Fiona Phillips gives us a glimpse into her life as the mother of six children, ranging in ages from 21 to 6. Her dedication to motherhood and her reliance on the Lord shine through in this interview.
How did you and your husband decide on the size of your family?
I knew I wanted to have children but I wasn’t a particularly child-orientated person, so I didn’t dwell on it. When we got married, my husband and I wanted four, I think subconsciously because that had been the number of children in my family growing up, so we were just thinking about having four children. But when we got married I was told that we might not be able to have children as I was told that I had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). There was a 50/50 chance. Women with PCOS just don’t know until they try if they will be able to have children. So we got married and decided that we would try right from the beginning. I got pregnant within three months. That was the beginning of our four-children family. We had four children in five and a half years, which I found quite demanding.
How did you manage having four children aged five and under?
It was very difficult. It was almost too difficult. I remember a senior sister missionary with six children telling me “Take your time,” trying to warn me in a subtle way, and I ignored her and carried on! And then found myself sobbing in the bathroom with four children all around me. Once when I was breastfeeding the baby, Meg, in the smallest room in the house, Beth and Laura ran in and starting fighting about something. Sam decided to join us as well, so he ran in, tripped up, bumped his head and started screaming. Meg then jerked because she was so frightened and started crying. There I was sitting in a four-bedroom house with everybody squeezed into one tiny room, howling! It really was a defining moment as a mother. This was never going to be easy, but I absolutely loved my children and I have always felt that I wanted to be with them all the time and give them as much as I could give I just wanted to make sure I was always there to teach and help them and I was going to do it to the best of my ability.
Heavenly Father has given us a commandment and asked us to have children. I wanted to push myself but I recognised I had pushed myself further than I had realised, and that I needed to pause at that point. However, I didn’t necessarily feel that I had finished having children, even in that desperate time. I just loved them so much, I didn’t want to feel that I had finished, even though we had our four children. I was prepared to carry on if I felt that was the right thing to do. I held that as a thought. But I knew I couldn’t carry on then, I knew I had to have a gap. So that’s what we did.
After a rest of about two and a half years it took us a year to conceive James. We ended up saying, “If I’m not pregnant by Christmas, then that’s it.” We would have four children, it was what we had always wanted, and we would just leave it there. Of course, I found myself pregnant at the end of the December and James was born the following September! I really do think Heavenly Father has a sense of humour.
After your fifth, James, you still went on to have a sixth, Will. What circumstances led you to having a sixth baby?
After James was born, we wouldn’t have had any more children without a definite spiritual prompting! The year before James was ready to go to school, I started to have this feeling that I should have another baby. But it was a really difficult thought for me. All the toddler-dom was almost over. I hadn’t found it easy, and as my children were getting older, I was really enjoying motherhood a lot more. We prayed about the promptings we were having, received a clear “Yes”. and I just thought, “Oh no!”. I knew it was going to make a really big difference to me. But I knew that I should do it, so I did.
The joy that everyone–not just me, but my husband and our children–has experienced as a result of Will joining our family has been huge. He is quite amazing, but that’s not so much the point as it is that I feel he really completed our family. I think it taught the teenagers a lot, and I think Dave and I have learned a lot. I felt that I was actually getting the hang of being a mother (at last!), and I enjoyed it because the others were so much older so it was much easier. I felt that I was finishing on a real high and that was a real blessing for me because I had found those early years of motherhood hard.
Having my children was a miracle and a blessing and I do feel very strongly that that was meant to be just as it worked out.
Is motherhood natural for you or were there some things you had to work on?
I definitely had to work on patience! I am not a patient person, so I am a lot more patient than I used to be simply because I have chosen to have six children. I feel that is a huge blessing because if I hadn’t done that, I think I would have been very different. I think Heavenly Father knows what we need and He knew that I needed to learn a lot and I have learned a lot from having children. Those experiences were the perfect ones to teach me. Mothering the younger children didn’t come naturally to me, but I tried my best. I learned later on with subsequent children that I should have got out of the house more. It seemed to take so long to get everyone ready that by the time we got out it was time to come back. It’s hardly seemed worth the effort. I can tell you some hilarious stories about supermarket shopping with four children.
I have learned a lot from my children as well, from the examples that they set and their simplicity and their faith. I also learned to rely on the Saviour because at times as a mother you do feel isolated and alone. Your husband can’t always there, so I found that prayer was the answer.
I think I was very committed. I did everything and was probably a bit over-the-top. We would have Family Home Evening with all the visual aids and I was really into it. I found it hard with young children. But, I just loved my kids to bits and I would do anything for them and I would sacrifice whatever was necessary. I wasn’t the perfect mum – sometimes I felt that if I had to do that jigsaw one more time I would throw it out of the window! But I would never think, “I’m not happy; I’m going to find another way of fulfilling myself.” I am very protective of my children; I will just do everything I can do for them, which sometimes leads me to being almost over-the-top in the other direction, but I do love them so much.
How has prayer blessed your life as a mother?
It has made a huge difference to me as a mother. I pray about each child individually every day because they all have different issues at different times. I don’t necessarily feel anything during my prayer, but things flow into my mind afterwards, even when I am in the shower. Sometimes it is an idea about what to do in Family Home Evening or ringing their teacher or something I should bring up with them in private. I know that I have prayed and received a prompting to go and speak to one of the children, and I haven’t known why, but there has been something that they have needed to talk to me about. This happens all the time.
Has there been any counsel from General Conference, or the Ensign, or the scriptures that you have referred to frequently during your years of parenting?
We read an Ensign article years ago talking to parents with large families that recommended parents spend individual time with their children, stressing how important that was. We had the first four at the time and we were wondering how we were going to pay them all the attention that they needed. Ours were in this big blob because they were so close together in age! So we started “Days Out” once a month. This means that Dave or I take one of the children out for an activity of their choice (budget allowing) as an opportunity to spend a few hours together one on one. We have done this consistently for over twelve years now. That one thing has made a huge difference in the relationship we have with our children because they look forward to it, even when they are teenagers. It is a time when they can talk to us, and it is a natural opportunity for us as parents, to find out what’s going on without being too obvious.
The other thing I have found valuable is when I have heard or read things that I really like, I have typed them up and stuck them around the house. I put them up so that if I am having a hard time, it reminds me of what I should be doing and who I should be. We were desperately trying to be consistent in our family prayer and so I just put up the scripture from 3 Nephi, “Pray in your Families,” and that is still on the wall after many years.
What specific decisions have you and your husband made to put your family first?
We made a definite decision that I would stay at home. I had just earned my degree in psychology and was about to start another degree in educational psychology, as I didn’t think I would have children for a long time, but as I was about to start the course, Laura was born. There was a nursery available but I wasn’t ever going to put her in the nursery and do the course. I knew I wanted to be at home. I acknowledge totally that I have been really lucky to be able to do that and I know that circumstances vary for everyone. However, we have had a couple of times in our marriage when it has been difficult to make ends meet financially. The first time it happened, the children were younger so there was no question of me going out to work even when things were difficult. Dave was starting a business so we had no wage for about a year at one point. It was a really difficult, but we were blessed, and I still do not know how we managed through that time! It was like the cruse of oil that never dried up. Throughout that time I never contemplated going to work and we paid our meager tithing. Before we knew it things were back to normal.
More recently, as the demands of expensive teenagers kicked in finances were again tight, I felt like I could be contributing. I had more time as the children were older and Will had just started school full time. It was a really interesting experience. I found a part-time job thinking that it wouldn’t affect anybody. However, even in just those few hours a week that I was working I found myself getting calls from school with sick children, forgotten PE kits, etc. Although I was only doing fifteen hours a week, I found that it did have a significant impact on the family. So I stopped working after just a few weeks. Instead I decided to start a small baking business from home which I could fit around the needs of the children. I did that so that I could be in control of my time and make my own decisions. I only do a small amount now, even though I could fill all of my time with it if I wanted to.
I also feel strongly about being available to serve and that is another deliberate part of why I am at home. The Lord needs people, and if we are not there, if we’re too busy doing other things, there is no one to help Him.
What mothering tools do you use frequently?
One thing that Dave and I talked about was that we would try and say “yes” as much as possible, so that when said it was necessary to say “no” our children would take us seriously and know in their hearts that there was a reason for that and accept it better. We have also made it a rule that we would have an open home where we would invite people to come over regularly, especially our childrens’ friends, and that has been a really good thing. They tend to always want to be here, it is hard work but it is really worthwhile because the children are safe, protected, and in a good environment.
I try not to shout. It is a lot harder than it sounds! As soon as you start shouting, then you lose any credibility. I try not to act like a teenager too! I think it is as much about the things that you don’t do as it is about the things you actually do.
What are your strategies for running a busy household?
Thinking and planning ahead is key. I think I avoid all kinds of disasters because I am always working six months ahead. By the end of September I am just getting to the end of things I was planning back in January. I have been busy, but I haven’t dropped too many balls. I find I generally mange to avoid things that could cause chaos in our large family. I have a large calendar that I write everything on, and I make lists every day and love crossing things off. Occasionally it means I find it hard to relax, which can take away from motherhood. I can be too busy being organised because I have always got to be planning the next thing ahead, so I do recognise that as one of my failings. I do need to be more spontaneous.
How do you refill yourself amongst doing all of your daily routines?
I am a huge believer in prayers and scriptures. My quality of scripture study hasn’t always been great. I resorted to reading them in the bathroom when the children were young because I didn’t get the time during the day and I was always shattered by the time I went to bed. But I have tried to do it consistently, even if it sometimes feels like a box that has to be ticked, because I know I need to do it and I want to be obedient. I also try and serve; I get a lot back from that and I do enjoy serving.
I did make the mistake when the children were younger of being a bit of a martyr. Dave would try and make me go off and have some time to myself but I rarely would because I felt I should always be at home with the kids. I should have taken more advantage of those opportunites because it was very demanding. I do that now, and if I have an opportunity for social or separate time, I take it! While I am at home and on the job I am 100% there.
What are your educational philosophies for your children?
I think it is about working hard and being consistent. I try and teach them that it doesn’t matter what the result is, it matters that they have done their best. We don’t pay them for getting grades because we feel that the result is their reward. I don’t want them to feel that if they don’t get an A, then it’s inadequate. I know they are all capable of different things. I expect them to work hard, and I try and teach them to be consistent and make their education a high priority. Even since the time that they were tiny, they have had a routine of coming home from school, having their dinner, and then doing their spellings and reading or homework or whatever it is they are doing before they go off and do anything else. Mostly they have really taken it on board and they have learned to be self-motivated. They also understand that their educational achievements will affect their future lives in many ways and that they need to plan properly, not just stumble into whatever the future holds.
What do you hope to pass on to your children?
A testimony. I want them to love the Saviour, and to want to serve and be committed, and not be half-hearted. I want them to really love and serve. Those are the most important things, because if you work hard and you love Heavenly Father and you are consistent and you have a testimony, then really you can’t go wrong.
As you look to the future with your youngest now in full-time school, what are your plans for the future?
I am assuming that I will never be without having a lot of children in the house, either my children or grandchildren. I’m hoping there will be lots of grandchildren! I don’t want to become stale so I want to push myself to do something. I am doing a counseling course–because again, we have been told that we should educate ourselves and I take that seriously–and then my plan is to do a further degree at some point in the future to allow me to work at something I enjoy if I want or need to work. It’s a deliberate choice to prepare for the future without negatively impacting the family. You never know what is going to happen.
What is your testimony of motherhood and the partnership you share with God?
I have had a lot of amazing experiences as a mother. I remember when Laura was born–I have never felt closer to my Heavenly Father. It was just a miracle, and I remember watching her and looking at her and experiencing this “trailing clouds of glory” feeling, this “Wow, she was just there!” moment. I don’t think there is anything more sacred or more wonderful than motherhood. I hope and pray that my children are all able to have a family of their own because it has been such a wonderful experience for me. It teaches you how much Heavenly Father must love us, because of the love you feel for each one of your children, you would literally do anything to help them and that sometimes involves doing really hard things that they don’t want you to do. It has taught me about the relationship that Heavenly Father has with us and how He must feel when we do things wrong, and when we do things right. I think it just gives you this huge insight. How we feel about our children is such a powerful motivating force.
I am quite sensitive to the fact that not everyone has this opportunity, I can only imagine how difficult that would be. But I do know that the influence of such Sisters can really make a difference – I am grateful to a number of such women who have sacrificed on behalf of my children and have blessed their lives.
I sometimes think about what it will be like to be older. I’m sure that my happiness and fulfillment will come from my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in knowing that my family is safe and secure in their testimonies. This motivates me to keep myself focused on achieving this goal. It’s interesting how the Lord blesses us by giving us children; it is one of the most demanding things we will ever do and yet it is one of the most precious things we will ever do.
At A Glance
Location: Hampshire, England
Marital status: Married for 22 years
Children: 6 children ages 21, 18, 17, 15, 12, 6
Schools Attended: Portland Comprehensive school, Birmingham University BSc in Psychology
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: “Be Still My Soul”
Current Church Calling: Primary President
Interview by Louise Elder. Photos used with permission.