05.04.19

Genuine Friday: Raising a big family

Raising a big family

After Interior Tuesday I am introducing a new column: Genuine Friday!

Back when I decided to give the interiors a permanent spot it was mainly to push myself to show more of it than I used to. Because I love a good peek into a home and I know you do too. And it was one of the best decisions ever because these articles are very popular.

Another topic that I take very seriously but never enough time for is private stuff. When blogging was not as big it actually used to be a space where people shared their personal things (very much like Instagram when it started out). And I think that it is still important to share your voice and opinion. These articles usually take a lot of time to write, mostly because I need to find a good moment and start to get going. (but once that is done I am rolling… haha)
And I know that every time I ask what you would like to read more about, the answer is: About your family, your life and so on.
So you are pretty clear that you want these articles.

So, voila: Genuine Friday it is.
Starting today. And then we will see. Hopefully, I will have something for you for every Friday hereafter, except for the odd Friday List that I just love to do once a month…

Because now I have a spot for it.

Today’s topic is: Raising a big family. Because it is something I am asked about all the time. The reaction when people ask me how many children I have. Or when we are all running to catch the bus and you can see people counting in their head.

Yep, that is us. It is merry, sometimes crazy, never really quiet and always busy. But we knew that and there is one thing I can tell you: As much as my head is spinning sometimes, I love the life and chaos we have and could not imagine it any different.

Raising a big family

We are a family of six (in case you are new here) and the children are 3, 6, 9 and nearly 12 at the moment. We never specifically set out to be raising a large family, and neither of us grew up in one.

People always ask how I do it. The truth is most of the time, I just do. There is no manual and there is no one rule to stick to. (which is the exact reason why I do not run a mum blog – every family, every child, every mum is different) My level of patience definitely grew with the kids and I am quite cool with many things, but we also have ‘army-like’ situations when necessary. Things just have to flow sometimes.

So yeah… there is no cheat sheet glued on my kitchen cabinet and trust me, some days, I also wonder what am I actually doing. Because – truth bomb – I am not perfect. Look at these last weeks/ months, for example, there were definitely days where I could not hold it together anymore. Shouting, very short attention span, snapping and unable to listen to at least one demand carefully. I am not proud of it, but I did the best I could and some days saw the short end of it. (and we all do the best we can, I know that and you know it too!)

Therefore, at some point, it all comes crashing down in one giant mess. You can organise, prepare or juggle the heck out of things, sometimes reality just hits you extra hard. Not you particularly, but with a big family, the chances are high. Especially during a high season like Christmas. The concert here, breakfast there, dentist appointment, lost library book, best friend’s birthday, gift shopping and the list goes on…
Now you need to pick up that giant mess and start juggling again.

Let me give you some tips (even so really do not like the term tips) ideas or experiences or learning curves that I can share after nearly 12 years of motherhood and 3 1/2 of them as a mum of four:

Organisation is key

Luckily I am a very organised person and I cannot deal with a messy house. I will mark parties, school events, clubs, appointments and everything else in my and our family agenda the moment I know about them. Work stuff I try to coordinate as early as possible as well. The earlier I know about things, the better. This also helps to plan busy days effectively.

We also organise a lot of things the night before school days. Clothing (now uniforms) is picked out, backpacks are put together by the kids, the lunchbox for the little one is in the fridge and when I try to fall asleep I am planning my own outfit in my head. If you can avoid a crazy morning madness, you want to do that!

Everyone needs to help

It is impossible that one person is responsible for the laundry, cleanliness and general household of six people. Logic math! We do not have a chore chart (we had attempted but they all failed) but everyone needs to pitch in around the house. And trust me, it is not always voluntary. My kids are no perfect kids who love to tidy, clear the table and empty bins. And they rarely offer help too. But, yes but, when asked… they do! (just make sure that did not disappear stealthily)

And trust me, if they ask for TV time I always have something in mind that needs attention before the TV can be switched on. Tidying the playroom for example or emptying the dishwasher.

Menu planning and weekly grocery shopping

I do not remember when exactly we started with meal plans and weekly shopping but I think it was when Antoine joined us and was still really small. So let’s say around 8 years ago. And it was such a game changer and time saver. First of all – no need to think about 5 pm: ‘What should I do for diner?’ and once, hopefully, figured out, check what you have in the fridge and what you need. By now I cannot even remember how we did it before.

Anyway, once a week we take two pieces of paper and start planning. Everyone can add one diner. And since we are six that makes for the week (Josephine usually gets told a few options and she chooses because coming up with an idea is a little too much for her age) because one day we always have a leftover day. (I am actually planning to write something about that too) Leftover day is usually the day before we get our groceries delivered so we eat up anything that is left. I think it is super practical and helps not to throw away food.

And yes, groceries are ordered online. We do not have a car and it is so convenient. And during our meal planning, on the 2nd piece of paper we also write down everything we need for the food we want to cook. Planning meals ahead of time allow for fewer trips to the grocery store and we have ours delivered once a week. (I remember doing weekly groceries at the supermarket when we had a car and people looking at me with my big trolley full to the brim, they probably thought I had to feed a football team!)

Being part of the membership program of your preferred supermarket is a good idea. Since a big family needs lots of groceries you will easily earn lots of points that you can use for something useful. Every little thing helps! Really!

All together, it is budget friendly, a time saver and also a much better idea than running through the supermarket with kids in tow.

Self-care

Never neglect yourself. Any time alone is your best reward. I am working from home and I know this is a luxury situation which allows me to get alone time here and there. (I do not mean working alone behind my desk) Sometimes I work like crazy for a few days and evenings so that I can meet up with a friend for lunch on a Friday and maybe do some window shopping afterward and before the kids need to be picked up. It is totally worth it!

Storage Solutions

I love a clutter-free environment and the idea that less is more really is true. And instant of trying to fight back the clutter, we try to not get the stuff into the house in the first place. And storage space is always on top of the list when looking for a place to live. With four kids and the passing down clothing model, I need somewhere to store all this. As well as space for shoes, winter jackets and, school uniforms. Bed linen, towels, and books. Well, you know. Stuff! So your home basically needs to have clever storage solutions in all possible corners. My home does because I cannot afford to live in a mansion. Ha.

Set ground rules

And stick to them. You probably have the basics down anyway. Stuff like: no food outside the kitchen, no jumping on the sofa or we only talk when the other person finished. We have those too and I know that sticking to them the more kids you have is your calling.

Let’s say Antoine sneaks out an apple and is eating whilst building some Lego. You can bet that his sisters will turn up in the kitchen by…1…2…3 to take ‘their’ apple. It is the law. Things like this never go unnoticed. So instead of one child or two jumping on that sofa or spilling water in your bed. That would make 4 and me going ‘cuckoo banana’ as Josephine calls it. It cannot happen! Stick to your rules. What I love most about those situations is, if I spot the girls coming to get an apple and out of the kitchen and call them out on it. Do you know what their reason is? You know right?! Because I allowed Antoine to have his apple at the desk. Ha…. (another one)

One by one time

That is a very tricky one, especially because I struggle with this a lot. How to find quality time with each child individually? Weekends are often more busy than other days of the week. Not long ago Romy had a parent/teacher meeting at her school and we managed to schedule it in for the morning. And I had it on my agenda and made sure that I had everything done for that in advance (go back to self-care to see how). So after the meeting, we had lunch together and went to a few shops Romy wanted to check out and so on. It was lovely.

The others are demanding ‘mummy time’ too and I then usually discuss options with the hubby. I often take one to do something I have on my list anyway and we add a little stop at the cafe or whatever they would like to do. And very often their wishes are very simple. Last time, Leonor asked me to spend time with her and all she wanted was getting a smoothie and going to the playground. (where the rest of the family joined us later)

I admit that my strength is not the holy evening ritual and story time and all. I can do it (of course) but there were times where I was reading the same book for many nights in a row and I truly thought I will go crazy. That task often falls into Eric’s hands and he really likes it.

However, Antoine asks sometimes to sit with him a little bit before he goes to sleep. In his room, just the two of us. He even gives up a bit if his precious evening time (the one before bedtime) for this. And then he says: ‘Can we sit and just talk a little?’ So cute. And in case you wonder, yes… I often feel guilty about this topic. Not being able to spend more time individually.

Get Help

Get a cleaner, a nanny, a babysitter… whatever you need, what you can afford.

Be cool

When you have a big family, the children have to learn to be independent. Because it is physically impossible to be everywhere. I need to prioritise often (even so I am good at planning) and decide where it is most important for me to be, at work and at home. For that day or moment. Otherwise, I am all over the place but with no value and no real attention. And it is ok to say no and to be cool with it. It is how it is and I am the one who decides and who knows what is more important. It is not a competition.

And I truly believe that when we openly discuss these things with our children they will understand. They may not be happy with everything but if you explain and have good arguments and maybe something that involves them coming up, they do understand.

PS: Why Genuine? Because I want this to be a frank and direct conversation. Normal, without a pink filter and honest. That is why!
All images: Paul & Paula
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