big family

A Family in Hamburg



crowd bustle keep me going
shelf challenge got her hands full
relief meatloaf get on my nerves
capable pitch in time to spend
laundry odd/oddity set the table
wonder standard it’s no wonder
thick look at expedition
shift waste municipal
peas annoy thick skin
bare barely check out
budget bill (3) home cooked meal
put in put away settle down
jam like that jump around
bowl left over on their own
hustle come over


Video: The Family



Time to set the table. It’s all in a day’s work for the Jensen family of Hamburg. There’s quite a crowd at the table during mealtimes: the Jensens have twelve children.

The youngest, the twins, are just ten months old.

A super-sized family. It’s a challenge for everyone.

Wake up

The day starts at six in the morning. Dorte Jensen is the wake up service. She’s got her hands full. The twins need changing, and the children who are headed to school need breakfast.

A three-bedroom apartment with only one bathroom and twelve children.

“They keep me going from morning to evening. They’re always jumping around asking questions. And sure they get on my nerves sometimes when they won’t settle down — Fin, put a lid on that for a second. It’s non-stop action around here.”

Off to School

Most of the children are capable of going to school on their own; that’s welcome relief for Dorte.

Things quiet down a bit and she now has time to spend with the littlest ones: the twins.


But there’s always housework to take care of. Dorte does about 28 loads of laundry each week. For some in the neighborhood, the Jensens are something of an oddity.

“Sometimes other children aren’t allowed over because we’re such a large family. Whenever there’s a problem at school, we hear, ‘well, with so many kids, it’s no wonder you can’t manage.’ We manage just fine. But other people look at us and hold us to a higher standard.”

She’s developed a thick skin over the years.

Weekly Shopping

But now it’s time to get the babies dressed for the weekly shopping expedition. Every Wednesday, Dorte and her husband Mike go to the supermarket.

Mike starts his shift at the municipal waste management at five in the morning. He’s off work by mid-afternoon.

“I’ve got everything,” says Mike
“Good job. We still need lemon tea. And I saw a sack of potatoes up front, 12 kilos,” replies Dorte.
“Yes, let’s get it.”

Bread, Peas, Sausage

“Most people buy a load of bread, a can of peas, a sausage; but we get four or five. So people do look at us. And often they’re annoyed it takes us longer to get through the check-out line.”

Twelve loaves of bread, forty yoghurts, twelve liters of milk…barely enough for a week.

Finance and Budget

The Jensens have to watch their budget.

“Our finance is a challenge of course, with so many children. We’re quite open with the children. We tell them: ‘we’ve had a lot of bills this month and we had to pay for a lot of school things. So this month, there won’t be any extras.”

The Jensen’s monthly grocery bill runs to about a thousand euros. So the children learn the value of money early on. But also the value of teamwork.

Helping and Playing

“In a big family, you have to help out more. There are more kids so there’s a bigger mess too, because more kids are playing.”

The four oldest kids are home from work. With so many hands pitching in, they make short work of putting away the groceries. There’s a system for everything.

“The bottom shelf are cans and things like that. Second shelf is bread. Third shelf are jams and milk. The fourth is everything that’s left over.”


And dinner is also teamwork: five big bowls of potatoes and two large meatloafs are on today’s menu.

Dorte makes a home cooked meal every day. It’s a lot of work, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Kids

“I can’t imagine my life without my children. I need all the activity around me: the stress, the hustle and bustle, the laughter. My kids are everything to me.”

But after a dozen children, the Jensens have decided their family is complete.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *



1. Describe the Jensen family.

2. What happens at six o’clock in the morning?

3. Dorte the mother drives the children to school. True or false?

4. How many loads of laundry does she do each week?

5. What do the Jensen’s neighbors think?

6. Mike the husband and father works in an office; he is a businessman. Yes or no?

7. What do they buy at the supermarket?

8. How much do the Jensen’s spend on groceries each month?

9. Is money tight sometimes?

10. All the children go to school. Is this correct or wrong?

11. Do they usually eat at home or eat out?

12. Does Dorte love having lots of children?
A. How big is your family?

B. Describe the family of your classmates or coworkers.

C. How many children did your grandparents and great-grandparents have?

D. How many children do you want to have?

E. Are family ties close or loose in your country?

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