Recently I had the amazing opportunity to take part in an interview with Good Housekeeping for an article about parenting secrets from big families. Oh my, did I ever have fun with that! The topic brought to mind so many ideas that have made a big difference in how our family functions – most of which I’ve written about at one time or another. Today, I’d like to share my favorite random, big-family tips with you!
Quality time is important to our family, and while we love to spend time together as a group, we strive to find ways to spend one-on-one time as well. Bringing a child with me to the store or the library is well and good, but it’s nice to have something scheduled too. We set aside one night a week as “Buddy Night,” during which my husband and I take turns taking a child out for fun. For example, last week I took my 6-year-old out for dessert, and next week will be my husband’s turn to take our 4-year-old out. Buddy night ideas can be anything from playing laser tag, seeing a movie, or going out for ice cream. If we can’t get out during the week for Buddy Night, sometimes we wait until Saturday mornings and go for a special breakfast instead.
Before we pull our van out of the driveway, we always do a roll call to make sure everyone is present and buckled up. Don’t want to leave anyone behind!
Laundry is the bane of the existence for most moms of many. We streamline laundry by washing each person’s laundry only once a week. We have one hamper to be shared by every two children, and each pair has their own laundry day. This cuts back dramatically on sorting, because we only have to sort for two children at a time. It allows us to go to just one room and one dresser to put clothes away. This method also gives a feeling of accomplishment; while laundry is constantly piling up, at least we know that someone’s laundry is done for an entire week.
I’ve tweaked our laundry system often as our family has grown and logistics have needed to change, and I’ve blogged a lot on the subject too. Here is one post that explains more about how we do laundry.
When children are close in age, it can be difficult to identify which jeans or t-shirts belong to which child. We use a “dot” system to help. With a sharpie marker, I draw a certain number of dots to mark my children’s clothes. The oldest boy or girl gets one dot, the 2nd gets two, the third gets three, etc. When I pass down clothes from one child to the next, I just have to add a dot!
When we box up clothes to save for a child to grow into, or to save for another season, we don’t sort by size; we sort by child. Our children can span several sizes at any given time, so sorting by size never worked well for us. We find it easier to have *one* box for each child, called their “Grow Into” box. This one little change has saved me many hours of work during our seasonal clothing swaps!
In our family, everyone has a “before meal” job and an “after meal” job. Jobs children can include setting the table, pouring drinks, unloading the dishwasher, loading the dishwasher, wiping down the table, wiping down the chairs, emptying the garbage, washing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, etc. While more children generate more mess and more dishes, they also provide more help in cleaning it up!
The perfectionists among us may have an unhealthy idea of what our home should look like. When you have even one or two small children, you quickly learn that your house will not look like a magazine all day long. We do need to accept this. However, we also need to adjust our expectations of what our children are capable of. If they can take the toys out of the box, they are capable of learning to put them away. We often say that our family can make a mess faster than lightning, but the flip side is that with so many hands, we can clean it up awfully fast too!
As a homeschooling mother of ten, a schedule and routine is essential to my day. Yet I constantly need to remind myself that the schedule is only a tool to help me, not a master to rule over me. Children are constantly growing and changing, and the system that worked six months ago may not be the best system anymore. I’m always looking for ways to tweak our systems to make our day run more smoothly.
We are very careful about what external activities we agree to participate in. With a large family, it’s easy to over-commit to the point of running in too many directions. We strive to find activities that all (or at least several) children can be involved in at the same time. While that isn’t always possible, we still make it a rule to not say “yes” immediately, but to think it through first: What kind of benefit will this have on our child or community? Is there a real purpose, or is it mainly for fun? What kind of time commitment will it require? Does our child or family have that kind of time? What other commitments would we have to give up to make it happen? There are so many good things we could become involved in; the question is, which ones are good for us?
Plan and Communicate Everything
Before I had children, I took for granted the simplicity of such activities as going to the grocery store. After having several little ones, those simple things became increasingly complex! I found that my days and excursions with the children went much more smoothly when I set expectations with them before we began. For example, before I unbuckled my children, I would tell them whose hand they would hold as we walked across the parking lot, who would be responsible for opening the door when we got to the building, who would hold onto the grocery cart and on which side, and whether I wanted the others to walk in front of me or behind me. No detail is too trivial to think through when you have a houseful of little ones!
When all my children were little, I would streamline our morning and bedtime routines by teaching them “Habits.” I made a “Morning Habits” list with drawings for those who could not read yet, which reminded them to do things like make their beds, put their clothes in the hamper, brush their teeth, etc. I also made a “Bedtime Habits” list to help them become more independent at getting ready for bed.
I print out a stack of blank, categorized grocery lists at a time and hang them on my refrigerator. The list is essentially made up of large blocks of space with headings: Fresh Produce, Meats, Toiletries, Pantry, Baking/Spices, Refrigerated, Frozen, Baby, Cleaning/Household, and Bread/Snacks. When I notice I need something, I write it down under the correct category. When I need to go shopping, I grab my list which has already been sorted. I can make it through the grocery store much more quickly than I would if my list was not organized by category.
Make Cleaning Up Easy
If you want your children to help clean up their own toys, books, etc., try to organize them in such a way to make it easy on them. For us, this means that we don’t micro-sort toys. My little boys’ Army guys, knights, horses and race cars all go into one bin together, labeled “Guy Stuff,” while my little girls’polly pockets, American girl mini dolls, and strawberry-shortcake pieces all go together in a bin labeled “Dolls.” While my perfectionist nature might prefer to use six bins to contain all those little toys, it’s just not a realistic expectation. Keeping it simple works for us!
While I would love for everyone to immediately march up to their rooms and put their shoes away in tidy little rows each time they take off their shoes, it isn’t a battle I choose to fight. Yet, I don’t like shoes strewn all over the house either. Our solution? We keep a large basket on the main floor of our house for everyone to drop their shoes in. Once or twice a week, or when the bin gets too full, everyone gathers their shoes to put them in their closet.
To read more of my favorite big family tips, stop by these pages:
What are your favorite organizing/parenting tips? Please share in the comments!