In a large family, having kids who can take care of themselves is a must

A formula of family life: the Vinogradovs

When Nikolai Vinogradov, the head of a large family, started the construction of their new home, he intentionally abandoned the idea of having separate rooms for each of their five children. Nikolai is convinced: just like rocks, our children are polished off in the process of communication and grow attached to one another.

The Vinogradovs The Vinogradovs   


  • Nikolai Alexeevich, aged 42, construction worker;

  • Zhanna Alexandrovna, aged 41, recreational center and hotel manager.

Married for eighteen years.


  1. Yana, aged 17, Senior student at the School #38, Tver;

  2. Matvey, aged 15, ninth-grader;

  3. Ekaterina, aged 8, second-grader;

  4. Zakhar, aged 6;

  5. Nikolai, aged 3.

Nikolai Alexeevich:

“My parents had five of us, a daughter and four sons, and I was the next-to-last kid. Times were hard, there was little to share, – we just had to survive somehow. We are the country folks. When I was in the third grade, my father broke his leg. He was ill for a very long time, well, practically, he became an invalid. My mother had to do all the work herself and we helped as much as we could. In the morning, you get up – and go straight to make hay. I began making hay when I was in the third grade. Well, it wasn’t serious yet, but in the fifth grade, I was doing it as a grown-up, on a par with everyone else. Once you dry the hay, you are off to the garden – digging, planting, weeding, watering. We went mushroom and berry picking to use in wintertime. And so, my summers would go by like that, each one no different from another. When we were still really young, we’d be free to run, jump, swim, and play like anyone else. But once we grew older, we had to do chores around the house. Taking a cow grazing, or taking care of a horse and lambs. It was good that there were five of us, as we could take turns every two hours. Because it could be thirty-five or forty degrees Celsius, but you had to stay on pasture. Or, it could rain, and so, everyone's back at home, but you're outside – wearing a raincoat, chasing sheep. Had there been only one child in the family, it would have been really hard! That's how we lived. We had no extra money, with our dad sick all the time – well, he’d earn a little whenever he was able to. But the main load was on my mother’s shoulders.

Nikolai and Zhanna Nikolai and Zhanna   

I wanted to have a lot of children of my own. I liked it when there were a lot of kids. And I do love it that there are a lot of us. Say, my sister is a godmother to all my children: she took our youngest ones away during the lockdown, and they spent two months there in the countryside, roaming free. She worked as a teacher in the neighboring village until that school closed down, and later transferred to work at the local county seat’s school. I also keep good relationship with my brothers, and why would I not? We all built a house for my older brother and later added a farmstead. The younger brother lives with our mom helping her. Every weekend, we all meet at our mom’s – it’s our family get-togethers. Even if the husbands or wives can't come, all brothers and the sister will still go to see mom every weekend. Well, my family is actually visiting her the most: my wife's parents have their dacha nearby – and this is where my wife and I met, in the village.

It seems that, over the years, the family stumbles over more and more difficulties! In the beginning, everything seems just fine – well, we are clueless, silly, and living as it goes. Something works, while other things don’t. But nowadays, we do already know how things should be, and we have to strive to achieve it. But it just doesn’t happen! We want to have it right away, or get things done in one day – but it just can’t happen!

Every member of the family has to take care of his duties. In winter, I had no work – I took care of the house duties, whereas my wife tried to get a job. Once the construction season started and I got things going – it was my turn to work while my wife took care of the house. Once I come home – everything has to be right, things done and the food ready on the table. If the day isn’t planned well, it goes awry at some point in the evening. That's the breeding ground of future conflicts! In my line of work, I have to manage people – I plan the workload for six to seven people. If I can’t do it on time, some of them will be idle and earn nothing. So, ideally, I also want that my life at home is organized in the same way. But housework is hard; besides, you can't see its results. Say, I go on assignment to build a house, and, once it’s done, everyone sees it. But at home, it’s the same routine, day after day. It is always harder for those working on the home front. And how was it during the war? A soldier was killed, he’s gone, but in the collective farm, someone has to work, day and night, from winter through summer. You may not die working, but also you won’t lay in your grave alive. The same with the family, as it is unclear who’s got it harder.

My wife is aware of all my problems, successes and failures. That’s what love is!

The way I see it that love is respect for one another. I respect my wife: look, how many kids she bore for me! She is, you see, such a trooper: she finds time to help me in our family business. She sort of takes care of the finances, writing estimates and sending them out. My wife is aware of all my problems, successes and failures. That's what love is! Not like what you’ll often see in the movies: all that lovey-dovey stuff... When you’ve got no bread, all of that, I think, is irrelevant. Well, sure, men and women have different opinions on this stuff. But that's how we live. I often notice: the elderly couple is walking hand in hand, and they are maybe seventy already! I find it admirable that they, as silver-haired as they are, still walk holding hands. It's a sight to behold: they were able to protect their love throughout that long life! Well, we are also trying! Maybe towing our love behind at times… Yet still, pulling through. We may be limping and suffer setbacks, but what can we do?

I lecture my kids, day in and day out – whoever I can catch gets a lecture. If I am home for lunch, I already have a list, who should be doing what. If kids know how to work, they have less time for silly stuff. There are parents who say, “He doesn't need to do it, it's too hard for him, he’s too young…” I recall how, as a child, I’d grab a hammer and find a nail to hammer down. My mom would say, “Oh no, he'll hit his finger!” And my dad would reply: “If he hits it once, he'll watch out the second time. He will get an idea that it hurts bad to hit that finger!” The sooner the children are immersed in the challenges of everyday life, the more capable they will be in life. As early as fifteen, I already left home and went to study construction at the trade school. A villager all my life, who never lived anywhere else, and then, bang, I am at a dormitory surrounded by the city life. I had money, I had freedom – I could try anything I wanted! Had I not learned to be responsible for my actions, what could have happened to me there? In our first year of studies, we had people who were expelled like that – whoosh, and gone! They couldn't handle all that freedom.

The earlier the children are immersed in the challenges of everyday life, the more capable they will be once they grow up

In a large family, having independent children is a necessity. Parents don't have time to tiptoe around their kids. It's when you have only one, then the parents will fuss over them, but it's different in a large family. You’ve got only two legs, but five kids – how can you fuss over all of them? It is necessary to get the right communication channels going in the family. The oldest ones control the youngsters and instruct them.

When I was building my new house, I had an idea of making a separate room for each kid. As for the five of us back then, we had to settle with sharing two rooms; so I thought it was important that everyone had their own space. But a wise man told me: “Absolutely not! In this case, a brother and a sister won't ever be in touch with one another.” It is imperative for them to rub shoulders like pebbles on the riverbed: as the water flows, they rub smoothly against one another and thus fit tighter. But if you set them at a distance, they will never fit in. The same is with the kids: if you tucked them away in the opposite corners, they’ll grow up apart. They'll be sitting in their rooms, immersed in their gadgets. These days, we have it this way: I tell them once, I tell twice – hmm, no one seems to hear! All have I do is turn off the Wi-Fi. Immediately, everyone is off running, and everything comes alive all of a sudden in the house!”

Zhanna Alexandrovna:

“Nikolai and I met at a village disco club. He was very sociable, learned a lot, and quite a handyman. We dated for about five years and then got married.

Zhanna Alexandrovna with daughters Zhanna Alexandrovna with daughters I never thought I would have a lot of children, but my husband came from a large family and he wanted the same for us. The hardest part was to mentally prepare to have our third kid, but the last two were an easy deal. As for the third child, my husband kept asking me to have another one. When my youngest son was seven, I suddenly longed to have another baby myself. I made up my mind, and I never regretted it! When Katya was born, her older brothers and sisters were grown already, both our own and her cousins; And so, everyone doted on her as if she was a doll. When we had our third child, we got a bigger living space by selling our apartment and buying a house in the same neighborhood. We didn't even have to switch schools. Our two youngest were born there.

I have no time left for myself! I wish I had, but I can’t see it how I can do it without taking time away from my children. On weekdays, in addition to school, we have all kinds of extracurricular activities. The older two are doing speed skating at a professional level. Matvey, now that he graduated from the 9th grade, will be enrolled in the Olympic Reserve Sports School. Both Yana and Matvey got into sports at the same time, trained with the same coach, but Matvey achieved greater success and built up more stamina. However, Yana also won medals and prizes. She also chose to devote her life to sports, as she intends to study at the Department of Restorative Medicine.

As for the youngest ones, they do trampoline tumbling. It's a form of acrobatics. I take them there twice a week; and we also take Katya to the drawing class, whereas our little one is just a tagalong.

Even the little ones can help, when we stand in line and hand over the logs one by one

We always spend our weekends together at our grandma's in the countryside. We help her there, as there is always work left to be done in the country house. Maybe, do something in the garden, or bring firewood... Even the little ones can help, when we form a line and hand over the logs one by one. We must bring enough firewood from the stack each weekend inside the grandma’s house to last for a week. The children feed the chickens and piglets. She used to keep a cow and a horse – Yana and Matvey would take them to pasture. Then it got too hard for her to keep livestock, so she has only small stock right now.

Of course, kids do not always obey. It happens and they will act up at times: “Why me?” I’d typically respond to this: “And why should I cook for you, or do the dishes? What if I don’t really want doing it either! But I have to, and so do you.” The same with their studies: “I don't want this,” “I won't do that!” But you’ve got no choice – you simply should do it! I help my children with their studies if they are at the elementary school, or if they don't understand something, but I never sit down with them as they are doing their homework. They generally study well on their own; Yana finished the ninth grade with a single "B” and others being "As." How the parents set up rules from the very beginning, that's how it will be in the future. If you sit down and do homework with your child in the first grade, he'll get used to it and will never learn to think on his own.

I have a truly great mother-in-law – such a non-confrontational person! Back at our wedding, she said: "Submit yourselves to one another." When I was young, I thought it was irrelevant. But now that we've been married for a long time, I realized how it is important sometimes to keep your mouth shut. Arguments are never productive. They wreck the nerves and leave the bad taste that lingers. So it’s better for me to step away and calm down, to get rid of that unpleasant aftertaste – and then, ten minutes later, we can hold a completely different discussion of the issue at hand and find a mutually acceptable solution.

When I was getting married, I was really stubborn. I could argue myself hoarse trying to prove that I was right, and that things are to be done my way! Perhaps that’s the major part that has changed. I now try to smooth down the discord and disagreements. Life made me more flexible.

I like it when there are many people in the house. Everyone is talking. If a family has a single child, he acts differently around other people. These parents differ even in their values from the ones who raise many children. I am talking about the families where one child is a conscious choice, not as a given. But when the parents have more than one child, a mom acts differently, even at the playground: she already knows when exactly your child acts wrongly and how she should behave. When a child has brothers and sisters, he grows up more psychologically adaptable and tender-hearted. Sure, we’ll still hear the tiny tots saying, “It’s mine! Mine!” But older kids will have already learned well that it is necessary to share and give in. Members of a large family communicate a lot and this is just the right resource that helps to develop the required character traits. And the earlier this process begins, the better.”

Matvey at the competition Matvey at the competition   

From the author: On January 20, 2020, Matvey Vinogradov saved someone’s life. The young athletes were at the Tver’s railroad platform with their coach waiting for the Lastochka train to arrive and take them to Moscow for the competition. Suddenly, a man had a fit of epilepsy. He fell on the tracks when the train was merely twenty meters away. Matvey and two other men jumped onto the tracks and managed to pull the injured man aside. The classmates and teachers, commenting on the incident for the local news channel, said they weren’t surprised: everyone knows that Matvey is a kind and compassionate boy.

By the way, Matvey Vinogradov won that competition in Moscow.

Anna Berseneva-Shankevich
Translation by Liubov Ambrose


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