Having a big family is like supersizing life. It's more of everything- the good and the bad. I never grew up wanting a big family, but since I have one I've learned it means you are totally outnumbered for the rest of your life. Forget man-to-man defense, forget playing zone. It's like David vs Goliath, and you're the little guy.
Having a big family can be a supersized helping of fun as well. Here are seven tips for raising seven kids.
1. You will never have enough food, so shop smart and make a plan.
Kids eat, and big kids eat even more. You will spend a large amount of your time as a mom of many making food for your family. You will go to the grocery store, spend $400, and open the fridge three days later to find it practically empty. You can go broke feeding a half dozen (or more) little people every day.
Menu planning is the key to staying within the grocery budget. Plan breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for maximum savings, shop the sales, buy in bulk, use coupons, and eat more whole foods to save money. Teach your kids when they are young to eat grown up food. If not you'll go broke buying fast food and frozen food at the grocery store. Picky eaters can sabotage the grocery budget.
Make a meal plan and shopping list and stick to it. You'll still spend a lot of money every month on food, but at least it won't go to waste and you won't be making unplanned trips to the store.
2. Paper products are your friends.
Paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, kleenex, and paper plates are a mother of many's best friend. I care about the environment, but my sanity is more important. I find other ways to waste less so I can use disposable products several times a week. Stock up on these items whenever you find a sale or a coupon. You will always need them and you will never have enough.
3. Teamwork wins every time.
When I was a mom of two kids I found it much easier to do things myself. Letting the kids "help" just took more time and energy. When I was outnumbered, I realized the kids needed to learn basic housekeeping skills, if nothing else to pick up after themselves.
Now that I've learned that even young children are capable of putting their clothes away, loading dishes, and doing basic clean up, I regret now that I didn't encourage my older children to clean up after themselves at an earlier age. While it is tough initially to teach your young children to pick up, it isn't fun to pick up after a teenager. Teamwork - the earlier the better.
4. Get a schedule and be willing to toss it.
It takes a bit of organization to raise seven kids, between school, sports, dance, friends, and keeping them clothed and fed. Creating a schedule and meal plan can bring order to a somewhat chaotic house. But don't let the schedule rule you or your family. Be willing to toss it and and live in the moment every once in a while. Your kids will remember those "moments" above anything else when they grow up.
5. You can't save everything.
For many years I saved every outfit, pair of shoes, broken crayon, markers that could be revived, scraps of paper that could be re-purposed, and lot of other things. I thought I was being thrifty, but really I was headed to being featured on an episode of hoarders.
I've found that when people realize you have a big family they want to give you their hand-me-downs. I love second hand clothes, but I've also been overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we have in our house and in storage. Keep some things and pass along the rest. Even though you might be saving a small amount of money re-purposing and reusing everything you have or have been given, you will spend a ton of time doing it.
Less is more, especially when you have a bunch of kids to raise.
6. The oldest children are not mini parents.
In our family we often pair kids up so they can help one another. This happens frequently on vacations or when we need to get out the door in a hurry. Older children do a great job of helping their younger siblings tie shoes, put on sweaters, pack a snack, or find a beloved toy.
It is important to remember that older children are still children. While we encourage our children to help one another and care for one another, they don't need to set rules, enforce them, or raise their siblings. That's our job and it isn't fair to the oldest kids to put them in the position of parent. Oldest children in big families tend to be super responsible and helpful, but make sure they are still getting a lot of "be a kid" time while growing up.
7. Nothing lasts forever.
Eventually they all learn to use the potty, stop sucking their thumb, stop waking up several times a night, and all those other things that can make parenthood seem a long and sometimes lonely road. Eventually they grow up and out of some of the less endearing stages of life. Enjoy the little things in the rough moments and realize that one day you will wish they were still small enough to rock to sleep.
One of the most important things I've learned over the past eighteen years applies to parents, no matter how many children are in their family.
Relax. You aren't going to get everything right. You will make a bunch of mistakes. Your kids will forgive you and love you.
When I stopped stressing out about every single aspect of my kids' lives, I became a much more fun mom. I want my kids to remember that I was the mom that let them play with play-doh, stay up past their bedtime every once in a while, read an extra book or two, paint their own room, let them grow their hair out, listened to their music, and stayed up late talking to them no matter how tired I was.
Parenthood is a journey. Enjoy it.
Toni Anderson is the founder of The Happy Housewife, where
she blogs about practical ways to live well, save more and have
fun. Toni is a military wife and stay-at-home (schooling) mom to seven
kids. She is also a Savings.com DealPro and teaches Savings Nation workshops that help people learn how to save up to 50% off their grocery bills.