Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Care and Feeding of a Big Family

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!

Meal Planning:

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!

Home Cooking:

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!

Screen Time:

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 ;)


  1. Do you have two fridges? I find it hard to keep enough fresh fruit and veg in the house to last a week and I've only got 3 so far!

    1. We do! But we rarely use the 2nd fridge. I keep lots of fruits and veggies out on the counter - apples, bananas, oranges, zucchinis, tomatoes, eggplants, etc. We go through it all so quick too that by the end of the week, they're eating applesauce as their fruit snack and frozen veggies with dinner :)

  2. Colleen. You are my hero. I feel so overwhelmed with my FIVE right now. But we are in that awful stage where everyone has to go everywhere! You are doing such a good job!

    1. That stage is so hard. You’ll get your teens soon enough but until then: survival mode!!

  3. Thank you for the comment on individual attention. I've only got 4 kids, but people question me about this all the time. I agree that its not as big of a deal as the world makes it out to be. My kids are loved! Sometimes a sibling takes on the role and sometimes its me or my husband. But our kids are not deprived of love or attention!

    1. Right! And some of my kids prefer the ability to not have so much attention on them too! It takes all types!

  4. Hi Colleen, I'd just like to say that I really love your blog. Seeing your big, beautiful, joyfully Catholic, but completely modern and normal family gives 29 year old single women like me something to aspire to and a lot of hope that following God's way really does work. God bless you all :)

    1. How awesome are you for writing that comment? Thank you!!

  5. I was wondering if you get tips and ideas from your mother since you came from a large family? Or was that just a different time when things were done differently?

    1. For sure and also lots of trial and error through the years!

  6. This is a great round-up, Colleen! We do a lot of the same stuff.

    Kevin does all or laundry and he has the exact same method as you re. no sorting. He puts in a load when he gets home from work, switches it after dinner, and folds it and puts it on a rolling laundry rack. The rest of us empty the rack in the morning.

    We are home most days because of homeschooling, which means clean up takes more time. (I used to think I was laidback about messes. Ha. #typeA) Evening clean up for us means I put a list on the whiteboard of all the horse I see needing to be done. There’s usually 10 minute clean ups for living, dining, and bedrooms (we do these chores in teams), plus a couple of weekly chores that get done on a certain day of the week. The kids love crossing their chores off the list when they’re done.

    Saturday morning is for deep cleaning. Kids love Saturday mornings. ;)

    Probably more to add but I have to run. This was very inspiring, though, so thanks. Also, it makes me SO grateful to have big kids now. I remember the days of doing all this myself and feeling like I was drowning.

  7. I'd love a recipe roundup of your favorites!

    1. That's a good idea for a blog post, but it will take me some time...stay tuned!

  8. Is that really a thing, separating the underwear from the rest of the laundry? I've never heard of that! Probably because I come from a big family. :) Great post!

  9. For real! Who has time to separate?? I just don’t buy clothes that have special washing instructions

  10. Oh please tell me that this level of organization and having-it-together-ness is possible for me in the future!! I am expecting number four and my oldest is five. I CANNOT get it together and I am exhausted!! All of this sounds so good and I aspire to absolutely everything you wrong....as I lay in an exhausted pregnant heap on my couch while my kids watch tv 😬 Haha

    1. That's because you're pregnant and your oldest is five!!!! You are in the survival years, and you only need to worry about finding a balance that works for your family, not about any grand scheme. It will happen though! After each baby, I feel so frazzled and out of sorts and once they hit a year old I start feeling ready to find and make routines again. Give yourself lots of slack, your kids will be fine as long as you just love them :)

  11. As another mom of a big family - yes to most of this. I say why own anything that can't be put in the dishwasher, washing machine, or hosed off outside. If it doesn't survive the wash, it wasn't meant to be!
    We only have one refrigerator, so I go shopping several times a week - milk and bananas are always on the list. ( I don't mind grocery shopping though). No strict meal planning - just a rough schedule weekly. I keep some things on hand for the nights when what was planned doesn't come to fruition. (The kids know how to make grilled cheese or scrabled eggs and more in a pinch.)
    I do have an upright freezer in the basement for bulk purchases of meat, etc that I get at Sam's club . (I'm willing to freeze just about anything - learned my lesson with cream cheese though to read the labels first.)
    We don't have a regular cleaning routine, and the kids don't have specific chores - though they're expected to keep their rooms tolerable, help out as needed with house clean up and dishes. I often will trade a chore with "Babysitting" - playing with the little ones outside. Sometimes I dream of chore charts and regular routines, but I don't think it fits our family's style.
    And I ignore dust - it takes effort with some many people living here - but dusting is one chore I detest. So I just hope the kids are active enough to keep the dust moving and do a frantic clean up whenever guests come.
    Every big family will find their rhythm eventually!

    1. Gotta do what works for you! We didn't have a weekly chore chart for a number of years and when I would ask someone to do something, there were lots of "why me?" "that's not fair" comments, so I made a list and now just say CHORE CHARTS! and it all gets done. Love your theory about the dust!

  12. I agree with mixing clothes to keep the hamper empty. But I find that we have to wash a load of towels almost everyday. That doesn't include bath towels. Plus we cloth diaper and do a load of diapers each day. So staying on top of laundry is difficult.

  13. This is great! We have 9 from 22 year old twins down to the baby who just turned 7. I love hearing what other people do.

  14. Love this, I'll have to do a post like it, our family of 7 do things pretty similar. I do at least a load of laundry a day too, but I sort it differently. We put the little kids together, Doug & mine, and his dress/work clothes separately. I do one load of whites, including our white bath towles, once a week. Everything else gets washed on cool or warm so I don't sort out the colors. The two oldest do their own loads. Menu planning was a game changer too, as was having kids old enough to babysit.

  15. I have been a big meal planner but what makes a big game changer is online shopping with curbside pickup. I make my menu based on what’s on sale that week and usually double up items. I shop online which greatly helps me stay on budget then I just go to the store and they load it in the car. So easy and way less impulse buying.

  16. AnonymousJuly 03, 2018

    Exceptional post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I'd be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more.
    Bless you!

  17. AnonymousJuly 03, 2018

    Great delivery. Solid arguments. Keep up the great spirit.


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