Married at Age 16, Has 11 Children, Loves Her Husband, Lives in Russia

Maria and Ivan met in church when she was 13 and he was 24. Two years later they were engaged, and with the approval of her parents, they married a week after she turned 16. Sixteen years later, now he is 43 and she is 32. They are happily married, living with their 11 children in a one-room apartment that is about 400 square feet. They love having a big family, and they hope to have more children . . .

This article from our archives was first published on RI in July 2020

In the Moscow region, there are now about 142,000 families with three or more children. This number has more than doubled in the past eight years.

A select number of families have had more than 10 children. We decided to visit one of them, the happy Kairov family from the suburban town of Zelenograd. In 16 years of marriage they have had 11 children, and they have no plans of stopping there.

Family Kindergarten

Photo: Moscow 24 / Anton Velikzhanin

Ivan and Maria have been together for 16 years, and they now have 11 children. The oldest is 15 years old, and the youngest was born a little less than a month ago. At the moment when this couple first met, could they have imagined their lives would so intertwine and bring them true family happiness, beating in the warmth of so many children's hearts?

Maria and Ivan met in church when she was 13 and he was 24 years old. Ivan came from Omsk to the capital to study. For the first two years they just talked, and later the young people began having feelings for one another. They began to spend more time together, and they realized this was the beginning of something bigger. When Mary was 15 years old, Ivan offered her his hand and heart.

At that time, Maria had just finished ninth grade, and when her classmates saw the wedding ring on her finger, they didn’t even believe that the girl had a fiancé. She did not tell anyone about it, and the teachers did not know either. But the parents agreed immediately. Ivan no longer remembers how he proposed. 

“Dad doesn’t remember, but Mom remembers,” Maria laughs in reply. “We went for a walk; he gave me a ring and said that I would be his wife. Of course I agreed; there was no doubt.” The couple waited for Maria to finish school and turn 16 years old, and then they got married a week later. So in 2003 their family was born.

Photo: Moscow 24 / Anton Velikzhanin

A year later, the first daughter Susanna was born, and since then the family has continued adding one child almost every year. Since childhood, Mary dreamed of having many children. Having such an example before her eyes — her great-grandmother Barbara had 15 children — Maria dreams of catching up with her. But her husband never imagined that it would happen:

"Living in modern society, you don't realize that there are families with so many children, so initially I didn't expect this. I saw other families who have one or two children, and I thought it was all well and good."

Photo: Moscow 24 / Anton Velikzhanin

When their third child was born, the family no longer fit in their old "Lada" brand car. With three children, it was not easy to go to the store: the kids ran in the aisles, you had to watch them, and you still needed time to buy groceries and attend to the baby in the stroller. Even that early, Maria says their large family started attracting attention in public, which sometimes made her uncomfortable.

Now, with 11 children, the Kairov family does not fit anywhere — in a car, or in a room — nowhere. It is difficult just getting everyone together outside. Even if they go for a walk with four or five children, people around start watching with interest, constantly asking the question: "Oh, are they all yours?" They have to answer that this isn't all of them.

Standard day for a large family

Photo: Moscow 24 / Anton Velikzhanin

The Kairov family has been living in the town of Zelenograd for only one year. Since they have a big family, they are beginning to be noticed there. "However, we have not yet become well-known here," Maria says with a smile. Their children do not go to kindergarten in public school, because their mother works as an educator in the Family Kindergarten program.

In Moscow, Family Kindergarten is a form of preschool education for children from large families, who are registered as residents in the capital. Parents open a family kindergarten at home and provide education, training, supervision, care, food, and health care for children aged two months to seven years. One of the parents (the educator) must have an appropriate education, and for the parent this becomes the main place of work, including a salary. 

Over the years, the Kairov family has developed a daily routine. Mom gets up at five or six in the morning and starts to cook. Sometimes the one-month-old baby Melania wakes her up earlier, asking for food. At seven o'clock Maria wakes up five schoolchildren: they wash in turns, have breakfast, and go to school by eight o'clock. Then the youngest six get up (including the babies). They all need to wash, comb, get dressed, and have breakfast. After that, housework and errands begin. Someone goes to a music school, while someone else needs a trip to the dentist or doctor. Since Dad is a priest and serves mainly on weekends and holidays, on weekdays he usually goes for walks with the children and carries them around.

Photo: Moscow 24 / Anton Velikzhanin

Then the schoolchildren return home, and the time comes for dinner. Some of the children need to be put to bed, others need to be taken to the gym or to the pool, and others sit down for lessons. Mom still needs to get housework done, and there are multiple errands throughout the day. Fortunately, the washing machine and dryer help, so everything gets done in time. Only in the evening can the tired parents find time to go to the store. It is necessary to make frequent trips to the store, because everything gets used up so quickly.

Every day at least two thousand rubles (about $30) is spent on food, and they frequently try to buy items in bulk, in large containers. A single trip to the Metro for meat and other products usually takes about 10 thousand rubles ($150).

Bread, milk, fruit — everything gets used up in an instant. Milk is poured in liters, like water from a tap. They go through about 100 liters (25 gallons) of milk each month. "We don't keep track of bread. Every day we use about five loaves. Sometimes our Dad bakes bread."

Both spouses admit that "sometimes you take several loaves of bread in the store and think, 'What will they tell you at the checkout now?'" One time, they purchased 10 liters (2 1/2 gallons) of milk, at the person at the checkout asked, "Why take so much?" After all, most other people stand in line with one or maybe two liters of milk.

The Kairov family tries to buy fruits whenever they are in season, so that the cost is lower. When tangerines are in season, they buy tangerines, and when pomegranates are in season, they buy pomegranates. Currently, for example, they are eating a lot of bananas. In the summer, the family buys fruits and vegetables at a market in the Tula region, and they also buy fish in bulk. They purchased a home in Tula using their maternity capital, so the family has an opportunity to go there during summer vacation to spend time enjoying the fresh air.

Photo: Moscow 24 / Anton Velikzhanin

All the children help around the house: the oldest daughter Susanna takes care of the younger ones (she herself says with a satisfied smile that she commands everyone), and the schoolchildren can cook pasta or fry eggs. They prepare food for themselves, and they can feed others. They can take a walk in the courtyard, under the supervision of their parents who watch from the balcony. Dad and Mom are happy, and they admire their little helpers:

They are such a big help! When you return from the store, you call home immediately: "Guys, come on down." Three or four children come downstairs and help carry the bags. And so with two or three trips, we are able to get all the groceries up to the tenth floor.

The family’s life is facilitated by the convenient infrastructure offered by the town. The school is nearby, so the children leave and come home on their own, and they don’t need anyone to take them there. Sports, art, and music offerings are also conveniently located. Everything is nearby in Zelenograd, and most importantly, it's all available for free.

About difficulties and joys

Photo: Moscow 24 / Anton Velikzhanin

The Kairov family does not complain about financial difficulties; they receive all the social benefits they need. This includes monthly compensation for the poor, allowances for the care of small children, and government payments for large families. They also receive an allowance for children from the mayor of Moscow.

More information about all compensation, social benefits, and subsidies for large families can be found on the official website of the mayor of Moscow.

One challenge is that benefits are mainly paid only for small children, up to three years old, and they are no longer paid for the older children. But the most pressing issue for the family today is housing. Now 11 children and two parents live in a one-room apartment of 40 square meters (400 square feet). They sleep in two large bunk beds, with three people in each bed. Lessons are done at a single desk, above which there is also a wall closet. Three people at a time can sit at the table, whether when studying, or when watching cartoons.

With everyone in one room, it is difficult when children start to get sick. One becomes ill, and then everyone in the room begins to sneeze and cough. In such moments, parents simply do not know where to go. The doctor comes according to an established routine: on the first day he visits one child; on the second day he visits all the rest. Sometimes medicine is given free of charge to large families, but it order to get this, you have to wait in line at the clinic, and this is often not feasible to do with 11 children.

Photo: Moscow 24 / Anton Velikzhanin

With a large family, time generally flies by. Ivan notes that when he started taking care of the children, he stopped spending time with his friends, because there was no time left for them. Sometimes there are opportunities to meet with friends, but the family still takes first place. With children, especially with small ones, it is impossible to go somewhere to rest — except to your dacha in the country. And his wife doesn’t dream of anything more: “It seems that I have been cooking all my life, and I have no regrets,” says Maria.

It's a sin to complain, because we have everything we need: diapers, powders, washing machines, dryers, and multicookers. The state helps us, and I would advise everyone to give birth. I do not know why women are afraid to give birth — the quality of medical care is very high now.

Maria gave birth to her three youngest children in Moscow — “Such care, such respect, and the experts are good, as is the equipment and the anesthesia. They take such excellent care of pregnant women. I want to honor them. They treat moms so well, so that's where we really want to be."

Photo: Moscow 24 / Anton Velikzhanin

Now there are six girls and five boys in the Kairov family, usually alternating one after the other. Parents divide them into "five": the five younger ones, the five older ones, and now the first of a new set of five is here.

"Susanna, John, Polycarp, Pelagia, Ilya, Cleopatra, Nikifor, Nonna, Callista, Sava, Melania . . ."  — Maria lists the names of her children and puts dots at the end. "If God allows, I would like 15 children, but each birth becomes harder for my health. But you get such pleasure from children: you look into their eyes and just drown in them, that is happiness!" Maria says this while looking into the eyes of her daughter, with love.

Photo: Moscow 24 / Anton Velikzhanin

So lives the friendly Kairov family, who no longer fits at a single kitchen table. Today they have bean soup for lunch, and oranges for dessert. While mom pours soup on plates, dad comforts one of the daughters, who lies with a temperature and a sore tooth, while the oldest daughter rocks the baby in her arms. You can hear the sound of spoons on plates, the children enjoying their dinner cooked by Mom. Only for a second, Maria stops to take a break, and the cry of the children is heard again: "Mom... MOM..."

Source: (in Russian)