4 Lessons I Learned From a Mother of 13

Everyone can benefit from the pearls of wisdom found in Anne Perrottet’s ‘Thriving and Surviving Raising Thirteen’

‘Thriving and Surviving Raising Thirteen’ book cover
‘Thriving and Surviving Raising Thirteen’ book cover (photo: Anne Perrottet / Book cover artwork, ©Jen Charlton, illustrator)

I’ve crossed paths with Anne Perrottet, an Australian Catholic mother of 13, several times over the past six years. The first time was when my family had just returned to the United States after over a decade living in South America. With only suitcases, a few cherished possessions, and eight of my 10 children (the eldest two had already returned months earlier to study), I was now back home. The house my family rented was quickly furnished thanks to old friends, Craigslist and the Perrottets. Friends we had in common told me the family was moving back to their home in Australia and had several key items — a desk, some chairs and a table — that we needed. 

A few years later, the Perrottets were back in the U.S. and I finally had the chance to meet Anne in person. Seated across from each other at a diner booth for lunch, Anne and I chatted about our lives, discovered that five of our children share names, and eventually confided in one another. That afternoon a friendship was forged.

We met occasionally after that lunch. On one occasion Anne told me that she was writing a journal of reflections and anecdotes. She later emailed me a draft of Thriving and Surviving Raising Thirteen. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. That was about a year or so ago. Anne’s book is now in print and she has been on a promotional tour across America.

Anne stopped by my house a week or so ago with her husband John to drop off a signed copy of her book and to say hello. I finally had the chance to do what I like best when reading: underlining significant sentences, scribbling asterisks next to particular insights and adding my own comments in the margins. (I lend my copy of books like Anne’s to only my closest friends, as the mess that I make in them is a window into my own interior struggles.)

Four lessons found in Thriving and Surviving Raising Thirteen continue to stand out:


1. Write Things Down.

I must confess that I stopped filling out baby books after my fourth child was born. And I can count on one hand the number of times that I have printed out pictures since my cell phone became my camera. So I'm stuck with digital memories on my phone or Facebook posts. And while I try to share stories with the children about their early years, my memory fades and blurs. Anne Perrottet did something different. And it is brilliant.

When Anne and John had their first child, they started what would be a fairly long tradition. John arrived home to rest after their child was born and wrote of the experience in a little notebook with red cover and black tipped corners. Anne explained that the “Red and Black Books” contained “the ups and downs and sorrows and funny moments” of each child’s life. The books were brought out at birthdays and stories of the child’s life were shared out loud. Anne explains that when her eldest daughter grew up and was to be married “I put down my pen, closed the Red and Black Book in the silence of our bedroom, and thanked God for this child and how she found happiness with her husband. I found some big ribbon, wrapped up her books with a big bow and presented them to her after John gave his wedding speech.” 


2. Embrace Your Inner Superhero.

We have all heard about times when mothers display superhuman strength to save their child from harm. The Perrottets, like most Aussies, have a backyard pool to stave off the suffocating summer heat. Anne’s watchful eyes and quick response time saved a child from the bottom of the pool when no one else noticed he hadn’t resurfaced. She plunged in fully clothed. In addition to her quick response time, Anne knew how to deal with a bully. When a classmate repeatedly stole chocolates from her son’s lunchbox, she slipped in chocolate laxatives from the pharmacy. 


3. Unhinged is Human.

I was comforted to know that once, when Anne’s sons failed to do chores and instead played on a Nintendo video gaming system, she threw the console into the backyard pool. For me, it was an Xbox that mysteriously appeared in the house and put one of my boys literally into a trance. I hurled the device outside through an open glass door onto the patio where it shattered into pieces. Not one of my best parenting moments, but it helps to know another mother similarly lost it. 


4. Loss Will Happen. Look for the Supernatural.

One of the most poignant chapters of Anne’s book relates the loss of a child who suffered from anencephaly — a fetal abnormality. “The helplessness led me to turn to God more,” Anne recounts. God’s grace filled the hospital room as little Joseph lay filled with peace.

I’ve recently accompanied friends who lost their young daughter. Their pain was and continues to be excruciating. Like Anne, they turned to the Church for comfort and support in the days that followed with the confidence that their child rests with God in heaven. A mother’s life is often marked by loss — illness, death, or estrangement. The challenge is to accept these losses as part of God’s divine plan. And to realize that we are not alone.

Pick up a copy of Thriving and Surviving Raising Thirteen. And then get ready to plunge, fully clothed, into the deep waters of motherhood. With beautifully chosen anecdotes and smart suggestions, Anne Perrottet draws readers deep into the great adventure of parenting a large brood and shows that it is possible to manifest an abiding love for every child while fostering their sporting spirit, embracing their losses and fighting their corner.