Tuesday, May 17, 2016

12 habits that help our family of 12 run smoothly

Last week, I got another "how do you do it?" question.  I get it.  Ten kids is a lot, and imagining the amount of laundry, messes, activities, homework, and everything else might make it seem impossible. 

But the truth is, though I'm busier than I've ever been, I feel like my family and home is managed better than ever and I don't feel nearly as stressed and overwhelmed with my life than I did, say, five years ago.  There's nothing so exhausting as being a young mother with lots of little ones.  Everything is on your shoulders in those years.  If the laundry gets done or the dishes get clean or the meals get made or the instrument gets practiced, it's because you did it or practically held the hand of the child who did it in your place (which can be a whole lot more work than just doing it yourself!).  If you are exhausted at the end of the day, you still have to get the kids settled and put to bed.  There's no such thing as a quick trip anywhere, because you've got to manage all the little ones -- buckling carseats and holding hands and dealing with strollers or tantrums.  Getting time alone, uninterrupted, to catch your breath or do something just for you can seem impossible.   There's so many demands and you are so often tired and feeling like you'll never get enough sleep or have enough time or figure this all out.

In contrast, though I'm probably in charge of overseeing a whole lot more than a younger mom, I have way more flexibility.  I have seven kids who can clean a bathroom or the kitchen, five kids who can cook a meal independently, four kids who can mow the lawn, and so on.  While I still am ultimately in charge of making sure everything happens, it's a whole lot easier now to set up a routine and stick to it.  Bedtimes are hardly ever exhausting because though I still do a lot of the hands-on reading to the littles ones, especially Cami, it's because I want to, not because I have to.  Allison does a lot of reading to Harmony and Katie and loves it.  If I'm in the middle of something, Cami, who adores Sarah, will let her read to her and sit in her room while she goes to sleep.  When our house is frustratingly messy, we can call the kids together, set the timer, and ten minutes later, it looks ready for company.  If I need to run an errand and don't want to bring a whole passel of kids with me, I just need to wait until after school.  If I need to drop off a child at an activity, I no longer have to get five or seven kids into the car to go with me.  With five kids old enough to babysit, my life is wonderful.  My husband and I get regular dates with each other.  We're able to take an additional lunch date with one of our children every Saturday.  Did I mention I'm loving this stage of my life, with teenagers, pre-teens, toddlers, and a baby?
Allison is one of the best at mowing the lawn, along with Joey, Michael, and Sarah.  Lillian usually gets a pass because she does so many other things for our family.

That said, there are definitely habits and routines that help our family run well.  Some are very simple; others more elaborate.  Some we have been doing for a decade, others for years, and others are more recent additions to our family routine.

1.  Family Scripture Study.  We have been doing this first thing in the morning since Lillian was 7. Before that, we did an evening devotional with a scripture story and song.  When we were establishing this habit, we put Lillian in charge of waking everyone up at the appointed time.  She loved being in charge and using her new alarm clock, and we loved not having to decide between getting up and sleeping in another ten minutes.

Scriptures now starts at 6:30 a.m. during the school year.  We wake up everyone but the two youngest (who often wake up and join us anyway) and read together.  We got the kids kindles for Christmas so we each have our gospel library app opened.  We read 10-20 verses from the Book of Mormon then another 10 or so from another book.  A few years ago, we read through the gospels.  Last year, we read through this book.  Now that we've finished that, we're starting with parts of the Old Testament.  

We try to discuss what we're reading and ask questions like, "What can we learn from this?" Sometimes the kids give us really interesting insights and sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get any comments.  But we do it consistently and it's a great start to the day.  The kids are usually still tired and groggy when we read, which means they're also quiet and (hopefully?) paying attention.  

2.  Calendar review.  This is a simple thing, but it makes a huge difference in my life!  We used to try to go over our calendar once a week as part of family home evening, but with everything we've got going on, it just wasn't enough.  For the past year or two, we've done a short calendar review every morning right after scriptures.  I put everything on our google calendar, including things like who is in charge of dinner that night, laundry days (Mondays and Thursdays), appointments, family home evening assignments, etc.  After reading scriptures, we go through that day's events plus anything unusual coming up in the next few days.  I can't tell you how many times I would have forgotten about an orthodontist appointment or a preschool field trip without this daily routine.  

This small amount of time also gives our kids the chance to tell us of things they have going on that need to be added to the calendar, and it allows us to coordinate who and how we're going to get everything done -- who will be in charge, who will attend the concert or service project, who will be doing dinner that night, etc.  

3.  Five Minute Madness (5MM).  I've written about this several times before because it has been a huge key to keeping our house from falling apart.  Basically, at several key times of the day, we set the buzzer and the kids work for five minutes.  It's such an accepted part of our routine that we don't get any complaints.  Our first 5MM is right after scriptures, where we clean the family room and toy room.  This is also when we put away the folded laundry.  The oldest two are exempt since they have to leave for school the earliest, and we rotate through Allison, Sarah, and Eliza each doing 20 minutes on the piano before school, so who-ever is on the piano first is also excused from five minutes that morning.

The elementary kids are asked to do an additional 5MM in the kitchen sometime before they leave for school. I don't unlock the "magical chest of cavities" for them to get a lunch snack until they've done it, so they usually get it done without being reminded.

The next regular 5MM is after dinner, where everyone is asked to do five minutes of work before the person who is assigned to that day does the final clean-up (the person doing dinner is also assigned to final clean-up, which gives them an incentive to clean up while they cook).  

4.  Zones.  After school, each of the older kids, except for Lillian, has a zone they are asked to do. Lillian's "zone" is to babysit for date night, so she doesn't have a daily job. To be honest, I really want to get to the point where the kids do it without being reminded, but we're not there yet.  If I happen to be at an appointment or running errands when the kids get home from school, they don't do their zones until I come home and get after them about it.  It's frustrating to me and despite all my lectures and reminders about expectations, it keeps happening.  I probably need to figure out a better incentive or consequence.

In any case, after being reminded, the kids each do a small zone after school.  They rotate every school year or every six months or so and often change during the summer, but I've found that keeping them the same for a long period of time is a lot easier than frequent rotations.  Right now, Joey takes out the trash daily, including taking the cans to the street and bringing them in once a week.  Michael cleans the entry way and mudroom, Allison cleans the downstairs family room and art area, Sarah clears off the kitchen tables after homework and snacks (that place gets suprisingly messy!), Eliza cleans the great room, Harmony empties a dishwasher, and Katie is in charge of setting the table before dinner.

We keep track of zones on our white board in the hallway, along with dinner assignments and our grocery shopping list.
Each zone usually takes less than ten minutes, but it makes a huge difference in getting our house in order every day.  

5.  Dinner and dish nights.  Last year, I was very diligent about teaching my kids to cook independently and it worked.  We have gotten lax in the last few months about rotating the menus and planning ahead, but the kids still figure out something to cook or serve leftovers when it's their assigned night, which is awesome.  Except for Michael, who would make pizza, spaghetti, or lasagna every week for the rest of his life if given the chance, the kids are getting a bit tired of making the same things so I really need to help them find more ideas and choose new meals to learn.

6.  Laundry days.  This isn't glamorous, but having two days set aside to do laundry lets me forget about it the other days.  Usually, I wash it all during the day and then fold it that evening, then the kids put the folded clothes away in the morning during 5MM.  Folding clothes is a job I have mostly done myself, since I've never minded.  There's something soothing about taking that big pile and creating order out of it, and it's the only time I watch television.  Lately, though, I've been trying something new and sorting the clothes into the various baskets first and then involving the kids more in helping me fold.

7.  Work hours.  I've written more extensively about these here.  These are great for enlisting helpers for the bigger jobs and for motivating babysitters and yard workers.  We've even had success in paying the older kids in work hours to help with science fair projects or birthday party planning.

Cleaning out the cabinets for work hours

Allison earned 130 hours to pay for half of her trip to Hawaii.

If there's nothing else, there's always sticks to gather up in our wooded backyard.

8.  Exercise.  It's got to happen, and somehow, we make it work out, usually fitting it in 4 to 6 days a week.  Until last summer, I had a running partner that got up early with me.  We took a 4 to 5 mile route two or three mornings a week, then went for a longer 6 to 8 mile run on Saturday mornings.  I've missed having Marci this past year, though with a new baby, I'm not sure I would have gotten up at 6 anyway.  This year, Michael has a late start to school one day a week and watches the kids while I run and then on two other days, my husband either stays an extra forty-five minutes or I run on the treadmill or elliptical.  During the winter, I started to really enjoy our elliptical when I had to run inside.  I can read while I'm on it because it's so much smoother than the treadmill.  Then I go on a long run on Saturdays.  I'm currently training for the Utah Valley Half Marathon, so I'm up to 12 miles again.  I miss having a running partner, but it is also nice to be able to listen to long podcasts or BYU Devotionals while I run.  My husband has taken up running the past few years and is not only diligent about it, he's super fast, too.  He usually goes right after driving the high school kids to school.

The kids get exercise in various ways.  Sometimes we take them swimming at the rec center, other times we go for walks or they play outside.   We sign them up for sports teams like cross country when they express an interest.  My husband is good about motivating the kids to sign up for running races and then training for them.  A few weeks ago, five of the girls ran in a kids marathon.  They had to log 25 miles in April, then ran the last 1.2 to make it a full marathon on race day.  They were really good about getting in their miles, going for walks together, running, or using our treadmill.
They loved their medals!

9.  Family Work Day.  We've been doing this since our oldest was about five.  Once a week, we work as a family to clean the whole house.  When the kids were younger, it would usually mean I did the bulk of the work with them nearby "helping," and it seemed to take all day just to get the basics done, leaving no time for the additional projects that always needed to be done (I guess that's what Daddy Trips are for?)  but a remarkable thing has happened since the kids have gotten older -- they can clean the entire house in a reasonable amount of time and I don't even have to be heavily involved anymore.  Seriously, there were times last year when I'd make the assignments and then go out for a run, coming home to a pretty clean house.  This past school year, we've changed our schedule to do the family work day jobs on Friday and that has been wonderful, as it leaves Saturday morning available for projects, long runs for both my husband and I, and anything else that comes up.

For a long time, we'd write a list of all the jobs that needed to be done and then divide them up, but back in October, I was tired of re-inventing the same wheel each week.  So I divided the kids into three teams and the jobs into three lists.  We tried it out for a few weeks, made some slight adjustments, and then I laminated three copies of the list that we use every week.  Each team has one list of jobs  I just say, "Ok, get with your partners and get your family work day jobs done," and then I pitch in to help where it's extra messy or where a team is missing one of their members.  Because the lists are laminated, the kids grab dry erase markers to divide up the jobs and mark them off when they are done.  It's been wonderful.

10.  Date Nights.  Date Nights were really hard to figure out before we had kids old enough to babysit.  When the twins were young, we lived in an area with a few great 14 to 15-year-old babysitters and that was great, but there were a couple of years in there where we just didn't have anyone around to watch the kids so we didn't get out very often.  Now?  That's rarely a problem, with five of our kids old enough to be in charge.  We have a date night every week, usually mid-week, when the restaurants are less crowded.

11.  Weekly Lunch Dates.  In 2012, we started taking out our kids once a week for one-on-one lunch dates.  When we started, we were a bit sporadic and disorganized, but it didn't take long to get so that nearly every Saturday, we're somewhere with just one of the kids.  For a while, we were letting the kids invite some of their siblings and doing two or three kids at a time, but last fall, we decided that we really wanted the expectation that it was just one child each week.  The kids love it and really look forward to their turn.

12.  Sunday Sweets and Monday Night Family Home Evening.  In 2010, we started having a tradition of having a delicious dessert on Sunday nights.  We called it "Sunday Sweets" and the kids look forward to it, for obvious reasons.  Making brownies or goodies together is a good way to spend time together on the Sabbath, and we like finishing off the day together.  I do have a funny story to share about it, though.  Back when we had eight kids, our home teachers visited for the first time in a long time.  It was Halloween weekend and the kids were super hyper and bouncing off the walls as our home teacher and his wife, a young couple with a baby, shared a long, long message.  Even as our kids' attentions wandered, the lesson continued.  The kids were fairly good considering the lesson was over their heads, there are eight of them, and the fact it was Halloween Sunday and they'd had an exciting weekend.  But I'm not sure our home teacher's wife saw it that way.  While the home teacher and his wife were leaving, I told the kids, "Run down and get your jammies on and then we can have Sunday Sweets."  The wife looked at me in disbelief, "You're giving them MORE sugar?"  

Family Home Evening happens on Monday nights.  We rotate the three main assignments -- scripture, lesson, and family history spotlight -- among my husband and I and the kids who are age 7 and older. I set up the assignments in google calendar so that when we go through the calendar at scriptures in the morning, we can remind the kids of who is in charge of what.  Lessons come from various scriptures or general conference addresses chosen by the person in charge.
Lillian plays the piano for our opening song.  Kids who don't sing might be asked to sing a solo.  :)

At the beginning of the year, I printed up the 100 scripture mastery scriptures, one per page and bound them in calendar-like form to hang on the wall.  Each week, the person in charge of our scripture reviews the scripture from the week before and introduces the new one, explaining what it means and having everyone repeat it with them.  To be honest, I had thought we'd make more of an effort to have the kids memorize it, perhaps providing incentives or reciting it more during the week, but what we're doing works with our family right now.

The family history spotlight is something we started two years ago.  Each week, we highlight a few things we know about each of our ancestors.  My sister made some great books with information about several of my lines, so we have been going through those each week and are almost done with them.  On occasion, we will use the spotlight time to talk about something in our own history, such as telling the kids about how we met and got engaged on our anniversary.  When we have the grandparents in town, we will have them share something from their lives.  When we're celebrating one of the kids' birthdays, we will often talk about what they were like when they were younger or we will have the kids each share what they like best about that person.

And even though we had treats on Sundays, we usually have more to finish up.
Acrobatics right after FHE

Our family isn't perfect, but we manage to enjoy life together.  A lot of it is due to these twelve habits.

What habits does your family have?  What have you found that makes your life go more smoothly?


Megan said...

I love getting a glimpse into your family's daily life! Thanks for sharing what works (& what hasn't). :)

Gae said...

Lovely to see other large family ideas
BTW where and how do you get your logo onto your photos It is really pretty?
God Bless

Handsfullmom said...

Gae, I use Lightroom to edit all my photos. I star the ones I like best and use an export preset to resize those for Web viewing and add the logo.

Thanks for your comment!

A Saunders said...

Thank you for sharing. Ive been studying your tips this month prepping for summer with my 10. I admire your clarity and organization. And i share your tips with other moms also trying to make their families smoother and more capable. Best to you and yours this summer.

Brittany said...

Love these tips!


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