I have eight children. Probably not enough kids to warrant a television special, but just enough to cause strangers in the grocery store to start counting the little heads trailing behind me. When I leave the house with all eight in tow, I brace myself for the onslaught of questions regarding my children's paternity and whether or not I own a television.
We never specifically set out to be raising a large family, but there was always a nagging feeling that there was someone missing. Now that they are all here, I would never trade our busy lifestyle for any amount of peace and quiet.
People always ask how I do it. The truth is most of the time, I just do. It's kind of like the juggler in the circus, you add each new task in succession, while trying to keep up the ones you already have. At some point it all comes crashing down in a spectacular mess. That's when the real challenge hits, because you need to pick up and start juggling again.
1. Organization is key. I can not tell you how many hours have been wasted due to miscommunication and a sheer lack of time management. There are days when I need to have three children in three different places at the same time. All while, I need to be helping with homework and starting dinner. There were a lot of busy nights that erupted into pure chaos. I am not proud of those nights when homework was done in the car while kids were eating convenience foods. Due to circumstances, sometimes that still happens, but at least it is planned.
In an attempt to bring some order to our crazy lives, I created a large family calendar on a magnetic dry erase board to keep track of everyone's schedules. Everything is posted on the calendar from when the kids need to wear sneakers for gym to which child needs to bring which instrument to school. Also, thanks to Google calendar everything is on my smartphone which is also synced to my husband's calendar and vice versa. The frantic phone calls from school asking for sneakers and saxophones has greatly lessened since the institution of our calendar. Above the calendar is a bulletin board where we tack up important information we need to keep close at hand; such as class phone numbers, school lunch schedules, and birthday party invitations.
An organized home prevents a lot of wasted time searching for keys, the dog's leash or homework assignments that somehow made their way out of your child's folder. Establishing a central location to keep your family essentials is a must.
2. Everyone needs to pitch in around the house. Keeping the large family household running smoothly is everyone's responsibility. A chore chart is a great tool to utilize to teach basic household responsibilities. Chore charts teach responsibility and help encourage kids to set goals. By linking responsibilities to privileges, we can reward responsible behavior and provide consequences when our children do not follow through. Untasked children are like ninjas. Mine were experts at sensing the moment I was about to ask them to do something. By the time I turned around they had stealthily exited the room and were nowhere to be found. By holding each and everyone of them to task, it made my life much more simple. Do it now, or do it later, just get it done.
I hadn't even hammered the last nail to hang the chart up, and they were already clamoring to do more chores. Win!
3. Menu planning and bulk shopping helps to save time. Planning meals ahead of time allows for less trips to the grocery store. Our busy schedule demands that we shop once a week, instead of making multiple trips. If you have the space, consider getting a membership to a warehouse store so that you can buy larger quantities, saving both time and money.
I try to hit a few stores on my shopping day. Through trial and error, I know which stores offer the best deals in each department. This month started off with a visit to the butcher:
25lbs Chicken Breast
25lbs Ground Beef
When I get home everything gets portioned and packaged in storage bags. Breasts are fileted into cutlets and tenderloins. Ground beef will become tacos, hamburgers, and pasta sauce later in the month. Drumsticks are easy to throw on the BBQ or in the oven, and make great cold left-overs for lunch the next day.
Thank goodness for my chest freezer. Best purchase ever!
You'll know who I am if you see me at the store. I'm the mom with the overflowing cart filled with 3 gallons of milk and more cereal than most families can eat in 6 months. The food will all be devoured in less than a weeks time. Who am I kidding, most of the food is gone 45 minutes after I walk in the door.
4. Keep the clutter at bay. This one has always been the hardest for me personally. I used to be that mom who saved everything. Everything times eight kids looks like a bad episode of Hoarders.
Now, I snap pictures of my favorites, save a few very special pieces, and toss the rest.
Each morning, after the kids leave for school, I like to schedule time to straighten up. The operative word there is "like." Sometimes, I step over the dolls and cars while kicking someone's sneakers to the side. Every night, we recruit the kids to participate in a "ten minute tidy" of the living room. You would be surprised how fast the job gets done when everyone pitches in.
5. Make time for each other. My husband and I make it a priority to carve out private time with each other. Even an at home date night is a great way to stay connected. Sometimes, it's take out and sometimes it's chips and salsa. Heck, I can turn grocery shopping into date night. Any time alone is valuable, so take advantage of it.
Not so long ago, a friend of mine stopped us in the CVS parking lot to comment about the fact that we were holding hands, and it looked as if, "we almost liked each other."
6. Don't neglect yourself. When privacy is a commodity, any time alone, can be your best reward. Know your own limits, and if you are starting to feel overwhelmed, focus on your own needs for a little bit. Run yourself ragged, or push yourself too far, and things start to fall apart in a hurry.
Spend some time each day doing something entirely for you. If you need to, get up a half hour early or stay up a half hour later each day to exercise, watch television or curl up on the couch with a cup of tea. A hot shower or an uninterrupted bubble bath can do wonders.
A large family comes with a lot of work, a lot of love, and even more joy. Whatever size your family may be, no one knows better than you what each person needs. Take it one day at a time.
You're doing a great job.