There’s been a lot of coverage in the news over the last few weeks about large US families, and it’s fair to say that many people are curious about how they run, hence the popularity of TV programmes such as ’19 kids and counting’. Glossing over the many and various religious and political agendas flying around (I could write at least ten polemical posts on all of that, but I won’t), in this post I’d like to peel back the layers a bit of our own household.
We often have anything up to eight people around at home at any one time, and all this needs a careful hand at the tiller in order to prevent chaos. Here are ten ways larger families streamline life to make more time for the important things, such as hanging out with the kids.
1. Try not to do more laundry in a day that you can wash, dry and put away. This avoids your home looking like a refugee camp.
2. If your house looks like a tip, go around with an empty laundry basket and pick up all the rogue items lying around in the wrong place, and put them in it. Then make one of the kids put it all away. Pay them to do this if necessary.
3. If you find a room hard to tidy up, you either have too much stuff or not enough shelving. Sort out either or both of those to remove mess and related energy drain.
4. Children do not need to attend dozens of expensive clubs in order to mature properly, with parents driving them around like wannabe Uber chauffeurs. To simplify children’s extra-curricular lives, allow everyone a maximum of one after school music activity and one sports activity a week, preferably in similar times and locations, and that’s it. If these can take place at their school at minimal cost, so much the better. If they don’t want to do extra-curricular activities, that’s fine. Let them just play out with their friends after school.
5. Your home is not a restaurant. Allow people to eat three square meals a day, the same food at the same time, then the kitchen is closed. No grazing, no picking, no making of mess. If people are hungry between meals, direct them to the fruit bowl, or if they are teenagers or sporty people, allow them to make toast as long as they clear up afterwards. You will save money and a lot of time cleaning if you are suitably draconian about this. It also becomes easier to manage your children’s weight and nutritional intake properly.
6. Specify quiet hours where people need to keep noise and music down in order for everyone to get enough rest. Ours are 9pm to 7am, for example. Yours will depend on the ages of your children, working hours and so on.
7. When there are a few things that are getting annoying, such as acts of selfishness or rule breaching, we call a family meeting. Everyone sits around the table, we all get refreshments, and we have an agenda. We discuss the points of annoyance and agree a way forward. We then sign a short agreement confirming what has been said. It works miracles, frankly.
8. If children repeatedly get in trouble with school for forgetting homework, uniform, PE kit, lunch money and so on, make them responsible for the consequences rather than you. After alerting the school to your cunning plan, supply them with a list of what is required on which day, and stick it up somewhere obvious. Do not run into school with forgotten items for them. Allow them to get into trouble and get detentions if necessary. They will soon work out what they need to remember. If you mention this at a parents’ evening consultation, any teacher will back you up. Teachers love nothing more than children learning to take responsibility for their own stuff, supported by parents.
9. There’s a lot to be said for keeping a Box of Last Resort to hand. You can find out how to create one here. https://austerityhousekeeping.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/box-of-last-resort/
10. When the going gets tough, the tough go out for a family walk. Many arguments and difficulties are caused by sitting around the house too much. Fresh air followed by a hot chocolate or a cup of tea can solve a lot of problems.