24 Stress-Free Parenting Tips From Big Families

Parents with lots of kids don’t care about being perfect—they’re excited to do things the easy way.

Big Families Four Siblings Hugging Color Coded Molly Magnuson

With seven kids ages 2 to 13, Leah Ward says her home in Cameron Park, California, could easily turn into a madhouse every morning. Breakfasts to make. Lunches to pack. Shoes to find. Hair to fix. Teeth to brush. Not to mention the laundry—oh, the laundry! The family does more than a dozen loads every week. Yet, if you ask Ward to describe her life, she’s unfazed: “It’s an amazing and incredible circus that I’ve somehow been blessed to ringlead.”

Believe it or not, parents who have four or more kids are actually the happiest, according to a study at Australia’s Edith Cowan University that surprised even the researchers. The joy that those moms and dads get from their children overshadows the constant craziness of living with a large brood. But out of sheer necessity, supersize families need to find shortcuts and strategies for staying organized. Ward, for instance, keeps an extra pair of genderneutral flip-flops in her car—which came in handy the day her toddler inadvertently left the house without shoes. We asked parents with four or more kids to share their favorite hacks that work no matter how many kids you have. 

Feed Large Families

1. Create a rotation of favorites. “During one particularly busy sports season, I had the family agree on seven meals that everyone would eat, and I just made those same meals in a rotation. It made grocery shopping and meal planning so much more efficient.” —Petra Farrell, mom of five, South Bend, Indiana 

2. Fix grab-and-go snacks. “I buy snacks like Goldfish crackers, chips, carrots, and grapes in bulk. When I get home from the store, my kids know that their job is to portion the food into little plastic snack bags and then load them into the stacking bins in our snack cabinet or the snack drawer in the fridge.” —Farrell

3. Streamline drinks. “I taped a piece of paper with each person’s name to the backsplash. Now the kids know when they’re done with a cup, they put it on the counter under their name, and that’s their cup for the day.” —Farrell 

4. Slice a giant sub into sandwiches. “If we’re making sandwiches, I don’t bother with sandwich bread. I get a loaf of French bread, make a huge sub, and slice it up into sandwiches for all of us. It’s a really good hack if you’re making lunches in bulk.” —Molly Thornberg, mom of four, Dallas

Zap Your Stress

5.Wake up earlier. “Everything goes smoother in the mornings if my wife and I are dressed and ready to walk out the door before the kids even wake up.” —Benjamin Watson, dad of five, tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, and author of The New Dad’s Playbook 

6. Start a happy jar. “Optimism is a learned skill. When something brings happiness to our day, we jot it down and put it in our happy jar. At the end of the year, we read them and remember all the good that’s happened.” —Christy Nielsen, mom of four who blogs at Harvard Homemaker, Pittsburgh

7. Keep just two rooms presentable. “When I was a young mom and pretty much everything was a disaster, my house didn’t have to be immaculate. My goal: two rooms that looked good enough.” —Delsa Andersen, mom of six, Flower Mound, Texas

8. Use your phone alarm for everything. “I even set it to go off during the witching hour to remind me to ‘be cheerful.’ It’s a sound that reminds me to be peaceful when I’m feeling stressed.” —Leah Ward, mom of seven, Cameron Park, California

Control the Chaos

9. Have driveway powwows. “Whenever we get home at night, everyone stays in the car while we tell them what needs to happen when we go inside: Take off your shoes, put on your pj’s, brush your teeth, and get into bed so we can come tuck you in.” —Ward

10. Color-code. “Assign a specific color to each child. Color-coded drinking cups mean one cup per child, not 20 cups on the counter at once. When bath towels are left on the floor, you know exactly whose towels they are.” —Kimberlee Stokes, mom of four, Orlando 

11. Scale back on toys. “I keep bins of toys in the attic and rotate them every six weeks onto shelves the kids can reach. It keeps things fresh for them.” —Jessica Lahner, mom of four, Milwaukee 

12. Manage the paper monster. “I have a hanging magazine rack with five slots, one for each child. I go through the papers that come home once a week, pull out the sweet things I want to keep, and put them in there. During the summer, I curate everything and decide what I’m really going to save.” —Loretta Brady, mom of five, Manchester, New Hampshire 

13. Create set-in-stone routines. ”After school, my kids take off their shoes, hang up their backpacks, unpack their lunch boxes, put their sandwich boxes in the dishwasher, put their lunch boxes away, and then do their homework. That routine never changes.” —Farrell 

14. Don’t allow toys in the kids’ rooms. “They stay in our playroom. You close the door and you’ve compartmentalized the mess.” —Ward 

Lighten Your Laundry Load

15. Mark socks with nail polish. “You can match them faster and get them back to the correct child. Even Sharpies eventually wash out over time. The nail polish will stay put!” —Nielsen

16. Bring someone in to fold. “I pay a teenager $10 an hour to come over and fold our laundry while she watches a movie. She thinks it’s a great job.” —Ward 

17. Get rid of hampers. “Use a rolling, color-sorted laundry bin instead, and have the kids sort their own stuff. Then when a slot fills up, you throw it in the washer. My kids’ rooms are neater and I am never faced with sorting a mountain of clothes.” —Nielsen 

18. Dump socks in a bin by the door. “We don’t fold kids’ socks. Instead, I dump them all in a bin. Every morning, they go to the bin, pick out a pair of socks, and put them with their shoes. As long as they have two socks on, I don’t care if they match.” —Ginger Caballero, mom of four, Madison, Alabama

19. Outsource. “It would take me days to wash all our bedding, so I just take it to a wash-and-fold laundromat and it’s done in a single afternoon. I also take our laundry there to catch up if we’ve been out of town.” —Erika Anderson, mom of seven, Orem, Utah

Save More Time

20. Have convenient toothbrushing and hair stations. “We keep the kids’ toothbrushes and all their hair stuff in a drawer downstairs so they don’t have to go back up. I sit the kids down to breakfast and go around the table fixing everyone’s hair.” —Ward 

21. Skip pajamas. “My younger children sleep in their clothes for the next day. The morning runs much smoother if I don’t have to worry about their refusing to get dressed, not liking what they’re wearing, or not being able to find matching socks.” —Chaya Kasse Valier, mom of five, Washington, D.C. 

22. Rethink bedtime stories. “Instead of reading to each kid, sometimes we invite everyone to the living room and listen to an audiobook together while I fold laundry.” —Ward 

23. Skip extracurriculars for kids under age 8. “I had been dragging my other kids to watch our 3-year-old pick flowers on the soccer field when I had an aha moment: I didn’t have to kill myself with extracurriculars for my little ones. They can be entertained and enriched without them.” —Vanessa Quigley, mom of seven and author of Real Moms, Real Hacks, Provo, Utah

24. Use colorful duct tape to mark kids’ gear. “Wrap a strip around a water bottle, sports equipment, or the strap of a bag. Your kids will be able to pick out what belongs to them with a quick glance, and their stuff will be less likely to be picked up by another child by mistake.” —Nielsen