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Balancing a Large Family

large family

Choosing to have a large family isn't an easy decision for some parents. Some people want a big family simply because they treasure the relationships that they have with their siblings. Some families become large families because of adoption or second or third marriages. Still other parents simply choose to have many children. Whatever the reason for its creation, there is no doubt that a large family can be both rewarding and challenging at the same time.

How Many Large Families Are There?

Perhaps it is just that some families enjoy having more than the traditional 2.4 children, or perhaps it is the influence of reality TV shows like Jon and Kate Plus 8 and 19 Kids and Counting, but having four or more children seems to be back in vogue. According to the 2010 US Census, approximately 2.8 million families have six or more members. This number is up from 2.1 million families in the 1990 census. Another 1.7 million families have more than four children.

Large Family Management

One of the biggest challenges large families face is staying organized. Imagine the calendar of a family with more than four children. Mom has a dentist's appointment, Dad has to go golfing with his boss, one child has a piano lesson, another has baseball practice, a third has a play date, and someone has to watch the baby. Add to this mix the reality of cooking meals, taking care of pets and keeping the house cleaned and running smoothly. Without a plan, life can quickly skitter out of control for a large family unit. Fortunately, a little planning will make your family's schedule run more smoothly.

Keep a Calendar

With so many activities going on at any given time, a central family calendar is a must. Some of your choices for a calendar include:

  • Print a weekly calendar and cover it with contact paper to function like a dry erase board
  • Large erasable whiteboard in the kitchen
  • Chalk board in the family room
  • Office-style paper calendar with big boxes
  • Large piece of poster board divided into squares for each day of the month
  • App on your phone or tablet device

Any type of calendar works well. The key is to update it with activities the minute you know about them, and check tomorrow's calendar each night, so you can spot any potential conflicts, and resolve them ahead of time.

Get Into a Routine

Although routines will change as sporting seasons change or children find interest in new activities, try to stick to a regular routine as much as possible so everyone in the family knows what to expect and can run on autopilot.

  • Choose themes for meals: pizza night, burger night, veggie night, grilling out night, Mexican food night, etc.
  • Set a bedtime for children according to age, with younger children getting baths and going to bed earlier than older children.
  • Complete homework as soon as possible after school lets out to avoid the late-night, last-minute project panic.
  • Go grocery shopping on the same day each week. You'll save money by not taking the kids along as they will inevitably ask for items you wouldn't normally buy.

Make as many routines as possible and your week will seem almost automated.

Limit Activities

Sports, music and clubs are good experiences for children and can teach them things like how to be part of a team and perseverance. However, too many activities can lead to a schedule that is nearly impossible to manage. It is best to limit younger children to no more than one activity at a time. Older children who are driving may be able to take on more without causing added stress. Of course, families that homeschool may have more time in the schedule to add additional activities, or you may be able to add more during the summer when school is out. Add one activity per child at a time and see what works for your family.

Stay on Top of Laundry

When you have a houseful of children, staying on top of the piles of laundry can be a real challenge. There are a few things you can do that will keep it manageable.

  • Don't let it pile up. While a laundry day may work for a family of four, a family of eight will find it a real challenge to get that amount of laundry done in a few hours. Throw in a load or two every day.
  • Put children in charge of their own laundry the minute they are old enough. Children as young as four or five can help sort and fold laundry, and children around eight or nine can start a load and put clothes away. Get everyone involved.
  • Keep clothing choices simple. Limiting colors or types of clothing can make laundry simpler because you don't have to do as much sorting.
  • Have a family closet. Extremely large families may find it easiest to have a family closet right in the laundry room. This will save you the step of having separate laundry baskets or lugging clean clothes to various bedrooms.

Assign Colors

Even small families can benefit from assigning a color to each person in the family. For example, mom has the color pink and dad has the color blue, while son has the color orange and daughter the color purple. Purchase items in these colors. Backpacks, school folders, shoes, coats, cups, plates and any other item where it makes sense. This will also reduce arguments over which items belong to which child and will save time in the morning when getting ready to head out the door, because the child simply needs to grab the items in his signature color.

Plan Meals

Eating out with a large family can get expensive, which means more meals eaten at home. However, after a busy day of caring for children, the parents may be too tired to put together a meal. One thing that can help is to cook some items ahead so that meal prep goes more quickly. If your family grills chicken on Sunday, cook a double portion, and slice the chicken up into strips, or shred it for a Mexican chicken dish the following night. Some parents enjoy cooking an extra pan of lasagna (or two or three) and freezing for a quick meal on another day. Children can also help with meals as part of their chores.

Organize the Chaos

With a large family, the clutter can quickly get out of control. Keep your home organized by creating a space for everything. For example, use in and out baskets for papers the kids need signed for school tomorrow, place a shelf near the entry for shoes to go on, and hang hooks on the wall for backpacks for easy grabbing the next morning. When clutter comes into the home in the form of McDonald's toys, junk mail, old art projects and so on, decide what you must keep and immediately throw away anything else. Go through clothing regularly. Pass down what is outgrown or give it away to charity.

Advantages of a Large Family

Although juggling the time demands of a large family may seem overwhelming at times, the rewards make up for the lack of personal time Mom and Dad have.

  • Dole out chores, and have the children help with the workload of running a large household.
  • Children will have built-in best friends for life.
  • The children aren't likely to be spoiled since resources must be shared.
  • There will be multiple adults to help with aging parents.
  • There is a strong and large support system to help in life's ups and downs.
  • Children have the opportunity to spend time with multiple age groups.

Support Groups and Sites

The following sites offer ideas, support and real testimonies of what it's like to live in a large family. Many families (moms in particular) find sites like these to be invaluable resources.

  • Lots of Kids: The site is aimed at families with four or more children. You'll find articles on topics like homeschooling, pregnancy, running a household and kitchen tips. You can interact with others in sections like Community and Forums.
  • Duggar Family: Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are homeschooling parents to 19 children. Their site is a good resource for parents for everything from recipes for large families to encouragement for moms and dads.
  • MOMYS: This site is geared to "Moms of Many Young Siblings." If you have your hands full with potty training, nap time and teaching ABCs, then this is the site for you. You'll get encouragement through articles, forums and e-mails.

What About the Future?

Nobody knows what the future will hold. While it may be more of a struggle to raise a big family, especially when it comes to college expenses, insurances, and additional vehicles, a large family can also mean an abundance of blessings for everyone. There will be larger celebrations during the year, more people to share the good and the bad times with, and more people to love and be loved by.

Balancing a Large Family