Siblings share about the dynamics of big families

Examining the pros and cons of life in a large family

Amber Milesi and Anika Sharma

Until fifth grade, senior Asiya Shaikh and her family lived in a small house before moving to Cupertino. Everyone needed to wake by 5 a.m. and be out the door by 7 a.m. On school days, the mornings were filled with the sounds of Asiya and her siblings racing to get to the bathroom first. Shaikh says that their usually peaceful household would come to life as the crowded rooms filled with five siblings and parents prepared to start their day. 

In hindsight, Asiya realized her living situation was an inconvenience at the time, but it was also one of the many experiences that brought her family closer. She attributes the close relationships that she maintains with her older siblings to the large age gap.

“It never gets boring [having] a big family,” Asiya said. “And that’s not a bad thing. With my four siblings being so much older than me, they’ve always been mature and have so much advice and experience about the real world that they share with me.

In a Muslim household, Asiya notes that her family has never worried about big celebrations like Christmas where everyone in the family is expected to receive and buy gifts, believing that trying to organize gifts for so many people would be “too chaotic to get together.” She instead celebrates Eid, a Muslim holiday in which the family visits the masjid (mosque) and focuses on connecting with their culture and each other. 

Asiya’s family story began 37 years ago, when her parents had an arranged marriage in India. Her mother, Huma Shaikh, came from a smaller family than her husband, Imtiaz Shaikh, with only two siblings, and she reflects on adapting to the larger family lifestyle.

“I never thought I would have five kids,” Huma said. “My husband came from a bigger family and I didn’t know much about that kind of lifestyle, and yet I’ve never seen my children as a burden now that I have them. They have such a close knit relationship with each other and I think that’s just wonderful. I don’t know what the future holds, but from what I’ve seen right now, I feel like it’s not so bad.”

Huma balances an active personal and family life, daily visits to the gym, prepping meals, in addition to her position as the associate director for administration at Shorenstein APARC at Stanford University. Due to her busy schedule, her children have learned to respect her personal space. She believes in this way her children have become more than just her kids “but also [her] friends.” 

Asiya’s youngest brother, 21-year-old Akmal Shaikh fondly recollects moments when his family came together. Akmal believes that getting older has given each sibling more individual responsibilities, but according to Akmal, that hasn’t impacted their ability to maintain healthy relationships with each other. Taking family trips to Half Moon Bay or Monterey is one monthly activity that serves as bonding time.

“We don’t always do things together and live our own lives,” Akmal said. “[But] when we do hang out, it [has] made us closer in a way where arguments never last long between us [because we] have so much fun together that they don’t matter as much. We genuinely enjoy hanging out with each other [as if] we were one big group of friends.”

Akmal believes his family’s closeness has opened him to having a large family in the future. He believes the bonds his family shares makes them “work like one nice community.” 

Asiya’s oldest sister, 34-year-old Huda Shaikh, moved to New York after getting married to her husband. However, Huma believes that her older children beginning to live independently from her is a good thing because she believes they can learn valuable lessons in their new lives. Even when her daughter went to college, Huma reports she didn’t feel as sad because she knew she still had many children to care for. 

“[I] don’t ever get an empty nest feeling even as my children get older,” Huma said. “They will always be there for each other because of all the memories we made together. I think that’s the best part of a big family.”