Mary Ostyn, author of "A Sane Women's Guide To Raising A Large Family" discusses how a Mom can meet the differing needs of her children, even when she is swarmed with work and what she thinks keeps a family functioning at a high level.
Commitmentnow.com: What are the biggest challenges that mothers of large families face?
Mary Ostyn: There are days when you feel really torn between the needs of multiple children. In our home, a day rarely passes without some mini-crisis for at least one child. The good thing, though, is that even on a tough day, there are people in a good mood who can help boost the general morale of the family.
Commitmentnow.com: How can a Mom meet the differing needs of all her children, when perhaps she is swarmed with work? Is it even possible for children in a very large family to have their individual needs met?
Mary: Well, there are definitely times when kids need extended periods of one-on-one with mom. When I run errands, I almost always take a child or two, since car time tends to be good talking time.
But it's also important to connect in tiny ways throughout each day. Hugs, eye contact, tickling, questions, praise---all those things help meet heart-needs and tell kids that they are important to you.
It's important also to remember that moms have needs. When I'm getting burned out, I'll work on a craft project, even if that means fish sticks for dinner, or a messy bedroom for a few days. I also really try to connect with my husband on a regular basis-- we fill each other's emotional tanks, and that is really important when raising a large family.
Commitmentnow.com: How many children do you have? What made you personally decide to have a large family?
Mary: John and I have 10 kids, something we certainly never predicted when we got married at age 19! Our first 4 were born to us, and for awhile we thought we were 'done'. But then we started talking about adoption. We ended up adopting 2 boys from Korea and 4 girls from Ethiopia. It's been a real adventure!
Commitmentnow.com: What have you learned as a mother of ten as to what makes a family happy and functioning at a high level?
Mary: Don't compromise on your standards for kids' behavior. Something like whining (which might be tolerable when done by one child) can make you utterly wacky if 3 or 4 kids get whining at once. You need to reward the behavior you want to see more of, and consequence what you want gone. And stick to your guns!
It's also important to teach kids to pitch in. A mom of many just can't do all the housework-- there are too many other demands on her time. And there's no reason she should have to do everything. Kids are very capable once you train them to help out. And training kids to work will only benefit them in the future.
Commitmentnow.com: Can you share with us your personal five best tricks for managing your household?
Mary: ---Give kids real meaningful work from an early age. It's good for kids to contribute to the well-being of the family.
--Choose your top 3 most essential household tasks, and make sure those get done regularly. At my house, it is dishes, living room, and laundry. If those three things are kept up, my world hums along.
--Choose to let some things slide-- and don't feel guilty about it. For example, I rarely dust. Bed-making is hit or miss. And my kids' rooms are rarely perfect. Skipping things that are low-priority to me gives more time for other things.
--Meal plan, at least in a casual way. I try to make sure I have ingredients for at least 5 dinners on hand all the time, so that I make fewer trips to the store.
--Be sure to plan fun too. A regular game night or movie night can be a real bright spot in the week, something everyone looks forward to.
Commitmentnow.com: What are some ways to cope with the high cost of raising children, without creating a life where the children feel deprived?
Mary: We treat bargain-hunting as a game. Our kids love to prowl yard sales with me, and we all enjoy seeing how much we can get for our money. Once a friend of my daughter's asked where she got a pair of name-brand jeans. My daughter was more than pleased to tell her that the $50 designer jeans cost us only $4 at a yard sale.
Commitmentnow.com: Can you share your best tips for Moms who want to save money, and still provide their family with some fun extras?
--Try not to buy clothes new: yard sales and thrift stores are great places to shop. And I never turn down hand-me-downs. Some stuff is junk, but there's almost always a thing or two worth keeping. And sometimes you'll hit the jackpot.
--Meal plan and make a grocery list to make the most of your grocery dollars
Learning to cook at home is another huge money-saver. For more hints on that, see my book FAMILY FEASTS FOR $75 A WEEK.
--Look into sports that families can do together. Our kids play soccer with friends in the park every week instead of doing organized soccer. Cost --$0.
--Check out family memberships at museums and zoos. They can be very affordable for larger families, and often they will have reciprocal memberships with zoos and museums in other cities.
-- Games are affordable and so much fun! Recently we had our kids' youth group over for a game day, and huge fun was had by all.
Commitmentnow.com: How do you handle it when you just feel worn out and exhausted, and yet another child is crying or whining for something?
Mary: Sometimes I turn on loud cheerful music to boost the mood of the household (TobyMac is a favorite for this!) Other times I send everyone to their room for half an hour of quiet time. Or we'll all go for a walk. Anything to shake up the mood and get things flowing in a more positive direction.
Commitmentnow.com: How does a mother with many children deal with the different struggles children face multiplied by ten? What do you do when one of your children is going through a rough time?
Mary: There are definitely tough times, but thankfully I rarely have more than one or two kids in crisis at any given time, and the ones who are having a good day can often play with little ones to free me up to be with the child having a tough time.
Commitmentnow.com: What kind of vacations can you take with such a large family? What was your best vacation memory?
Mary: Vacations are really important to us. We go camping 3-4 times a year in our big old travel trailer. And once a year we go spend a week on the Oregon coast. In recent years we've rented a house close to the beach. Off-season, a whole house is no more expensive than two hotel rooms, and way more comfortable. One of our best vacations was the year we took 6 kids to see the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. It was a big splurge, but we made some great memories.
Commitmentnow.com: What is the best part of having a large family? What misconceptions do people have that you want to clear up about large families?
Mary: People wonder if kids in big families get enough attention, if they have meaningful relationships with family. But having a big family is not about depriving kids of relationships, it is about providing them with more people to love and who love them. Some of the sweetest moments come when you're watching your kids interact and really enjoy each other. You realize you're seeing a relationship that will, Lord-willing, endure long after you are gone. That is not deprivation. That is a precious gift.
Commitmentnow.com: How does a Mom with lots of kids go grocery shopping?
Mary: Now that I have big kids, I often leave some of the kids home in the care of the teenagers, and just bring one or two at a time. Makes for great one-on-one time! But there are times when we all go together. When that happens I'll often give kids little assignments to speed the work. My 7 year old picks apples out. Preteens go to other aisles and grab items on the list. And everyone helps put groceries away once we're home.
Commitmentnow.com: As a homeschool parent, what advice do you have for other homeschooling Moms?
Mary: Don't feel like you personally have to teach your child everything. Every kid coming out of every kind of educational system has 'gaps' of one type or another. The essentials to focus on are: character and faith, work ethic, reading skills, basic math skills, and a love of learning. If your kids have all that, they have to tools to learn whatever they need in their adult lives.
Commitmentnow.com: How can a Mom encourage her siblings to be best friends and get along? What mistakes do you often think mothers make in this regard?
Mary: I think bedroom-sharing is a great way for kids to develop close friendships, but learning to get along with siblings takes time. You may not fully see fruit in this area til their late teens. But keep plugging away at it, encouraging kindness, and your kids will get it eventually!
Commitmentnow.com: What are some ways a mother with lots of children can make each one feel special and unique?
Mary: Don't feel like you have to do cookie-cutter parenting. You don't have to give every kid the very same thing, and in fact treating them differently validates their uniqueness. Notice kids' individual strengths and really work to build them.
To Purchase "A Sane Women's Guide to Raising A Large Family" click here.
About the Author: Mary Ostyn is founder of Owlhaven (http://owlhaven.net), a hugely popular place to share parenting tips and funny mothering moments. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother's Soul and in several magazines, including Christian Parenting Today, Adoption Today, and Adoptive Families. As mom to ten children-six of whom are adopted-she is a writer for Workitmom.com (http://workitmom.com). She lives with her family in Nampa, Idaho.