Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Time management for large families

Raising a large family can be a daunting task, especially if you add homeschooling into the mix. The number of people depending on you, the sheer amount of cooking, cleaning, laundry and little eyes wanting attention can sometimes feel impossible to contend with. But as a mother of ten children, I’ve learned that a little planning goes a long way in keeping your home running smoothly.

In dealing with baths, it seemed to make sense to bath the children who stayed dry all night before bed, and the ones who didn’t would be bathed in the morning. This will usually mean the older children will be the ones bathed at night. After three or four, they don’t need to be supervised so closely in the tub, keeping the door open and your ears listening is enough for most children.
When bathing the little ones who need supervision, bring your cleaning supplies or towels that need folding into the bathroom with you. As you run the water for them, pour in baby bath or baby shampoo to make bubbles. Give them a cup and some toys, and let them play, while you clean the toilet and sink or fold towels. By the time the bathroom is clean and your towels are folded and put away, the children have soaked clean. Usually all that is left to do is run a soapy washcloth through their hair and rinse. Now you have a clean baby and a clean bathroom to start out your day.

When you dress the child, go ahead and comb (and put up into ponytails for a little girl) their hair at the same time. Your child is now ready for the day.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be a major ordeal for a very young child. Peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat bread and a banana is a good breakfast for a toddler. Keep yogurt cups and string cheese for a quick breakfast. Trail mix cookies and granola bars are also well liked. Older children, especially boys, usually like a more hearty breakfast. Teach them to cook, and even make it one of their chores. Stay close and keep the atmosphere cheerful. Usually in our house, we take turns with the dishes, with me taking the morning load and the older children taking turns with lunch and dinner.

Once breakfast is over, gather everyone into the main room, and have a cleaning time. No one stops until the main rooms of the house are picked up and neat. If you will do this at least once, and sometimes twice a day, your house will not get so overwhelmingly dirty. Now you can start your homeschool hours with a clean house, which makes it easier on the mother to concentrate.

In our house, school is over by noon. Lunches are also fairly simple. I usually let the older children fend for themselves, since they all seem to like different things for lunch. I try and keep a supply of tortillas and plenty of cheese and hot sauce. In cold weather, a lot of times there will be a pot of homemade soup on the stove if anyone wants it, and usually someone does. I like to keep cut up chicken in the fridge, and hamburger meat already cooked, too, and seasoned for tacos, but it gets eaten very fast with big boys in the house. Lunches that don’t take a lot of preparation are the most popular.
Since we don’t have a dishwasher, we also keep large amounts of Dollar Store paper plates on hand, so clean up is usually quick. As I said before, a child is usually in charge of doing the dishes after lunch, while I get the current baby laid down for a nap.

Afternoons are free time for the children, and I tackle computer work, laundry, animals and handwork. Going outside for the animals is nice because it will usually perk me up for a while. I really like keeping a handwork project going, because that’s something I enjoy, and it keeps being home a lot more interesting.

Laundry is usually the largest ongoing job for a mother of a big family, and I have learned a few tricks to keep it from becoming a mountain.
First, I keep a large supply of Dollar Store laundry baskets around. I had my husband install wire shelves across the wall of my laundry room. I place these baskets on these shelves, one basket for each person, or if two people share a room, sometimes there is one basket for a bedroom. As clothes come out of the dryer, I put them straight into each person’s basket. Then it’s up to the owner of the basket to put their own clothes away, unless they are young, then I put the clothes away when the basket is full. If a person’s basket overflows, I call them to come empty it. Many of my children seem to just live out of their baskets in the laundry room, but that’s fine with me if that’s what they want to do. I have them hang up their towels after each bath, so I only have to wash towels once or twice a week. On the rare occasions that my back feels well enough for me to lug clothes to the clothes line, I take the individual baskets outside and put the clothes in them as they come off the line. Then in the evening, I have everyone go outside and retrieve their baskets.
Speaking of laundry, dressing your children in clean, cute clothes goes a long way also in setting the mood for your home. It also tends to determine the way people look at you when you go out. I’ve noticed over and over that when my children are clean, combed and dressed nicely, people smile at them and comment on them in a positive way. Having children dressed in ragged, dirty, stained clothes leaves a bad impression. The clothes do not have to be expensive, just nice and well fitting.

The extra Dollar Store baskets also come in handy at cleaning time. I take a couple upstairs, one to collect dirty clothes and sheets, the other to collect toys and books that need to go back down. They also work the other way, putting them by the stairway to collect the things that need to go up. A basket or two can go to the car once a week or so to collect the things that need to come back in the house. There are so many uses for these baskets, and they don’t cost much, so when they are worn out, they are easy to replace.

Having a large age range in children can sometimes be challenging, too. I found that reading really good books to my children as they grew up – books that “I” enjoyed reading as much as they enjoyed listening – was always a good thing to do. Babies can be nursed as you read; toddlers will cuddle against your side. Sometimes, I could get someone to scratch my back, with the promise that I would read as long as they scratched!! We liked to read old classics, like Old Yellar, The Yearling, Swiss Family Robinson. We read series, like the Little House books and Little Britches. I recently found the Bobbesey Twins on ebay, and am reading them to my younger children right now. We will start the Five Little Peppers next. My children have all grown up very intelligent, and I credit all the reading we did as a family, and also all the reading they did on their own with the biggest part of that. I tried not to give them too many “fluff” type books, but kept good, morally sound, well written, character building books for them to read.

I never took loveys away from my toddlers. I have had finger babies, thumb babies, blanket babies and pacifier babies. I had a daughter who sucked her thumb until she was seven, a son who took a pacifier until he was three. The only one of my children who needed braces was one who did not have an object to suck, she carried a blanket. Right now, I have a daughter who sucks a finger and carries a blanket, and she’s five. This doesn’t bother me a bit. I encourage leaving the blanket at home when we go out, simply because she has accidently left it places on occasion, which causes a great deal of trouble. I also have a 14 month old who still drinks out of a bottle. I have never understood the urgency some parents have wanting their children to get rid of these things. Having a self soother makes the day so much more pleasant for both mom and baby – or big kid. They will almost always give these things up on their own eventually, in the case of my thumb sucking seven year old, it was the other children at church telling her babies sucked their thumbs that made her decide she was too old for it.

Always have a bedtime routine, so the children know what to expect, and go down easier. Have your evenings be as predictable as possible. As it gets closer and closer to bedtime, let things quiet down more and more. Make sure everyone gets enough sleep, that’s very important for a well managed household. A fan or some other kind of noise reducer in the room of the ones who go to bed early is helpful.

A large family is a blessing if the mother will learn to do her job well. The parents of a large family will never be alone in times of trouble. As the grandchildren come, we get to help do it all over again, this time without having to worry so much about the discipline!

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