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Large families

Three is the new two

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Sanheetha Ved, a 33-year-old stay at-home mother of three, is expecting her fourth child soon. She's often been at the receiving end of raised eyebrows and impertinent questions. "If anyone asks me why, I say, why not?" says Sanheetha.

Sanheetha and husband Ved were always clear that they wanted a big family, and today there's never a dull moment in their Bangalore home with two boys aged 12 and 10 and a girl of seven. "I got married quite early and my first son was born before I turned 21. We had the second one soon, a boy. My husband was very keen that we have a daughter, so we decided to keep trying. And now, seven years after she was born, seemed like as good a time as any to have another baby. I'm still young and energetic. And believe me, I've had a blast, " says Sanheetha.

While not quite ready to rival the Duggars - the famous American family with 19 children and a TV show of its own - many Indian families today are finding happiness in numbers. It may be too early to ask if big families are back, but there are definite clusters of behaviour that indicate this is a growing lifestyle choice. And while the majority of affluent Indian parents are happy with their one or two, for some parents, three (or four, or five) is the new two.

"I just delivered one family's fifth baby, " says Dr Praveena Shenoi, senior obstetrician and gynaecologist at Bangalore's Cloudnine Hospital. "Yes, I have noticed that a number of parents are opting to have big families with three-plus children. Typically, they are well-off and feel confident about being able to provide for all their kids. Although many come from wealthy business families or work at CXO levels, by no means is everyone super-rich. They just want large families, " says Shenoi, whose opinion as a doctor is, the more the merrier. There is no obvious gender bias either. "In fact, many try for a third child after two boys because they want a girl, " she adds.

Delhi-based author Anuja Chauhan, a former senior ad executive with JWT and her husband TV producer Niret Alva, co-founder of Miditech, have three children aged 17, 14 and 11. The elder two are girls while the youngest is a boy. "I've heard them all yaa, " says Chauhan in her distinctive ad-industry drawl. "When my kids were younger I used to hear it all the time - 'oh you had two girls so you wanted a boy'. It used to make me mad but now the comments have died down. " She recalls how, when she was pregnant with her third while working at JWT, her colleagues decided to pull a prank on her. Her boss came to her and said, "There's a company policy about taking a third maternity leave. In short, you can't. " "I was horrified and started spluttering in rage before realising it was a joke, " says Anuja, laughing.

Both Chauhan and Alva grew up with three siblings each and love the idea of a big family. "I'm really all for people having more children. When we see our kids with all their siblings and cousins, it's such a heartwarming feeling, " she says.

Yashodhara Lal is inordinately proud of being a mother of three, a fact that is written in big, bold letters on the Twitter profile of the Gurgaon-based first-time author of Just Married, Please Excuse. "I may have had twins and therefore my 'third' kid was hardly a choice - but now, having experienced what it's like bringing up three kids, I feel that there could hardly be a better number. Well, maybe four, but only because that way you can make two teams and play badminton and various other games. But three is a great number, " says Lal, who finds it annoying that people's reactions to her family always focus on the challenges of bringing up three children and not enough on its obvious joys. "I genuinely feel blessed, and very few people get that, " she says.

Most parents spoken to for this story agree that resource-management is a challenge when it comes to raising a big family, but they all agree that human resources are more important than financial ones - of course, while making sure that the basics such as space, education and parental time and attention are in place. Most have live-in help;Lal admits that her friends make fun of her "army of maids" and Sanheetha says life would have been very tough without her three live-in helpers.

"If you really want to have more kids, you will find a way to cut corners, " says entrepreneur Sunita Rai Khapre, who lives in the US and runs an eBay-based retail business. For Khapre, four children was very much a conscious decision. Her elder two are daughters, 13 and 10 years old, while the younger two, 8 and 6, are boys. "We loved our kids and we never thought about the money. However, we are very frugal. So we take road trips instead of trips to Europe and Hawaii. We don't eat out that much. We invest in only one (extra-curricular ) activity per child. For the longest time, we were a one income family and yet we managed. One doesn't need XBoxes or PSP players when one has siblings to antagonise, you see, " she says.

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