Thursday, January 10, 2008

Raising Five family Q&A

While we're on the subject of big(ger) families, I thought I'd answer some questions I get from time to time.

How do you do it all?

Ha. “All” is the key word here. As you probably have figured out if you've read my blog much, I don’t. As I've said before, I am a one ring circus kind of gal. I'm not a high energy person, and I love nothing better than a 20 minute nap in the afternoon (which I don't get very often - RATS!).

So, we have purposely arranged our lives so that we are home as much as is feasible with the number of people under our roof. We ruthlessly limit our outside commitments – that means both parents and children. With the exception of swimming lessons, I think most outside preschool activities are nonsense, so we do none, and older kids get one sport or activity per season. This does not mean we are not busy - but it could be much worse!

Dennis helps a lot. For nine years, he did the grocery shopping on Sunday afternoons so I wouldn’t have to take babies and preschoolers. He gets up in the morning and makes all the kids’ lunches so I can help them with other things. He does the dishes after dinner most nights.

The kids are responsible for their own homework and commitments. I don’t shoulder that burden. They help with dishes and some chores as they have time after school, but my house is nowhere near Better Homes and Gardens 90% of the time. I apparently didn’t do a good job training them to keep their rooms neat on a daily basis, but once a week they get cleaned and are presentable.

Oh, and on occasion, Dennis lets me get the house professionally cleaned. Because he loves me and he knows I find him completely irresistible when he does nice things for me.

Wow, with five kids you must be such a great mom.

Um, no. Having more kids does not make you a better mom. Having more children just makes you a busier mom. You are who you are, and thank God, His grace covers a multitude of parenting errors. However, as I said here about homemaking, mothering is both a skill and an art. You can improve your skills with time, willingness to learn, and practice. And the more kids you have, the more you get to practice!

So then you can learn to listen to a four-year-old’s extended version of her dream last night while you help your middle schooler with algebra while you dry your six-year-old’s hair.

Now that’s art.

I bet all your kids play with each other.

Yes, there are times when all my kids play well together. There is nothing that warms my heart more than to see two or three of my kids set up desks and chairs to play “school” together. But there is a ten-year range from oldest to youngest, and every last one of them thinks he or she is the boss. We rarely get through a meal (trip in the car, chore) without some form of conflict erupting.

Let’s just sit here and think about the exponential nature of conflict in big families:

  • If you have two children, there two possibilities for conflict (two times one)
  • Three children – six possibilities for conflict (three times two)
  • Four children – twelve opportunities for conflict (four times three)
  • Five children – TWENTY opportunities for conflict (five times four)
  • Six children – THIRTY opportunities for conflict (six times five)

And that's only if ONE child is arguing with ONE other child. I'm sure there are way more complicated mathematical formulas that reflect true sibling interactions such as, "Two against one! We win!" Anyway, as you can see, the curve shapes up nicely into a mushroom cloud, but tapers off after five children, which must be why we always seem to have a few extras around here.

Then there’s this little thing called “groupthink” that happens when a few kids get together. It goes something like this: Let’s take a bad idea (say, painting our bodies instead of our papers). It would be fun if I were doing this alone, but, hey, if we ALL do it, maybe we can get the veins to pop out on Mom’s neck!

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

How do you afford it?

Neither Dennis nor I grew up having much, so having a lot of “stuff” has not been a huge issue for us. We live in a modest house, have furniture that is a mixture of garage sale, thrift store, and new. We drive older cars that are paid for, and we are, with the exception of our home (and after several years of whittling it down) debt free. Our kids are used to shopping sales, ordering off the dollar menu (if we even go out), and used to us asking them the question, “Is this a need or a want?” We have resurrected the terms "make do" and "do without."

I think one of the best things we did was invest in education. Dennis and I both went to school after being married (Dennis graduated from college when he was 30), and he went to graduate school when we had FOUR kids. This has opened doors for him to find good jobs that are flexible, but even then, when you divide everything up per capita, we are by no means rich!

When kids are little, major expenses are baby furniture and accessories. These can be reused countless times. We used the same crib for all five kids, and the same bedding for all four girls. We didn’t need to get a bigger car until the fifth one was born. And as long as you’re cooking, you might as well throw in another cupful of rice or pasta, and that certainly does not double your grocery bill.

That said, some things are just plain expensive, and cost the same per person no matter what. People just don’t seem to like to give us group discounts for things like braces, air fare, college educations and (eek!) weddings. We are pretty much used to being poor.

Just something to keep in mind.

Having so many kids must mean God has blessed you more than those who have fewer children.

Now this is just my opinion here, but the way I read it, the Bible teaches that children are a blessing. Period. I believe that includes whether you teach someone else’s kids, borrow some from a neighbor, adopt one, or have ten of your own biological children.

Some of the Bible's most blessed mothers only had one or two children (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Elizabeth, for example). Who would argue that they would have been "more" blessed with more children? No, God gave a full, rich blessing with just the children He gave them. He knows what He is doing.

No matter how many or how few children you have, you are blessed.


Laura said...

I love when you said the kids are responsible for their own homework and commitments. Amen to that. I couldn't agree more and it definitely makes a difference in the household when the kids are contributing members.

Laura said...

Great post! I get the questions too, then add how do you live on support! You just do what you gotta do! God's grace covers A LOT! Praise the Lord! Sure wish someone would give a group discount on braces though!

Beth said...


Debbie said...

This sounds so much like how we live. I have come to expect that some things are "normal" in a big family...thanks in part to you, Katherine, and your willingness to share about your real life w/ a big family.

I love having a big family, and yes...they are a blessing.

Tammy M. said...

Great post. As the oldest of five I love the math on how many arguments can happen.
Your posts are always a blessing. Now I have to go do a load of laundry from beginning to end....thanks to your sister.

Susanne said...

Oh do I know what you mean about the group mentality thing. And my veins stick out real good. ;v)

I loved this post, Katherine.

Elspeth said...

Great Q&A. When I get these types of questions, my first response is that like any situation in life, you set priorities and do your best(with God's help). There isn't any magic to this, is ther. I'm finding that the key is having an open heart, room for flexibility and a commitment to prayer. And you're right about one thing: requiring responsible behavior from your kids in proportion to their ages does reduce a lot of stress.

kittyhox said...

This is all so enlightening!

As an only child, I am not used to sibling bickering. When I used to babysit I would try so hard to MAKE the children get along. It drove me bananas that they didn't adore each other all the time.

Re: activities for preschoolers. I am one of those mothers who feels guilty that my child seems bored at home with me. Only during the winter, when the weather is too cold to play in the yard, go to the park, etc.

We tried one of those Mommy and Me classes, but he really has just as much fun at the church nursery, which he visits twice a week (church/Bible Study). New toys, kids, change of scenery.

Brenda said...

I just loved reading this!!! You may not be older than me, I really don't know, but you have many years of parenting experience on me and this was all really neat to read.
THanks for sharing!

Jada said...

I agree with your last statement about children are a blessing. Period. I don't have children of my own, but I have three of the most adorable nephews and I teach six three-year-olds on Sunday mornings and my best friend has three kids; and they are all blessings, even the 17-year-old daughter who's going through a rebellious period. And my life is enriched because of them. And I am attached to those three-year-olds! I started 'teaching' them when they were one and 'followed' them to the two-year-old class; and then the three-year-old class; and will 'follow' them again in the Fall to the four-year-old class!

I enjoyed reading your whole post, as always. =) Your advice and information is always so real. Even though much of it doesn't apply to me as a single person, I still enjoy reading your blog. It just makes sense! Thanks for sharing.


Andrea said...

Great and concise.

I love the way you presented the many opportunities for conflict. I guess my expectations are way off base!!

Jenn @ Knee-Deep in Munchkin Land said...

Great post! I loved reading your answers and I think you hit all of them right on the head. =)

I was wandering through Hallmark yesterday (see today's post) and found another saying. "Welcome to my loose definition of clean." I though of both you and me with that one. =)

Hope you're doing well.

Anonymous said...

Katherine, I just have to tell you I love you! What a super post for a New Year, when we all have high expectations and hopes for the coming weeks . . . and have yet again discovered pen marks on the sofa, a mysteriously wet pair of pants, and three inches of potty water in the downstairs bathroom. Life as a mom goes one step at a time, and it is SO encouraging to hear the resoundingly real side of mothering from you. Happy New Year and God bless you!


Dimple Queen said...

I love reading your posts! We only have the two kids, but sometimes it feels like a jungle. They do love and adore one another though and that makes me happy! As for outside things for preschoolers, since that is all we have right now, we are allowing them 1 thing. Rachel is in Baby Ballet (3-5 year olds) and Timothy did soccer this fall and will be starting Basketball in about 2 weeks. I like the whole 1 sport a season thing! However, Rachel's started in August and will go on until May...the blessing it that it was FREE baby ballet!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the last line - no matter how many or how few you have - you are blessed. I have one and usually get the typical attitude of why not more, do you want her to be an only child, blah, blah, blah. Two miscarriages before her and she is truly a GIFT FROM GOD. We are blessed to have her - just one. :-)

Julie@HighFive! said...

How very true!

People are always amazed when they see we have five kiddos. The very next thing I say is..."yes, it's a very, very good life!"

We used to get a lot of comments at the store or restaurants on how much work it must be or how do we do it? One person even asked how do you feed them all?! I know they're not trying to be negative but I felt like I was put in a position of defending our decision to have five. Now that I just head them off with a positive changes the whole tone of the conversation and leaves me feeling encouraged rather than like an oddball.

Because like you reminded me...all children are a blessing!

One more our local paper, a Kenyan man observed that in his country, people give up things to have many children, they are considered rich if they have lots of children. It is the opposite here in America. I found that interesting.

Anonymous said...

There is something that happens quiet often when I read your blog. I'm struggling hard in some area of mothering, feeling so low and like I'm failing...then you happen to mention this exact issue in a post and I am so encouraged! Just knowing I'm not the only one dealing with whatever it is at the moment and reading your perspective helps me to keep going! You seem to have a good handle on not getting bogged down in the details and keeping your eyes on the goal.
(The issue you "hit on the head" tonight is that of there always being someone arguing at all times. If two of my three are not fighting then someone has lost something important or hurt him/herself or made a big mess or some other minor drama. I just want us ALL to be at peace at the SAME time SOME of the time!!)
Thank you for being so transparent and encouraging!

El Shaddai Ranch said...

Ok, thanks soooooooo much for your answer to that last question. I live among Believers in both camps: quiver-full and NO MORE KIDS. I am drifting to the NO MORE KIDS camp but was feeling guilty about leaving the quiver-full camp. (I wish there weren't camps.) Thank you for your encouragement.

Unknown said...

My 9 year old has been saying that she wants more responsibility now that she's, you know--Nine.

I've tried reminding her of the things that we've tried to give her, like taking care of her own room and bathroom, that aren't even going that well.

Homework is on that list too. Sometime I'd love for you to write about how you really put it into practice. I say she's responsible, but I don't want her to miss sleep (she needs sleep!), because she waited too long, I don't want her too rush through things, etc etc.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm coming back to read this one again!

Chris from Canada

Christy. said...

I loved this post! With three kids I even get the questions. It was so nice to hear how you do it!
Laundry hint.... (though with 5 kids I am sure you have tried everything)
I just switched to doing laundry everyday. I do it and place it in the kids' rooms in the hamper and they are responsible for putting it away. My 6 yr old and 4 yr old put away their laundry and their little brother's. It is so helpful and saves me lots of time!

Kate said...


I LOVE these answers. Especially the last one.


Jennifer@DoingTheNextThing said...

Well said! You could be writing a description of our household. I, too, am not so good at multitasking and fight to keep "Margin" in our home. As a result, we don't do preschool, and limit extra-curricular activities. We also live on a tight budget and as a friend recently said, "We're learning to like manna." Thanks for the encouragement and for reminding me that I'm not alone!