People very often say to me, “I don’t know how you do it with so many kids at home.”
Sometimes I don’t know how I do it either.
It’s often a shakedown cruise here at my house.
But sometimes, we are a (sort of) well-oiled machine.
And it’s for one reason: our kids have responsibilities and are encouraged to be independent.
Even the youngest ones.
Especially the youngest ones.
This is one of the biggest bullet points in the “pro” column for having a large family.
If I had to do every single thing around the house and every single thing to get the kids ready for wherever they had to go every day, I’d be totally fucked.
This became incredibly clear around the time that kid #4 came into the picture.
If I was going to maintain any level of sanity, they were going to have to start doing some stuff for themselves.
Of all the responsibilities the kids have, the one that has proven to be the absolute most helpful so far is requiring the kids to pack their own lunches.
Because this hasn’t just saved me close to thirty minutes every morning. It has had a domino effect in other areas.
We are always on the go to swim practice and swim meets and basketball games and baseball games.
Swim meets and baseball games in particular are a serious time investment. And the kids are inevitably “starving” and “dying of thirst” after they’ve been there for about 20 minutes.
Buying stuff at concession stands at baseball games or stopping at Wendy’s on the way home from a meet is expensive when you have lots of kids.
So now when we are leaving for something that’s going to take more than a couple hours, all I have to do is tell the kids to pack a few snacks/sanwhiches/whatever for themselves before we go.
They each get their own lunch boxes and fill them up.
They now (almost) automatically fill their water bottles before they get in the car to go anywhere because they know, at $1-$2 a pop, I’m not going to buy everyone a Gatorade at the baseball game.
Not having to worry about packing up food for everyone every time we head out on a Saturday or Sunday saves me lots of money and lots of time.
We can get out of the house faster.
This absolutely makes my life easier.
The other way having the kids pack their own lunches has positively snowballed is that once they started doing that, they became more interested in being a part of the cooking process in general.
To varying degrees of course. They don’t all want to open up their own restaurants when they are older.
But they do like to help out in the kitchen.
And Number 4, in particular, is eager to learn how to do everything.
The more time she spends in the kitchen, the more comfortable I am letting her do things on her own.
She’s no Ina Garten yet, but for a ten-year-old, she’s pretty self sufficient.
And that couldn’t have come in more handy than it did this morning.
Yesterday out of nowhere I got slammed with a stomach bug. From hell.
Last night I literally thought I was going to die.
I woke up this morning feeling better than I did yesterday, but still quite sick. The smell of food was making me gag (and no, I’m not pregnant — closed that shop up for business four years ago).
Of course, today we had a snow day, so all the kids were home.
Number 4, knowing I was not feeling well, came into my room this morning with a smoothie in her hand.
She said to me, “MOM! I made the BEST smoothie!”
She knows how to work the Ninja and make her own smoothies. I usually make them with frozen strawberries, bananas and either orange juice or a little bit of vanilla and milk.
I asked her what she did differently.
“I used frozen strawberries, blueberry yogurt, and a little bit of honey!”
So not only is she proficient in some areas of the kitchen, she’s also curious and adventurous (I know trying blueberry yogurt in a smoothie isn’t like she’s ready to take over Andrew Zimmern’s hosting gig on Bizarre Foods, but you know what I mean).
Number 7 followed her into my room, saw the smoothie, and asked if she could have one, too.
Number 4 took her right to the kitchen and made one for her.
Then she came back into my room a few minutes later and asked if she could make pancakes.
She slices her own apples and is pretty good with a knife (not that she needed a sharp knife to make pancakes, but the point is that she’s got some skills). She’s been cracking eggs since she was about 4, so I wasn’t worried about that. She’s fried eggs before, so she knows her way around the stove.
It told her to go for it.
I always make pancakes from scratch, so we didn’t have any mix, and she was going to have to figure it out herself.
About five minutes later I heard her yell, “Number 3! I found the recipe! Do you want to help me?”
About ten minutes after that, I dragged my butt out of bed to make sure nothing life threatening was about to happen.
Number 4 had it all under control.
Of course I had to document it. Because I wanted to share this moment.
Because another domino effect of having the kids make their lunches is that Number 4 knows her way around the kitchen, and when I’m sick, I have someone who can help me out.
All you moms know what a relief that is.
Because being sick blows.
But being sick and having to take care of your kids seriously blows.
This giving your kids responsibility stuff isn’t just for people with large families, though.
And I’m not saying that people with one or two kids don’t teach their kids to be responsible.
But I think that people with larger families might discover this sooner than smaller families out of necessity.
When you have young kids to take care of, sometimes (okay, pretty much all the time) it’s easier just to do it yourself.
But eventually, this stuff catches up with you.
That saying You can’t teach an old dog new tricks is a saying for a reason.
And the longer you let your kids live without responsibility, the harder it is to establish it later on.
If you start with small things when they are two or three years old, by the time they are in middle school, they won’t even bat an eyelash.
But when you wait until they are teenagers to expect them to start being responsible for packing their own lunch?
There is a very good chance you are in for a long and drawn out battle.
Your two-year-old may not be able to pack a lunch box for herself, but she sure as hell can put a juice box in one. And she can turn the water on while you hold the water bottle under the faucet.
She can be involved in the process early on.
The initial investment of time (and patience) may be a little higher when they are younger.
But the payoff later on is huge. And it’s a gift that spreads into other areas of life you wouldn’t even initially think about.
Like when you are puking your guts out on a snow day when six kids are home.
If you want to ease your burden and help your kids to become more responsible, packing their lunches is a great place to start.
And don’t worry.
No matter how responsible they become?
They are still always gonna need you.