Today we continue with the second post of our two-part series featuring Large Families. This mom of six shares some fun, creative, and pragmatic ideas that will help us all (whatever the size of our family) to keep things running smoothly. You can find part-one here.
I’d like to share some of the things we’ve learned along the way that can help with the logistics of living in a big family. All the things described here aren’t for everyone, of course, but perhaps you’ll read an idea or two that strike a chord with you as you are undertake the intense and beautiful task of raising a big family (or the prospect of doing so!).
Be intentional about connecting with each person, every day.
This seems like a fairly obvious thing to say but I can tell you from experience, there can easily be days when it doesn’t happen. I have laid my head on my pillow at night many times and had the sinking feeling of, “Did I even have a conversation with so-and-so at all today? Did I look him in the eyes? Did I listen? Or was I just his manager?”
Some specific ideas to help with this:
*Individually greet each kid warmly the first thing of the day. Seems simple, but in a household with a lot of moving parts (and especially with older kids), you may convene at the breakfast table having not yet seen each person. It is easy to jump right into things like “Did you put your library book in your backpack?” instead of “Good morning, ______! I love you, buddy! How’d you sleep?” Same thing after school, save the nuts and bolts of everyday life for later – let the first things they hear in each juncture of the day be the joy in your voice just to see them. Bedtime too – in our house, even if Dave puts a few kids to bed and I do the other “set”, we always switch and head into the other bedrooms to close out the day with a quick hug for each kid. It is a human thing in all of us to desire to be individually noticed, not just part of the backdrop.
*We’ve recently given each child their own notebook and told them they can write notes or draw a picture any time and put it under Mom or Dad’s pillow. Mom or Dad promise to write something back within 24 hours. This is kind of old school “texting”.☺ They can use the notebook to ask anything they want, to give their opinion, to apologize for something, simply to connect. (I love it when I go to bed and feel a notebook under my pillow!) We initiate it sometimes too.
*After breakfast each day, we read a short passage of Scripture together, and each kid has “their” day of the week they get to participate by reading every other verse in the passage out loud with Dad. For a season, Dave and I used each kid’s day as a reminder to pray for that child intentionally (Reuben on Monday, Levi on Tuesday and so on. . . )
*Use errand time to take one kid out alone. Grocery shopping with just one kid is so fun! Often I’ll invite the kid who has needed the most grace recently, who has been in a struggle with me over something and needs a confirmation of forgiveness.
*Speaking of outings, the summer we brought Linnea home we did not do a big family vacation, wanting to keep our routine a little simpler and let her adjust. Instead, we took some money we would have spent on a vacation, and told the kids they’d each have a sum of money and three hours with each parent and they could plan the outing any way they wanted. Five kids x two parents = ten “dates” were planned that summer! It took some creativity with the family calendar, to be sure, because the other parent of course had to be home during that time. But they had so much fun deciding exactly how to spend their money, where to eat, what tickets/admission to buy, where to go. (Example: Our then-7-year-old had always wanted to go visit the big camper store in town so he and his daddy went and wandered through all the big campers on display; then went to Hobby Lobby to buy craft supplies; then to a park to sit at a picnic table and paint and make crafts; then out for ice cream. You can cram a lot in 3 hours! ☺) It was such a memorable summer, and Dave and I looked forward to focusing on each kid, help them process adding a new sister to our family, and confirming in their hearts that their “place” in the family was still solid and secure.
(In subsequent summers, we’ve changed this up a bit – last year we did “DICE DATES”. Six kids works quite well for this ☺ — our firstborn was #1, second #2 etc. and we rolled the dice to come up with a pair of kids to go on a fun outing with one parent. You get unique combinations that way!)
*Avoid the “herd mentality”. When things are falling apart at the seams, it is so easy to throw up your hands and say, “You guys! Knock it off, you are all a mess today!” when in reality, it is probably only one or two or three kids who are having a “moment” (some of them simply being immature) and making the entire day seem like a disaster. When I’m feeling that way, I pause and think through the six kids in my head and realize, “Wait now. This is really a two-kid issue, not a six-kid issue” and try not to spew my wrath on the masses. Also, I find I have much more effectiveness when I use people’s names instead of give a general directive. i.e. “Kids, go put on your shoes!” yields less results than, “Gideon, Micah, Nora, go put on your shoes.” It takes longer to say, but when kids hear their own names is always a plus in a big family, and a quick way to make a personal connection.
(Side note: if you have a bunch of little kids, adopted or not, right now go order the book “Loving the Little Years” by Rachel Jankovic. Game changer book for me — the above paragraph was something she addressed. You can finish the whole thing in one or two middle-of-the-night nursing sessions and it will put your work with all your little people in a whole new light!)
*These intentional connections within the family include your spouse. Connect with him/her too. And I don’t mean getting a babysitter and going on an elaborate date, because let’s be honest, that may not happen for many months after a new little one comes home – No, I mean really seeing them and picturing what life looks like through their lens right now. Sending a quick text after a morning kid struggle and saying “I really appreciate the way you handled that, babe. We are on the same team!” Or, if you didn’t like the way they handled it, “Wow, that was a tough way to start the morning. I hope your day gets better from here.” Dropping off a mocha on his desk at work when you are out running errands. A note on the steering wheel. Praying for him/her, individually and together. Adding some flowers to the grocery cart. Doing a chore they normally do. Giving each other a “sleep in” morning so they can be off kid duty. Kicking each other out of the house for some R & R (“It is a gorgeous day, honey, why don’t you go for a bike ride?”) Encouragement is a powerful tone-changer in your home, and it starts with Mom and Dad.
Put organizational systems into place that make your life easier.
I admit it, I’m an obsessive label-er. I’ve been mocked several times about a box in my storage unit that I once labeled “Knick Knacks and Picture Frames Not Being Used Due to Seasonal Décor.” (Okay, perhaps that was a little overly detailed.) But seriously, if you have a whole slew of kids, you’ll have to find ways to be organized even if it isn’t your natural bent. Otherwise you might go stark-raving mad. (Which, honestly, might happen anyway if the rest of the people you live with don’t share your affinity for labels and organization. Ahem.) Here are some big family organization ideas:
*All the piles of paperwork coming home from school from your tribe of scholars can take over entire rooms of the house if you aren’t proactive. Here’s our system for taming the paper. Right next to the kids’ lockers is a hanging file on the wall. Their completed work from each day goes in their slot of the file, minus the flyers and permission slips that need to be responded to. When the files are so stuffed you can’t fit any more in (about every three weeks), kids each take a turn on the couch with Mom or Dad looking through their stack together. Most of it gets thrown away at this point (a few things displayed, a few things kept). I find that batching it like this instead of dealing with the paper each day is much simpler, and makes an easy connection point with our kids as individuals – they love showing and describing their work to us on the couch.
*Color-coding! In our house, each kid has a different color cup they always use, which makes setting the table a way to subtly dictate seating and also helps you know which leftover half cup of milk in the fridge belongs to whom. (We use “their” color for other things too – the notebooks described above, tags on presents, toothbrushes, etc.) Speaking of cups, I know an adoptive mama of six who has hooks on the wall at kid-height in her kitchen for each of the kids’ water bottles. Anytime they want a drink, there it is. Easy to grab as they are walking out the door too. Another friend of mine made ceramic tiles for each member of her family and has them out on her counter – they put the cup they are using on their own tile after each meal/snack and use the same cup the next time – majorly cuts down on dishes!
*“Special Place” boxes – if your kids are anything like mine, they are always collecting things! A rock or acorn on their walk home from school, a gift shop purchase, a postcard from a grandparent, a craft project from VBS etc. Sometimes it is hard to know what to do with all the STUFF. At our house, each kid has a small box in their closet called their “Special Place”. I tell them they can keep anything they want if it will fit in their box. Each summer I have them dump it all out and re-evaluate each item – do I really want to keep this? Most often what meant the world to them in September doesn’t really have the same appeal in June and it gets thrown out. But the real gems stay, the traces of their childhood that they’ll hold on to forever.
*“The Sock Drop” – this is almost too silly to mention except that since I’ve started doing it, my life is noticeably easier! ☺ I don’t know about you, but in my household, socks are everywhere. They seem to have babies in every room of the house, I simply don’t get it. Finally it hit me one day that the kids really don’t have any place to put their socks when they take them off. The laundry chute is waaaaaaaay upstairs and the hampers in the laundry room they never know if the clothes are clean or dirty, coming or going. Enter the Sock Drop. I put a small basket in a tucked away corner of a high traffic area and all dirty socks go in there at all times. People actually use it! Lovely. I empty the sock drop into a load of laundry a few times a week and, voila. No more sock babies all over the house.
(Similarly, I have a basket in the living room for JUST library books so they don’t get mixed in with ours. The snack bowl in the pantry filled with after school grab-n-go snacks. The craft bin with supplies. You see the trend.☺)
Divide and Conquer
*When I say divide and conquer I mean divide both the work-load and divide the people up at different times. Both can do wonders. A friend once shared with me that in a big family, if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, you are not delegating enough. Truth! Look around you! You have a whole little army of people at your disposal! They need to learn the valuable lessons of work anyway, so they might as well be reducing your load. True, you have to put in some initial labor and time in teaching how to clean a bathroom or fold laundry, but you’ll thank yourself in a few years if you stick with it now. Some ideas:
*Give each kid a different room of the house to pick up toys and have a race (I’ve found you can get a little boy to do almost anything if you say “Ready, set, GO!”).
*I’ve been known to call out, “Freeze!! Everyone in the house! 20 things! Go!” Meaning, every person in your house picks up 20 items and puts them away – it is amazing how in about 3 minutes time your house looks so much better with 160 things put away – big families for the win!
*Taco Nights have become much more enjoyable since the decree that each of the oldest three children shall completely compile a younger sibling’s taco before building their own.
*Pair kids together in different rooms for “quiet time” when you need 20 minutes to make dinner.
*On outings where you are one-on-six (or more), designate a buddy system before going out for hand-holding in parking lots.
*Hand everyone, big and small, a rake and go tackle that leaf pile together. (Don’t forget to jump in! Mom and Dad too!)
Divide and conquer!
Last week, I came out to the porch swing to join Dave and Linnea and Micah who were having an afternoon snack. A few other kids were running around on the grass. Linnea looked around, taking a mental tally. Then she giggled and looked up at Dave with a gleam in her eye and said, “Whole family! ‘Gether!”
Oh, thank you Lord Jesus, that we get to belong. The eight of us, we go “gether”.
I don’t know what is around the bend for us, or for you . . . what challenges await our families as our packs of kids get older. But in every challenge, when we feel like we don’t have the wisdom or patience or grace for this (um, daily!), may the Holy Spirit repeat in our minds over and over the truth of His Word…
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:10)
There are indeed many challenges to raising a large family, especially when it has grown through adoption. But the benefits are so vast!
They’ll learn a huge array of social skills – conflict resolution, collaboration, compassion, empathy, self-sacrifice, to name a few.
And they’ll have a front row seat to watch time and time again the way Christ leads and provides and shines through all our weaknesses.
guest post by Rhonda