Tips for Managing a Large Family: An Interview with Lora of Vitafamiliae
I AM SO EXCITED to introduce you to Lora. Lora is a mommy to 6 little munchkins (including one adorable little girl from Uganda), and she is VERY pregnant right now with #7! She blogs about their adventures as a large, homeschooling family over at her personal blog Vitafamiliae, and you can also find her writing over at Simple Homeschool. I emailed Lora several weeks ago about doing an interview for Cheeky Bums and she graciously obliged…and I LOVE what she has to say! Check out our chat below for tips on managing a large family, kids’ chores, their parenting struggles and rewards.
Lora, you’re a mommy to 6 (and VERY soon, 7) adorable little ones! Did you ever imagine, growing up, that you’d have a large family? Did Andrew?
I don’t think that specific number ever entered my head. I have 8 younger half siblings, so a larger family wasn’t as intimidating, but I don’t think I ever imagined we’d go as high as 7! Andrew only has one sibling, so he found my family pretty overwhelming when he met them. I think I found him in a closet somewhere, rocking back and forth muttering after his first dinner with my family! However, he quickly saw the charm of a larger family. Again, neither of us ever dreamed of 7 kids, or even cramming that in to 7 years time, but that’s what happened! And we are so grateful!
We did have two years of infertility and miscarriage before we had the twins, so that has made us especially grateful for each child in our family. There was a time when I wondered if I would ever be a mommy. And now look what God has done!
I hate to jump right to the nitty gritty, but I have to be honest, the first time I read your blog, I couldn’t help wondering…how many loads of laundry do you do each week?
I prefer not to count. That number would be bad for morale. 🙂 We always aim for doing at least one load a day. That’s certainly not enough, but it keeps my laundry room somewhat passable for traffic and it gives me a tangible goal. I’ll let you in on a secret, though. I’m TERRIBLE at laundry. Stains – I do not have time for. Unless it’s a special outfit, we just live with them. My grandmother is appalled, I assure you. I sort the grown-up clothes, but I don’t bother sorting the kids’ stuff. No time! The important thing is that everyone has clean underwear. It may be dingy and occasionally a size smaller than when they last wore it, but it’s clean… right????
Many moms and dads will be reading this, knowing how hard it is to clean up after ONE child….and you have six (and soon, a newborn) at home with you all day long! What tips and suggestions do you have for integrating kids’ chores into the daily routine?
Teach your kids to help with the laundry early. That task is a lot less daunting when everyone pitches in. I started teaching my twins to put away their own laundry when they were two. I made bins for their clothes, one for pants, one for shirts, one for underwear and socks. At the time their bins were upstairs, so I used it as a way to get some extra energy out of it. I gave them one item at a time and told them which box to put it in (I labeled the bins with pictures since they couldn’t read.)
When we moved into a new home, I turned the laundry room into a family closet of sorts. All of their clothes were on the same floor as the laundry room so that I could supervise the putting away of clothes and keep an eye on them while they worked. Even my three year old can sort clothes and decide whose box to put things in. Now, nothing is ever folded properly and sometimes they hit the wrong bin, but this saves me hours. I decided that having them help was more important than having un-wrinkled clothes.
Doing chores is part of being a family. I love for my kids to have fun and just be kids, but since they do contribute to the household mess, we definitely want them to contribute to the clean-up. My kids help clean out the dishwasher, wipe down tables, vacuum, and clean their toys up. I’m teaching them to sweep, but that still turns into a “we’re flying on our broomsticks” episode more often than not.
As far as tips:
Plan on it taking longer for them to grasp how to do a chore than what you think it should. Show them once and don’t be surprised if you have to show them several more times.
Do not expect perfection. Perfection isn’t fun for them and it’s certainly not fun for you to enforce.
Do expect diligence and their best effort. You do have to go behind them and check their work. You have to keep an ear out to make sure they don’t get too silly. Hold them accountable, otherwise they’ll never feel the joy of a job well done.
Let them have fun doing their chores… within limits. My kids can get really silly sorting and putting away laundry. I try to tell myself, “As long as they are doing the chore accurately and in a timely fashion, the giggles are a good thing.” This is hard, when I want them to buckle down and focus, but as long as they finish in the time allotted, they really should be allowed to enjoy each other’s company!
You’ve decided, despite all of the wonderful chaos of having a large family, that you want to homeschool! What lead you to that decision and with so many kids, why was homeschooling so right for you?
I’ve often wondered if I didn’t choose the “easy” route, since I don’t have to load my kids up early in the morning or run carpool! We feel strongly about the responsibility to disciple our kids and train them up in Godly character. For our family, this is better accomplished if we can all be together more hours in the day. The longer I homeschool my kids, the more I realize it’s a great fit for their specific personalities. I can pick curriculum that suits their learning styles and give them the flexibility to go in depth on subjects they find interesting. They have lots of people of all ages around them throughout the day, so they don’t lack for relationships!
You have a myriad of responsibilities; managing your home as well as the education of your little ones. What are the tips and tricks that you’ve found that keep you organized as a mom to help things run smoothly (assuming that there are times that can be called “smooth” when you have 7 kids!)
Be consistent with your routine, but totally flexible about any sort of “schedule.” Kids like routine, but this many kids doesn’t allow for us to be on a very strict schedule. We have general times of day that we accomplish things, but these are pretty fluid to allow for diaper disasters and other incidentals.
Interruptions are part of life and my kids need to learn to cope with them, too. I try not to sweat it too much when there are interruptions or if their sisters are loud during school time. If I stay calm and keep going, my boys have learned they can focus and keep going, too. And they’ve also learned how to respond to interruptions that need immediate attention by helping me, staying calm and cool. (Many times, I’m totally faking that calm and cool part. It’s a good thing mommies don’t wear blood pressure cuffs throughout the day!)
Lower my expectations. Just in meeting the daily needs of children, school, and meals, I use up most of my time in a day. I try to only add one or two things to my list as “extras” to accomplish. This is realistic for our current season of life and it keeps me from getting frustrated when I can’t get “anything” done. If my expectations are realistic, so are my responses to the various interruptions and excitements of the day.
Practically speaking: Assign each child a “color” (here is how I do it). Then get them towels, sheets, cups, etc. in their color. It helps them learn to take care of their things and helps you know who left their towel on the floor.
What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about parents (and especially moms) of large families?
I think people assume that moms of big families are just naturally more patient than the average mom, like we got an extra dose of patience when we were born. That’s a lie. We aren’t more patient. But we probably do have more opportunities in a day to practice refining our patience! Whether we have one child or twenty, raising a family is a lesson in self-denial, patience, and love. Fortunately, those “lessons” come wrapped in pretty cute packages!
I know as the mom of 3 kids, I struggle to find time to spend with my kids on an individual basis. How do you manage quality time with each of your kids?
We’ve tried to determine each child’s “love language” as early as we can. Now, I know as they grow up, their love language may change, but we try to peg them where they’re at. I don’t do this perfectly, but I try to love on my kids according to their love language every day. This means I cuddle with my “physical touch” kids, look my “quality time” son and daughter in their eyes when they speak to me and include them in a small task with me. And I make sure that my “words of affirmation” son hears something positive from me each day, including a “thank you.” (This is good advice for all our kids, of course!) Andrew likes to take the kids out to lunch dates, although some seasons of life this is easier than others.
So, I have to know….do you ever take ALL of your kids to the grocery store at one time?
Yes, I can. It is the stuff of legends. But in the last year, we’ve found it easier to go as a family. We make an outing of it and make sure to treat everyone at the end of our “journey” with a cookie from the bakery! Since grocery store trips are difficult, we try to buy in bulk through our co-op and to limit shopping trips to once a month.
How do you manage meal planning when you are feeding a small and very adorable army at each meal?
Very poorly! This is one area that I want to work on in the coming year after the baby arrives. I tend to decide at lunchtime what we’re having for dinner. Fortunately, though, I do keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer so we usually have all the staple ingredients on hand. But this does limit my creativity, and I know my family would appreciate more variety in their diets! We also do freezer cooking with some other families and having frozen meals ready has saved me on multiple occasions!
I know this seems like a serious question, but I know this is vital to keeping your family safe, healthy and sane – can you elaborate on the importance of disciplining your children and your approach to discipline?
I think there’s an important distinction between training and discipline. Training is helping our kids understand manners and appropriate behavior. It’s teaching them how to behave in the world. Discipline is when they must be allowed to receive consequences because of something they did that they knew was wrong, and they chose to do it anyway. I would say we spend 95% of our time on training when our kids are small. As they get older, the issues become more about their hearts, their character, and discipline. Andrew and I usually try to ask each other “Is this an issue of training or discipline?” so that we will provide a measured response. A book that revolutionized our approach to both training and discipline is “Give Them Grace” by Elyse Fitzpatrick. It’s a convicting read for a parent, but worth the investment of time to understand that each moment with our kids is an opportunity to point them to Christ and the grace He has provided for us. It doesn’t always mean there aren’t consequences for wrong actions, but it does mean that there is always forgiveness and redemption. We also make it a goal, if we have to allow our children to experience consequences or even if we have a “training moment,” to restore a good relationship with a child. Never walk away leaving the child assuming you are mad. A good tickle has diffused many a tense moment in our home.
And finally, this seems like a very general question, but we’d love to hear your answer, AS WELL as Andrew’s (if he doesn’t mind making a one-question guest appearance? :)) For both of you to answer individually: What are the greatest struggles that you have as a large family, and what are the greatest rewards?
Lora – Greatest Struggle: It often feels like we’re stuck in Survival Mode. And I think that until our youngest kids are a bit older, we probably are. I know that this is the most physically demanding season of my life. So many days bring me to my knees, literally. But this leads me to the Greatest Reward: knowing that when I am at my weakest, Christ is being strong for me. That when I blow it and yell at the kids, God gets the glory for that moment when I go to them and ask for forgiveness. I feel small and incapable every day. But I can rest that He is being glorified through my small, incapable life.
Andrew – Greatest Struggle: Feeling the time slipping through my fingers. With all of the experiences I want our family to enjoy and all of the knowledge and ultimately wisdom we want to pass on to our children, already time is fleeting. Our oldest could be leaving home in ten years, and eight years have already passed, so we are closing in on the halfway mark with them. Unbelievably sobering. I never feel that we have enough time, but that leads to my Greatest Reward; which is the time we do have. Today I had the joy of helping the kids with math and reading, playing catch with my son, taking pictures of my girl, and holding my youngest in my lap when she snuck upstairs looking for her daddy. My wife is my greatest friend, and I enjoy who my children are and who they are becoming. That is Grace. Showing and exploring God’s grace with them is my great reward.
THANK YOU a million times over Lora (and Andrew!) for taking the time to visit us and chat here at Cheeky Bums! Best wishes and prayers for a quick and safe delivery for baby #7!! (Oh…Lora, by the way, I commented on your blog post that I choose March 4 for the baby pool…so…I’m just sayin’… 😉 )
I can’t encourage you enough to check out Lora’s blog, Vitafamiliae where she posts regularly about their crazy life, adoption, homeschooling and faith. Pop on over there today and tell her that we sent you – and while you’re at it, you can follow her on twitter too!
This post was shared over at Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS, Sunday School Blog Carnival at Butter Believer, The Welcome Home Link Up at Raising Arrows, Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist, Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead, Mentoring Mamas at Simply Living for Him, Seasonal Celebration Sunday at Natural Mother’s Network,Traditional Tuesdays at Whole New Mom, and Fresh Bites Friday at Real Food, Whole Health, Frugal Fridays at Life As Mom
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