Raising 3+ children is the heavyweight category of parenting. These parents are pros because they have to be. They're outnumbered.
Here are honest tips from parents of 3 or more kids on how to manage the chaos and stay sane no matter how many children you have.
#1 Remember your spouse.
Parenting can take all you have- all your energy, your patience, your last shred of generosity- and leave you begging to be left alone at the end of the day. Fight that. Your spouse is not just your children's parent but also your best friend and lover. Don't forget that and don't take it for granted. Have fun with your spouse.
Debbie White Wilkins Baisden, mother of 4, says "Put your husband first. His needs have not changed. He will be there when the kids move out. Go on dates and don't discuss the children."
Megan Dimond Porter, mother of 8, adds "Make time for just the two of you. Even folding laundry together in the evening after bedtime counts!"
Communicate with your spouse. Talk about the calendar of events, the kids, and also anything but the kids. No one likes to feel out of the loop.
Jonathan Kim, father of 3, recommends to "Take time to catch up on adult conversation."
#2 Routines are critical, particularly for sleep.
Kids thrive on routines. It helps the days make sense to them. They know what to expect. They feel comfortable. Structure the days (and weekends) as consistently as possible when the children are young.
Lauren Marie Cuccias, mother of 3, has reduced the whining. "I use a timer for everything. I give the kids 5 minute warnings before transitioning from activities."
Sleep is the most important part of the routine. Skip a nap at your peril. Guard the nap schedule like a dragon. It's tempting to go to the afternoon birthday party but you'll certainly pay for it later at dinnertime. If the baby catches a short one in the car it will ruin the nap at home.
Stephanie Gugliaro DeGaeta, mother of 3, says "Before my kids were in school I used to make them all nap at the same time. That gave me at least 2 hours to have time to myself to get my life in order. I trained them to all sleep at the same time. It took a week or so but it was definitely worth it."
Routines are also good for you, especially around the two most common things that need to be done each week: food and laundry. These are rolling avalanche-like chores and it's best to keep up with them then fall behind.
Laura Perniciaro Zonneveldt, mother of 3, says "Prepping food on the weekends for easy heat and go dinners during the week works!"
Megan Dimond Porter, mother of 8, adds "Simplify your laundry routine. Buy Shout Color Catchers and stop constantly sorting. Have kids help. Even preschoolers can sort socks and fold towels."
Dani Bostick, mother of 6, finally solved the problem. "I'd buy socks in bulk and everyone would share. I don't worry about sock sizes."
#3 Don't sweat anything, nobody actually cares.
Your kid has a complete meltdown at the supermarket? Don't get embarrassed. Just leave. Every kid has had a tantrum. It's annoying but you can come back later. Don't work yourself up staying and worrying about what other people think. And a no-questions-asked exit policy teaches kids quick that you do not negotiate.
Vanessa Willis France, mother of 4, nonchalantly explains her son's meltdowns to strangers in the park. "Nope, he's not tired, he just has meltdowns every now and then and it's ok. It's a phase he will eventually grow out of."
Remember the pirate birthday party that almost killed you? You made that amazing striped cake with the homemade marshmallow cannon and matched the decorations, the goodie bags, and even the dog's bandana. Yeah nobody cares. Do what you want to. Do what you enjoy and can truly fit in your schedule. Don't do any more than that. If you're not having fun then don't do it. Your kid and your guests will love it anyway, even if it's store bought and not matching.
Meghann Lawrence, mother of 3, knows not to overcomplicate the day, "The thing my kids need the most is a hug and a bit of peace and quiet."
#4 Don't parent for perfection.
What's so good about perfect? Manage your own expectations and pick your battles. Be a realist, not an idealist. The kids can be happy, quiet, clean, & occupied but only three of those at one time.
Messes can be cleaned up later. Finishing vegetables is optional on the weekends. Parenting truly is a marathon, not a sprint.
Becky Elisabeth, mother of 3, realized, "My house can be clean without being tidy. Our home is lived in."
Lauren O, mother of 3, admits, "I do all the dishes after dinner. I let them pile up all day and do it all at once."
Danielle Silva Heckenkamp, mother of 4, adds "The toddler might unroll the toilet paper and the baby might dump out the Cheerios, but that is life. I discovered that I needed to go with it if I was going to survive."
Give up on perfect. It's too hard to keep up. You have more important things to do. The things that support good health, safety, and happiness are worth the energy. Don't drive yourself crazy to get your family to become immaculate, fully obedient, or picture perfect. Who are you doing it for anyway? See #3 again.
Dani Bostick, mother of 6, says "Don't parent for photo ops. Kids don't need to wear cute outfits and your house doesn't need to look like something off of a Pinterest estate board."
#5 Make time for fun with the kids.
What are your favorite memories with your own parents? When they spent time with you. Your time is better spent on family game night than making custom Valentine's cards for their preschool classes. Put down the phone. Resist finishing the to-do list. When you're with your child, give him your full attention. If you thoroughly tire him out during the day, you'll have the time later to do those things when he sleeps well later.
Cynthia Smith Huhman, mother of 5, advises "Enjoy your kids, it's not a contest."
Amanda Davidson, mother of 3, enjoys her weekly tradition. "Every Friday, we all come home and we just play together. No cooking no cleaning no working, just play until pizza."
Tara Garite Gunther, mother of 3, shares, "My motto is "let it go". The laundry can wait until tomorrow and so can the cleaning the house. I'd rather play with them."
If you have more than one, carve out solo time with each one. It's amazing how differently a child can act on his own. When a child's been particularly on your nerves, that's a signal he needs some one-on-one time.
Jamie Christensen-Kramer, mother of 3, advises "Spend time with them individually...this proves to me that they actually do know how to behave."
Crystal Olguin Duffy, mother of 3, says "This is huge. A good way to prevent sibling rivalry or fights is to give each kiddo individual attention."
#6 Invest in yourself.
It's okay to fill up your own cup too. If you are happy, you will have more patience, more energy, and more creative ideas for them. Don't forget you. You have needs too. Mental stimulation, a little pampering, a break, real friendships, whatever it is. Devote some time to it. Grow it. Make it your thing.
Lauren Marie Cuccias, mother of 3, warns, "Don't let the kids become your everything. Find something that makes you really happy and feel really rewarded and make time for that in your life sometimes. For me, it's photography."
Danielle Silva Heckenkamp, mother of 4, says, "As moms, we need to find our own enjoyment. I love to cook elaborate dinners, but that's just my thing."
When you are truly practicing being present with the kids (see #5), then when you take a break, really step away. You've earned it.
Stephanie Gugliaro DeGaeta, mother of 3, recommends exercise. "I work out an hour a day. I put the baby in for a nap and use that time to just detox my body and mind."
#7 Don't like this age? It will be over before you know it.
Every stage is treasure and a curse. You'll love it and tolerate it at the same time. When they are newborns they don't sleep through the night but they also stay in the seat you put them in. When they are 7 years old, they can be very fresh but they also start to have really interesting conversations. Love each age and try not to wish it away.
Danielle Crowley, mother of 3, reminds herself when she is upset, "This chaos won't last forever."
Zrinka Peters, mother of 6, says, "Embrace the challenge, own it, and don't run from it."
Debbie White Wilkins Baisden, mother of 4, reminds "One day, your kids will wipe their own butt, tie their own shoes, and buckle their own seat belt. More exciting, though, is they will be fun to sit and talk to...in the front seat of the car."
#8 It's okay to make it easy sometimes.
Seriously no judgement. Do what you have to do to get through a bad day. Throw away all your pre-kid declarations of how they would not watch TV until they are 5, no candy bribs, matching outfits, whatever. The "mom cut" is a trend for a reason.
Kelly Higgins Bay, mother of 3, recommends "Buy the minivan. Seriously, forget trying to be cool and buy the mini van already."
Strap the kid in the high chair, put him in the exersaucer, wrap him to your body. If you have a runner, you have to make it safe for him when you unload the groceries. Let the kids open your phone's Netflix app so you can finish your diner coffee in peace. Store burp rags in every room of the house. Keep a bottle warmer in the kitchen and upstairs. There is no shame in making it easy when you need it to be.
Amanda Davidson, mother of 3, gives herself a moment. "I give my kids a little TV or iPad time, so I can clean, unpack bags and get myself together after work."
Becky Elisabeth, mother of 3, loves a tidy home. "One or two trendy-looking baskets filled with toys won't ruin the feng shui of the living room."
Cynthia Smith Huhman, mother of 5, writes it down immediately if she has to remember it. "Best trick? Take notes, I'm so busy chasing kids I forget a lot!"
Lauren O, mother of 3, takes the kids out to dinner at 5pm to avoid any embarrassment, "Alone or with the husband, the trick is to get there early so you can leave before people actually show up!"