Joanne and Tommy O’Rourke’s family is a handful – in fact it’s more than a handful, with 11 kids they have a household of 13.
The clan, who refer to themselves as “the real life cheaper by the Dozen family”, live in North London. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot to do in a household with kids ranging from ages two to 18 but they all play their part in what Joanne calls the “organized chaos.”
Joanne, 39, and Tommy, 40, have 10 biological children and recently celebrated 10 years of being foster carers to another child. The parents rely on “routine” to keep everything running smoothly, including laying out things the night before and having everyone chip in with chores after dinner. But Joanne has always made it clear that she did not have kids to babysit her other kids.
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“That’s one thing I said from the beginning,” she said, “I have not had kids to help me with kids. Our older ones are a bit free spirited and tend to be out. They do their bit like tidying their bedrooms, bringing down the washing etc, but other than that I like them to live their lives rather than being helpers. ”
The family is also big on cooking, running their own cooking blog, and the kids love to get involved: “We always aim to do two new meals a week. And then we can add them to our list. So they’ll either be a hit or miss. It’s just a way of introducing new foods to the children as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
“Cooking is my passion and my dream is to have a cook book. I look at recipes and tend to think okay, there’s a million and one different things that need to go into that – I want to adapt it to be quick and easy rather than really long winded. I modify recipes for people who do not have the time or the money to go buy hundreds of different ingredients. ”
Cooking for 13 is no easy feat and neither is shopping for a family that size. Last time Joanne spoke to MyLondon she revealed her food shop cost around £ 180 a week. Despite the recent rise in cost of living, she has managed to keep the price of her shop “pretty much the same.”
She will go to multiple different shops to get the best prices on meat, fruit, and vegetables, for example: “Aldi is our main one. It’s good value for money. But I also do an Asda online shop often for things I can not carry like dog food, tins, jars. ” The family does not buy in bulk, either, and does their shopping weekly.
When it comes to school holidays, the older kids tend to do their own thing unless it is a planned family day. The little ones go out with their parents for days at local attractions. Recently they went to an ice cream farm. When they all go out together the family relies on a 15-person minibus to get them around. Joanne can not drive so when it’s just her and the kids they all get the bus.
The O’Rourkes usually holiday in Norfolk or the Isle of Wight. Joanne said: “The planning isn’t actually that bad. It’s just finding accommodation that’s big enough but we found a Manor House in Norfolk last year and we’ve found one in the Isle of Wight before so we kind of know where we ‘ re going to stay. “
Of course, planning plays a big part in the lives of the O’Rourke’s. Big annual events such as Christmas require a lot of attention – buying and wrapping presents for 11 kids is a big task – and organization usually starts a year in advance. “I start saving for Christmas in January so when it gets to November I’m prepared,” Joanne said.
“I start organizing stockings from September onwards. I like to be prepared – at least two weeks before the day everything’s done.” Wrapping does not take as long as you might imagine though: “The older ones like to help wrap so it does not take as long as you’d think. Last year it took two days.”
Joanne and Tommy like to get creative with celebrations. “When there’s an occasion we’re quite creative,” Joanne said, “whether it’s Christmas or a birthday, it’s always big in this house. So like for the boys’ birthday, last summer, we did a circus in the garden. Tommy built loads of props. So we had kids walking the plank, the big posters you put your heads through, a sweet wall. “
The family obviously has a lot of birthdays to celebrate in a year and many of them take place in the summer. “There are so many birthdays once June comes”, Joanne added, “We have two in June, two in July, two in August. It’s full on – basically a summer of birthdays.
“With my August babies there’s only a day between them so we tend to do them together as they’re still quite a bit but most of the time we do separate parties. They’re individuals so they like to have their own time and have it be about them. ” The kids usually request a theme – luckily Joanne and Tommy have most of what they need for amazing summer parties in their shed.
“We used to run our own business doing bouncy castles and everything for events so we’ve got it all in the shed. Oh, it’s fantastic. It really is. I mean, the sweet wall is the best thing. They love that. We just stock up on penny sweets and fill it up. ” Creativity isn’t just for special occasions, either: the parents are in the process of making their own sweet shop in the house for the kids to visit as a treat just on Fridays.
Joanne and Tommy were 18 when they met and fell in love, moving in together after three weeks, and next year they will be celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. “Everyone said it would not last but look at us now. It feels like forever. But then it has also flown by. I can not believe it with the little one being two, and my oldest one is going to be 19… ”
As if raising 11 kids and working (they are foster parents and Tommy is a forklift driver) was not enough to keep them busy, both Joanne and Tommy are starting new ventures. Joanne has recently qualified in baby massage and is working with other foster carers as well as training in baby yoga and Tommy is in the process of starting training to be a youth offender specialist.
Both came from big families and always knew they wanted to have their own big family one day. They aren’t planning on having more children at the moment but aren’t closed off to the idea of extending their family further.
“I do not know if we’re going to have any more. We’re not planning on it at the moment. The house is not going to be free of kids anytime soon. And we also have foster care. So, you know, maybe we can open the door and help other kids later on in life. We have the room so maybe we can offer them a home. ”
Keep up with the O’Rourke’s on their Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube pages. Check out their cooking page here.