The classic American memoir "Cheaper by the Dozen" centers on the hilarious 12-child Gilbreth family, whose father was a famous efficiency expert. He believed that his family could be run using some of the same principles he implemented in factories. While not everyone might agree with his methods, some of his shortcuts made sense for managing such a large brood.
Large families generally have to run more efficiently and learn to do more with less than smaller ones. They need bigger vehicles, have to put more food on the table and will be required to fold more towels. But large families do offer benefits too. As Michelle Duggar of the TLC show "19 Kids and Counting," puts it, "It is fun spending time with 19 of your best friends."
Exactly how many children constitute a large family is up for debate. Nowadays, a family with four or more kids is thought to be large; however, some rural communities consider six children to be typical, while some cultures feel two is too many.
Large or small, all families can benefit from a few tricks to keep their households running smoothly. Read on to learn some shortcuts that help parents raise a large family.
Even if you feel you're too busy to plan, you'd be surprised how much time daily planning saves you in the long run. If you have to, get up 15 minutes early each morning when it's quiet and you'll be undisturbed. Write down your "Things to Do" list. Prioritize the items on your list, giving each an alphabetical or numeric ranking to show which are critical, which can be put off a bit and which are more long-term goals. It'll help you sail through the day.
Being organized at home is a must for large families. Hunting for keys, lost homework and the coveted pizza delivery menu can waste a lot of time. Establish a command center to put, and keep, your family essentials. A calendar to keep track of everyone's schedules makes a great reference when you're planning dinner. A place for sorted mail will ensure that you won't miss paying your electric bill. And don't forget to include a bulletin board to tack up important information you need to keep close at hand.
Plan the menu, super-size the meal
Putting together menus for a week, two weeks or even a month will save a lot of time. Your meal plans should include family favorites, as well as quick alternatives. Post the menu so your older children can start preparation when they get home from school.
Planning will allow you to shop just once a week, rather than making multiple trips to pick up missing ingredients. Put a list together based on your meal plan and post it on the refrigerator so everyone can add needed items. If you have extra storage space, consider buying staples in bulk from a warehouse store to save trips and money.
Save time by cooking double recipes or preparing all of your meals for the week at once and freezing them in single meal containers. Investing a few hours on Sunday will give you extra time during the week. But beware: Not all foods freeze well. Experiment with smaller quantities to make sure your time-saving measures don't add cost.
To make large quantity food preparation easier, try using a measuring pitcher, which allows you to measure eight cups at once. Super-size your slow cooker and use a double griddle for pancakes and burgers.
Color code your laundry
Almost everyone in the family can help with the laundry in some way. Teach your children when they're small how to sort whites and colors. A different hamper for each color will save time. For those kids who find laundry a real chore, putting a basketball hoop over the laundry basket might change their minds.
Do laundry every day and fold it right away. Letting laundry build up makes the task daunting. Plus, you can save ironing time. If you have the space and can afford it, buying two washers and dryers could be a good investment.
Make sure that each child in the family has a space for their clean, folded clothes and knows it's his responsibility to put those clothes away. For fast sorting of clothes, mark the tags of each child's shirts and pants with a different color marker.
Color-coding is important for socks too, especially when they all look alike. Sew a different color thread in the toes for each child or mark with a colored permanent marker.
Remove the clutter
Ben Franklin knew the answer to large family clutter: "A place for everything and everything in its place." You probably agree it's good advice, especially if you've experienced the frustration of searching for wrapping paper you know is somewhere in the closet or keys that are covered by the newspaper.
Teach your children at a young age to put things back after they use them or at least sort like items into baskets to find them quickly. Have your older children pass along toys they no longer play with or books they've outgrown to their younger siblings. When the youngest no longer has interest in the items, it's time to purge. Do so regularly.
Clutter has a way of building up quickly. Commit yourself to doing a 20-minute pick up every morning to keep the clutter down. If you don't have to pick up toys, shoes, or half-eaten sandwiches off the floor before you vacuum, or remove mail from the top of the refrigerator before you dust, cleaning will be much faster.
Get the kids to help out
Keeping the large family household running smoothly is everyone's responsibility. It's time for a family meeting to talk about chores.
Explain to your group that if everyone does their share, you'll have more time to enjoy with them. Put together a chore list to remind everyone of their responsibilities. Be sure to only assign jobs your kids are capable of doing. If you want them to hang up their jackets, keep track of their mittens or organize their book bags, put hooks and shelves at their eye level.
To keep the momentum going, turn it into a game. Each week, let them pick their jobs out of a fish bowl. Play music while they work and sing along. Hidden surprises such as stickers, coins or small treats will also keep them motivated.
When they are older, let them choose their chores. You might find that one of your kids actually enjoys doing the dishes or has a knack for cooking. If they like what they do, they'll be more likely to do it well.
No matter how you have your kids help out, don't criticize if it isn't done perfectly or the way you would do it. Just be happy it's done!
Make each child feel like an individual
With a large family, it's important for each child to have his own identity, even though it might be tempting to think of them collectively as "the kids."
Whether you use hooks, drawers or boxes, give each child their own space to put their personal belongings. Let them have their own style with regard to clothes.
Each week, have one child be the designated helper. They can help with the meals, bring in the mail and decide what activities you'll all do. This will eliminate arguing time because each will know their turn is coming.
Also, spend some one-on-one time with each child. Make it official by putting it on the calendar. This will be your time together to read books, play games or just talk. Or she can be the child you decide to take to the supermarket that week.
The logistics of a large family will prevent the kids from getting involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. Let each child choose one, and only one, activity. Whether it is gymnastics, swimming or soccer, this one activity will help them focus on what they really like and who they are as an individual -- and not overburden you with carpool duty.
Initiate the 'buddy system'
Sometimes a natural bond develops between older and younger siblings. If not, you might want to help things along by pairing them up yourself.
Having an older child take charge of a younger one, teaches them responsibility and nurtures sibling relationships. It also saves you a lot of time! The older child can help their "little buddy" with her homework, set up her meals and get her washed and dressed in the morning.
You also might want to let your older children earn some money by watching the younger kids now and then, so you and your spouse can have an evening out. However, the time older children spend babysitting their little brothers and sisters should be limited. You don't want the older child to resent the younger ones or feel tied down by them. Developing a natural feeling of responsibility for others is your goal.
Prepare to get there on time
You've lost Jackson's shoe, Marissa has gum in her hair, the twins are crying and you need to leave now!
Whether this is your regular before-work routine or you're trying to get to a special event on time, a little planning will help. Start by preparing the night before. Gather everything you might need including a packed diaper bag, extra clothes, washcloths, toys, snacks, favorite books and a few aspirin for you!.
Save time by pre-packaging your children's outfits. Include a shirt, pants, underwear, socks, hair bows and whatever might go with the ensemble. This is a great grab-and-go way to get to the show on time and works wonders when you travel. When taking part in crowded activities such as a day at the amusement park or a visit to the zoo, select outfits in matching colors. It'll make it easier to keep track of your clan.
Maximize your trips
Run errands "on the way." This can be on the way to work, on the way to lunch, on the way home or on the way to wherever. Try to group your stops so you can take care of as many things as possible in one trip.
You can streamline your visits to the doctor or dentist too. Schedule all your kids' appointments back to back, so you're driving there and back only once.
The phone and Internet are great timesavers. Call stores or browse their Web sites to make sure they have what you want before you venture out. You can order postage stamps and prescription drugs online too. And why waste time waiting for a haircut when you could be doing other things? Call ahead to see if your salon is running on time.
Make time for your spouse
It's sometimes easy to put the "just you two" relationship on the back burner. With a large family, the only way you'll have time for your spouse is to make time for your spouse. A date night once a week or every other week is a good way to carve time for some adult conversation. Even putting the kids to bed a little early and relaxing with a glass of wine will help keep you connected. Making your bedroom "off limits" to the kids will give you some space that is just yours.
Remember, it's the little things that keep you bonded. A hug after dinner or bringing her coffee in bed shows that you care. Sending him a quick e-mail at work or a text message while you watch your son's basketball game lets him know you're thinking of him.
And don't forget time for yourself. Get up a half-hour early to exercise, watch television or do nothing…uninterrupted. Treat yourself now and then to the luxury of a nap, a good book, a cup of tea or a bubble bath. A large family comes with a lot of work…and a lot of happiness. Relax and take it one day at a time.
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