Keeping on Schedule
"When you've got sextuplets, sticking to a routine is the only way to stay sane," says Jenny. She spends weekdays with the kids, working two to three nights per week as an E.R. physician's assistant (Bryan has a 9-to-5 job as a sales rep). Jenny keeps the kids on a consistent, if achingly monotonous, daily schedule: up at 8 a.m., followed by breakfast, playtime, nap, lunch, storytime, more play, bathtime, dinner (with the kids in diapers -- "They get food on everything, so this saves me having to change their pajamas," Jenny says). Bedtime is 8 p.m.
Jenny seldom goes out during the day. "Ever since the kids learned to walk, I haven't been able to take them to the park because they're too hard to control," she says. "It's difficult because I'm an on-the-go person." Her lone daily respite is their naptime, when she showers, tidies up, or checks her e-mail.
It's at night (when she's not working) that Jenny goes into overdrive. "I savor that time because it's the longest stretch I get to myself," she says. She and Bryan usually begin by taking turns running (Jenny's completed two marathons -- one before having kids and one since). Then they mop, vacuum, pay bills, check the mail, do the dishes -- "The list goes on and on until we finally crash at 1 a.m.," she says. Jenny's an early riser, too, often hitting the pavement at 5 a.m. to beat the Arizona heat: "Luckily I don't need a lot of sleep to function," she says.
One thing Jenny hasn't found time to do is cook. She often whips up pancakes or eggs for breakfast before the sextuplets wake up, but lunches and dinners consist of microwaved chicken nuggets or hot dogs, plus some fruit. Jenny uses kitchen scissors to cut the kids' food into safe-size pieces. When they're done eating, she quickly washes their sippy cups, refills them with milk, and puts them in the fridge for later. She and Bryan hardly even think about their own meals. "We have so much to do at night that we just order takeout," Jenny says. "It's a really bad habit."
How to do it better: Jenny does a remarkable job of managing six toddlers, but needs to take better care of herself. "Moms require seven to nine hours of sleep to maintain their energy and get things done efficiently," says Jodi Mindell, PhD, Parents advisor and author of Sleep Deprived No More. "Moving the kids' bedtime to 7 p.m. would let her catch up at night and get an extra hour of sleep -- especially since she's up early anyway."
Dr. Mindell recommends, too, that instead of going to bed super late every night, Jenny can crash at, say, 10:30 p.m. every few days -- and use her midday break to grab some extra shut-eye. Jenny could also simplify her dual-dinner approach: Taking a few minutes to prepare a slow-cooker meal will enable her to serve a nutritious dinner instead of processed foods or takeout. "Homemade food has less sodium and fat and fewer preservatives, so the Masches and their children will all eat better that way," says Kaayla Daniel, PhD, a clinical nutritionist in Albuquerque, New Mexico