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It’s true! There are actual studies proving that parents with four or more children are less stressed. In fact, the kids of big families are less stressed, too! (source)
So, if you are here because you are wondering how many kids you should have or if adding one more to your pack is a crazy idea, I’m gonna fill you in!
I’ll cover the topic like this (so you can jump to whatever you came here for):
- The case for a big family
- What to consider if you want to have a big family
- My experience as the mother of a big family and how I do it
- Big family hacks
The Case For A Big Family
Big families used to be the norm. After all, children were needed to help around the homestead and diseases killed a lot more often. So, more children were had because of both of these factors.
However, over time, smaller families with just 2 children have become commonplace. Even adding that third kid to your family means you are pushing the boundaries of sanity.
Now, only 13% of all American families have 4 or more kids. This puts them into the big family category.
But, I’m here to tell you, having 4 or more children has it’s benefits!
As I mentioned above, having a large family has actually been proven to lower the stress level of the entire family. (source) This is not because parents who are crazy enough to have 4 or more children have done so because they have this whole parenting thing figured out.
Actually, it’s because they have come to a level of chill that simply doesn’t happen when you have 3 or fewer children. When you have less than 4 kids, you have the ability to maintain some sense of control over most situations.
Add the fourth child and that control goes out the window. And it cannot be regained without a substantial amount of unnecessary stress.
This is because parents of big families have realized that what modern day parenting has determined as ‘parenting requirements’ aren’t actually requirements at all. Instead, they make their own rules and have learned what is worth the effort and what is not.
Another benefit that deserves it’s own category because of how impactful it is would be that moms of big families often worry less. This is not at all because we care less for the general welfare of our children.
This is, in fact, because we know it all usually turns out just fine.
I have listened to MANY a mama tell me their fears about how their child is not yet walking or meeting some other milestone. They are sincerely concerned and don’t have any assurance that things will turn out ok.
I stopped having those fears after two babies. Both developed so differently and one gave others cause for concern when she wasn’t talking much at all at almost two years old. I could see that both were doing just fine even if they did things quite differently from each other.
And, by the time the third kid came and I saw 3 different babies (and then 4) all meet the same milestones in their own unique way, I knew that my kids doing things on their own timeline was nothing to spend my time worrying about.
Independent and responsible children
Out of necessity, children from big families must learn a sense of responsibility and independence because mom can’t do everything for everyone all the time. I say to my children on a weekly basis, ‘there is one of me four of you. I need your help.’
And they rise to the occasion.
What I am NOT talking about here is children taking on parental responsibilities or roles. That is not appropriate and is detrimental for children.
What I am talking about is the fact that my kids can do a lot for themselves and that is such a great thing! I have had several moms point out that my children are independent and very capable at their young ages. They are so bright and capable and when given the opportunity, you’ll be so surprised at what they can do!
I think being part of a big family has been a benefit to my children. Because I am not available to each of them at every moment they may want me, they have had to learn:
- patience to wait for me
- how to follow instructions well so they can carry out a task they are capable of but need guidance for when I can’t do it for them in that moment because I’m feeding a baby, making a meal, etc.
- how to problem solve if I am not available to help them figure something out
- to rely on each other for help
Another amazing quality I have seen develop in my children is empathy. Children from big families get to experience siblings who range in age and who, despite being from the same family, may be very different from them. This makes for children who are able to consider situations from a perspective other than their own and who have learned to work alongside such people regularly.
I remember when my oldest girls were just 4 and 3 1/2. They were working together on some sort of creative project. I can’t remember the exact details of what they were trying to do, but I was sitting at the table with them and could see the oldest getting frustrated with her sister. With a year and a half between them, there was some ability discrepancy, but this was largely a personality conflict.
My oldest daughter is more deliberate and perfectionistic. My second daughter is a free spirit who’s greatest joy in life is to make others smile. So, the older was doing the project carefully and slowly. She became repeatedly frustrated that her sister was approaching their project with less care. To my sweet second born, the project was much more about the fun of the experience than the outcome. For my oldest, how it all turned out was the only priority.
In that moment, I stopped them from continuing and pointed out that each of them had different goals even though they were working together. And neither were wrong. Even at a young age, I could help them see that the person sitting next to them was very different but brought something unique to the project that could be appreciated.
To this day, they are so very different but the very best of friends. The oldest sets things up and guides her sister to stay organized and have some structure. My other daughter makes her more serious sister laugh all day long and be more imaginative.
They have learned that the other person is so different in the very best way. They have learned to understand someone different than themselves. They both also practice empathy towards their two younger siblings in very similar ways. We have four children with four very different personalities. And they are all better off for growing up together.
Friends for life
My kids have built in play buddies and that pretty much rocks their world at this young age. But I’m banking on the fact that for many years down the road, my kids will have each other. They will have three other people they can call on to celebrate with or to commiserate with. They will have a small group of people who know them well and love them well. And no matter what comes, they will have each other.
Children who share
Being part of a big families means that my kids have to share. A lot. And knowing this could be an issue, I have always simply told my kids from the earliest days that ‘we love to share.’ I can’t tell you the wonders that has done for my kids.
Are they forced to share? No. Do they always want to share? No. But they don’t try to take things from others (meaning children outside of our family) and they don’t get upset when others aren’t super great at sharing yet. So, I think this is a win.
I can really appreciate that my kids understand that things are just things. Being part of a big family means you might not always get your first choice toy or item in the exact moment you want it. It has taught them to be patient and to understand the value of things. They have learned to value the person more than the thing they want.
Conversely, I will say that I have tried hard to allow each of my children to maintain a sense of something being their very own when I can see that it is important to them. A new toy at Christmas or for a birthday is not up for grabs to siblings until the gift receiver has decided they are ready for that. Or something that has special value to someone can be kept as a personal item that isn’t for the consumption of their siblings.
It’s a balance. But because we have started working towards sharing well since the kids were very young, they are incredibly gracious and generous. I appreciate this about my kids from our big family!
Other articles you may enjoy:
What To Consider If You Want A Big Family
With the benefits in mind, there are also a few other things you’ll want to think about when deciding how many children to add to your family.
It’s no secret that having children can be expensive. But, this is definitely something you can work with. I know this because we are a big family of 6 living on one educator’s income. I’ll be honest with you in saying that we don’t have much to spare at the end of the month. We have to watch what we spend carefully and can’t do everything we wish we could do sometimes.
Budgeting and setting priorities is an important factor in having a big family. And I’ll not tell you that it is the best part of having a big family. It is probably one of our biggest challenges. However, I would much rather have 4 children and make our own fun than have 2 and spend more money. That may not be for everyone, but it certainly is for me.
Expense plays a part in our food budget, our home size and the type of vehicle we drive. I’ll be sharing some hacks in these areas further on in this article, but the quick version for us in these areas is that:
- we make 99.9% of our meals at home from scratch and go out to eat rarely
- we drive a mini van and its automatic doors rock my world
- all of our kids room share (and when we have come up with creative solutions for them to be in their own space, they have opted to stay together)
The state of your home
I love to live in an organized home. I love to live in a clean home. The last time that was my reality was approximately 8 1/2 years ago before the birth of my first child.
My home has moved from one state of disarray to the next with each child we have added. This does not mean we live in a messy, disorganized home. It just means it takes quite a bit of work to keep it clean and organized. I have worked hard to come up with a daily schedule for the kids and myself that revolve around keeping our home picked up and manageable. You can read about how I have done that AND get a free guide to planning your own day by clicking here to read this article.
With a big family, we have to keep this as a daily focus or things can spiral out of control pretty quickly! Our home does look like kids live in it and that is ok….I always want my kids to feel like our home is theirs. So, they have the freedom to live in and they get the responsibility of helping me keep it clean and organized.
The noise level
I’m not even going to pretend this one isn’t a big one. It is for me, at least. This could be amplified because I homeschool and am surrounding by my sweet little dumplings 24/7, but a big family is loud. And it can be overwhelming.
There are ways to deal with this, including
- maintaining quiet time even after children have outgrown naps
- expressing when you need a break to your kids or your spouse so that the kids can work to quiet down or you can find a quiet space for a bit…or go grab a coffee alone.
- working on inside and outside voices
- finding creative quiet activities like coloring while listening to an audio book
- outside play time for kiddos on a daily basis when the weather is good
I have had to work hard to explain to my family how the noise level can affect me. I try to tell them when I need a noise break and they are generally very understanding.
I also remind myself that these little years don’t last forever. In the meantime, it’s a little loud and I do my best to work with it.
You have to put effort into giving each child individual attention
With four kids, I sometimes realize at some point in a day that I miss one of my kids. No joke!
Just yesterday my two year old ran over and hugged my leg and then I picked her up and told her I was missing her! We had been in the same house for the entire day, but we hadn’t really connected. I hadn’t had a moment with her that day.
That happens to me pretty regularly, really. And I make sure to voice it to my children….”I miss you. I haven’t gotten enough of you today.” They smile and cuddle up to me. And then we take a few minutes together to talk about the day and anything on our mind.
This is the reality for me as a mom of a big family. I can’t give 4 children as much individual attention as I could give 2 children. So, I have to find ways to be intentional with my children each day.
It works for me because I can feel it. I can feel the longing to be with them and to be connected to them. You could also solve this problem by doing special one on one dates in rotation or take one child on an errand. I often do that and the kids really enjoy it.
I also know a family that has 6 kids and they let each child stay up a half hour later than the other kids to get some one on one time. I have not found this to work well for me but can see that there is a great possibility there!
My experience as a mom of a big family…and how I do it
While I didn’t realize that upon the birth of my fourth child that we qualified as a big family, I have since learned that is the case! I would have thought another kid or two would make for a big family, but by today’s standard, we are a big family, as I mentioned above.
Being a big family has it’s own set of challenges so here are some tips on how I personally manage our family.
We cannot go out anywhere without someone commenting that I have my hands full. And because my kids are intently aware of my answer, my response is always, “Yes, I do! And my kids are awesome!”
But it really does crack me up that people look at us like we are an anomaly. I suppose in a way we are since we are part of that small 13%. Because I also regularly get asked if all the kids are mine. Yep, they sure are.
And getting out the door with all these kids that are all mine can take some planning and a somewhat strategic approach. I do a few things that help us out:
- Announce at breakfast that we are going somewhere that day so it is on people’s minds
- Tell them we are getting ready to go 30 minutes before we are to leave
- Begin gathering up anything I need at this time also
- Tell them to get shoes and coats on 15 minutes before we are to leave
- Ask big kids to help little kids if needed
- Remind everyone they are responsible to bring whatever they want with us (sometimes they want to bring something to do in the car like draw or color or just a toy) or they may want a to bring their own bag to carry books from the library
- Ask everyone to meet me in the car 5 minutes before we are to leave OR if everyone is ready quite a few minutes early, I tell them they can go play outside in the front yard until I am ready to get in the car. Just having them out of the house the last few minutes so I can think through making sure I have everything seems to be really helpful.
- Always have something to eat in my purse in case we are about to experience a melt down if a child doesn’t get a little something in their tummy
Lesson here: start early if you want to get anywhere on time. And keep realistic expectations of your children based on age and ability as well as ask big kids to help out.
Schedule and routine
With a big family, I have found that the only way to stay on track is to make good use of a daily schedule AND use routines to help keep that schedule happening. I mentioned this above but it has helped me so much that it deserves more explanation.
I’d love to give you the basics, here, but be sure to check out the article! Here’s the quick version:
- start by coming up with the daily absolutes (the things that have to get done on a regular basis: meals, naps, weekly events, bedtime, etc)
- create routines surrounding those absolutes that help you stay on schedule
- break your day into blocks and write what you want to be happening within those blocks (these blocks can be as simple as morning, afternoon and evening)
- write out the hours within these blocks and assign your daily absolutes to the time you want them to happen
- now factor in your routines and adjust your timeframes
Reading my article will fill in any questions you have and using the guide I have created will definitely help you walk through the points I have mentioned here.
You can get the free guide here and not to worry if you aren’t a stay at home mom. This an be used for moms who work from home or even if you work outside the home but want to come up with a helpful schedule for the evening and weekend hours.
Another way I am surviving as the mother of a big family is by keeping my expectations realistic.
I’m still in the throes of the little years with my youngest being 2 and my oldest being 8. So this one is big for me because when I remember to have realistic expectations for my children, I am much less likely to become upset and overwhelmed.
I also choose to have realistic expectations when it comes to what life is like with four children. So, our home is not immaculate, but it is picked up. Everyone pitches in and we use regular clean up routines to make this happen.
Our meals also get a dose of reality. I have to meal plan or things get pretty disastrous in this area. So, I plan meals out a week at a time and grocery pick up is my best friend. Because we need to keep our food budget low, meals must cost effective and I make as much from scratch as possible.
Having a big family really calls for a lot of team work. I simply cannot do it all on my own without getting burnt out, physically exhausted and bitter. So, I call on my tiny crew on a daily basis to help me make things run more smoothly.
My kids all pitch in around the house and I am so thankful for their help! They know I need them and I tell them how much I appreciate them. I’m also honest with them about the fact that I need them because we are part of a big family. I think this is a great opportunity for my children to develop and value team work.
We get sleep!
As you may notice, a section of this blog is dedicated to baby and child sleep. It’s a big deal to me! I think sleep is just as important to the health of my children as the food I feed them. So, this is an area I give a lot of attention to.
For that reason, our schedule has always revolved around everyone having the opportunity to get as much sleep as they need at the time they need it. (If that sounds like something you need more of in your family’s life, check out my free Baby Sleep Basics course. You can use the info with older kids as well.)
I really believe that my kids getting good sleep helps us function better as a big family.
To make things easier with 4 kids, we keep our household rules really simple.
I find it easiest to have the fewest rules possible, really! And only the ones which I truly want to follow through on. When I set up a lengthy list of rules, I have to keep track of all those rules and discipline accordingly. I’d rather have a few simple rules that help us all live together more easily and happily.
Some examples of our rules includes:
- Treat each other with love and kindness
- Be a team player; do what is needed to work together as a family
- We love to share! (I have told each of my kids this since they were babies. It has actually made sharing easier. Not perfect, but they are much warmer to the idea because of it.)
- When there is misbehavior or disobedience, we choose natural consequences
- You have freedom until you lose it. Same goes with trust. (I really don’t like to micromanage my kids. I love giving them any freedom they can handle. It’s freeing for all of us!)
Other big family hacks
In addition to the 6 tips I just shared about what I personally do to make life with a big family a little more manageable, here are several others that I think are super useful!
- have a meal plan that gets rotated based on your family’s situation. During really busy seasons, have 7 meals that the family all agree upon and like. Put that bad boy on repeat each week. You can also do this on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.
- each child has a specific spot on the counter where they keep their water cup for the day so you avoid so many cups getting used. I feel like without such a practice, we end up using every cup in the cupboard on a daily basis!
- have an area/cupboard where healthy snacks are accessible. We have a fruit cart…one of the three basket rolling carts. The top one or two baskets are filled with apples, bananas and oranges. These are the only foods that are available at any given time to the kids. There is a cupboard with other snack items like pretzels and crackers but permission must be granted for access to this spot. Veggies can always be grabbed also, but the little ones need help getting these.
Decrease the stress
- get up before the kids if you can. If you have a baby that is up throughout the night, this may not be possible. When it is possible, this one sets you up for the day and I have noticed that it is an absolute game changer for me.
- encourage your kids to join you in the practice of keeping a ‘happy jar.’ When any member of the family experiences something that makes them happy and want to remember it or make special note of it, have them write it down and put it I the happy jar. Then decide if you’ll read these notes once a month, once a quarter or once a year. This practice of gratitude for the good stuff will make all the challenges of a big family worth it!
- give yourself permission to just focus on keeping one or two rooms presentable. If you do this, you’ll always have a place in the house to go without feeling overwhelmed by mess or chaos. You’ll also always be ready for guests who drop by. For me, this area of my house is the living room right off our entry way. You can also see the dining room so I try to keep that space looking good, also.
Control the chaos
- express expectations ahead of time. I often do this in the car when we are on our way somewhere or just before arriving home. Before arriving somewhere, even if it’s a place we have gone before or frequent regularly, I go over my expectations. I ask them what is and is not acceptable at the place we are going. They often have most of it covered and it’s a good refresher. I also use this practice when we are getting home. It’s helpful, while they are contained and easily quieted, to tell them what I want them to do when we walk in the door. If we’ve been out for the morning, I can tell them I want them to take shoes off at the door, put their jackets in the closet, play for 10 minutes in the school room/play room and then dinner will be on the table. They know what is coming and what I expect of them. Very helpful for us all!
- color code your children. Each child is assigned a color and you make as many of their household belongings that color: towels and washcloths, toy bins, toothbrushes…anything you can think of that will work. You can also use that color of duct tape to mark backpacks and other things that a child may want to pick out but not be restricted by color. This way, it’s easy to sort each child’s belongings and you also know who is responsible for the towel left on the floor.
- take it easy on the toys. I personally love the ideas and principles of minimalism. I would love to implement it more in my life. One area we work to simplify is toys. We try to keep things minimal and focus on giving experiences rather than toys for gifts when possible.
- collect all laundry in one place and ditch the individual laundry bins. I have two bins in my closet and everyone’s laundry goes there. Except for my husband’s. His goes on the floor next to his side of the bed. Ha! With one main dirty laundry collection point, I can easily see how much laundry I have ahead of me.
- do one load a day from start to finish. This will take care of a good amount of the laundry and an extra load or two on the weekend will likely catch me up!
- I wash, dry and fold. Kids put their own laundry away when their small bin on the laundry room table is full.
- have a combined sock bin. This is genius, in my opinion. I have done this for my big girls who can wear the same socks as I do. So, we just keep all the socks in my drawer and all share. I’m thinking to combine the little two’s socks soon because theirs are proving hard to keep track of easily.
- outsource your bedding. I will say that I haven’t tried this one but read it somewhere and thought it sounded dreamy. I read that a gal with a big family does this to save time but also because of how bulky bedding is for regular washing machines. I love this idea and am going to look into it for myself!
- skip the pajamas. We are hit or miss with pajamas. Honestly, when my kids have drawers full of leggings and t shirts, it seems silly to spend much on pajamas which are just like…leggings and t shirts. The real thrill of this time saving point is this though: my kids are dressed for the day when they roll out of bed. So, that is pretty handy and one less thing to check off in the morning routine.
- rethink the bedtime routine. Reading a separate story to each of our four children would take an hour. And this mama does not have time for that. So, we have all the kids in one room or on the couch and read a story together. I also read about a gal that plays an audiobook for a half hour while her kids help fold laundry as part of their bedtime routine. That sounds like a really good idea to me!
- be picky and wise about extracurricular activities. Busyness is the name of the game these days but I don’t see it really enhancing anyone’s life. One mom said the she realized how crazy it was to drag the entire family to watch their 4 year old pick dandelions on the soccer field. She no longer signs any kids under 8 up for an extracurricular. She makes a very good point with this one!
Well, mama. I hope this has helped you see all the awesome benefits of having a big family, including less stress for all! I also hope you have found some helpful tips to help your big family life.