Last week, I was struck by a video my former college roommate posted on Facebook. It was her three-year-old daughter doing laundry. I was awestruck. It wouldn’t even occur to me to teach my kids to do chores like laundry at this young age. Here I was thinking I was doing good having just recently instituted “taking care of your plate” which is having my kids scrape their plates into the garbage and either put them into the sink or dishwasher.
I think we tend to look at big families these days (anything over 2 kids) as something of an oddity. We have this fascination with how they function because let’s face it most of us find parenting one or two kids pretty stressful. My friend Stephani is a great mom to 6 little kids. While she admittedly isn’t perfect I think we could all learn these five things from her.
1. Just Walk Away From The Tantrums – My daughter pulled a wicked tantrum on me the other day and I spent a lot of energy and frustration trying to come up with the perfect combo of punishment and reasoning to try and stop the crazy storm. I asked my friend how she deals with tantrums times six. She said, “I don’t pay attention to meltdowns unless there is blood, blood curdling screaming or impending injury. I find that what they want most is my attention and that’s not the way to get it so I just walk away.” I often find that all my attempts to stop a tantrum only prolong it so maybe she’s on to something.
2. Teach Them Chores Young – When you have six kids I think you change your mindset from I have to do all these chores myself to the kids are a part of this team and even the young ones can help. I was amazed that Steph had created an instruction sheet for doing laundry simple enough that even children who can’t read yet can figure it out. Her two older boys help with making breakfast and lunch and the younger ones help with loading and running the dishwasher and sweeping the kitchen. I think moms tend to underestimate just how much kids can help around the house. I’ve noticed that my son is always eager to help me cook and my daughter is always asking to help clean. It’s me who often redirects them to chores I think they can handle, but now I’m starting to think that I’ve underestimated their abilities.
3. Color Coding Kids – By the time she had her fourth child, Steph had discovered a trick to keeping kids’ belongings straight. Each child was given a color as “their color” to identify their toothbrushes, water bottles, towels, etc. How many times have you asked your kids, “Who’s cup is in the living room?” At Steph’s house she can tell by the color, which child it belongs to. While she doesn’t color code everything, I think this is a strategy that could help moms of two or more stay organized.
4. Let Go Of The Need To ALWAYS Be On Time – I was telling Steph that I turn into a drill sergeant when it comes time to get my kids in the car, barking orders like “Get your coats on! Shoes! Head to the van!” I’m so worried about being late that I make my kids and myself crazy. Kids seem to move rapidly, unless you have somewhere you need to be. Steph admitted that she used to be the same way, but eventually learned to go with the flow and accept that sometimes they would just be late. We tell our kids, “don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world.” Maybe we should take our own advice on this one.
5. Big Families Make Big Hearts – We watch shows like 19 Kids and Counting and wonder how Michele Dugger’s uterus has not fallen out of her body or why she doesn’t run down the street screaming and pulling her hair out. I think we tend to look at big families like a species at the zoo, wondering how they function and sometimes feeling sorry for how much work the parents have to undertake just to keep it all together. There’s a polish proverb that says, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” We will never truly understand another person’s family dynamic whether they have just one child or six.
She has encountered some stares, especially when people see her brood headed down the narrow grocery aisle together. She envisions a “wide load” title floating above her head. But she sees many years into the future with a house full of kids and grandkids sitting around a holiday table together. She sees the pride and warmth of a big family surrounding her and I have to admit that when my husband and I decided to have a third I was craving a little bit of this feeling too.
“Big families are awesome!,” Stephani says. “They are a lot of work, but I know I’ll never look back at my decision to have six kids with regret.” Many thanks to her for sharing a snapshot of her life with us.