When the Kids Outnumber the Parents: How Do You Give Everyone Enough Attention, Love, and Time?

Parenting in a Large Family
Image via Momof6

As a mom of six kids between the ages of 8 and 13, I am stopped all of the time by other parents asking me, “Are they all YOURS?” And after I confirm this fact, it is often followed by “How do you DO it?” Large families such as ours aren’t as common as they used to be, and many moms tell me they can’t imagine how I manage to spend enough time with each one of my kids, helping them with homework, reading with them, shuttling them to activities, and on and on …

So many people feel torn about giving kids enough—enough love, enough well-rounded experiences, enough time, enough attention. And when you are balancing one child’s needs against that of several siblings, it can definitely be tough to balance. Add on everything else you need to do to run the household (like get dinner on the table!), and it’s easy to feel as though you are being pulled in so many directions that no one is getting enough!

So here are six tips to help you parent in a larger-sized family.

Kids Doing Homework
Image via Flickr/ USDAgov

When the Kids Are Home, Attempt to Limit Your Own Distractions

I spend so much of my time while the kids are in school multitasking, juggling, super-balancing, and doing whatever-you-call-it just trying to get lots of things done. And quite honestly, after trying to tackle so much at once between 8:30 and 2:45, it can be hard to just shut it all down once the kids walk into the house. The temptation to send just one more email or toss another load of laundry into the dryer is always there, but I know that I need to shut that to-do list off until I’ve spent time with each of my kids. 

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When they first come, I’ll make sure to check in with each of them on how things went at school, assess the amount of homework each one has to do, and remind them of any activities that are ahead for the afternoon. Everyone has a chance to unpack their backpacks, grab a snack, and then I like to gather the younger ones together around the kitchen table to start homework. Some need more help than others; some need to be re-directed to the dining room table if my “tutoring” of a sibling is causing a distraction. I also try to work in reading time with my younger ones at this time. Then they are free to play while I run others to activities.

But if I allow my own activities to move in on this time, then my multitasking interferes with my ability to truly listen and connect with my kids.

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Sports
Image via Momof6

One Activity Per Child Per Season

There are so many wonderful options for kids that allow them to explore new interests that parents sometimes feel as if we are denying our kids opportunities if we don’t sign them up for all kinds of sports, music lessons, foreign language, art classes—the list is nearly endless. But in larger-sized families, you have to keep in mind that an over-packed schedule not only wears out the child who is signed up, but it creates an impossible schedule for Mom to execute. And younger siblings often get stuck riding around in the car all afternoon while Mom drives to the older kids’ activities. 

At our house, we try to limit our kids to one activity each per season. For the younger kids, I encourage them to mix it up—try a sport in the fall, an art class in the winter, and maybe a music class in the spring. But some of my kids love sports and opt to play the same sport all year long. And yes, there are times when I break my own rule and allow them to sign up for a second activity when I think it makes sense for the child and for our family. But I think the key here is to balance the desire to explore new interests with the fact that we are still a family that shares one driver (me!), and we all need to enjoy some downtime, too!

Family Dinner table
Image via Flickr/ Lars Plougmann

Sit-Down Family Dinners ARE Important

We play a dinner-time game called “High, Low, Hope” where we go around the table, and each person gets to say what the best part of their day was—their “High”;their least favorite part of their day—their “Low”; and what they wish to happen tomorrow—their “Hope.” Not only does it allow each child to share some of the important parts of their day with me, but it allows them to see that each person in the family is valued, and that we all listen to each other and care about each other’s day even when we are not together. 

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Not every family member has to be present at every single meal for this to matter. In fact, my husband can rarely join us for dinner during the week, so we proceed without him. And if one child has a soccer practice, the rest of us will still sit down for dinner at the same time and talk. This communicates to our kids that this is an important and consistent overall routine, and they know that we will continue it even if we are missing a member or two on a given night.

Boys Playing the Legos
Image via Flickr/ Lars Plougmann

Help Each Child Find What They Love to Do

Each of my kids is a unique individual, and just because one (or four!) of them loves soccer doesn’t mean that this is what will work for each of them (no matter how much simpler that would make my schedule!). So I work to seek out activities that I think will appeal to my children as individuals. And once my kids each find their passion, then it is our job as a whole family to support it.

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By support, I mean that we try to attend every single soccer game, every band concert, every science fair as a family because everyone counts, and what is important to each of them individually needs to be important to each of us. Yes, this can lead to some grumbling, especially when the older kids don’t see the value of being dragged along to watch a younger kid’s game or activity, but we continue to reinforce how important it is for that younger sibling to know that the older sibling cheers for them and cares about how they do.

Bedtime Story
Image via Flickr/ kelly.sikkema

Kiss Each One Goodnight and Pause at Bedtime to Listen

Most parents realize that those magical minutes right at bedtime are such a great time to connect with their children. Kids love being tucked in (well until they hit their teen years at least), and after you shut off the light and give them one last snuggle, praise, or word of advice, kids often are ready to open up and share something that is on their mind. But when you have kids with multiple bedtimes that stretch over the course of the early evening hours, and you are soooo tired, it is easy to bypass this chance to connect with your kids. But sometimes this is your ONLY opportunity to reach them individually, so try reaaallllly hard not to let it pass you by. 

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In car
Image via Momof6

Take Advantage of Drive Time

Sometimes I will change up our car seating arrangements to ask one of my kids to sit in the row closest to me as I am driving, and I’ll gently suggest that the other kids sit together in the back. It is much easier for kids to open up and chat about what’s on their mind when they aren’t making direct eye contact with me (because my eyes are on the road), and they are not distracted with whatever else is going on in the house. I can get away with asking much more direct questions for a longer length of time than I can if I am asking face to face.

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If you are a parent of three or more kids, what tips do you have for giving each one “enough”?

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When the Kids Outnumber the Parents: How Do You Give Everyone Enough Attention, Love, and Time?

My name is Sharon and I am the busy Mom of six children ages 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, and 8. People often ask me "How do you do it?" I tell them that my key to success lies in planning ahead, with a whole lot of creativity and organization thrown in! ... More

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2 comments

  1. Profile photo of Rebekah Rebekah says:

    A good way to help yourself and your kids out is to pair a younger sibling with an older one. This helps them to build stronger bonds and teaches them about responsibility and accountability. I don’t mean that you should let/make the older sibling be a parent, but it always helps when you have an extra pair of hands and eyes. The older kids can have fun with their younger sibling and the younger kids can learn from the older one.

    • Profile photo of Sharon RowleyAuthor Sharon Rowley says:

      Honestly- I am not a fan of pairing up my kids on a regular basis. It’s fine to pair up for homework help one night or to work on a chore together…. but not as a “permanent team”. And when I do pair up kids, I am constantly mixing up whom is paired with whom…. I feel that we are a family and I want everyone to be close with one another as much as possible. I also don’t want my kids to feel as if they are responsible for other kids- they deserve to have their own childhood- the time for parenting will come later…. maybe it has to do with the fact that mine are all close in age and still on the young side…. but I cringe when I see those huge families on TV where the 16 -year old is always responsible for a 4 year old.

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