Too many kids, too little time!

Before we were married, my husband used to joke with me that we were going to raise a football team – eleven babies. Little did I know that, while we wouldn’t quite make the numbers for a football team, we’d have no problem fielding our own hockey team – with three sets of twins, we suddenly had our hands very full!

Having a large family with kids at various stages in their development presents all kinds of challenges that are difficult to relate to for most people from smaller families. If you struggle getting one or two kids ready and off to school in the morning, how would you cope with six?

One of the first things that you need to do is to enlist the kids’ help with any task that they can safely do with little supervision. This means things like teaching them to wash and get dressed as early as possible. I have been amazed to see kids as old as eight who are still being dressed by their parents. There’s no way that could happen in our house. In fact, these days the kids will get themselves up on time, shower, get dressed, make and eat their own breakfasts, clean their teeth and get themselves off to school all by themselves. There are various ways to motivate them to do this, but the most effective that we have found is by using collective responsibility. As we need to encourage the older ones to be role models for the younger ones and to get them all to help each other out when necessary we’ll reward the whole group for the good behaviour of one child and also punish the whole group for the misdemeanour of one. This way the children police their own behaviour and only egg each other on to do things they know will bring rewards. Whereas a parent will usually have to break up a squabble between two children in most houses, in our house they are broken up quickly by their siblings.

Nevertheless, there are still very many household jobs which children can’t and shouldn’t do. As I mentioned earlier, they can make their own breakfast – usually cereal and fruit but occasionally a toasted waffle and a warm drink. They’re not quite old enough to be dealing with the oven or pan of boiling oil yet, however. In fact, I myself only tend to use the oven and the hobs on a Sunday when I cook up a traditional family dinner. During the week I save time by chopping vegetables and preparing meat and seasonings which will cook throughout the day in the slow cooker. Once your ingredients are in and you’ve switched it on – that’s pretty much dinner sorted. It’s still healthy and delicious, tender food, just prepared in a few minutes and cooked by itself throughout the day.

When it comes to washing, the children sort their own washing into two baskets – one for lights and one for coloureds. When the baskets are full I’ll put the washer on overnight (that’s when our water rates are cheaper). Of course, there is too much for just one load so the washer is usually on three or four nights a week. The kids will get a reward for hanging out the washing if they get to it before I do. Ironing takes quite some time but I don’t think my children are quite ready to do it for themselves, although this is definitely a skill I will teach them when they are ready. More rewards are available if the kids fold their own clothes and put them away.

I suppose when it comes to hobbies and extra-curricular activities, we are quite lucky that we have three sets of twins. It means that there are always at least two of our children taking part in any one activity, thus reducing any transport or conflicting schedule issues. Organisations like the cub scouts and brownies are great as they not only have their usual meetings and activities but they have their own sports teams and trips with transport covered. Our two oldest are looking forward to joining the Sea Cadets next year which will hopefully be great for building their skill sets, resilience, maturity and self-discipline.

Things like homework are done as a group at a set time. Invariably, the older two have more to do and find it more difficult. Things like this, plus the other responsibilities they have to shoulder make it important to that you show your appreciation for their efforts. This can be done with rewards but I think the best way is to reward responsibility with a degree of independence. For example, our eldest have more freedom than their siblings when it comes to choosing what they do with their free time.

It takes a lot of discipline at first but you really have to think of your parental responsibilities also including being a general manager of the household and the team. Look to responsibly delegate what you can in order to maximise the effective use of your available time. Your reward will be a close-knit and loving, large family.