Some key elements to kicking out the chaos:
Regulate your sleep.
If you don't get enough sleep, you're setting yourself up for failure and trouble. If you've got infants, it is a trying time because you're losing sleep in the middle of the night. Work out a plan so that you get at least 8 hours of sleep per 24 hours. Whether that means taking a nap during the day with the kids or getting to bed earlier each night. Don't rely on stimulants for energy.
Plan your meals.
Pick out 7 breakfasts, snacks, lunches & dinners that are reasonably healthy, quick to prepare and economical. Use your crockpot at least once or twice each week.
Train your children.
If you're not training your children to obey, your home is undoubtedly chaotic. Children need to know the rules and rules are nothing if they're not enforced. Read To Train Up a Child and No Greater Joy Volume I, II and III. They are worth their weight in gold for the advice and stories they offer. Untrained children are the biggest cause of chaos in a household. Moms, start with yourselves. If you yourself are undisciplined, get your act together. Start slow and work on one thing at a time so you don't get overwhelmed. But DO get yourself together. Cause your children be thankful and obey you. Speak in a normal tone of voice and try very hard to never yell. Spank kids for deliberate disobedience and calmly insist on their compliance with an unwavering resolve. Be joyful. Do not ever think that the arm of discipline can outreach the arm of love. Love must be firmly rooted, established and flowing in order for training and discipline to be at all effective. Love on those kids and make sure they know and feel loved. Then if they're out of control in any area, slowly begin bringing them into line.
I know it's a challenge when you have a lot of little children, but whenever possible, try to go outside at least once a day. If you live in a cold, snowy climate, then the activity of getting snow boots, coats, hats, scarves and mittens on is a GOOD replacement for what is often meaningless playtime or tv time. It is healthy to get fresh air and sunshine, play in the snow, and run around. They will expel much of their burgeoning energy which will mean good naps and peaceful play indoors. I used to work at a preschool and I had TEN 3 year olds in my class that I had to take outside to the playground everyday. We went out even in the cold weather and stayed inside only when it was raining or stormy. I had to help each one on with their coats, shoes, mittens, gloves and hats to go out and then again help them off with their things when we came in. Twice a day!
Have a playpen set up in your living area at all times. And use it!
If you have babies, a playpen is an absolute necessity. I used mine anytime I couldn't be in the same room or right there with my baby. It's extremely useful for when mom has to use the bathroom, answer the door, be on the phone, tend to cooking or any time you need to leave the child or the room. If they aren't used to being in a playpen, you need to slowly work up to it. Use it when you're in the room and don't go anywhere yet. Play with them while they're in it. Make it fun. Don't take them out when they cry or you'll be training them that crying is the way to get out! Instead, only take them out after they are playing happily for a bit. Once you've established this as a normal part of life, then you can use it anytime.
A Sample Schedule
(These time frames are approximate due to variances with number of kids, their ages and other varying circumstances.)
- 6-8am WAKE Wake up, wash your face, brush your hair and get dressed. (Shower at night.) Put a little makeup on if you wear it. You'll feel and look pulled together. All this only takes 5 minutes or less! If you hear your baby crying, remember they will survive until you get there so don't turn it into a 5 alarm fire. When mine were babies, they just made happy morning noises while they waited in their crib. Wake up the children and bring them into the kitchen with you to help get breakfast underway, feed pets, unload the dishwasher, etc.
- 7-9am EAT Breakfast and kitchen clean up. Have your children help with all the kitchen clean up after meals. NEVER send them off to play when you are working. They are your helpers! Give them meaningful work. They can wipe the table, brush the crumbs, put dishes away (I kept plates and cups in lower cupboards when mine were small so they could put them away easily.)
- 9am WORK Get them dressed for the day. Teaching kids to get dressed by themselves, fold and put away clothes, tidy their rooms, brush their teeth and comb their hair — hear me now — these things ARE THEIR MORNING PLAY TIME. This is the activity. If it takes an hour, so be it. They are learning FAR, FAR more than they will ever learn from playing with brightly colored plastic or watching Sesame Street. Make this *the* activity of the morning. As the older ones grow more proficient and finish before you're done with the youngers, you can give them tasks to do while you're finishing up. Empty the dryer, put things away, dust the baseboards, sweep a floor. Teach them that morning time is work time. Where is Daddy? Daddy's WORKING right now and so are we! It's fun, it's happy, it's productive and it's training little ones in life. If you homeschool, you could do some homeschooling projects after the morning work.
- 10:30-11am GO OUTSIDE if possible. After all the mouths are fed, dishes washed, clothes put on, teeth are brushed, beds are made, rooms are tidied, and homeschooling is done, it's fun time! Time to get on coats (if it's cold) and shoes and go outside to play or take a walk. Walk to a nearby tot lot, playground or field and let them romp and run. Bring a ball, a kite, a magnifying glass (to observe tiny critters you may find), whirly gigs and have some fun.
- 11-12am EAT Come home, take off coats & put them all away. Time to line up at the sink and take turns washing hands. I would always beam with a compliment when I saw my children standing patiently to wait their turn for anything. They are learning such good manners! Everyone's washed up and it's time to either sit nicely at the table, or help fix lunch. I did both when mine were little. Sometimes they helped with lunch, sometimes they didn't. But they can NOT run wild. Give them options for what to do while you're prepping lunch. Color at the table, read a book quietly, string wooden beads, etc. Lunch was always simple, like a PB & J sandwich, a veggie, fruit and milk.
- 1-3pm NAP Every day after lunch, it's time to lay down for a nap. Train them how to stay in bed until you get them up. Try not to let them sleep more than 90 minutes no matter how tempting it is. I know the elation of having a quiet house when you've got little ones and you just want to let it go on and on. You can do so much when they are not underfoot! I know how that feels. :-) But getting them up after 90 min or so will ensure they sleep when it is bedtime! So wake them up after that nap.
- 3-4pm STRUCTURED PLAY After nap, have a little snack (a graham cracker with a smear of peanut or almond butter, fruit or veggie sticks with ranch dip, pita bits with hummus, etc). Then have a structured playtime. It can be whatever you choose, but make sure you give them ONLY 2 (or 3 at the most) options. "Okay my darlings, now you can either play with your toys or make a sofa fort." Keep it in line with their interests. If you have girls, they might like to play with their dolls, etc. But have a timer set and let this time last for about 1 hour. Alternately, you could do some homeschooling during this time, too. While they are playing or doing some worksheets, you can get a little laundry and housecleaning in. Then sit and do something you enjoy - reading, handiwork, craft, music, etc. After playtime, clean up the mess, change any diapers and get ready to go out again.
- 4-5pm GO OUTSIDE if possible. You might think you've already done this and therefore don't need to repeat it. But this activity is so needful for young kids. They need the energy release, the fresh air and the unstructured play area. Outside they can RUN, JUMP, ROMP AND ROLL! If there isn't something interesting to do outside, then you'll have to fix that. If you have a back yard, get some slides, swings, a sand box, jump rope, hoola hoop, etc. so they have things to do. Maybe a little table with benches for those interested in doing something at the table (giving mom a place to sit also). Try to keep them out for the full hour if you possibly can. If you're confident they will play safely in your backyard, you can put the baby in the playpen (or down for a short afternoon nap) and work on getting dinner plans going.
- 5-6 HOUSEWORK Houses don't clean themselves. Make a simple list of work that needs to be done each day and do it now. Give each child some work to do, tailored for their ages. They can also follow you in your work as you show them how to do it. But either way, have the kids WORKING when you are working. They may not last as long as you and that's okay. A 2 year old can give you 5, maybe 10 minutes of work. A 3 year old can give 10-15 minutes. And so on as they get older. Tell them what they can do when their job is finished. Expect and enforce their obedience in all matters. This cannot be stressed enough. For a non-chaotic home, the kids must be caused to be obedient.
- 6-7 EAT Start dinner if you haven't already got it going in the crockpot. Have the kids help with setting the table or any other work there is to do. Greet daddy when he comes home with a reasonable amount of fanfare and excitement. Teach them to appreciate all he does while he's away by talking about it and him in high esteem.
- 7-8 BEDTIME ROUTINE Get baths and jammies going. Have a plan of action and announce how it will go. Have the kids go potty before getting into the tub. Get the older kids (2-8) in the bathtub. Always stay in the bathroom when the kids are in the tub. NEVER LEAVE THEM. So that means if you have an infant, they're safely tucked away in a playpen, crib or bouncy seat. You have a phone nearby so you don't leave the room to answer it. If not, let it ring. The phone is for YOUR convenience, not the caller's. Have some bubbles and a few bath boats and toys. Have safe bathtub rules and cause them to be obeyed. (No BIG splashing, slower movements when moving around in the tub, no standing up, no getting out until it's time.) Announce when it's time to shampoo and wash up. No whining, no sass allowed. Smile and be happy. You've got a family to take care of and you're doing a GREAT job!
- 8pm PUT KIDS TO BED I always put my kids to bed by 8pm so that I would have enough time to be a wife sans kids to my husband. We would brush teeth, get jammies on, read them a story, sing a lullabye say a bedtime prayer and tuck them in. No getting up!
- 8-10pm HUSBAND & WIFE TIME It's important when you've got little ones to carve out some time in the day just for yourself and also with your husband. This is your free time so use it however you wish.
For your weekly tasks, such as shopping, you have some options. Choose whichever one suits you best. Some mothers grocery shop at night when the kids are in bed. The stores are emptier and she can think better without all the kids in tow. Some moms train all her kids how to behave when they are out and she enlists their help when she shops. Insert your errand runs into a the times allotted to play or outside time. It's important not to interrupt meals or nap times for errands.
Activities Outside the Home
I am not a proponent for activities and classes outside the home when you have younger kids. For me, it just seems like a mother and her children should be home most of the time in order for all the children's basic needs to be met. I think occasional, non-recurring activities and get togethers are normal part of life. But when you have regular clubs, or classes etc, it is going to tax a new mother beyond her capabilities and it sets her up for a chaotic home.
Adjusting As They Grow Up
As children grow older, they are naturally moving further and further into autonomy and away from home. It's a gradual process. So when they are 12 or so, it's nice to have a couple of activities they can look forward to each month. This is the stage when outings should become more common. A good base in home life until then will establish many, many things. Good behavior, discipline, good attitudes, etc. They should have a handle on life by that time.
And of course all of your housekeeping, meal, nap and bedtime routines will evolve and change and adapt to life with older kids as well. Do your best to make the transition slowly and sure-footedly. Keep planning your meals, keep your bed times early and your household orderly. Our whole house shuts down by 9pm even though we have teens. Teens actually need a LOT of sleep because they are growing and transforming from kid to adult. All those teen hormones, you know. :) So they get at least 8-10 hours of sleep every night.
I hope these ideas will help you smooth out the bumps in your housekeeping and homemaking. It's a daily process and much of it is routine, so make sure you don't "lose" yourself in it all. Make sure your interests do not suffocate underneath the mound of children, cleaning, cooking and wife-ing! Keep your sense of humor and motivate your children with your OWN zest for living. Be fascinated with the world around you. Keep learning new things and share them with your kids.
It all goes by fast! People used to tell me that and I'd wonder why they said that. At times it felt so very S L O W to me! After all, time moves at the same pace whether you're just beginning your parenting/homemaking journey or you're near the end of it. But I guess when you're near the end of a journey looking back, it just SEEMS like it went by so fast. Theory of relativity, doncha know!
You can do it. Make your home a place of creativity, peace, joy, order and love and you will find that you have a life that is sweet indeed to look back on one day. Get rid of clutter, too many toys. Set limits. Write out a master plan for how you would like to design your best life and home and pray that God would help you do it.
May God bless you in your journey!