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When someone does something outside the norm, we are all at least a little curious. I get it. We are not a “normal” family, so we draw attention. I know that people are really (usually) just curious about how we make it all work day in and day out. Therefore, I’m willing to be open, and honestly answer your questions about large family living.
Large families really are a source of curiosity! I still, though a large family mama now, find myself amazed at how even larger families make it work day by day. I also realize that while my family is large-ish, we really aren’t all that large after all. Nonetheless, I know that mamas wanting large families, or mamas wondering how in the world it can logistically work with so many kids do look at us as a large family and want to know.
Q&A ~ large family living
# 1: Have you always wanted a large family?
Nope. Never in a million, well…maybe a million, years would I have dreamed I’d have 8 kids. I thought I might have three or four, but never 8. It was a change of heart, a working of the Holy Spirit who brought about the change in my attitude towards having a large family. It was He who caused me to even consider having more than 3 or 4 kids.
#2 : I can’t handle my two (or whatever number), how do you do it?
Truthfully, I have no idea. It’s often a moment by moment thing. Taking one thing at a time, praying under my breath, trying not to say the snarky words on the tip of my tongue. And when I do let those words fly, it’s apologizing and moving on. It’s crazy, chaotic, and loud sometimes. If you missed it, go back and take a look at what it’s like living in a large family.
Some days I don’t even know how we made it to bedtime, but I look back over the day and know that it was only by God’s grace that we made it!
Just this week I was talking to another large family mama, and in response to my comment about being *this* close to the edge she said, “I always feel like I’m there. I’m holding on by my teeth and the Holy Spirit. He keeps me there.” In and of ourselves, we can’t do it!
Another thing is that we work together. I don’t do it all by myself; there’s no way I could physically do all that needs doing on a daily basis by myself. That’s too many dishes and little people to wash, too much laundry to muddle through, and too many toys to pick up all while making sure people actually get fed and educated.
# 3 How do you afford so many kids?
I’m not sure people really want to know the answer to this one, but here it is. Sacrifice. Bottom line.
We drive older vehicles so that we don’t have car payments. Our house is older and small because we don’t want to be bound to an overwhelming mortgage for years on end. And our kids wear hand-me-downs and consignment store finds as much as possible. When that’s not an option, we shop smart–catching sales, using coupons, Old Navy (need I say more?), and buying brands like Garanimals and Okie Dokie for the little ones.
Christmas looks far different for us than it used to. We set a budget, and we stick to it. No longer do we buy without a very clear plan, keeping money (and space) in mind.
We stick to a budget and don’t spend more than we have. It’s been a long and often difficult journey to get to the place we are financially, where we feel freedom from debt despite our super-sized family! Check out my series on budgeting, saving money, and cutting back.
# 4 How do you stick to a grocery budget?
We kind of don’t have a choice because if we go over our allotted amount for groceries, it has to come from some other bucket, or envelope as the case may be. For years, we have used the envelope system as recommended by Dave Ramsey. This helps us stick to our budget.
I learned so much when I did the Grocery Budget Makeover. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I have consistently saved $150 a month on groceries since going through the makeover! (If you are interested in how that works, check out this post.)
However, it boils down to meal planning, shopping the sales, and avoiding convenience foods. I tend to save the most money when I meal plan and shop weekly according to the sales. Also, avoiding convenience foods and cooking from scratch are big money savers.
I also get asked often what our grocery budget looks like. Briefly, our weekly budget for groceries is $241.25, though my goal is to not spend more than $200. It’s a challenge I place on myself so that I can save $150-165 each month just on groceries. The $241.25 weekly budget includes any paper, diapers, toiletries, and razors. (To be fair, Chris uses a safety razor and has a beard, so his razors last much longer. They are also generally cheaper!)
# 5 Do you homeschool ALL of them?
Yes, the school-aged ones I do, so that’s all but one. Without a doubt, keeping him entertained and out of mischief is just as hard as trying to teach the four that sit at the table with me. My older kids are very helpful with keeping him corralled at various times of day. They are also very independent in their school work. Each week I give them their assignments, and they work through, coming to me when they need me.
Teaching little people is much more involved, as I have to sit with them to be sure they understand and to keep them on track. I admit, at times it’s almost more than I can do. When it gets to that point, we do something else.
# 6 So…is this it?
Originally, I answered: I can’t answer this question with complete confidence. Every time I say, “yes!” the Lord laughs and sends another one. So, my answer is this: We are open to whatever the Lord has in store for us. The selfish part of me wants to say, “I’m done,” simply because I’m worn out, and I’ve had probably more than too many c-sections. However, I trust that God has what’s best for us, and only He knows when we are done.
Update: Number 8 is our caboose. Due to complications with her birth, the deal was sealed. No more bio-babies for us.
# 7 How do you spend quality time with each child when you have a large family?
Truthfully, we are not good at taking each kid “out” for their own private mama or daddy time. It doesn’t work for our budget. However, we do take time with each of them. Sometimes it’s snuggling on the couch or chatting on the swing. Often it’s grocery shopping and a treat. Other times it’s helping with kitchen chores after the little ones are in bed or a fishing trip early on weekend mornings.
Don’t believe that just because you haven’t made an effort to have a formal outing that you haven’t spent quality time with each child. And sometimes quality time isn’t one on one time at all; it’s all of us being together, talking and laughing, just enjoying one another.
# 8 How do you get to enjoy coffee while it is still hot the first time?
One friend piped up and said, “You mean coffee is meant to be drank hot?” Touche, friend. How often after the kids get up do you get to enjoy hot coffee? Not very.
What do I do? Honestly, it depends on the season of life I’m in. I used to I get up earlier than the kids, take my coffee and my Bible and sneak out onto the porch. But in the season I’m in now, I just sit for a quick 5 minutes (if I’m lucky) before they get up and have a few hot, glorious sips.
Note: our kids do not get to come out of the bedrooms until 7am except for the one who can’t tell time.
#9 Are you trying to be like the Duggars?
The snarky side of me wants to throw a “What you talkin’ bout Willis?”
But no, no we’re not. We don’t have a number-of-children goal. This isn’t a competition. We’re not collecting babies, and we aren’t trying to catch up or beat anyone. We are simply following the leading of the Lord in our lives.
#10 How do you do pizza night?
Friday nights are typically our pizza night. Almost every Friday night, we all eat pizza together in the living room while watching a movie or a warm fuzzy episode of Little House on the Prairie. We throw out our “pizza” blanket and enjoy our relaxed evening!
Typically, I make homemade pizza. I’ve tried many pizza dough recipes, but this is my favorite.
#11 How do you get them all bathed?
If you know me, you know that I don’t believe that kids need baths every night, but my kids don’t go do public school. If they did, I’m sure I’d see it differently! 😉
But when we do baths, the little girls bathe together and the little boys bathe together. They typically bathe themselves, though sometimes it requires a “mama (or daddy) once-over.” Hair washing is a different story: I let them do it when we don’t have anywhere to go, but we make sure it’s scrubbed really good before church on Sunday.
#12 How do you plan your days?
Originally: While I like to have order in our day, I don’t plan every time block. Honestly, I’ve tried scheduling our days into 30 minute to 1 hour blocks, but it really stressed me out trying to juggle everything and move on to the next then at the right time.
What we do instead is have a routine that we follow most every morning. When our mornings start later, they still function in the same way, and I don’t feel like I’ve “lost” time blocks. Rather, they are just shifted a bit.
Let’s just assume that all of these times are “ish” times, okay?
- 6:30 – I get up and have coffee
- 7:30 – 9:00 Kids get up, breakfast, morning chores
- 9:00 – Start school (we aim for 9, but it’s often closer to 9:30 because we have animals to feed, too.)
- 9:00-11:45 – School
- 12:00 – Lunch, cleanup, play time
- 1:00 – Rest time for little ones (bigs and middles finish school) until around 3.
- 3:00 – Free time
- 7:30 – Bedtime for little people is around 8, though it’s supposed to be 7:30 — it’s hard to get them to bed and unwound when it’s still so bright out.
- 8:30 – Bedtime for middles
- 9:45 – 10:00 – Bedtime for bigs
- 11:00 – Bedtime for Mama!
Update: We are in a season of more strict schedules because of so many different ages in school. We have to be more intentional to get it all done.
#13 How do you actually cook for all those people?
You know, it’s funny. You kind of just grow into it. Yes, over the years I have had to resort to larger pots and pans. Just recently I retired my old skillet and bought a nice large one. I love this amazing 12 quart stock pot; it certainly can get the job done!
True, I have to double and sometimes triple recipes, but because I still have several little people, and they don’t typically eat a whole lot at once. I’m sure once I have multiple teenagers at the dinner table, I’m going to have another learning curve.
Someone also asked how long it takes to cook a good home cooked meal. I’ve never actually timed it, but I’d say 30-45 minutes. I don’t typically buy too much packaged food, and almost never ready made dinners. For me, it’s easier to cook simple recipes with simple ingredients and veggies as sides.
#14 How do you keep up with each child’s schedule?
Originally: For school, I plan for six weeks at a time. We have six weeks on, one week off; it’s called Sabbath schooling. (I first heard about Sabbath schooling in the book Teaching From Rest.) Therefore, I have a master copy of what everyone should be doing every day of each week, and I print a copy for them each week so that they stay on track and know what’s coming for the week. It takes a lot of work up front, but it makes the weeks much easier.
As far as extracurricular activities, we have a calendar on our refrigerator that has all appointments and horse shows, ballgames and church functions written on it. I suppose it would be our “central command center” though very basic and not at all exciting!
There are times when something is overlooked and we have to scramble to make it work, but overall, this works well for us. I have to admit, though, our kids don’t do a whole lot of extracurricular stuff. The three oldest kind of have their “things” they love, and we do accommodate those, but we are not typically running kids here and there very often.
Update: I plan our entire school year all at once before the school year starts. It’s no joke, but it makes our year so much more relaxed and enjoyable. I learned how to do this when I embraced the Charlotte Mason method of educating our children.
#15 Do you ever wish you had time all by yourself with no one needing your attention? If so, how do you NOT feel guilty about it?
Yes! Sometimes you are just mama-ed and touched out, and you need time alone even if it’s a quiet evening on the porch or a night completely away. I confess that while I’ve dreamed of nights away, that has never actually happened! Honestly, I think if I could get past the guilt, I’d be a better mom for it, and so would you!
We all need to take care of ourselves, not in a selfish way, but in a way to refocus and recharge from the demands from the everyday. As moms, we punish ourselves far more than anyone else does. We expect far more from ourselves than anyone else.
#16 How do you manage all that laundry?
- We do not use a new towel every night.
- I do not do everyone’s laundry.
- The kids do their own laundry–even the 5 year old. They fold their own laundry and put it away.
- We rotate laundry days.
- When the days are pretty I sometimes hang the clothes on the line.
As for sorting and matching socks, usually, since all the girl laundry goes in one hamper and boy laundry in another, we don’t have a terrible amount of lonely socks. But when there is one without a match, I have a box I add them to. Every few weeks, I sort through the box and pair any matches. After awhile, it’s apparent which ones really no longer have a match. At that point I use them to clean window blinds or as dry erase erasers.
#17 Are you able to go and do much?
For my sanity’s sake, we don’t. There are times when I get brave, and all 8 kids and I do something, but that really is rare. Also, I’m a homebody. I’d rather be home than most anywhere else, so staying home doesn’t often hurt my feelings. 😉
When we do venture out, it must be a kid-friendly place or outside. And preferably not a sit down restaurant–those are no fun with lots of kids.
#18 How do you have time to be alone with your spouse?
Now that we have teenagers along with our littles, we are able to have regular date nights. We pay the older kids to babysit and often rent a movie for them all to watch while we are gone. However, we don’t stay gone for long, and if we do need to be gone for more than a couple of hours, we get an adult to sit with them.
Before our teens were able to help us out on date night, we had to be creative. Either we had to have a date on the front porch swing, which is still one of my favorite places to be, or we got a sitter. Most often the sitter was a church friend or family member, who never charged us to watch the kids.
For a while, we traded off babysitting services with another couple. They kept our kids one Friday night a month so that we could have a date, and the next month, we’d keep their kids on Friday night. We did that for probably two years. While we didn’t get date night as often as we would have liked, it was still amazing to have friends keep and love on our kids and return the favor for them!
#19 Are you able to vacation?
For years we didn’t go on vacation. Part of that was a money thing, and part of it was a “we don’t want to load all the kids and our stuff up and go” thing. However, as we could afford it, we would take day trips or visit family to get away. The last two years, we have taken our vacation at a state park — in our tent! While camping is in some ways more difficult than just getting a hotel room (or two, which we do have to do), in many ways, it’s way easier than trying to keep kids corralled and quiet in a hotel.
It does get easier as the kids get older because we have more hands to hold little hands, and more eyes to watch little people. It was much more overwhelming when they were all younger!
#20 How many outfits do your children have?
It depends. I always keep at least 7 tops & bottoms for each season; however, for the little ones, it’s closer to 9 or 10. If we have more than that, we just don’t have the space for it all. I really have to stay on top of purging and rotating clothes in and out so that we don’t misuse our space.
#21 When cooking a meal do you ever make enough to incorporate leftovers into something different?
Yes! What I have found is that when I do that, I have to put the extras up right away or someone is going to want to eat it. Admittedly, I don’t do it as often as I should. Thanks for reminding me to be more mindful! 😉
#22 What do your morning & nighttime routines look like?
In the mornings, I usually don’t have to wake the little ones up, so often they “help” with breakfast. Then we wake up the middles and bigs. They make beds, get dressed, and take care of hygiene. That’s all supposed to happen before they stumble in to have some breakfast, but not always. Then we clean up the kitchen, take care of our animals, and start school.
In the evenings, we have supper around six. After supper, we have our evening chores which consist of cleaning the kitchen and dining room and living room. The little ones play for a bit then take baths and get ready for bed. Lately, they are getting to be later, but as long as they are in bed by 8:30, all is well.
#23 Do your kids have chores?
Absolutely! I talk about that more in this post.
We all work together most evenings, but the kids do have their chores that they prefer and do daily. Things like…
- washing and drying dishes
- sweeping/vacuuming the dining room and kitchen
- emptying the trash and taking it out
- Gathering eggs
- Feeding the animals (horse, dogs, chickens, and bunny)
#24 How do you take time to refill your tank as a large family mama?
Truthfully, I don’t do it as much as I should. Sometimes I go out on the porch when kids are in bed to think and reflect. Other times I run an Epsom salt bath and relax in the tub.
My favorite alone time is in the mornings. I love the quiet and the stillness of the morning, so I sneak out onto the porch for my quiet time.
Friends! They help me refuel when it’s hard because they are there to support and encourage!
#25 How do you make sure you get a quiet time?
Originally: Like I mentioned before, I try to be up at least 30 minutes before the kids so that I can have hot coffee and quiet time in the word and in prayer. I love reading my Bible on my front porch swing!
Update: My Bible reading and study is at night.
#26 How do you afford feeding all the kids and still maintaining a healthy, balanced, diet….especially as they get older?
I try to stay away from packaged foods, and I make lots of foods from scratch. I promise it’s not as hard or bad as it sounds. Yes, it does take more time, but it’s really not much harder.
While we do eat a variety of meats & vegetables, or at least offer them to the kids, I don’t buy organic typically unless it’s on a better sale than it’s non-organic counterpart. Am I saying that I never buy convenience foods? Not at all! I do buy chips and crackers (only when they are on sale), but I also make sure they are eating fresh fruits as snacks as well.
I also fix my kids’ plates every meal to eliminate wasting. If they want more after finishing what’s on their plates, I am glad to give them more–within reason, of course.
#27 Does a large family ever have the ‘middle child syndrome’? Is it more or less evident in larger families?
Wikipedia defines middle child syndrome as “the feeling of exclusion by middle children. This effect occurs because the first child is more prone to receiving privileges and responsibilities (by virtue of being the oldest), while the youngest in the family is more likely to receive indulgences.”
Overall, I think that middle child syndrome is less evident in our family. Have we ever seen evidence of middle child syndrome in our family? Perhaps at times, though as of now, we do not see it often. Of course, I can only answer for my family.
And that’s a large family living wrap!
I have to say, I’ve enjoyed this little Q&A session, but it has made me realize that there’s probably lots more you’d like to know about different subjects. If that’s the case, comment below and let me know.