Large families are fascinating. We watch them on TV, we read their blogs, we might even gossip about them a little, and we all wonder: how do they do it? The truth is that any number of kids is a lot–even one, because going from no kids to one kid is a huge change. And every child after that is always an adjustment. “After four kids, it’s a breeze,” is what we were told. Except for us, number four seemed to hit more like a tornado. (And we continue to live in the aftermath of the mess she makes everywhere she toddles her adorable little feet!)
But let’s face it, no matter how many kids you have, when a minivan isn’t large enough for your family anymore, that’s truly a large family! I happen to be friends with several such families and, thankfully, these incredible superstar moms have graciously put up with my endless questions over the years. It didn’t take long for me to see that they have figured out some brilliant solutions to everyday parenting and life. You have to when you have that many little people to feed, teach, clothe, bathe, etc. Yet the principles apply whether you have one or six kids. So I unashamedly asked my friends if I could share their secrets for the good of all the moms, and they agreed! (You’re welcome.)
The Do-It-All Secret
Moms of large families seem to have uncovered the lie that we can do it all. There is this crazy idea that a mom should anticipate every need, serve gourmet meals, excel at crafts and art projects, keep a clean and trendy home, and all while sporting gorgeous hair and perfectly manicured nails, of course. This is a Hollywood-meets-Pinterest concoction that is simply unrealistic. I’m not talking about style–motherhood doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand with bed hair and sweatpants, but that’s a different topic. I’m talking about the multi-tasker, saver-of-the-world, fairy-mom who we sometimes expect ourselves to be. Even if you could do it all, you shouldn’t. Just think of what message that gives our kids: just sit back and relax kid, Mom’s got this. That’s not going to fly very far once they leave for college. Instead, the message I heard loud and clear from moms of large families is that our kids need to know that family thrives when working as a team and that their role in the family matters. That is a more sustainable message for their future. It gives them value, even though for now they might whine and complain about said value.
Dirty Laundry Secrets
At some point, every mom makes the acquaintance of the laundry monster! It likes to play a game called “How Tall Can the Laundry Mountain Get?” Parenting has taught me a few lessons about laundry: daughters need about fourteen outfits a day, boys jeans never last, and bibs are useless. (Or maybe my toddlers are just exceptionally messy eaters.) But my least favorite laundry problem is when I have to send a kid to dig through the (clean) laundry hills in search of underwear. Sigh of defeat. The laundry monster has won again.
You’ve probably searched Pinterest and tried implementing a few laundry methods to make the task easier. I surely have: Laundry Monday. Decorate the laundry room. Laundry denial… And as each revolutionary new idea has failed me, I’ve accepted that laundry is just part of my daily life. I wash at least one load every morning, then throughout the day I (try to remember to) involve my kids in the sorting, folding and putting away. One brilliant idea from my large family friends is to get color-coded laundry hampers for each child and then empower kids to take charge of their own laundry! Younger kids can haul their hamper to the washer when it’s full of dirty clothes and later use it to carry their clean clothes and put them away. Older kids that are tall enough to reach can learn to do laundry themselves! You can either have them be in charge of their own laundry or give them specific loads to help with that are appropriate for a novice launderer.
Time Management Secrets
There are moments when I’ve wondered if some moms have extra hours in their day. How do they get everything done? Since we have established that no one can do it all, it’s no use comparing and despairing. Instead, let’s tap into their secrets and learn! A couple of moms said that if the task takes five minutes or less, they tackle it immediately. No procrastination allowed. Another mom said she has phone alarms for everything, and she wasn’t kidding. I once witnessed her phone alarm going off to signal the sunset! It was her reminder to stop, breathe, and enjoy the view. People can say “stop and smell the roses” all day long, but busy moms know that the roses and sunsets will get overlooked without a little reminder.
Sometimes a mom just needs a little bit of quiet to get things done…or take a nap! One of my friends who parents six amazing children taught me the secret of “afternoon quiet time.” This is perfect for kids who have outgrown naps. Each kid picks a room and a quiet activity: Legos, books, puzzles, dolls. They play or rest alone until mom’s timer goes off. I started my kids out with 20 minutes and now we usually do over an hour of quiet time! Believe me when I say I didn’t think it was possible as my kids loudly complained about it when we first started this habit. But now they look forward to it! And without fail, all moods are brighter after this little break in the day, including mom’s.
What’s for dinner? That’s one of my least favorite questions! There will always be a kid who complains about something “disgusting” I’m cooking–because of course, I make it a point to serve disgusting things like potatoes. I do my best, but when it comes to meals, I can’t possibly please all my little people all of the time. I found out that most large family moms have learned to be okay with that.
The other thing about mealtimes is that as a mom, you might find yourself feeling like all you do is chop, cook, serve, cleanup and repeat, three or more times a day! However, as kids grow, they can also do more for themselves. Most of the large family moms I know have said that they don’t make lunch. The supplies for sandwiches are always available as well as leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. The kids are expected to help themselves and help their younger siblings. During school time, all school-aged kids are in charge of preparing and taking their own lunches. And I hope this is as mind-blowing to you as it was to me: you can make ahead and freeze PB&J sandwiches! By their school lunchtime, the sandwiches will be thawed and not soggy!
Some other great dinner ideas included making dinners that stretch for more than one meal, make-ahead freezer meals and slow cooker dinners, of course. Themed dinners are another fun idea: pasta night, grill night, soup and salad night, to name a few. And for those endless requests for a snack, I heard large family moms repeatedly say that their kids can grab a snack any time they want, but the choices are: apples, carrots or bananas.
I have learned so much from moms that are a step or two ahead of me, and I’m so grateful for communities like this where we can share what we’ve learned and cheer each other on. I hope these ideas from these experienced moms will help you sort out some of the basics of life so you can spend more time watching sunsets and enjoying your little people!