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“Whoa! Are They All Yours?”

6 Real Mom Secrets to Raising a Big Brood

Parenting is not a competition. No one gets a trophy for the most kids. Everyone has a number in mind for their family, and sometimes that number grows larger than even the mom and dad imagined. Twenty years ago, I never imagined I would be the mother of five children, but here I am loving my life with five kids.

As a child, I was raised with two sisters and had a total of five cousins. When my husband and I were dating, I discovered he had five sisters and more than sixty first cousins in his family. Together, we are discovering and learning what it takes to manage a large household of our own.

1. Have a sense of humor.

I love this quote by Marjorie Hinckley, author of Small and Simple Things and also a mother of five: “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”

Recently, at an early morning doctor’s appointment to inquire about a growing rash on my 9-year-old’s neck and arm, I also had two other kids in tow. While the nurse was taking vitals of my 9-year-old, my 4-year-old tripped on the wheel of the baby’s stroller and his face hit the corner of my chair. Two self-inflicted bites on the inside of his lip and one gash on the outside of his lip started gushing blood. I sat there laughing on the inside while trying to console my son and keep the blood and slobber off my only clean pair of pants. While the nurse went to get us some paper towels, I continued to laugh, thinking, Did that seriously just happen?! At the doctor’s office?!

2. Embrace that judginess.

All parents experience the crazy things strangers say from the moment of the pregnancy announcement. When I am out with all five kids, I often hear comments like: “Whoa! Are they all yours?” or “You have your hands full!” It never ceases to amaze me how the shock or horror cannot be hidden from someone’s face when they hear that yes, I have five kids. I often just laugh and respond with, “I know! When I say it out loud, it sounds crazy to me, too!”

A few days after giving birth to our fifth child, someone asked me if we were going to have a sixth child. I responded with a polite smile, “I’m still figuring out this five-kids thing, but I do know we aren’t going to try for one tonight.”

3. Give everyone some responsibilities.

My go-to response to the question, “How do you do it with five kids?” is “Everyone helps out.” Kids of different ages can help in a variety of ways. The 9-year-old can feed and play with the baby while I make dinner. The 7-year-old can help the 4-year-old get on pajamas. The baby has a way of cheering up anyone who is feeling sad or frustrated with his constant laughing and clapping. The saying “Many hands make light work!” is very true in our home.

4. Identify priorities.

Figure out what works and does not work for your family. Our kids are not enrolled in multiple activities. We cannot attend every event at every school, or go to every party we are invited to, and that’s okay.  Our priorities have evolved over the years, and we have learned to communicate and identify priorities for each member of our family.

5. Love is worth chaos.

I am constantly counting to five over and over, just to make sure I have everyone in sight. When my husband and I venture out together and spread out, we yell out to each other which “number” kid we have with us. It’s a system that works for us, and others usually find it amusing when they realize why we are shouting numbers at each other. “I have two and three!” he’ll shout. “I have one, four, and five!” I’ll call back.

Earlier this year, we welcomed three young teenage sisters into our home for about six weeks. During that time, we had eight kids and our house was loud and crazy – and also full of love. We all could not travel together anywhere in one car. The amount of food that was consumed at each meal almost doubled. Every inch of every room was used for card games, cartwheels, and homework.  When it came time for them to return to live with extended family members, our house seemed so quiet and so empty with only five kids in the house. Those six weeks, I really did have my hands full. It was chaotic and a great learning experience for everyone involved.

6. It’s true – your heart grows!

After I had my first child, I thought there was no way I could love another child as much as I loved her. I thought there could not possibly be any more room in my heart because she already filled all of it. Then this amazing thing happened: We had another child, and my heart doubled in size. I could love my second child just as much. Then the third, fourth, and now fifth have arrived and my heart continues to grow for each of them. Any attention that I may feel they are lacking, it is made up by our house full of lots of people who all love each other. Each one of my kids has four siblings and two parents that shower them with attention.

I think no matter if you have one child or ten, many of these thoughts will apply to you as a parent. When I hear the comment, “I don’t know how you do it,” to be honest, most days I don’t know how I do it either. It’s our life, and we take it one day at a time.

family portrait:  Abbie Smith

Ashley Gates manages the logistics of connecting families with good food at Dominion Harvest, a local home delivery service committed to providing families with fresh, local products. She lives in Bon Air with her husband and five kids.
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