Large Families – How We Cope

Tips for Larger families

A lovely friend of mine Carolyn suggested to me recently that tips and strategies on coping with a larger family would be great fodder for a post. It is a question I am asked a lot, so I thought I would give it a go.

Having a family with five children 10 and under can be busy and hard work. It is also full of lots of love, energy and happiness.

Parenting for us has been a learning journey and as we have moved long it we have made significant changes to the way we manage our daily lives. Although the tips below could easily apply to a family of any size, the difference being for us is how critical they are to smooth daily running of family life.

There are times in our life when for a variety of reasons we may not do the things below. The whole world doesn’t fall apart and we manage to make our way through the day, but it tends to be done with more conflict, greater stress and less fun. We have found that doing these very simple things make life much easier for everyone (especially mum and dad!).

1. Allocate daily tasks to all family members.

Getting the kids to do their chores.jpg
All children, except the baby have age appropriate tasks that they are required to do on a daily basis. Not only are these tasks important for the kids to do so that they begin to learn how to look after themselves and contribute to the family, but it also means that there is less work for mum and dad to do.

School mornings at the moment with a young baby are an extremely busy time. When we leave for the walk to school, I like to have the table cleared, dishwasher on (if full) and the beds made. There is no way that I could get this done, if the children didn’t do part of this work. For a breakdown of what our children do you can check out this post on Children’s Jobs.

2. Menu plan.

family menu planning faq main

The kids all have healthy appetites and eat pretty well. With three children in school and a couple of after school activities each, combined with a baby that needs TLC and breastfeeding in the early evening, it can be a juggle to find time to cook a healthy meal.

Having a menu plan not only means that I have all the ingredients on hand that I need, but by factoring in the nightly requirements in the table below, I have selected a meal that I will be able to cook in with the available time.

Day
Activity
Meal Type
Monday Gymnastics 4pm – 5pm Morning Preparation
Tuesday Swimming 5.30pm – 6pm Meal for two nights
Wednesday Footy 5.30pm – 6.45pm Left Overs
Thursday Free – Yey! Stir Fry
Friday Footy 4.30pm – 5.30pm Pasta
Saturday Free Self Serve Style Meal
Sunday Footy Meat and Veg

 

I also find that planning a month at a time is also more efficient way to menu plan. You can see how I do it in a video in this post.

3. Communication.

With lots of competing needs in our family, it is important that everyone feels that their voice is heard and their ideas considered. We have been having Family Meetings for many years now and although we have always found them useful, they are becoming even more so as the children get older.

We have found it important to have visual communication tools, so everyone is aware of their schedules and commitments. We have a large family calendar with a column for each person (mum and dad share – I can’t find one that have more than 6 columns!) and a children’s timetable located in prominent positions for all to refer to.

4. Nightly Preparation.

family organisation

I have found that tasks which can take me 30 minutes at night on my own, end up taking closer to an hour if I try to do them in the morning with all the children around. Night time preparation is the key to smooth mornings for me. Preparing the lunch boxes, organising the school clothes, filling in forms, setting the table for breakfast are all things we do a night once the children are in bed.

5. Accept help!

I have been very lucky this year to have regular help from my two sisters who also live in Melbourne. My youngest sister comes once a week and helps me with the kids after school. Mr I is generally not home before 7pm, so it is incredibly helpful to have another set of hands, especially on nights when we have swimming and are much later home.

My eldest sister comes Wednesday mornings and looks after the baby while the toddler and I go to a kindy gym session. It is lovely to be able to do an activity just with him. My mother in law also helps out by allowing Mr I and myself get out at night and have some time to ourselves, babysitting the kids for us.

I am very lucky to have such wonderful family around me to help out.

6. Routines.

School and Homework Routine

What I love about routines is that it takes the thinking out of what to do next, both for me and the kids. For example, the children know their night time routine. After dinner, it is bath, tidy up and then if it a TV /PC night they have their allocated time. With the assistance of the older children, as I am preparing the baby for bed, the older children can be working through their nightly routine without me having to guide them through the process.

It is also the same for me. My children thankfully wear uniforms to school and they each have a sports uniform which is to be worn on sports day. I know that to ensure everyone has the right clothes to wear on the right day that I must wash Tue and Thu. I generally wash every day anyway, but I know that I have to on those days to make sure the uniforms are ready.

You can see examples of our kids’ daily routines in this post – Children’s routines.

7. Infrastructure.

Get Organized For School

With a lot of little people in the house, this also means lots of possessions in the house. This can easily mean lots of mess about the place. Having homes for things to go has been critical in me not going insane with constant mess.

This is where Mr I excels, he has hooks and nooks in all sorts of places. Each child has a hook for their school bag, they have a special place to put their lunch boxes when they return home from school, their is a box at the door for shoes, hooks in their room for their library bags, etc.

Now while I would love to say that this means that everything is always in its place – that would be a complete lie!!! Having the hooks etc has though made a significant improvement in decreasing the number of objects lying around the house. There are times (many) that I need to remind them to put things in the right spot, and this job is easier for them as they know where they should go.

8. Allow for natural consequences.

Sometimes this occurs as I simply don’t have time to monitor everything that is going on in the house, but sometimes it is also a choice to allow the children to endure the natural consequences of their own behaviour (within safety limits of course!)

For example, if the boys don’t bring their mouth guard to football training, then they are not allowed to participate in the tackling drills. It is the boys job to remember the required items for their activities. There has been times when they forget things like their mouth guards. Even though it is a 5 minute drive to football training, their is no turning back to retrieve the item. There isn’t time for extra running around and it isn’t fair for the younger children who are already carted around in the afternoons, to have to do any more than required.

9. Take time out to play together.

To me the best thing about a large family is that it is so easy to make your own fun. Even though it is busy we always try to take time out to play together and enjoy each other’s company. This happens at many points through out the week, but we have also recently started our own tradition with a Friday Games Night. Once I have settled the baby for the evening, we play board games of the children’s choosing and the younger children stay up later than usual to join in the fun.

10. Encourage siblings to assist each other.

The family environment is perfect for children to experience being a role model to their siblings, to help, teach and nurture them. As parents this also helps reduce our workload if for example, our 10 year old can help the 3 year old put his shoes on, but it also helps build a sense of interdependence amongst the siblings.

This doesn’t only work from the top down. The little ones can help their older siblings as well, whether it be bringing them things they need for their homework projects or helping them look for a missing item. You can see how we manage homework in our house in this post here.

11. Vices!!!


A special entry at number 11 – I do have a couple of vices that help to get me through the busyness of the week – diet coke (my only source of caffeine), chocolate and occasionally some alcohol! {EDIT 6th Jan 2014 – very excited to say that I have not had diet coke since mid June! Lovely herbal and green teas are now my vice and chocolate is something I would have only once every couple of months.}

What helps you with your busy family life?

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Comments

  1. says

    Another great post!!
    I love reading your blog, and hearing about the interesting, inventive and common-sense ways you go about making your family life run smoothly.
    BJ

  2. says

    Nicole, this is a great post. There are some really great tips here for all families. Also, good on you for making such a dedicated committment to your family and your family life. Raising kids is tough and really requires a concerted effort if it is to be done well, you’re providing such a great example for your kids and for other mums too. Good job!

  3. says

    Thankyou thankyou thanyou

    I had 3 kids in under 3 years (they are now aged 5, 4, and almost 3). It is great to read such a well written blog with lots of practical ideas. Tonight I am going to put up more hooks in our house, and I need to allocate tasks to the kids….at the moment I do it all myself because it is quicker. I need to take the time to teach them how to do certain things so that they can help out more.

    Fionas last blog post..Going for a drive

  4. says

    Great post, lots of great ideas even for me, mere more of three ;)
    So glad to hear you still have someone willing to help with baby sitting… we’ve had some issues of late with a couple of family members not being able to manage all three kids at once.. I’m hoping this is just a stage of M being difficult and you give me hope there is light at the end of the tunnel!

    katefs last blog post..Wordless Wednesday – The Angry Head Edition

  5. Carolyn says

    Thanks Nicole for this post! Your practical and thoughtful blogs really inspire us all to become better mums/people, and help us raise “normal” self confident, happy kids in this not so normal world!
    You’re a gem! Thanks
    Carolyn

  6. PlanningQueen says

    Thanks for the kind words! Parenting is such a continual learning journey. I wish I new lots of this stuff a years ago, so it makes me happy if other families find it useful.:)

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