4 Moms 35 Kids: outings with only little ones

See how the other 3 moms wrangle their little ones here:

  • Headmistress (The Common Room)
  • Connie (Smockity Frocks)
  • Kimberly (Raising Olives)


    Once upon a time, many years ago, my children were all little.  I had 3, 3yo and under.  Then I had 4, 4yo and under.  Then I had 5, 6yo and under.  Then I had 6, 8yo and under.  For most of that period, we had no family within a thousand miles, and hubby usually worked 2 or even 3 jobs.

    He helped as he was able and available, but during the day I was on my own.  I could have run errands during the evenings when he was home but I enjoyed his company and didn’t want to disappear on his night off. Yes, I still enjoy his company, and because our children are old enough stay home alone now we can meet in town and run errands together.

    Because of all this, back then I chose to do all of my errands and grocery shopping with the children in tow.  It was relatively easy with one or two. When the third arrived, I worried about the logistics but we quickly figured out what worked for us.  Ditto for #4.

    Each time I knew that I was doing fine with the current number of children, but wondered what I would do when the next arrived.  Each time, God provided an answer that seemed clear and simple in retrospect.  I won’t tell you exactly how to handle your current number of children in a busy parking lot, but I will say that a well-trained brood can go nearly anywhere with less trouble than you might expect.

    Along the way, I learned a few rules that make everything go smoother.  Many of these still apply even with older children along for the ride.

    Mom’s Rules for Shopping with Little Ones

    (revised and expanded from this post of days bygone)


  • Don’t over-schedule. If all the children are with me, I do not expect to accomplish 8 other errands on the day that we get groceries.
  • Don’t shop hungry. This applies to anyone who is along for the trip, not just the one with the checkbook. Hungry kids are distracted, whiny, wheedling, and generally unpleasant. This can rapidly make Mom unpleasant.  Eat before you leave the house.  If you fail to do so, bite the bullet and buy an inexpensive nourishing snack.  We like bananas.
  • On the other hand, don’t load them up on sugary treats while you are out and then wonder why they aren’t behaving. Excessive sugar doesn’t excuse sin, but you can bet you’ll see more of it.
  • Don’t leave the house if you or the children are cranky. There are several things you ought to do when you’re having a cranky day (repent and pray, for starters) but going out in public with several young children is definitely on the “don’t” list.
  • Before disembarking from the vehicle, give a pep talk and run through Mom’s Rules of Order, below.
  • Rather than looking for the closest parking space, park near a cart return. You can put the youngest and/or the infant seat right into the cart. The toddler can ride on the front of the cart. The 4 and 5 year old can hold the sides as you cross the parking lot. And when you’re done and the children are in the vehicle, you can easily dispose of the cart without going too far from your little ones.

    • Have them help, and vary the routine. I stop the cart at the ends of some aisles and send a pair of children for what we need. Sometimes I will go after items myself, taking along 1 or 2 small helpers to carry items back to the cart. Other times I will bark out orders as we pass through the aisles: “Lydia, grab 3 cans of spaghetti sauce.” “Natalie, get the animal crackers.” ” Deanna and Kaitlyn, choose 3 lbs. of nice tomatoes.” This works more and more as the children get older, but even the little ones recognize many of the items we buy and they love to help.
    • Move quickly when possible. Make them pay attention and work (just a little) to keep up with you. Bored children are trouble waiting to happen.
    • Don’t be afraid to use 2 carts. I often did this when they were all little.  Others will stare slack-jawed at your mad shopping skilz, but it’s really not that hard.   Put two or three small children in the front cart where you can watch them and steer with one hand – it’s relatively easy to steer if the children are light and no one rides on the front end of the front cart.  Then pull the heavy grocery cart behind you.
    • Have them help you unload the groceries onto the conveyor belt. Like having them help at home, this may not save you time in the beginning. But it keeps them busy and out of trouble, and it is training for when they are big enough to actually be helpful.
    • Do your best to keep the children strictly in order. It is so much easier to keep order than to restore order! Find what works, and consistently train toward that set of rules.


    1. No Touching
    2. No Asking

    See? Wasn’t that easy?  Just 2 rules.  This does not mean that they shouldn’t remind me that we’re low on diapers or make a menu suggestion, but they all know that if they ask for popsicles or a box of donuts, the answer is going to be “No.” If, on the other hand, they all stand quietly and stare longingly at popsicles or a box of donuts (especially Little Chocolate Donuts), I am easily persuaded.

    I can’t stress enough: training is everything! It will get easier as you and the children practice. I still find that we have to freshen up on training and manners if we don’t go out often enough, so don’t get discouraged if the first few times are stressful. It does get easier, and you will figure out what works for you and your children.

    Oh, and just about the time you feel like you’ve really got it all figured out, everything changes and you’ll need a totally new system.  Just like laundry.  I just thought you should know that ahead of time.

    Upcoming topics for 4 Moms 35 Kids

    • April 1 Kitchen/food budgeting
    • April 8 Menu planning/shopping
    • April 15 Cooking from scratch – what you make from scratch and how you get it all done
    • April 22 Recipe swap – We’ll all post a couple of our favorite, budget friendly, feed a crowd recipes and a Mr. Linky so that readers can participate by contributing their own recipes.  When you share your link on one of our blogs, it will show up on all 4!  How fun is that?!

    Past topics:

    • March 18 Live-blog day, in which all 4 of us live-blog a real day in our home.  Find out what we really do all day.  It’s our own reality show, just for you.  Who needs TV?


    1. I don’t have much time right now, but so far what I have read is great! I thought I was the only one who had kids and single parent even though I am married! lol My husband spent a year in Iraq and works overtime (12 hours per day) when he is home. He is considering another mission to Afghanistan in order to be debt free. I have six under 10 yo, four newly adopted from Haiti. Seven teens and four over 20.

      • Kelli,
        Thanks for visiting and for taking time to introduce yourself. 17 kids? Maybe you should be advising us! I hope you’ll jump in with your own input when you have time.

    2. Great tips! When my two were 15 months and 3 months, I’d put baby on front in a ring sling (perfect for discrete nursing while shopping!) and not yet walking very well toddler on my back. That was the only way I could do the discount grocery or thrift store or anywhere else where you can’t take the cart out to your car. Babywearing was a lifesaver! Now I put the 1 year old on my back and the two year old in the cart… and it seems to be getting easier! 🙂 For the moment, anyway… I’m sure that whenever we’re blessed with #3 it will be harder, though!

    3. Heather says:

      Here is my biggest aggrivation while shopping: inevitably during the course of shopping -usually with a full cart, someone will HAVE to go to the bathroom! If I have one of my teens with, they can take the little person to the bathroom, but when we are bolting toward the bathroom with a full cart, it just tends to get my blood pressure rising!

    4. I don’t think we’ve met 🙂 Our family moved here in Feb. 09 from north Dallas. Praise the Lord for that move!

      I’ll introduce myself at the Baby Conference.

    5. Autumn,
      Nice to meet you. Comment junkies are fun, so feel free!
      I noticed your blog mentions Kerrville – that means you live in my part of Texas. Have we met in real life yet?
      To answer your question, I’d have to encourage you to make sure that every threat is one you’re ready and willing to carry out without delay. If he believes you, eventually he’ll learn to obey the first time. Cuteness definitely makes it harder, though. I feel your pain!

    6. Just found your blog! (I’m a comment junkie so forgive me if I am a frequent commenter)

      I only have 4 and taking them grocery shopping is a bit annoying after 45minutes. I start throwing things in the cart and basically all goes down hill. The culprit seems to be my precious brown eyed 5 yr old son. He seems to find every weakness and play on it.

      How do you bring a child back in line that is unaffected by, well, my threats?? (and did I mention he is really really cute?)

    7. This is great! So glad you thought of the idea to showcase different moms and how they make life work w/ lots of children. I have 3 children right now, and some days I think, “how do those moms of big families handle it?!” Here are the tips/answers/ideas! Love it! Thanks so much!

    8. I love this series (and your blog). I am really looking forward to the budgetting and cooking from scratch topics. Thank you so much!

    9. Love this!

      Could you (all?) talk more about how you train your children to do what you ask? And how to best handle disobedience when in public?

      I have a 1 year old and 3 year old, and they are (mostly 🙂 great girls. But sometimes I feel like I’m missing something in training them to obey, and do so cheerfully. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and most of my friends are in exactly the same kid age range as me. Thanks!

    10. Great tips! I am not a mother, but I always park near the cart return. It makes it easy to return the cart! 🙂

    11. Renee,
      Thanks for asking. I have just under 9 weeks left, and am feeling wonderful considering it’s my 13th pregnancy in 17 years. Translation: tired, but very few aches and pains, and my husband and children are taking very good care of me.

    12. Thanks for this post!

      You have great tips thanks for sharing them!!! You are a amazing mother 🙂 what a blessing your children have to have you as their mother!

      How are you feeling BTW this pregnancy is coming alone, how many weeks left?

    13. I know what you mean about shopping hungry. If I go shopping with my mom without eating, I’m a wreck. I don’t necessarily get whiny or cranky, but I do start overreacting to the gigantic shopping list… 😀

    14. Lots of good info. Thanks for sharing.

    15. Great ideas-I am in clover, here in the UK. I can have my groceries delivered-generally, it doesn’t work out anymore expensive if I choose a cheap slot. At least, I did think this but having got rather more frugal, I was surprised recently that a shop in store was slightly cheaper.
      Not sure how relevant this is for you but my big problem is using public transport with little children. We have some great museums but parking near them is well nigh impossible and very, very expensive. Our public transport is good but getting on and off with a stroller plus a toddler is difficult. Any ideas?

      • Carey,
        It did take some time to get everyone out the door! If we wanted to leave bright and early, we planned and prepared the night before as much as possible. At the very least I packed the diaper bag, laid out clothes and shoes for everyone and braided their hair so that it could be quickly freshened without worrying about morning tangles.
        If I was really serious, I would even have them dress the night before and sleep in their clothes! Some think this is weird, I’m sure, but it never bothered the children and they looked fine if I chose knits that didn’t wrinkle while they slept.

        We don’t have public transportation where I live, so I don’t have any experience managing small children there. I do remember my mom doing errands and the weekly grocery shopping with 4-6 of us children on the bus when I was little. I’m sure it was a hassle, but it was much better than walking miles, especially when we were carrying bags and bags of groceries!

    16. This is very helpful!
      The not to distant memories of shopping with 2 under 2, all the crying on the ride home (the kids cried sometimes too) can hopefully be just memories now, after implementing these great tips I’m hopeful shopping will be much smoother.
      But, please hold my hand for a moment, how did you make it out of the house for these outings?
      It seems to take for ever to get out of the house. I’m only just now, slowly, figuring little things out, like, everyone under 6 gets velcro only shoes.
      It still takes a loooong time to get ready. Could you mention some ways to streamline getting ready to go?
      Thanks =)
      Carey in Missouri

    17. “About the time you have everything figured out it all changes…” I heartily agree! I think I knew a lot more about parenting before my seven were born! 🙂

    18. I have been practicing a lot of these as well, I always pack snacks, or sandwiches incase it takes a little longer than expected. I stick to 1 of the 2 stores in town that has double seats on the buggies, that way baby can be in the baby bjorn, 2 children in the seats facing me, and 5 year old holding the edge of the buggy. I do my shopping now only when necessary, (unlike the days before children when I stopped by the grocery store 3 times a week haha! what was I thinking!!) I now do my dairy/Costco shopping 2 times a month. I live close to sisters and our mom and we all make it a point to shop and or pick things up for each other on our shopping days, especially after a baby or when the family just can’t get out.

    19. This sounds like us, also. One addition—after we park and everyone is unbuckling seatbelts, our rule is you are either still in the vehicle or outside the vehicle with your hand on the vehicle until we say “Let’s go!” Keeping hands on the vehicle keeps the children focused on something during the hubbub of disembarking. No accidently wandering. Then they hold onto my clothing, the cart, the stroller, each other, etc..
      Take all tantrums back to the vehicle.
      Sometimes you just realize it’s time to go home even if you are not finished.
      Knowing misbehavior resulting in everyone going home results in magnification of punishment has cured many an offender instantly!

    20. We’ve done the two cart thing a few times and I”ve only got two kids. It makes life soooo much easier and is worth the extra weight and hassel.

    21. Crystal M says:

      I learned that the cart return parking is by far the smartest thing I could do concerning the parking issue. Infant up front, 3 year old rides on the end, safety in the parking lot- go me! Thanks for the idea it’s ok to use 2 carts. I’m going to do that as we grow our family!

    22. We always park close to the cart holder too. 🙂

    23. hahaha, I follow the “park next to the carts” rule as well. One thing I havn’t figured out though is why the stores that offer “mommy parking” aren’t next to one lol.

    24. I sometimes split my list with my 13 year old, and give her a baby for her cart. Then we can do the deed in double time! We’ve been known to purchase a pack of goldfish on the way in to make it easier. If we can finish shopping before the goldfish are gone, we win!

    25. Thanks for your post! With my first 3 coming in 2.5yrs I have discovered your suggestions out of necessity! They really do work though and for all kinds of shopping! Yesterday I was able to go into a clothing store to shop the clearance racks for my hubby -with all 3 little ones! The bag of little crackers in the diaper bag made all the difference 🙂

      It is nice to know that these”tactics” can carry me through #4,5,6etc. with just a few tweeks here and there -VERY encouraging! 🙂

      Harmony: My 10mo. old doesn’t always nap consistently either so if I think she is tired when we need to go out I will leave her in her carry car seat and try and get her to sleep there as it gently rocks with the cart motion. (We have taught our babes to sleep in this seat when we are out so they always have some place to sleep when we are out -even if it’s not a child friendly home) I also pack small snacks I can hand to her these keep her happy usually until she falls asleep.

      From birth we nap our babes where ever we are so that we can remain flexible as a family and aren’t tied to babies nap schedule. As they get older and only need one nap they just join the “afternoon nap” crowd who are also taught that nap time comes when mommy (not the clock) says so (since mommy knows when they -we all- need it!) It is much easier to work around one daily nap time than being home every time baby needs to sleep. Every family is different for sure, but this has worked well for our 1st three 🙂

      Other times I let baby sleep when needed which means we may run into nap time for my older two (now 2yrs and 3.5yrs) I take snacks for them (which I usually put in their pocket in the store) and then still expect them to behave even though they might get tired -this is life -we all have to behave even when things aren’t perfect! They do really well and are learning that everyone has to pitch in to make the family run smoothly! I do try and show more grace during these trips though and work extra hard to involve them in the trip.

      Happy shopping! 🙂

    26. We go out right after breakfast, Harmony. That way, nobody’s tired yet and everyone is well fed. We usually make it back in time for lunch and naps, but the baby often falls asleep in the van. It messes with his nap schedule for the rest of the day, but it’s only once every week or two, so not a big deal. (We have seven kids from 14 months to 14 years.)

    27. I do have one question for all of you: all four of you say not to go shopping when anyone is tired/cranky. Have all your children magically managed to nap at the same time each day?? Because Pearl (my 10-month-old firstborn) likes to change up her nap schedule every few weeks, despite my best efforts to keep her on a set schedule. I can’t imagine trying to coordinate even 2 different nap schedules, much less 4 or 5!

      (Or maybe that’s covered under the “just about the time you feel like you’ve really got it all figured out, everything changes and you’ll need a totally new system” clause? 😉 )

      • Harmony,
        I know that others have already answered your questions (thanks, everyone!) but I’ll put in my 2 cents’ worth. We trained our babies to sleep in their infant seats too, so they can nap anywhere at all. A blanket draped over the top creates a buffer and some privacy.
        The older ones are taught to nap when I say it’s naptime, and that’s the same time for everyone. If one child is not quite ready, he or she learns to lie quietly and eventually that child’s sleep schedule will adjust. I think this is a key to streamlining life with littles in many, many ways, and it’s worth the effort!
        When everyone was young, we started our outings as early in the day as possible and hot-footed it home before naptime if possible. Now that I have built-in babysitters, I can leave a sleeping toddler in the van with an older child when we get caught out during naptime. Yes, life gets easier with more children, not harder. I always smile at people who wonder how I do it with 9 children. It was so much harder when we had 4 or 5!

    28. I park next to cart returns, too, but I want to tell you about something I saw a few weeks ago. An ingenious mama had two carts, but she had put her three year old in the front seat of the lead cart. The child’s legs were hooked over the back of the follower, and she just pulled the whole train all through the store. I was a little disappointed at not having thought of that myself!

    29. YAY! I love this post. It is almost as if I have already read it and implemented your rules.

      We do those things almost all of them and we use the parking lines to stand on and wait for everyone to unload or load. Then there is no walking around or out in the driving lane in the lot.

      We also have used the two cart method and you are right, boy to people stare. I think I am going to have a shopping apron made, it will say YES, I HAVE MY HANDS FULL! YES, THEY ARE ALL MINE!

      I have become a baby wearing mommy and I would never go shopping without my Moby Wrap. Its a life saver. Toddler goes in the cart seat and baby goes in the wrap. 3 and 5 year old hold on to each side of the cart. It works for us, for now. Until it gets all changes again!

      Thanks for the post about life with littles. Keep them coming! We need all the help we can get 🙂

      I am wondering about bathtimes, and do your kids all go right to sleep? stay in their beds? nap?

    30. I am all for parking next to the cart return!


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