Will this Mrs American beauty queen with eight kids make big families normal again?

In case you haven’t heard, Hannah and Daniel Neeleman are the genesis of the Instagram sensation “Ballerina Farm.” What makes Ballerina Farm so appealing that it has amassed nearly 9 million followers?

Well, there’s lots to like: A Julliard ballerina marries a businessman, and they buy a gorgeous plot of land in a little mountain valley to raise pigs on. They bake sourdough bread in an antique stove named Agnes and share videos of milking cows, making lasagna noodles from scratch, riding horses, dancing, going to church, sorting fresh eggs, making more food, and giving birth at home—to eight children.

Oh, and one more thing. Hannah is a prize-winning beauty queen who just competed in the Mrs World pageant with her two-week old baby in tow.

The Instagram world fell all over itself either cheering or condemning the ballerina beauty queen not just for competing in the pageant, but for the gall of looking so dang good doing it. Not many women could pull off an evening gown competition and a swimsuit exhibition just days after birthing a child—much less their eighth child. But Hannah did.

A picture of Hannah nursing her baby backstage while wearing an evening gown and looking gorgeous as all heck took the internet by storm. As well it should. A woman with a winning combination of grittiness and glamour who takes motherhood gracefully by the horns like a boss while still pursuing her personal ambitions is worthy of note. Maybe even admiration.

One in a million?

But here’s the thing. Not that long ago, having eight children was normal. Lots of women—perhaps even most women—in ages past had eight children. Or more. And milking cows has been standard practice for thousands of years, as has making cheese, collecting eggs, and baking bread. Competing in beauty pageants may be a less common use of one’s time, but beauty itself has arguably always been the realm of women.

And giving birth has been happening since the dawn of time and until recently it almost always happened at home. So what I’m saying is that not very many years ago, everyone was Ballerina Farm—minus the toe shoes. Almost everyone cooked their own food, worked with livestock, and had lots of kids.

For instance, two of my own great grandparents came from families with 13 children. The mother of one of those families was known as a woman who “loved to ride horses and broke many wild horses into tame ones.” She also led the local choir and was a good cook who “welcomed anyone into her home at any time and gave them dinner.”

And my third great grandma crossed the ocean with her husband and four children, pulled a handcart 300 miles on their journey west, and birthed a baby boy along the way. She became known as “a dressy woman who ran a good home,” “a fine seamstress,” and a “kind and loving mother who worked hard for her children and husband.” A neighbor once wrote of her, “I never knew a prettier or more refined woman.”

And there are millions more women with stories just like this. These women don’t sound like oppressed, angry females who resented their lives, their children, their husbands, or the hard work and adventure that was part of their daily living. In fact, they sound a lot like Hannah Neeleman: tough, beautiful, joyful, and focused on family.

Has having fewer children made us better?

Most people don’t have eight kids anymore. I have five children and was once told by an angry online troll to “shut my legs and stop overpopulating the earth.” This way of thinking has overtaken much of the world, and the average global fertility rate is now 2.3 children per woman.

But is the world any better for it?

Are the kids doing better? Are children less depressed, more physically fit, and more joyful? Are women happier? Are men more noble? Are families generally more content and more cohesive? Are children getting more attention from their parents? Is society at large becoming more united, safer, and more peaceful?

Social scientists (and even mildly observant people) have been noting consistent decline in many of these areas for at least the past 50 years. So, it may not be the cow-milking ballerina who has lost her mind. Maybe it’s the rest of us.



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Ballerina Farm makes motherhood look good, but it’s just a political ruse!!!!

While women the world over are watching Ballerina Farm with a sort of enamored longing, the chafing feminists among us can’t stand it. And at least some of them think there can be only one reason for Ballerina Farm’s popularity. In the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, there is a right wing political cabal pushing motherhood and traditional gender roles on women. And Ballerina Farm must be a pernicious part of it.

TikToker Caroline Burke explains, "You cannot tell me that it is accidental that in the two years since we lost more reproductive rights than in previous decades, all of these ‘tradwives’ have been gaining insane traction online.” She says that while Hannah Neeleman is disingenuously making motherhood “look enjoyable,” real women today are “terrified of having children” and are subconsciously searching for some sort of misguided hope that they can thrive in a future where motherhood is thrust upon them.

Ballerina Farm does indeed give women hope, real hope, the hope that a plucky woman can thrive as a mother, an entrepreneur, and a beauty queen, which protesting feminists apparently can’t stand.

Raising hope

Then keep it up, Hannah. Keep raising kids, raising bread, and raising people’s hopes. Keep showing people that the clatter of big families not only fills our lives with noise and work, but with purpose and love. Keep showing the terrified women of the world that a future with family in it can be beautiful—and that they can be beautiful and happy as wives, as mothers, and as whatever else they choose to be.

My refined, hearty ancestors who crossed oceans and tamed horses also helped settle a little mountain town known as Kamas, Utah. And as fate would have it, Ballerina Farm is nestled right in the heart of Kamas valley. I think my grandmothers would smile to know that Hannah Neeleman is there wrangling livestock, making dinner, raising a brood of children, and inviting people back to a life filled with family—and looking pretty while she does it. 

Kimberly Ells is the author of The Invincible Family. Follow her at Invincible Family Substack.

Image: @ballerinafarm on Instagram   


Showing 11 reactions

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  • mrscracker
    Thank you for your comments, Mr. Thordarson .
    As you point out, brothers & sisters helping each other in families is a natural thing that occurs. And beyond that, it offers children a perfect way of practicing compassion & care for the other which seems to be missing these days when so many of us are self-absorbed & the centers of our own screen-created universe.
    What better way is there to learn child rearing skills than hands on, real life family experience?
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-12 16:41:43 +1100
    “Not that long ago, having eight children was normal”

    Not that long ago you’d be lucky if four of them made it to age 16 (No exaggeration)

    Not that long ago you’d be fortunate if you survived 8 pregnancies. (No exaggeration)

    Not that long ago more than half the population was directly involved in agriculture. That didn’t mean they were all farmers. The lucky ones were tenant farmers who worked six day weeks, three for themselves and three for the landlord. And the work system was 666, 6am to 6pm 6 days per week. The rest were labourers.

    Not that long ago you didn’t have to worry about paying for healthcare. There wasn’t any worth paying for. If you got smallpox or tetanus, too bad.

    Not that long ago you didn’t have to pay for education. You don’t need to be able to read to learn how to milk a cow.

    Not that long ago accommodation was cheap.

    Nothing is forever. After a while social norms change, the whole zeitgeist changes. So at some point I’m pretty sure people will start having more babies.

    Could this be the trigger for such a change?

    Maybe. But I doubt it.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-02-12 11:14:24 +1100
    My point still stands, Mr Thordarson. Parents can’t handle large families. It’s why child labor was so prevalent during the Industrial Revolution.

    And why it’s still prevalent in some areas today, especially in rural areas. Schools can’t help children if they’re spending most of their time working on the farm or babysitting instead of studying.
  • Paul Thordarson
    commented 2024-02-12 11:11:44 +1100
    Mr Bunyan, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. Nobody should ask the kids to raise younger ones. The dynamic of siblings helping each other is as natural as any other form of friendship. It happens on its own. Watching my 3 year old granddaughter with her 3 month old sister shows how wonderful and natural it is. Which is why the statistics say what they do: it works because it is in our very nature. The parents simply need to keep out of the way.
  • Michael Cook
    commented 2024-02-11 20:56:11 +1100
    If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends! I’m sure that they will find it very inspiring. EDITOR
  • Elva Kindler
    commented 2024-02-11 20:52:36 +1100
    Wonderful article!
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-02-11 14:37:32 +1100
    Mr Thordarson: If you ask older siblings to raise younger ones, then you certainly aren’t “handling” things properly. You’re passing on the duties of parenting to other people. You’re conceding that you don’t have the time to perform the duties of parenting and earn enough for a comfortable living.

    You aren’t giving children time to be kids. You aren’t giving them time to gain a proper education or learn about the world. And you certainly aren’t allowing them to relax and recharge on their own. Privacy and downtime are as important as socialization.
  • Paul Thordarson
    commented 2024-02-11 13:54:36 +1100
    The research shows rather clearly that the single best predictor of successful parenting outcomes (i.e. well-adjusted and empathetic offspring) is being raised by one’s biological parents in a committed lifetime monogamous marriage. Within that demographic, the single most reliable predictor is the number of siblings. Of course subject to the parent’s psychological resources: not every parent can handle a family of 8 (my wife and I managed 5), though some can handle many more: one of the most well adjusted, generous, and wise individuals I have met in recent years is one of 13. In my personal relationships with many families, large and small, stable or broken, I have seen nothing to suggest that there is a natural benefit to the children that goes with limiting the family size to one or two, and plenty to suggest otherwise.

    It shouldn’t be difficult to see why. In a home in which every individual is valued and loved for who they are, siblings naturally provide help, not be being resources who are assigned chores (of course that happens) but simply by being part of the valuing and loving (playmates, friends, shoulders to cry on, etc). And being there for one’s siblings contributes to one’s own well being as well. Members of successful large families learn to live with less, learn to share more, and learn to appreciate differences in others as they have to live with them everyday, all essential ingredients to being well-adjusted, empathetic and generous. It goes without saying that this depends on the parent’s relationship with each other: the children will be best off when each parent freely chooses to put their spouse first and themselves last, which will naturally overflow to the children and the community. I can’t tell you the number of times friends of my now adult 5 children, in ordinary social visits have either expressed regret over their own lack of siblings or asked where they can sign up to join our family (laughing of course).

    It’s not easy to raise a large family, but the effort is worth it. There will be less money in the retirement account, and less equity in the home. Vacations will be less frequent and to less exotic locations, and the kids will probably not have their own room or their own car. But the rewards for both parents and children are immeasurably greater than any such wealth. Just ask a child which sibling they would have been happy to give up if it got them their own car.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-02-10 08:47:55 +1100
    In the distant past, parents had many children for two reasons.

    1. The infant mortality rate was much higher, so they needed more children to ensure some made it to adulthood.
    2. Children could work on the farm on in the mines at an early age, bringing money into the family.

    In other words, children were seen as resources. Investments. Parents didn’t care about children as individual humans beings. They saw children as ways to make their lives easier.

    There are many benefits to smaller families. It’s easier for parents to devote more time and attention to one or two children rather than a large brood, and so the children tend to grow up more well-adjusted and empathetic.
  • mrscracker
    Thank you so much for sharing this. I have great grandmothers also who raised large families & had resilient spirits. A rather distant one was widowed at 31 with 9 children, became a war refugee, & then raised her children in a 0ne room cabin in the wilderness after spending their first winter in a canvas tent.
    Some of our great grandmas were forces of nature.
    I may not be of the same caliber but I’ve got 8 children -mostly born at home. I raise cattle, know how to cook on a woodstove, milk cows, make cheese & butter, bake bread, sew, tend a garden, can food, butcher, skin & dress out deer, & live without indoor plumbing. And homeschool.
    The funny thing is that I got my current job because of those skills. My employer said that anyone who could homeschool 8 kids , skin out a deer & can the meat could probably handle any commotion that came up in the office.
    God bless & thank you for sharing this article.
  • Kimberly Ells
    published this page in The Latest 2024-02-09 20:48:45 +1100