The Multi-Tasking Mom of Many - Secrets to Efficiency
Multi-tasking is the lifeblood of a mom, especially in a large family. While there is evidence to support the idea that multi-tasking is not the best approach in a business environment (you actually get more done if you focus on one task at a time), in Mom World, that's just laughable. Like I'm going to put in a load of laundry and wait until it's done before I run the dishwasher so that I'm only doing one task at a time? No, I don't think so. The key to efficiency in Mom World is to multi-task at a very high level. Here's the breakdown:
1. Get your machines working for you
With eleven kids, there are always mountains of laundry and dishes, so first thing in the morning, I get my appliances going. I get a load of laundry going, and I unload and reload my dishwasher and get it going as soon as it's full (which is usually right after breakfast). I only have my youngest six living with me currently, but when I had all eleven , we had two sets of washers and dryers (which was a godsend!) and two dishwashers, and that really helped make a dent in the dirty laundry and dishes. If I'm doing a crockpot dinner, then I get my crockpot working for me, too. It's a great stress reliever to already have dinner put together and cooking by 8am!
2. Combine your errands
If you want to really shine in the efficiency department, learn how to combine your errands. At any given time, I have kids' activities, grocery shopping, doctor and dentist appointments, a dog that needs to go to the vet, cars that need to be smog tested in order to update the registration, gifts to buy, etc. If I'm going to leave the house, you'd better believe that I have at least 3 or 4 errands mapped out, at a minimum (sometimes as many as 10)!
For instance, when I take my sons to swim practice, I drop them off, and then I go to the post office to check the mail in my post office box, stop at either the grocery store or Costco and do my shopping, and then put gas in my car. On the night that we have basketball practice, I take my older son to swim practice, then I pick him up on the way to taking the other two to basketball practice. While they are shooting hoops, he and I go out for dinner and get some nice one on one time.
When you have a lot of errands, it helps to write them down in the order you are going to do them
3. Buy in Bulk
Warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club are awesome for large families. We burn through stuff really quickly, so it's great to be able to stock up on cases of milk and eggs, large packages of meat, double bags of bread, huge packages of paper towels, etc. Track prices though; the warehouse stores aren't always the cheapest per unit. Sometimes they are a fabulous deal, but with some items you can actually do better at the neighborhood grocery store, especially if you watch the sales and click on the digital coupons.
4. Do your cleaning logically
To be a model of efficiency, let your cleaning products do most of the work for you. In the bathroom, put some cleaner in the toilet and shower, and then let those sit and do their magic while you clean the counter, sink, and mirror. When you go back to finish the toilet and shower, the grime will come right off. Then sweep and mop your way out of the room.
In the kitchen, soak the pots in soapy water while you unload and reload the dishwasher, declutter the counters, spray the cooktop with cleaner and then the counters, empty the trash, then go back and wipe down the counters and cooktop and tackle the soaked pots. Wipe the finger prints off your appliances, and then sweep and mop your way out of the room.
Monthly or seasonally do other tasks like cleaning out your fridge, wiping down the blinds, cleaning the oven, dusting the baseboards, etc.
Be sure to enlist your children to help you with as much of the cleaning as possible. If they're all little, they won't be much help, but just know that it will get easier! At a minimum, they can pick up their toys. I remember when my older daughters Christina and Katherine were about 3 and 4 years old, I was vacuuming, and they would get into the graham crackers and follow me around while munching on them, dropping crumbs on the areas I had just vacuumed. Funny to look back on, but not so funny at the time!
Joey helping with the sweeping. Teach your kids to help with the cleaning as soon as possible!
If you have a little extra money in your budget, hire someone to help you, even if it's only once a month or once a season to do the deep cleaning for you. When you have lots of little mess makers in your house, that's money well spent for the sake of your sanity! If you can't afford to hire a pro, hire a teenager in the neighborhood who is looking for a little extra cash to be a "mother's helper".
5. Be careful not to sign up for too many kids' activities
It's really easy to get over-programmed with activities. Rarely will I sign up for something unless I can sign up more than one child for the same thing. The activities that worked the best for me efficiency-wise were swim team and musical theater. There were times when I had 8 kids on the same swim team and 8 kids in the same musical theater production. Between the family discounts and being able to take everyone to practice at the same time, it was a model of efficiency that minimized my driving, saved some money, and let them all do something fun.
When my oldest ones were little, there was a karate place right around the corner from a gymnastics and dance place, and the schedules worked out nicely so that while one daughter was in dance, another was in gymnastics, and my son would be right around the corner at karate. Everyone would finish within 15 minutes of each other, so it was very efficient to make that happen. Often I would take the little ones out for a cookie while the older ones were at a practice.
I stayed away from activities that were too age-segregated, as it would mean that everyone would have a different practice time and different game times, often at different locations. That's really tough to work out logistically with a lot of kids, so we just didn't do activities like that until recently; now that I'm on the last three children, it's not as difficult as it was with toddlers and babies in tow.
Joey at a swim meet
6. Buy less stuff
You really don't need every set of Legos ever made, and you probably don't need 50 dolls. Pare down the toys to the minimum you can live with, and then give away some more. Give away extra clothing, extra toys, extra books, extra knick knacks, extra everything! The less stuff you have, the less stuff you have to clean up, the less stuff you have to dust, the less stuff you have to insure, and the easier it is to be organized. We had way too many toys and way too much stuff when my kids were young, and it was impossible to stay up with it. It was totally overwhelming and self-defeating!
We have moved a few times in the last 10 years, and every time we move, we do a big purge. Finally, we are down to where it's manageable. I wish I had understood this earlier in the game. Another thing I have learned in talking to my adult children is that they don't even remember what toys they had, so why did I think we needed all that stuff?? Learn from my mistakes!
Here's another tip: with a big family, there can be literally hundreds of unpaired socks. If you have children who wear the same size socks, get them all the same kind of socks in one color. Get your husband packs of all the same kind of socks in one or two colors. If you have groupings of socks that are all the same, at least you have a fighting chance! Also, pairing socks is a fun thing for little kids to do, especially if they get to earn a penny for every pair they put together.
Alex with his tub of train tracks
7. Homeschooling tips
I have always designed my own curriculum, and I found that it was easier and more fun to do some subjects as a group. Read-alouds, geography, and foreign language are examples of subjects that can be taught to a group on the same level. Does it really matter how old you are when you learn where different countries are or how to speak a different language? These are things you can be flexible with, and the kids can work together doing the same books even though they are on different grade levels (i.e. they can practice the new language with each other, they can quiz each other on the capitals of different states, they can do science projects together, etc).
Read alouds are super fun, too, and are enjoyable for all ages if you pick a great book, like the Chronicles of Narnia, for example. You can all take turns reading out loud to each other. They will become better readers, and you all can enjoy the same story together. If it's wintertime, light a fire in the fireplace, grab a cozy blanket, and make your read-aloud time extra-special!
Read-alouds are my favorite!
To learn more about homeschooling, read Getting Started With Homeschooling
8. New baby tips
When you have a new baby and people offer to help you, don't pretend to be Wonder Woman. Take the help! If they are offering to make meals for you or to clean your house, say "yes" so fast that they don't have a chance to change their minds!
You're going to be exhausted for the first few months (until the baby consistently sleeps through the night), so lighten up your expectations. One fun way to work the new baby into the family routine is to do read-aloud time while nursing the baby. I often took whomever was just learning to read, and had them sit next to me and read out loud while I fed the baby.
You don't really need to haul a huge diaper bag everywhere unless you're on a long trip with the baby. I ditched the bag and just took two diapers, a small pack of wipes, and an extra outfit in case of messes. You can use the second diaper as a changing pad, and you can fit everything in a medium sized purse.
Learn how to do things with one hand. I spent many years with a baby attached to my hip, and it's amazing how many things you can do with one hand when you have to!
When your baby gets old enough for baby food that's more complex than a single food, you can take a little bit of your crock pot dinner of meat and veggies for the rest of the family, throw it in a blender, and you have instant baby food that tastes way better than the stuff that comes in the jars.
Sweet baby Dani - #8!
9. Sneak in exercise
When you're waiting for eggs to cook or a pot to boil, do some pushups against the counter or stand on one foot and strengthen your balancing muscles. Do squats or ballet plies while brushing your teeth. Do exercise videos with your kids during their play time. I remember doing a Tae Bo video when my older ones were young, and they had a blast doing it right along with me! Invest in a double stroller and a front pack, and take everyone for a walk.
Some of my fondest memories are when I had a baby in the front pack, two toddlers in the stroller, and the older kids walking alongside with one hand on the stroller, going up and down the hills in my neighborhood. That was some serious exercise on my part, with 15-20 pounds of baby on me and pushing another 60 or 70 pounds up the hills. No wonder I used to lose all my baby weight within a few months! We still do family walks when everyone is over for dinner, and it's become one of our favorite things.
Get everyone exercising together with a family walk
10. Use a Planner
My planner is the key to my success. I use the Cozi app on my phone, which has all my shopping lists and a calendar where I can enter appointments easily, and my whole family can access it, too. But the real key for my efficiency is my non-digital, "in real life" planner book. I'm old-fashioned, and I like paper. It never crashes or dies, and well, I just have a thing for pen and paper. I've been using Planner Pad planners for years, as I like the format. I do a brain dump along the top of the page of everything I need to get done, then I take those items and assign them to specific days in the section in the middle of the page. The bottom of the page has space to list appointments. It also has monthly calendar pages and blank lined pages for taking notes, writing lists, journaling, writing out goals and strategies, party-planning, or whatever.
Top Tip: buy unbreakable decorations. If you don't, all you'll be left with after you spend a lot of time sweeping up broken glass are whatever unbreakable decorations you have (don't ask me how I know that...). Buy large containers with tight-fitting plastic lids to store everything so that it will be dust-free and in good shape from year to year. Decorate the upper part of the tree, and let the kids decorate the lower part. As they get bigger, let them do the whole thing. They're going to rearrange it anyway, so let go of that task. It's a fun thing for them, it relieves you of a huge item on your Christmas to-do list, and it really doesn't have to be perfect. Really. Let it go.
For Christmas presents, online shopping is your best friend. I use a notebook to keep track of what presents I'm buying for whom, and I start early. Be sure to allow ample shipping time so you don't get stuck with high last minute shipping costs.
As the kids start getting older, they get wise to everything, so find good hiding places and wrap as you buy.
Right after Dani's baptism - notice all the unbreakable ornaments on the Christmas tree and the fact that Christina and Katherine snuck a couple of them off the tree to play with!
For tips on throwing the perfect holiday party, see The Busy Mom's Guide to Party Planning
12. Know when not to multi-task
If you're doing something that requires some brain work, like entering the expenses into your computer banking program and balancing the checkbook, or doing your taxes, it's better to focus completely on that task until it's done (even though that's probably the last thing you want to do!). If you keep switching back and forth between that and other mental tasks, you will end up spending more time and getting less done. Studies show that every time you switch tasks, it takes several minutes to get yourself back up to speed on the new task. If you are switching all the time, you will spend more time getting yourself up to speed than actually accomplishing anything, so stay focused! Also, if you have your machines working for you, you can know in the back of your mind that you are indeed multi-tasking without splitting your focus.
The main time not to multi-task is when you are spending time hanging out with your family, whether it's your spouse, your kids, or the whole family. Put all the phones away, force yourself to stop thinking about work or your to-do list, and really live in the moment with each other.