Ins and Outs of Raising a Herd
Our family has six kids. S*I*X kids. That’s a lot of bodies and a lot of logistics of coordinating a lot of life. I thought a blog post would be a great way to share some of our practical, daily tips and tricks – it may help you, or it may just satisfy a nosy itch you have wondering how on earth families the size of mine are able to keep life rolling smoothly [or at all]. So, let’s begin…..
Feeding eight humans every single day, three times a day is a full time job it feels like! Now, to be fair, Hayden doesn’t eat food by mouth, so we’ll exclude him from this particular topic. [He uses a G tube and is on a continuous 24/7 drip of formula from a feeding pump. But, don’t feel sorry for him – he hates food and thinks it’s gross to eat, so he’s fine, yall!]
I start each week with a full meal plan. I sit down usually on Saturday or super early on Sunday morning before church and plan out the week’s meals. This includes dinners, lunches, breakfasts and snacks. It’s summer right now, so we’re all home all day long and we eat every single meal together. (During the school year, my kids bring their lunch to school except for one day per week when they’re allowed to purchase a school lunch.) Our family has some set traditions when it comes to food which include Taco Tuesday (religiously!) and Pizza Friday. Knowing these two meals are set each week, really helps get the ball rolling when it comes time to meal plan dinners for the week. Already having two days filled in is encouraging. We also like to save Thursday nights for “Leftover Night” usually, although, we’re finding less and less leftovers available from each night’s meal (#growingBOYS!) so we are in the process of learning to make more servings at the other weeknight dinners, or just adding in another quick, easy meal on Thursday nights. Historically, my Bible study group (D Group) meets on Thursday nights so it’s nice to know it’s just leftovers for everyone and I don’t have to stress while I’m getting out the door to Bible study.
For breakfasts, I try and plan at least one breakfast casserole for the week and then have other meal prepped high protein options ready for a quick grab during the busy weekday mornings. I like chicken sausage links and turkey bacon as good meat options and have a few hard boiled eggs meal prepped and ready for breakfast or snacks. During the summer, I try to stay as healthy as possible for lunch time meals. Luckily, my kids like salmon and other types of fish, so I try to cook some early in the week that we eat on for a few days throughout the week. In an effort to be overall a bit healthier, I try to get ingredients to make snack options from a “30 Healthy Snack Idea” list we got from a nutritionist at one of the clinics we go to. I keep the snack list posted on the refrigerator so that the ideas are always visible to the kids so when snack time hits (at 10am and 2pm) they have options and don’t have to rely on me to get creative for them.
Once I’ve established that week’s menu, I start an Instacart order on the app on my phone or via computer (depending on how crazy the environment is that I’m in at the time). I add all the ingredients I need for our nightly meals, lunches, breakfasts, snacks and random stuff we may need and put it into multiple Instacart orders if need be. I shop mainly from Aldi because you can’t beat the savings!!! Seriously! (I used to shop there in real life, but then I had four kids and I was no longer in a place to PHYSICALLY ENTER a store ha!) I also do an order from Costco usually bi-weekly for things like peanut butter, Skinny Pop, Topo Chicos, paper plates, etc. I’ll also have a monthly or so order from Sprouts for various supplements and probiotics that we take. Then, I set my order/s to be delivered that weekend – either that Saturday or on Sunday after church. [If you don’t know what Instacart is or haven’t ever tried it, you are for sure missing out!! A shopper will shop for you at a wide variety of stores in your area and with a minimum $35 order at a store, they will shop and bring your stuff to you typically within two hours or less. There is a fee for this [incredibly worth it] service and I opt to pay $100 for the year – much like Amazon Prime. To give it a try, use this link and get $10 off: https://inst.cr/t/MDJSN0wwQkli]
We cook all of our meals 95% of the time and if we do purchase food from a restaurant, it’s just take out and we eat at home. We don’t tend to take the herd to a restaurant as that’s not conducive to eating in this current stage of life we’re in with two one year olds and a teenager in a wheel chair who doesn’t even eat food. Which, honestly, I don’t mind eating at home because it’s healthier and cheaper than anything a restaurant could offer us.
I mentioned earlier that once I’ve created my weekly meal plan, I write it on a white board in our pantry/laundry room/”home base” station. I write it for my own knowledge, but I also do it so the kids can see what we’re eating on what days and they are aware of what to expect. It also cuts out unnecessary questions and nagging about “What’s for dinner?” and “I don’t like ________.” You don’t have to like everything; but you do know what the options will be for the evening meal. I would say overall, the kids really don’t complain and I try to make meals everyone enjoys, although every night might not be their Most Favorite Meal of All Time – and that’s ok. One thing we have done as well, was to create meals together and I let the kids name the creation. For example, one time I had some chicken breasts I cut in to strips and just baked with some salt and pepper and some Rancher seasoning from Wildtree. It tasted pretty good but wasn’t necessarily in the “Most Favorite Meal of All Time Hall of Fame” or anything. But that night, I asked the kids what we should call our creation and collectively they came up with, “Naked Chicken Deluxe, Yo!” And it stuck! It was a fun name and moved the lame baked chicken up a few notches on the recipe rotation totem pole. By including them in the process, they had a little skin in the game and now they love to help meal plan and request “Naked Chicken Deluxe, Yo!”
Keeping everyone’s schedules organized can sometimes feel like my second full time job! Each week’s success, for us, hinges on something we’ve done for years – a family meeting! We typically do these on Sunday afternoons and all the kids gather around with us and we look at every family member’s commitments for the week. Big commitments for us each week are things like Hayden’s doctor appointments, visits from CPS/CASA/Buckner for the foster kiddos, in office work meetings for Ryan, and sports practices (when in season) for the other kids. Getting everyone on the same page for the week helps EVERYONE, not just Ryan and me. Some of our kids are a little more high anxiety, so it helps them to know where everyone will be and what to expect in the upcoming week.
Any meetings or appointments for kids are written on our family’s calendar in our Family Hub Station. This way, it’s posted for everyone to see. (This even includes Hayden’s nurses who use that same laundry/pantry area to prepare Hayden’s meds and wash his medical equipment. I also keep posted in the “nurse’s station” of the laundry/pantry a hard copy of the nursing schedule which helps alleviate everyone relying on me to know and report the weekly schedule for nursing staff. If it’s posted, it’s a resource for everyone and it takes pressure off of me.) I try to keep the big, dry erase family calendar color coded as much as possible, but the most important thing is just getting the information down. This helps us all tremendously to not feel surprised by our day and to feel a little more sense of calm as we begin each morning.
A practical organization tip I learned years ago from another mom of multiple kids, was implementing something called a “Water Basket.” Rather than having a million cups all over the house, we each have one refillable water cup (I mean, we own more, but we each only use one at a time.) So whether that is a Tervis cup, a Gatorade squeeze bottle, a personalized sports cup, a sippy cup, etc., we each just use one at a time and keep them in our “Water Basket.” We have a Berkey water filter that is located on our dryer and we LOVE it! It filters out all kinds of nasty stuff from our water, and we each just refill our cup as needed, take our drink and ideally, place it back in the Water Basket to grab for the next drink. This helps out tons when the kids are asking, “Where’s my water??” I simply say, “Did you check the Water Basket?” This cute, brown wicker basket is our family’s landing zone for hydration.
Another way we keep order in what could be chaos is by having color coded bath towels for the kids. Each child has a set of three towels, but all three towels are the same color. Each child has THEIR colored towel and it’s their responsibility to use it and hang it up after their shower each night. (We don’t wash towels after each use – sorry if you think that’s gross, but we don’t. You can get a good couple of uses out of one towel if you hang it up to dry, which is what we ask of the kids.) Do they do this right every time? No… not always. BUT, when I go into the bathroom and see a yellow towel on the ground, I know exactly which kid is responsible for it.
Speaking of showering and getting eight people ready daily, we also have mason jars for each kid that has their toothbrush and preferred toothpaste in it as well as floss or floss sticks. This keeps their things organized and no one gets confused over whose is whose. (Hayden does have his own wheel chair accessible bathroom so his operation runs a bit differently….and since our remodel is now complete, we have a bathroom dedicated to the other five kids and guests, as well as mine and Ryan’s bathroom that no child is allowed in – we shared long enough! ha!!)
As part of our renovation, we wanted to find a way to incorporate a “mud room” of sorts. We have a one story, 2,200 square foot home that we were able to creatively turn in to a five bedroom, three bath home with loads of storage and a sink in the laundry room. We got really good at using every square inch of space we could find and that’s how we created our “mud room” wall in our entry way. This wall, has six cabinets, one for each child’s backpack and sports bag/equipment if they’re playing a sport that season. (More on sports in a minute.) The wall also has a bench and cubbies for shoes as well as hooks for jackets in winter and purses for myself and guests. I love this so much and its functionality has been a HUGE lifesaver for me. With the backpacks inside the cabinets, I don’t have to see clutter everywhere, but rather it is contained behind a cabinet door. Again, when the kids go looking for their shoes or jackets, I simply direct them to the shoe cubby or their cabinet and they are able to solve their own problem and locate their belongings.
A few years ago, Ryan and I made a decision on where we wanted to put our focus when it came to family. For us, building a strong family unit who knows, loves and serves the Lord together is THE most important thing. Defining what we wanted for our family helped us to determine what we did not want for our family. Family dinners together and quality time for talking and teaching are our priority. Knowing our end game goal, helped us to inform what our day to day life would look like. One of the parameters for our family, is that each child is welcome to play one sport per year. We spent many years playing all the sports and dragging babies and the disabled across all kinds of fields and to practices and games and we were 100% miserable. We don’t want our kids to miss out completely on sports just because we have a large, unique family dynamic, so we put healthy boundaries around recreational sports. And here I would offer a wise quote I love that says, “It’s ok to live a life others do not understand.” And it is ok. You do not have to look like every other family in your neighborhood or in your extended family or like your coworker’s family. In fact, I hope you don’t. I just want my family to look like Jesus and so for us, that means limiting the time we spend on practice fields and fighting on Saturday mornings to get to the ball field to sweat together in misery. But my family is not your family – so I honor and respect whatever it is you choose to spend your time on. (**Note on this: we do let our kids do music lessons and we are more open to activities that don’t require weekend commitments – think Taekwondo and dance lessons. We’re not total sticklers for no fun; it’s just we can’t afford to commit every weekend to a ball field, especially when weekend nurses for Hayden are hard to come by.)
In practical terms, to get all these humans showered and in bed on time, we have stick to a pretty scheduled and regimented bed time routine. **Disclaimer: I know Ryan and I are more type A than the average bear… and we’re fine with that. It works for us. Feel free to judge us. We do not care. We know who we are. ;)** We generally starts baths for the babies around 7:00pm and then it just progresses from there to the older kids. One thing we do to prevent arguments between two of the kids who consistently were arguing about who would shower first, is that we created a schedule for who showers first and posted it in the bathroom for all the world to see. (I did this also for these two as they’re roommates and would fight nightly about who should shut the door and turn off the light. are. you. kidding. me. right. now. So to put a stop to one more senseless fight, I posted a light/door schedule and taped it on the wall. THE END.) Now that the shower schedule is posted, everyone knows who should be where and when. While one person showers, the other person goes and takes their nightly vitamins and then they switch tasks.
If I haven’t lost you yet, I’m about to. This is the part where you’ll want to have me committed. Brace yourself. In an effort to be a good steward of each minute of the 24 hour day I’ve been given, and in order start my day off focused and ready to tackle whatever the day may bring, I work out at 5:30am! I wake up at 5am, throw on the workout clothes I laid out the night before and head to either Yoga or Pure Barre. (I’m in a weird overlapping time when I go to both and am trying to determine which activity I love the most.) This has been SO helpful to my mental health and overall attitude about the day. It gives me a chance to get up before the world, to pray out loud on the drive to the studio and give my day to the Lord, and then to accomplish something fully without being interrupted and to get to move my body before [all of] my family is even awake! I never used to be a morning person, but now that I am, I really enjoy it! My body and mental health are worth the investment. And, having to get up so early means I get to bed early as well. Which is better for me anyway! Confession: I used to watch Netflix and eat Skinny Pop and drink a glass of wine and go to bed way too late. But now, I only have wine on Friday nights or the weekend, and I get to bed at a decent hour every night (in fact, I put my phone to bed at 8:30pm and it goes into Do Not Disturb mode so that I set the tone for winding down.)
As part of our mission of creating a close, tight knit family, Ryan and I decided to start “family traditions.” These seem like minor things, but their OUR FAMILY’S things so they’re big things to us. Some of the simple things we do are traditions like Taco Tuesday and Pizza and Game Night Fridays. These are stable, routine things that we hope make our kids feel secure and connected to our family unit. We eat dinner every night anyway, why not pick one night and just make it a “tradition.” We try to have “movie night” on Saturday nights although we’re not very consistent in that one. Whatever tradition you create doesn’t have to be perfect – it’s ok if it’s not perfect or done with 100% consistency. Just being together and creating memories as a family is the goal here.
Another tradition we do that the kids LOVE is “Fancy Dinner.” We had all this wedding china sitting in drawers and in cabinets and for what? We rarely used it and it just sat collecting dust. So one day we decided to dust it off and let the kids use it as we had Fancy Dinner. They flipping LOVE IT! They feel fancy and honored that they get to use our china. We do this once a month and even if the meal is lame, it still feels fancy because of the plate – I mean talk about upsell!
Since so many social interactions in life are centered around food, we include Hayden in our family dinners each night even though he doesn’t eat food by mouth. We use the time each night, to check in with each other and each family member shares a “Sunshine” and “Cloud” from the day which is their high and low of the day. We also keep a devotional book on the Lazy Susan on the table and we are slowly reading through it together. We added, recently, a book called “What If” and it offers hypothetical situations and each person gets to answer with how they would respond. Obviously we don’t have to use these guided materials, but it’s nice to have some structure as we range from one year olds (clearly non verbal right now HA!) to a teenager and everywhere in between so having something to put us all on the same page is a nice tool to utilize. The main point of all of this is to just sit down with your family and BE TOGETHER. I grew up in a home where this was not a priority and not a routine and I remember each meal I had at a friend’s house where we did sit down together and talk and leisurely enjoy dinner and discussion and I treasured those times and conversations greatly. That is part of our hope in doing our nightly dinners – that our kids will be inspired to converse together, to think and discuss ideas and various topics and to just enjoy being together and that when they’re outside of our home or when they have their own families they will continue in these family traditions.
Now that I’ve given all of our family secrets away 😉 our final one is this. We ultimately just want our kids to know we love them and although we are structured in the way we run things for the sake of the family unit, we are so thankful to have this family we have been given to lead and grow. To us, there is freedom in structure. Which feels like how our heavenly Father leads and grows us as well. We are free in Him and the structure of His word. But this family, and God’s family, isn’t just about rules and religion; it’s about relationship. Our prayer is that in listening to our kids now and in opening the conversations up for topics that might difficult, they will always feel welcome to come to us for advice in the future when the topics are much heavier than who should shower first or whose turn it is to turn off the lights. 😉
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
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