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Handling Things in a Large Family

I’ve been asked, “How do you handle everything with so many kids,” so many times recently that I thought it would be fun to write a blog post about it. Then I saw this question repeated in a yahoo group today, and so, yup, it’s time to write that blog post!

The fact of the matter for me is that I entered married life ignorant and LAZY. It’s not my mom’s fault. She taught me how to do things. I just didn’t want to do them. My mom used to ask me to dust while she’d go run an errand, and I would spray the Pledge around the living room so it would SMELL like I dusted. (She’s probably falling over now, if she’s reading this.)

I desired a beautiful home, but with my healthy dose of laziness, my goals usually didn’t get me too far. My biggest motivation to actually clean the house would be company coming over. Pride kept my place reasonably nice. I knew a few tricks for making the place look acceptable pretty fast, and the nagging thought in the back of my brain would be, “Why don’t you keep it looking this nice ALL the time?” You don’t even want to know what my closets looked like.

When my youngest son was born, I would clean his room for him and do all the work for him… picking up books and toys, brushing his teeth for him, making his bed. He was three years old before our second child was born, so he was pretty set in his ways (ie. just let Mommy do it). Now I had two children, and I was starting to get overwhelmed! When Baby #2 was only 17 months old, #3 arrived. This was the point when my homemaking hit the crisis point.

When you have three children and only two arms, and you’ve nurtured terrible and lazy habits… well, let’s just say it’s not pretty!

Even worse, at this point in our lives, we moved nearby my husband’s parents. My mother-in-law is a very kind woman, but she’s an immaculate housekeeper. Her house should honestly be featured in Better Homes and Gardens. It’s perfect and beautiful in every way. Always. (With two dogs, no less…)

But I was overwhelmed. Oh, my pride!

It was at this point that God, through a variety of people and authors, brought me to His Word and convicted me with the words of Proverbs 31 and Titus 2. There was a day when my house was at its all-time worst, but I so desperately wanted to change! I took a piece of notebook paper and handwrote the words from these two Scripture passages, on the front and back, and I taped it up over the kitchen sink. Reading the words over and over, I dug into a PILE of dirty dishes. It took forever to get those dishes done, but I finally got through.

Then I went to the library and started checking out books on housekeeping. My husband still laughs about the day he came home from work and found me sitting in the recliner, in the midst of mountains of dirty laundry, reading How to Clean Practically Anything — forgetting to start making supper as well. (We ate a lot of Taco Bell back in those days.) I also brought home books by Don Aslett, especially the books on getting rid of clutter. I also read cleaning books by Jeff Campbell. (Funny how these are both men. Oh, I can’t forget books by Emilie Barnes and also the “Sense-sational” books by Terry Willits.)

In time, I purchased Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. That is the ultimate homemaking how-to book! But the best book of all, for my heart as well as my head, was The Hidden Art of Home Making, by Edith Schaeffer.

A learned how to manage my time (and stop the procrastination) by reading several other great books. You can see a list on my website by clicking here (scroll down). In fact, it was probably around this time that I put these links on my website — so let me know if you find an outdated or better one!

So I started by educating myself, then I had to learn to discipline myself. It was only a year later that my oldest son started homeschooling, and I also started writing on a much more consistent basis. Within 2 years, my fourth child was born, plus we moved to a remote part of the Navajo Reservation.

It was during this quieter, “wilderness” time of my life that I was able to learn how to be consistent. Our home there didn’t have a dishwasher, so I learned to be consistent with the dishes. I finally had my own washer and dryer, so I learned how to be consistent with the laundry. Our home was relatively new, so I learned (and enjoyed) how to decorate a little more. Two of my children started school, so I learned to do homeschooling on a daily and consistent basis. We had lots of windstorms, so I learned to dust and vacuum consistently (for real, Mom!). I learned a lot more about nutrition during these days, and I bought some kitchen equipment that helped me be consistent in bread-baking and other skills. We lived over two hours away from any Wal-mart or other shopping, so I learned how to make a good grocery list and menu. Can you see how God orchestrates our “education” for us?

After the birth of our fifth child, we moved back to “civilization,” to southern Iowa. It was here that my health began to deteriate and I was diagnosed with Addison’s disease, plus I had yet another baby. During these years, I finally learned to delegate. My oldest son was 9 years old now, and so I had plenty of helpers. However, I needed to learn how to help them help consistently. I learned that kids can do more chores than making beds or doing schoolwork. I learned that they can do almost everything I can do to keep a house running smoothly, including food preparation! Many days, my very health depended on their help. What great years those were, and what great helpers they were! (What “blessings,” God’s Word would say!)

Now we’re in yet another state, and I’m expecting yet another baby. I’m far from perfect, in case you should ever visit. This week my husband is out of town, and I have two sick kids passing germs around. Honestly, without my husband’s help and encouragement, I would never have learned anything! He is naturally neat — and I am naturally not! I’ve learned that sometimes I just have to clean for his sake, for the love of him. When he’s gone like this, I find that it would be very easy to slip back into old habits. It’s good for me to have a daily deadline (“Quick, kids, pick up the living room… Dad will be home in 5 minutes!”).

Well, I’ve rambled on enough. Let me answer some specific questions:

  • Does it get easier b/c the older ones help out?

Well, yes and no. It gets easier when they help out, but it’s not easier while I’m teaching them how. My personality is the kind that would prefer just to do it all myself (and know it’s done the way I want). But I have them help out, not because it’s easier, but because I’m their mother and it’s my job to prepare them for life. A great book on this subject is Managers of Their Homes.

  • Do you floss everyone’s teeth daily? How do you have time to do the girls’ hair so it does not become a rat’s nest?

I’m not as scheduled as the Managers of Their Homes book, but I do have a basic routine that we follow each day. (You can read a post I wrote about this very subject four years ago, and it’s fun to see what I said then.) I’ve got quite a few ideas listed here on this blog. Basically, it’s just a matter of what things must be done every day, no matter what, and then just learning to do them before anything else. Some day my kids will be old enough to do all these things on their own, but most of mine are still too young for that.

  • Do you have tons of dishes piled up? Oh, what about the laundry?

I have, but I don’t today. I try not to anymore! Honestly, my biggest piles happened when I had only two or three children. (Especially on those dishes…) Occasionally, my basement will flood, my dryer will break, or some other emergency will get me off my routine. With six children, a day or two off my routine will certainly make the laundry start to pile up. But we’ll have a big “laundry-folding party,” and with this many helpers, we can get caught up in two hours of folding. (A good movie helps the time go by quicker.) As for the dishes, my kids help, and no, we don’t get piles. If we have an emergency here, we use paper plates. If I’ll fill the sink with soapy water while I’m making dinner, and if everyone pitches in as soon as dinner is done (before the food gets hardened on), then dishes are no trouble at all. I still don’t have a dishwasher, by the way. I really do think life is easier without one! It can become such a procrastinator’s friend.

  • Do you have any children with health concerns? If so, how do you deal with that? If not, would it make a difference in how many children you wanted to have, if you had special health needs that took more of your time? How do you afford to feed your family….please don’t tell me you eat all processed food or something?

In our house, I am the one with the health problems. We have also had smaller health problems occasionally with several of our children. The biggest complications it poses in our house is that I need my rest, and I have to be careful not to overdo. My husband is a very happy person, and he has taught me that “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22, KJV). A hard thing for me about having a big family is that it can get really loud! If I’m not feeling well, this really gets to me. I’m sure, however, that God is trying to teach me that I call “roll with punches,” “go with the flow,” and think more of others than myself. (I’m still working on this lesson….)  >>Read a post my husband wrote about health and having more children.

We have to be very careful about what we eat. A few days of junk food and someone is invariably sick. Some people have asked if that gets expensive with this many kids. Well, I only have one teenager, and I can certainly see that our food bill will go up as our kids get older and eat more food. Eating healthier food has saved us money, however. I buy very little processed food, and boring, homemade food is cheaper than boxed foods. I don’t use very many coupons because they just don’t make coupons for real food. I can honestly say that my grocery bill decreased over the past few years. Again, as my children get older and eat more, I can see that it might go up again. Maybe I’ll finally learn how to garden. Whatever happens, I’ve seen God provide over and over again, and I’m sure he’ll do it again. (Read an article I wrote about affording healthy food.)

  • How do you spend time with each child so they feel they get enough of your attention?

I’m sure every family has its own solution to this, but here are some thoughts. First of all, homeschooling helps a lot. I have my kids scheduled into my lesson plans! We really enjoy our school time together. Second, I don’t feel I need to entertain my kids all day long. I think it’s fine for them to see me working and for them to have to come up with creative things to do on their own. Third, I try to involve them with what I’m doing. If I’m working in the kitchen, they can help. Today we shelled some peas together and had a fun time talking. One or two of them will occasionally go grocery shopping with me. If I’m on the computer… well, let’s just say I’m raising a bunch of computer geeks.

  • What have you found works for discipline?

When our oldest son was 8 weeks old, we were introduced to Growing Kids God’s Way. I know it’s controversial, but now I have 6 children. My oldest is a very loving teenager. I guess I’m saying that it works! It really does! I know the authors personally, and I can’t say enough good about them. I am SO thankful for the books they have written.

  • What kind of vehicle do you have to fit everyone?

This makes me laugh! We bought an 8-passenger van… and found out we were expecting the 9th member of our family! But we have two vehicles, a car and a van. We get better gas mileage with two vehicles than with one really large van. This might change for us in the future. It’s all as God provides. He always does provide!

  • How do you fit in all the well-child checks, dental visits, etc?

I don’t! I educate myself so that I know how to care for my children’s health, then we go to the doctor only when someone is really sick and a doctor can help. I also use herbalists, naturopaths, midwives, and other alternative healthcare providers. For more about my philosophy, read some great books by Robert S. Mendelsohn M.D., such as How to Raise a Healthy Child In Spite of Your Doctor and Confessions of a Medical Heretic.

As for running errands with so many children, I allow my oldest child to babysit. This is a relatively new pleasure for both of us. He gets paid, and I have an easier time! Life really does get easier the older my children get!

Well, this was really long! Thanks for reading through it all. I hope something here will encourage someone.


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  1. +1 on “How to Raise a Healthy Child In Spite of Your Doctor” It taught me not to panic whenever my children get a fever.

    Having my kids help has been my lifesaver. It takes a long time to train them to do the jobs and they seem to do a poor job at first, but then over time, they get better and better. At first, my daughter took hours to wash one cup (she was obviously just playing) but now can do a whole sinkful in minutes flat. I almost gave up on her, now I’m so glad I didn’t. Start ’em young is my motto : )

  2. Thanks for sharing this testimony! What an encouragement! By the way, I’m using your Foundations 1 and PE curriculum this year. Looking forward to it.

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