I think the logistics of big family life are always what intrigued me the most. I would look at big families and wonder how they handled the grocery shopping, meal planning, errands, laundry, house cleaning, chauffeuring kids around, etc. I wanted to be a fly on the wall to see how it all worked. I come from a family of eight, but being one of the youngest children in a big family is different than being the MOM of a big family. Hello, responsibility! Although life can get overwhelming in these areas at various points, I feel like we have mostly got a good system going, and thought I'd try and share what we do and would love to hear any tips you have in the comments!
This one is fairly new to me, but now it's become such a good habit. I have an excel spreadsheet with each day written down to plan the meal, and then sections for groceries that I'll need, super simple:
Usually we try to make a plan of meals on Friday night or Saturday morning and then shop at some point during the weekend. We ask the kids if there's any meal they want, and add that in too. It's really helped us save time and money each week. If for some reason we haven't meal planned, I walk around the store like a zombie throwing in random items, hoping to make something out of nothing for the rest of the week. I don't know how I lasted so long without meal planning!
Well this one is a big family no-brainer, but we cook at home all the time. It's so expensive for all of us to go out and so we save it for special occasions. We do eat well and plan healthy balanced meals, and I'd rather cut costs on anything else but food. They're growing children! I love putting wholesome food into their bodies and sneaking in lots of added nutrition they don't even know they're getting. Cooking is fun for me and it makes me feel like a good mom. Phil does about 40% of the cooking too, so that helps!
Nightly Clean Up:
Both Phil and I are relatively neat and clean people, and we can't go to bed without having the house picked up. That means that after dinner at some point, we assign a chore to each of the kids who are able and home (evening practices and games means there's usually someone missing):
~ Clear the table (bring all the dirty dishes to the sink and wipe down the table)
~ Sweep the floor (kitchen and dining room)
~ Clear and wipe down the island and counters
~ Make lunches for the next day
~ Family room clean up (the 6 and 3 year old handle this one before they get their nightly show)
~ Do laundry (this is the eldest boy's job as he is usually studying while we are cleaning up but can do the laundry right before bed)
Phil and I are also cleaning alongside them as well, usually washing dishes as we haven't gotten a great child dishwasher yet! And speaking of dishwasher, we only run it once it is completely full, usually every day and a half. I always throw the sponge, scrub brush, and sink drain in every time we run the dishwasher to keep those clean.
It's been my system for years and years that we do one wash per night. Everything that needs washing from the day goes in. No sorting. I feel that if it doesn't make it out the other side of the dryer intact, than it wasn't meant to be.
Some people might find it gross to wash dirty underwear with shirts but my thoughts are 1) We wash everything every day, so it's better to me to mix together newly dirtied clothes than keep a separate white wash that may take a few days to wash while stains and smells are just setting in more and more. 2) We are clean people. We are thorough wipers and we shower or bathe every day so there's really no gross items anyway. 3) I wash everything in warm water.
On the weekends, we do a couple extra washes for towels, sheets, pajamas, etc. I wash hand towels and kitchen towels daily, but our bath towels are only used after we are clean, so I don't see the point of washing those more than once a week.
So, a wash goes in (usually around 7 when I finish putting the little kids to bed) and I fluff the clothes in the dryer. When JP goes to bed, he folds the clothes in the dryer and switches the wet clothes over to the dryer. The folded clothes go in each person's box and each person is responsible for putting away the clothes in their box each week (or as often as they'd like...which is...once a week!)
Saturday Chore Charts:
The kids all have a list of chores that need to be done on the weekend, and Saturday morning is usually our pump up the music and get to work time. I'll share what each of our kids do, and it's not much, but it gets the house ready for company...
J-P (15) ~ Clean 1 bathroom, put away his laundry and clean bedroom
Andrew (13) ~ Clean 1 bathroom, put away his laundry and clean bedroom
Eamon (11) ~ Bring all recycling from our porch to the outside bins, put away laundry and clean bedroom.
Maggie (10) ~ Clean mudroom and small toyroom, put away laundry and clean her bedroom.
Alexander (6) ~ Clear stairwells and vacuum them.
Declan (3) ~ He wants to help, so we just give him little chores as we go along, like feeding the dog, getting us things, etc.
Meanwhile, I am the floor lady - I sweep and vacuum and mop. Phil handles the kitchen and trash and general decluttering, which is key to that big family lyfe.
We do not give our kids any payment for doing chores, they just have to do them before they get any screen time. It takes everyone less than 20 minutes and it builds good habits. Plus, not one person made the mess, so not one person should have to clean up!
Our rule is no screen time during the week, except that the little kids get a half hour show (sometimes two) before bed. This show allows them to settle down and gives us a chance to get stuff done around the house. So the show is something we pick for little kids (think Mickey Mouse, Veggie Tales, Cat in the Hat, etc.) and not a show any of the older kids would choose. However, I still find some of the older kids watching with the younger set, which is fine and cute. On the weekends, we let our kids have screen time (video games) while the little ones nap, and then usually they have screen time again at night (tv or movie). I don't mind them having time for screens as long as they have done their chores and homework and played outside (or were active with practice/games). They need downtime too. We try to have them all watch something together when we can, just because individual screen time can be isolating and we can really bond over a shared screen.
Besides the grocery store, I barely go to any other store. Every once in a while we need something last minute at Walmart or Target but for the most part, I can order it on Amazon or some other online site. I've ordered everything from shoes to deodorant to dog food to toilet paper to cleaning supplies to candy. Soup to nuts, as they say. Phil loves seeing random boxes show up on the daily ;)
Amazon Prime subscriptions save me a lot of headache and money because I have five or six items that come automatically each month and earn a 15% discounted price. When my kids mention they need something, I can order it on my phone while waiting to pick them up from a practice or whenever, so easy. Why go to the store when the store comes to your front door? (Hey Amazon, you should make shirts that say this and give me a percent!)
Schlepping the Kids Around:
When they're little, you're home more which is good because it's hard to get out with a bunch of littles in tow. When they're bigger and more involved in activities, there's a really hard stage where your biggest kids aren't old enough to stay home and babysit the younger set, and so everywhere one kid needs to go, you're bringing the whole family (and counting heads like a boss).
During this stage, limiting the amount of activities each kid does is so important for a mom's sanity. I think we do A LOT and we only do one sport per season. Multiplied by a few kids, we're busy almost every day of the week with a practice or game. Now that we have two teens in the house that can hold down the fort while Phil and I play chauffeur, it's much easier! We can even both attend a child's game together like a date! I'm thinking once we have additional drivers it will be even easier and I can't wait to get to there.
One on One Time:
This is something "the world" questions if big families can do well, and I don't know if we can...but I also don't think it matters as much as they think it does.
When you only have one child, they only get "family attention" from the parents and of course there is pressure on the parents to make sure they spend time with their child. When you have more than one, the pressure valve releases on the parent as the source of entertainment/being a confidante/playmate and the kids have each other. Of course we still need to give each child quality time but it doesn't always have to be individual quality time. Family dinners where we play HiLo (Best part of your day and worst part of your day) are such great quality time with each kid as they take their turn and everyone weighs in on their day. Grabbing a kid or two to go to the grocery store is special for them (I used to love going to the dump with my dad!). Just putting down your phone and being available is so important to your kids. Playing a family board game or cards will light up their little world. Every once in a while, we will take our kids out individually to a special event (that's become great Christmas or birthday presents) or to grab a treat and that's wonderful, but you don't have to spend money on giving kids attention. And you don't have to worry about being the one to meet their every need...they have siblings to lean on too. I think big families just have more people and therefore more love to go around.
I'd love to hear any tips you guys can add...and I also want to reiterate that big family life can be loud, messy, and chaotic. Trying to keep order where I can keeps me sane. We are not great at a lot of other things like yard work, keeping our cars clean, or dusting to name a few, but we prioritize the care and feeding of the kids and know one day we will miss all their messes! At least that's what I've heard ;)