Disclaimer: While we had a family of 8 children, I am by no means an expert. I know what worked for Jim and I. There was a significant age difference from the oldest to the youngest (when Molly was 15, Tess was born so there were patterns already established). As I type this in the quiet (empty nest) of home -it seems so calm now, but it was crazy, chaotic, exhausting, fun, loving, and a long time ago.
1.HOW DID YOU GET EVERYONE INTO BED??
Our oldest, Molly, had colic for 3 months and when she(finally) would stop crying and fall asleep-we thought it was a miracle. A very wise, uncle of Jim’s said, “it does not hurt the kids to cry.” (I am not talking about an hour, but 20 minutes is ok to try and let them fall asleep on their own.) Jim would not let me go into the crying child’s bedroom before we let them cry for 20 min.
We KNEW that our child was safe, dry, read to, prayed with and hugged and kissed. We closed the door and the kids were not allowed to open the door unless we (this was very difficult during the toddler years) opened it. Sometimes we opened the door to check and our little bundle was sleeping on the floor at the base of the door. When this would happen we just placed them back in bed and told them that there was that no coming out of their rooms or into our bed. We made it very, very clear that at bedtime and the kids not allowed out of their rooms- no matter how many tears. We kept the same order every night when they were little:
- one book
- one bathroom trip (when they were finally trained)
- one SIP of water
- hugs and kisses
- door closed
In about 3 or 4 days the pattern was established and it was over. All were sleeping IN THEIR OWN BEDS till morning. (This may take a bit longer if you are already experiencing a different scenario.) There were very infrequent nighttime wake-ups, but once they had the bedtime routine down it worked for us. Once kids realize there is a plan, it is up to you. At this point it is a duel of wills—you are the adult and parent—you decide who wins.
2.DID YOU EVER GET SICK?
Yes, of course! But truthfully, very rarely. Most of the time you just have to work through it. When the kids were old enough to understand, they would try and help out, play quietly and “Help” mommy. Jim, however, had the uncanny knack for ALWAYS getting sick when I was and he was ALWAYS much sicker. Morning sickness just had to be pushed thru and mine was certainly not like Princess Kate’s. If I ever was too sick to get up, my mom and dad would come from Milwaukee to take care of the oldest 4. They were amazing, my biggest supporters. Sadly, they both died before I was 34, so my youngest 4 didn’t know them at all.
When my youngest was 2 I had major surgery, I had a bit of a complication and was in the hospital for a week. Friends helped Jim out and the older girls were very helpful, Molly had her license so when Jim left for New York the day after I got home from the hospital we were ok. If there is a great day to get sick, for me it was the day after Christmas. I think it was the release of all the adrenaline ramping up for Christmas. Everyone was occupied with something and Jim was home (he didn’t dare get sick on this day) so I had the ability to stay in bed and recover.
3.HOW TO NAVIGATE ALL THE SCHOOL FORMS AND SCHEDULES?
As soon as my kids were old enough, they handled the packing and unpacking of school things. I think this was about the mid-first grade. Actually, they did this at school so it is was a natural progression to do it at home. They are pretty trainable at that age and still want to please (this refers mainly to my girls, the boys had a more casual attitude). The forms and homework were put on my desk in a folder (if they had one) and dealt with either right away or after they went to bed. I would then put them in the respective backpacks. It was their responsibility to get it to me, if they didn’t it would not get done and they would have to deal with the consequences.
Lots of things fell through the cracks, but if it was really important, I always heard about it and then I (usually) had the chance to rectify the matter. I had a huge calendar that hung on the side of a cabinet. Every child had a different color (a color key was at the top, in case I forgot), at least once a week, I sat down with the calendar and updated it. I also had a calendar of my own that I would update at the same time. Now with iPhones, it is much easier to keep the calendar straight. (I re-created the calendar below)
Back to School was always part fun and part horror. In grade school my kids had uniforms, they were a blessing and easy to organize. School supplies were a Target run with lists and all the kids. Everyone was so excited to get new pencils, etc. that this was manageable.
I tried to exercise at least 3 mornings a week at 5:30, then it gave me time to get home, make breakfast and get them off to school. The exercise got me going for the day and cleared my head, it was a routine. When they were too young to leave, I exercised at home.
I have to say at this point, I do not require much sleep. I was a 4 -5 hour a night sleeper, that allowed for a lot of things getting done without kid competition.
4. HOW DID I KEEP THE 8 KIDS IN LINE?
Jim and I went to a class on making “Champion Kids”, it gave us great ideas to raise happy, centered and unspoiled children. (If you're into this, I talk about our "program" in greater detail in an earlier post.) We had 5 house rules, an A list of jobs that receive no compensation, because they live here, and B list of jobs that they were compensated for. Everyone picked a job, no matter what age, they kept track of the job and hours (each had a book), and once a week they gave Jim the book to be paid; ½ went to them and ½ in the bank. If a child did something that was not appropriate, or against the rules, they could be grounded, given a job or lose a privilege. It depended on the infraction, we were strict, fair, and CONSISTENT. No great secret sauce, just consistent love and guidance. And yes, they all got away with something from time to time, they are (after all) regular kids.
5. WHAT ABOUT ALL THE "STUFF"?
I think everyone has a completed baby book, but as far as keepsakes, I tried scrapbooking, but could not keep it going. (And to be honest that is not my thing, I was terrible at it.) Everyone has a box, that they take (or I mail) when they get their own home. It has pictures and papers that I thought were great. I am not a saver, if you have not used it in six months it should be gone. As I age I seem to be having a bit of a problem with this. When all the kids were here, I would clean and organize like crazy, guess I am getting a bit tired.
- Do what works for you, what is natural to you. Make things simple, the more steps, the more difficult it gets.
- Speak directly to your children and expect a direct response. If you treat them with respect, expect the same from them, no matter what their age.
- There are things I do not like to do, and if they are not essential to a good life I do not do them. You can make those decisions.