and Katelyn, 4.

And the brood just keeps on growing – two of the couple’s children have got married and Jeni and Ray are now grandparents to two grandchildren.

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"They are a gift – each and every one of them.” Image: Facebook.

“I agreed to have one, maybe two kids, but it was actually me who asked for number three because I loved being a mum so much,” Jeni explained.

“We just opened up our hearts and the number of blessings has continued to rise. We also lost seven babies and that certainly changes your attitude towards accepting every baby. They are a gift – each and every one of them.”

So what exactly is like in a family of 18? And how on earth do you keep up with all the extra grocery shopping and laundry that comes with having so many kids?

We spoke to Jeni to find out everything you need to know about raising an extra large family.

What's the weekly shop like?

With 11 of the Bonell kids still living at home, weekly meals and grocery shopping isn’t exactly an easy task.

Speaking to Mamamia, stay-at-home-mum Jeni said that while their average grocery bill varies, it’s usually around $600 a week.

“Dinner time is always great. Each night we can have a different number of people at the table from as few as eight or more than 20 people,” Jeni told Mamamia.

During the week, the Bonell family go through as much as 50 litres of milk each week and at least one to two loaves of bread each day.


“It’s hard to say exactly how much of each item we use as when I grocery shop I stockpile by buying items when they’re on sale,” Jeni said.

“I buy in bulk and store large quantities of products and that’s how we save money in our budget.”

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The Bonell family shared what their stock up grocery shop looks like on YouTube. Image: YouTube.

To keep things quick and easy, the family stick to simple meals – and the kids chip in with preparing meals too.


“Our kids aged eight and up are on our family job roster so everyone pitches in and contributes with the household jobs,” Jeni explained.

“I teach the kids to cook and they prepare, cook and serve the meals. We eat simple meals – fresh meat, lots of vegetables and fruit but of course, we still have snacks and some goodies,” she added.

“Most Sunday nights we cook a roast dinner and we have takeaway as a treat on birthdays.”

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An example of the Bonell family's weekly meal planner. Image: Facebook.

What's the daily routine like?

Let’s be honest – juggling life with just one child can be seriously hard work. But with 16, juggling the activities and daily routines of so many children can be a challenge.

“I used to think life was busy when I had just a bunch of little kids but I’m certainly busier these days with more grown up children,” Jeni told Mamamia.

“We have to try to coordinate three different schools, part-time jobs for teenagers, full-time careers and study for the older kids still living at home, sporting activities, running our home, my own interests, and finding time to catch up with those kids who have left home and now our two grandchildren. Life is very hectic – but it’s good.”

The evening routine in the Bonell household can be hectic too.

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"Life is very hectic – but it’s good.” Image: Facebook.

“Take an average sized family and times it by eight and that’s what our evening routine is like,” Jeni laughed.

“Some nights it’s all run, run, run, and other nights it all seems very organised and peaceful,” she added.

“So long as everyone gets fed, bathed, chores and homework done and everyone goes to bed feeling loved and appreciated, then I consider that a successful day.”

Having so many children no doubt creates a significant amount of mess around the house, so for Jeni and Ray, keeping a job roster makes things a lot easier.

“I think it’s really important to raise children to work hard, be generous helping others and to contribute to the running of the home,” Jeni told Mamamia.

“Ray and I do the parenting side of things but we are a family so that means we are strong as a team and we do what we can to always help each other.”

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“I think it’s really important to raise children to work hard." Image: YouTube.

Although for many years Jeni did most of the housework on her own, the family soon created a schedule of chores which applied to every child from the age of eight.

“Our job roster came about back when we had six or seven child. I felt like I wasn’t teaching them these skills and how to give back to the family,” Jeni said in a YouTube video explaining their chores system.

“If mums are doing all the jobs all the time, no one is having any fun,” she added. “If you live here, you work here and you have to contribute. You have to do your job.”

Every few months, the Bonell family sit down and organise the job roster together, to make sure the roster doesn’t clash with after school activities and part-time jobs. During the week, each child is responsible for a number of different tasks, meaning everyone gets to learn lots of different skills around the house.

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The family's weekly job roster. Image: YouTube.

The children are also taught how to cook from a young age.

“They get taught how to do basic, simple meals – nothing too fancy. Our 12-year-old can put a roast dinner on for 20 people with almost no supervision,” Jeni explained on their YouTube channel.


Washing in such a large family is also a big job.

Daily, Jeni does three full loads of washing in her 10kg washing machine, which equals out to about six average sized loads per day.

"It takes a long time to wash, dry, sort, fold, iron and put away," Jeni said. "I know other mums would agree – you never really finish laundry, it's an ongoing job."

What's life like with such a big family?

Although Jeni and Ray wouldn’t change their big family for the world, there are, of course, some downsides.

“It is expensive and you definitely have to make sacrifices with your budget,” Jeni told Mamamia.

“We all work, our family doesn’t live off the taxpayer,” she added. “But we do cop a lot of criticism for having so many kids.”

Understandably, it can also be incredibly hard to find time alone.

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Jeni and her husband Ray. Image: Facebook.

“The joys far outweigh those things so I think we are just incredibly blessed to have such a big family,” she said.

Sharing advice for others hoping to raise a large family, Jeni said that “having a large family is not for everyone”.

“I believe we all end up with the number of kids we are meant to have,” she said.

“It takes a very open heart, a strong will, a thick skin and a bucket load of tolerance to handle so many children. But you also need to have patience, kindness, the ability to deal with a range of personalities, authority and yet still have a soft touch to manage such a large group of people,” she continued.

“If you are blessed with a lot of babies, you can rest assured that deep down inside yourself, you will have the skills necessary to have a successful and amazing family.”

You can find out more about the Bonell family on their Facebook page or on YouTube.