Life Saving Tips for the Mother of a Big Family

This is a guest post by my dear cousin Anna Andrews, one of my mothering idols.  She has seven kids ages 21-5 (twins) and she is winning at life.  I got my grubby mitts on this glorious list of instructions for raising a big family and I cannot deprive you of it (with her permission and unedited, all her words).  This is from a woman who speaks from 25 years of marriage and 93 years of cumulative mothering.  It was composed for her new sister-in-law who has taken on the heroic task of raising five kids.  I find myself muttering "I don't minister to laundry" every time I dump an unsorted basket of laundry into the wash and "food and touch" every time one of my kids has a meltdown.
If you're raising a slew of kids this is how you do it.  Thanks, Anna.  Your excellent children are a testament to your excellent wisdom and selfless effort.

1. Paper plates are life savers.
There are loads of articles that tell you the biggest predictor of happy, healthy children is eating dinner together.  And I believe.  This would be a dream if dinner came at 10:00AM.  I would have the table set with china and candles.  As it is, everyone is tired, hungry, stressed and busy at 6:00.  So, if I can just do the dinner, not the hullabaloo, I congratulate myself as I put out the paper plates.  Always remember your goal.  Be clear about your goal and however you achieve it, be happy.

2.  Self congratulation is key to mental health.
Women go from constant external congratulation to sitting at home doing loads of things for which no one ever compliments.  We are really good at doing this to each other:  Your hair is cute!  Fabulous outfit! But no one compliments you on not screaming at that kid who deserves it.  Or picking up that coat for the fourth time today.  So this is when you must self congratulate.  My, my my I did a great job making the bed.  Yay for me for not screaming at husband for dropping socks there.  Perfect this art.  Additionally, you must be able to identify and ask when you need it from the kids and husband. I have no problem saying, Don't I look nice?  Or I need you to say something nice to me.  It's not that they aren't thinking it, they just don't think to say it.  You're doing them a favor.  Cue them to say the happy things.  Everyone will be happier.

3.  Sex
Do it often.  It cleanses the palate.  Do it when you don't feel like it.  You never regret having sex.  It doesn't always have to be magical.  Think of it like food.  Sometimes it's quick thrown together, sometimes it's slow and deliberate.  There are always 100 things to do in a big family, make sure sex is on the top of the list.

4.  Dates
This sometimes goes with #3, but not always.  Every Friday Husband calls me up and asks me on a date.  It's the time we have to decompress and be us again.  Not Mom.  Not Dad.  Just Husband and Wife.  Kids have to take turns babysitting.  Teenager, I don't care if you're popular, tonight is your turn to support your parents.  Find time to just be you guys.

5  Don't do it for them.
I am fast at almost everything and so it's really tempting for me to hurry and do that.  It's faster than getting the kid to do it.  But nothing makes a kid resent you more than indulging them.  They feel better about themselves when they accomplish and are self-sufficient.  I think some parents go too far the other direction, but for me, reminding myself of this is healthy.  Sadly, the other prong of this fork is kids only work if you're working.  You can't just say, go and do that (at least until they're about 10).  You have to work beside them.

6.  I don't minister to laundry.
If something is ruined, goodbye.  If it's delicate and shrinks, it doesn't belong in a big family.  If it bleeds, it goes.  I buy only the same kind of black socks for boys because they can wear them to church and school and they don't show dirt.  Girl's it's only white.  It's not worth even 5 minutes of my time to match socks and I refuse to cater to fancy socks.  Garbage.  Period. No guilt.

7.  Bundles.
In our culture of amassing things, the things sometimes dictate our lives.  My first question is how often do I want to do laundry?  My answer is once a week.  That means each child needs 8 sets of clothing (8 pairs of socks, pants, shirts).  One for every day and one extra (you need 10 in the summer).  The beauty of this is it forces kids to do laundry (they don't have an endless supply) and it's an easy amount to keep track of (purchase, wash, fold, put away).  All the dirty clothing can fit in one basket and can be washed in ONE LOAD.  I make sure the clothing specifically matches each other (bundle) or that everything matches everything.  

8.  Cute, clean kids are easier to love than ugly, dirty ones.
I learned this from Celia.  When my toddler wouldn't stop messing and messing and crying and crying she said, "Go buy him a new outfit.  You'll love him again."  And guess what?  It worked.  Before you break up with your child, try new haircut, bath and clean clothes. Your love will be renewed.

9. Play = Messes.
Don't be offended when those kids play quietly and the result of said play is a giant mess.  It's always a mess.  I tell them they can only have two messes.  It makes them feel like they're getting away with something.  Before play (mess) #3 begins you must clean play (mess) #1 or play (mess) #2.

10.  TV is the cleanest toy.
But realize that their brains don't work after TV.  I take the amount of time they spent watching TV and cut it in half.  That's how long I'm going to have to listen to, "I'm bored."  They are bored.  Their brains have shut off and they can't think of anything.  Don't worry, wait the allotted time and brains will reboot.

11.Don't let go first.
Hugs really do work.  Hugs help sad, mad, hurt.  I decided long ago that you can hug me as long as you need to. My affection doesn't have a timer.  Some kids it's long and some it's short.  But I don't let go first.

12  Dads speak a different language.
I spent years puzzling over what Dad was saying to those kids.  Certainly I could teach him how to say/do that differently (right).  Just pay attention to how I do it and then you'll know.  But then something quite unexpected happened, the kids responded to him.  Happy, productive responses.  You mean that whole time he was making sense to them?  Okay so I don't speak Dad.  Just because I don't speak it, doesn't mean it isn't valid or doing its job.

13. And speaking of Dads, wait for it.
Many moms make the giant mistake of marginalizing dads.  In part because of #12 and in part because most dads are out of their depth with babies and toddlers.  Moms start to exclude and marginalize at this point.  Do Not Do This.  By the time those kids are 13, they can't really hear you anymore. You become sort of static.  But guess who they can hear?  That's right, The Dad.  Don't marginalize.  Keep that secret weapon at the ready and confident.  You're gonna need him.

14.  Nevertheless is a magic word.
It means you don't have to fight.  But I did the dishes last time! Nevertheless . . . But that's not fair!  Nevertheless . . .

15.  Know your interests.
In the world of moms there are a myriad of talents.  Some are runners, some are cookers, some are bloggers (who appear to be good at everything).  You do yourself no good compiling a list of every mom's talent and thinking that's where the bar is.  That really great runner, sucks at cooking.  That blogger hasn't had sex in 10 days.  Free yourself from comparing.  Realize there are seasons for things.  When you have loads of busy kids and babies, that garden can happily grow weeds.  Sometimes I say out loud, "I don't care about running; it's not my talent."  Then I feel free.

16.  I am not a buffet.
This goes with #15.  As a mom, I'm really good at somethings and really terrible at others.  I'm not a buffet of mothering wonderment.  My mom was a wiz in the kitchen and horrifying every time she left her closet.  Geez the absence of fashion.  I realized I could get that from other women.  Women generously nurture.  Your kids will find the person who can share the thing you suck at.  Be content being authentic.

17.  And about those mom systems.
You will encounter dozens of mom systems (chore charts, reward systems, schedules) that seem like The Answer. Please remember every system requires a system manager.  The system only works because the manager is managing.  No system works on its own.

18. Jobs, jobs, jobs.  
Clean makes everything feel better.  If I feel out of control or can't get ahead I clean and sit and it's better.  Temples are clean; that's why they work.  I decide how frequently I am going to listen to those jobs nag me.  Hi, I'm your dirty toilet, remember how much you like it when I'm clean? Come here.  Spend time with me.  I only listen to most jobs once a week.  Then the rest of the week I can say to it, Not your turn.  Wait til Monday. And the cool thing about jobs is they will wait.  They will wait for stories, and for sleeping and for playing.

19.  Stories, sleeping and playing are paramount to enjoying your roll as mother.
It's the fun and don't forget the fun.  I am task oriented so I have to remind myself to have fun.  Playing hooky from jobs is one of my favorite activities.  Kid wants to see Avengers after school on Wednesday?  Ok.  That kid brings me a book in the middle of washing dishes?  Yes.  Because spending time with the kid means you love them. Recognize that.

20.  Food and touch.
Kids need both to feel loved.  If a kid is riotous and rebellious, feed them and pet them.  They will settle down. They are puppies.  Especially those teenagers who don't get touched any more cause they're too big and look like adults.  They're not.  Think of them as really large toddlers.  They need touch, sleep and food.  Almost all problems can be solved by those things.  (PS, This is true for husbands too.  Sorry).  The beautiful thing about this realization is it means I don't have to take that fit/tantrum/explosion personally.  I replace that raging big person with the little person they used to be and think, What would I do for the toddler version of this person?  I would calm, sit, read, feed, hug.

21,  Agency is supreme.
You can make kids do stuff.  Can.  You can force them to obey.  But if you do, you've lost the war.  And really, you're in it for the war.  If they have to fail to see the right, that's fair trade.  No gloating.  Just love and reinforcement.  Failure is part of the deal.  Failing classes, sports, friendships.  You don't learn from the good stuff.  Don't deprive them of the lesson.  The lesson shapes the agency.

22.  Follow through.
Every time you say something and don't follow through, you have to exactly follow through 4 times to regain credibility.  They simply don't believe you if you don't follow through.  So be careful what pops out in the heat of the moment.  Every punishment for that kid is a punishment for you. You have to be there to enforce.  Say what you mean.  You may have to ask for a time out.  There will be a punishment/consequence for this but I need a minute. Ask for help from Heavenly Father.  Wait a beat, get the inspiration.

23. Don't forget the preteens. 
Preteens are such easy children; it's tempting to forget them.  They are independent and aren't plagued by hormones.  It's tempting to let them alone.  My grandmother Donna said If you bank the time with the preteens you can withdraw it when the kid is a teenager.  She was right.  I have shows we watch, trips we take, food we like.  It's all banked to weather the teenage storm.  It works.

24.  You will fail.
It's going to happen.  You will overreact, underreact, not react.  Words will escape you when you didn't mean them to.  Be quick to apologize.  It means it's okay to make a mistake and sorry works.  That may be the healthiest thing you can teach a kid.  Kids are amazing forgivers; they always do this better than adults.

25.  Lastly, this stage passes.
When the kids were all little and constantly testing gravity (does it break, does it sink, can I get her to fall), I was convinced they were there forever.  But they grow.  You will not like every stage.  Some moms love babies, some teenagers and frankly some moms don't like either and are so relieved when their children are adults.  It's all fine.  And the reason it's fine is the stage passes.  You're raising adults, not children.  That's the process and the goal.

One of my favorite quotes is from Leo Tolstoy, "Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  Happiness is a choice.  If the mom is happy, the family can withstand a lot.  If not, the family wilts.  Every day is just 24 hours.  The beautiful thing about Heavenly Father is if you really mess up this set, you get a fresh set tomorrow.  It's just that simple.