Making the Most of your Large Family

When I had my tenth child, a friend who was the mother of 11 children remarked only half in jest, "Now you know what it means to have both hands full."

Still foggy-minded from having just given birth it took me a while to get the pun, but the impact was immediate: I had joined a very select club—mothers of very large families. Today I have 12 children and am a grandmother of 4 (and counting). To some, these are shocking facts; to others these details represent an awesome accomplishment.

You're a mother of 12?

I've heard it all. Acquaintances and strangers alike feel quite free to comment on the size of my family. Comments ranged from the awestruck—"You're a mother of 12? That's amazing!"—to the guilt producing, "Do you really think you can give your children the attention they deserve?"

Sometimes folks would even snicker, "Didn't your mother teach you about the birds and the bees?"

No matter. It's not having produced a prodigious brood that distinguishes the mother of a large family, it's how she copes.

Like attracts like, so I do know a lot of other mothers of large families and while there are similarities, methods of coping vary just as much as the sizes of their families, all depending upon the nature of the mother (calm, frenzied, methodical, determined) and her priorities. I have been in some very messy households in which the children excel in their studies. It's clear: this mom gave up her housework for the sake of making sure her children would bring home top marks from school. In another home, the floor is so clean you could eat a meal off of the tiles, but that meal is based on all the white food groups: white flour, white sugar, and white rice, with nary a vegetable to be seen. Mom cares about cleanliness and figures the kids will come out healthy no matter what she feeds them.

In my case, I tried to do it all: keep a clean house, work on my kids' reading, spend quality time with the family, and provide them with spotless clothing while feeding them gourmet food that was as nutritious as it tasted good. Oh, and don't forget about making sure hubby feels like we still have a romance and about giving myself me time and friend time.

So, okay, sue me. It didn't quite work out. Around the time that I had my seventh child, I started to feel that I would explode from all the pressure of running my huge household. It was quite natural for me to try and preserve my balance; to take a deep breath and reassess the way I was living my life. There had to be a way to run things right without feeling that a freight train was bearing down on me full speed ahead.

Organizing Priorities

I decided that I had to use my common sense and see what was most important to me. This would be very individual and not about there being only one right way to do things. I would tailor my priorities to fit my own personal standards. My benchmarks didn't so much change as rearrange themselves. For example, cleanliness is very important to me. I don't like there to be dust kittens under the bed, but I could live with them. However my kitchen counters and sinks had to be clean and sanitized, ditto the dishes. I worry about food poisoning. I didn't care so much about a gleaming stovetop, so that would be last on my to-do list for the kitchen, but at least we'd stay healthy if surfaces coming into direct contact with food were as antiseptic as possible.

I felt the same way about the bathrooms. I had been in the bathrooms of large families that smelled like urine and this just violated all my personal boundaries. Not only did a dirty bathroom seem to me a health hazard, it also didn't seem that putting other things ahead of cleanliness in the bathroom would be teaching my children my most important values. I don't want to denigrate mothers who choose to play with their kids rather than wipe down walls and toilets, but if I acted as they did, I would not be true to myself and my kids would feel my discomfort.

Another cleanliness issue would have to be laundry. It's true. I am a laundry goddess. I am renowned for my ability to remove almost any stain. So, I said yes to good looking laundry. Besides, I don't think I could face myself if hubby ever ran out of socks.

"After 8 PM... I'm not your mother, I'm a wife."

On the other hand, I wash the floors only once a week, the same with the dusting. Those chores are just icing on the cake. I gave up a lot of housework in favor of other things—for instance, sleep. No kidding. I am a low energy person. It is a rare occasion that I do anything other than take a long, hot bath, read in bed at night, and chat with my husband. My friend Netanella taught me that. After 8 PM, she tells her children, "I'm not your mother, I'm a wife."

Taking a leaf from her book, I decided that come 8:30 PM, I don't do windows! Life's too short. But that's only me. I can hear my neighbor Bonnie's vacuum humming away at midnight. More power to her, I say, but I just can't keep my engine running so long.

I used to berate myself when I would enter the home of a friend, like me the mother of a large household, and find it spotless. And I confess to giving myself a mental pat on the back when entering a home that was filthy, no matter how polite the children seemed to be or how well they did in school. But I have grown along with my family and have learned that what works for me will not necessarily work for my friend.

My duty is to be honest with myself and as practical as possible under the circumstances. I guarantee a calmer, happier household for the mother, who, much as I had to do, can learn to be candid about her priorities and let appearances be damned for the sake of household harmony.

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