4 Moms Q&A: toothbrushes, internet filters, taming the stuff monster

4 Moms 35 Kids answer questions about big families

It may be Thursday when you read this, but let me warn you: my brain has no idea what day or time it is.  I’m writing this post on Tuesday because I have a 6 hour drive to make tomorrow (yesterday?) and it feel like Wednesday already, because it’s actually Tuesday but I was up ALL NIGHT with a sick baby.

If you think that was confusing, try using my brain.  Take everything that follows with a grain of salt – or maybe with a martini, if it seems more suitable.

Since today is the Q&A session and my brain is fried for want of sleep, who thinks it would be a good idea to use this post more for entertainment than actual advice?  Or maybe you could think of my answers as a test, marking a true/false checkbox next to each one?  Yes, I like that idea.  We’ll do that. (Who can name the source of that quote? No peeking at the link.)

Question from Renee:

I have a silly question for you. I know you have mentioned that you have one bathroom and there are 12 of you. Well, there are 7 of us and one bathroom, and I was wondering how you store the toothbrushes in the bathroom. Right now I have a small basket that holds everyones brush and a tube of paste, but everyone is complaining about their brush touching someone elses. Any suggestions?


We have toothbrush troubles too, but ours are slightly different:

Toothbrush Problem #1 – We often find ourselves with a collection of 27 toothbrushes, and nobody knows where all the extras came from or who they belong to.  About twice/week, we have to thin down the toothbrushes so that the size of our collection resembles the number of occupants in our house.

Toothbrush Problem #2 – We have tried several different toothbrush holders, and none do a good job of keeping 12 toothbrushes both secure and sanitary.  A pint jar keeps them secure, but quickly collects sour moisture in the bottom.  A traditional holder with an open bottom keep them more sanitary because it’s open on the bottom, but they are constantly falling out, especially if we try to cram 12 toothbrushes into a holder designed for a family of 4.toothbrush holders for the big family

I recently ordered several of these.  They don’t look especially durable, but they’re inexpensive so I ordered extras.  Each holds 4 toothbrushes, and they can be mounted in groups or trimmed to fit your family size.
When they arrive, one will be mounted high for Perry and me and a couple of wee people who really don’t need the ability to swish their toothbrushes in the toilet unattended.  The others will be mounted lower, and each person in the family will have precisely ONE SPACE for his/her toothbrush.

Any toothbrush found in the wrong space is subject to toilet dunking, or unauthorized use, which may be even more disgusting in the opinions of some.  Especially if it’s used to brush the dog’s teeth.


Question from Kelly G.:

Hi Kim, I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and I wanted to ask you if your family uses an internet filter, and if so which one? We haven’t had the best of luck with them, they either don’t work very well or make our computer so slow it’s unbearable.  Just wanted to hear your thoughts on internet filters.


CovenantEyes.com We don’t use an internet filter, but we have used Covenant Eyes internet accountability software for many years.  This lets anyone in the house access any site, so we’re not limited or enabled by the standards of the filter which may be very different from our own standard.  It also doesn’t slow down our browsing like most filters do.

Instead, Covenant Eyes tracks all internet browsing (even in browsers with privacy settings) and mails a report to one or more accountability partners you have chosen.  The report is laid out to make it easy for you to quickly scan for potential trouble spots so you don’t have to look at each and every url visited since the last report, but you can also do that if you feel the need.
Covenant Eyes works for Windows, Mac, and iPhone/iPod devices. I was excited to learn that they’re hard at work on an Android app too.  Once the software is installed on a device, it can’t be uninstalled without sending a warning to the accountability partner, so it’s very difficult to circumvent.

The software itself is free and can be installed on as many devices as you want.  You just pay monthly for one account that can be used on any device which has the Covenant Eyes software installed.  An account can be shared by the whole family unless you want everyone to have separate logins so that you have separate reports for each user.  The first account is $8.99/month and add’l accounts are only $1.50.

That’s a lot of details, but I guess it shows you how much we appreciate CE.

[for the sake of disclosure, you should know that I learned about the Covenant Eyes affiliate program after writing this, signed up as quick as I could, and changed the links to affiliate links.  sign up through my link, enjoy your first month for free, and I’ll make a little dough to help support my ice cream habit.]


Question from Debs:

I can”t remember if you’ve talked about this before, but having been pregnant lots, I wondered if you had experience of nursing while being pregnant with the next baby?

I’m still nursing my 16 month old and neither of us is ready to give that up, but I’m also at that sort of stage where I wouldn’t be at all surprised to have a positive pregnacy test in the near-ish future.

Do you have any thoughts or advice you could share on the subject?


The gaps between my pregnancies have changed over the years, but my pattern has not: When the baby starts getting more of his/her nutrition from the table than directly from me, my fertility returns.  I’ve always been still nursing a baby when I find I’m pregnant with the next.

For me, this hasn’t been a problem.  I generally find that it takes the edge off the overpowering nausea but does make me more tired, a difficult tradeoff since exhaustion often contributes to morning sickness.

In the end the baby always ends up gradually weaned at some point before the middle of my pregnancy, so I have never tandem nursed.  Most of the time this happens on accident: the baby becomes more interested in food and I become less interested in nursing, mainly because I’m spending so much time vomiting.  At any rate, weaning has never been an abrupt or traumatic experience in our family, and morning sickness helps me lose those last few pounds that just don’t come off while I’m nursing.  See?  A silver lining around the sickly green cloud that surrounds the first half of pregnancy.


Question from Donna:

We have 6 children and even though we only give them each 3 gifts at Christmas, when you add in grandparents and others, we easily have 40 something gifts coming into our house.  Storage is a problem.  I regularly keep a bag or box that I toss things into for Goodwill, but it’s still a challenge. Do you have tips?


We have struggled with the same problem over the years, but seem to have reached a point of equilibrium and understanding with both the children and with well-meaning relatives.

On the one hand, everyone now understands that space is at a premium in our home.  Some will ask us for suggestions or run an idea past us before making a purchase, doing their best to come up with ideas that don’t simply add more “stuff” to the house.  Others simply understand that gifts are often passed along rather quickly to make room for others.

The children have come to grips with the fact that if they receive a lot of new items, they’re going to have to make some difficult decisions about what to pass on to others outside, whether it be old stuff or new.  They have also learned to understand that it’s not an insult when a gift they give to a sibling does not necessarily become a deeply treasured heirloom to be passed on to descendants.

I think the old saying is trite but true to a certain extent: “It’s the thought that counts.”  Among the dignitaries of etiquette (Emily Post and Miss Manners come to mind), it’s well established that a gift comes with no strings attached, and while a genuine thank you is most definitely in order, the recipient is under no obligation to keep, use or display a gift for any set period of time.  This concept frees us from the guilt of purging and allows us to thin our belongings to only what is truly meaningful and/or useful to us.

I’ll confess to one more way we keep the stuff-monster under control: attrition.  Stuff breaks in our house.  A lot.  And we really don’t get worked up over because, well, we know there will be plenty more stuff heading our way and we really didn’t need it all in the first place.

There’s a fine line, I think, between poor stewardship and not caring for the things of this world.  I fear we often find ourselves on the wrong side of that line, but we try to get it right.


Question from Sarah:

My mother was/is a stay at home mother; however, she viewed her position as one of dedication to raising children and taking on all the responsibilities of the household.  She thought the children should not be made to do chores, but rather be children (i.e., play).  (And she wondered why we would whine when asked to do anything around the house.)  Her attitude has been a huge help with my new baby, she cannot get enough of spending time with the baby – loves babies.  Unfortunately this has put me in a spot of not knowing how to raise a helping child.  The only options I know are you let a child get away with everything, or discipline them into “submission”.  I know there has to be a better way, so this leads me to my question for your pile – I would be interested to know what you have learned with your kids on best practices to raise a cheerful helper.


What a blessing your mom is to you!  You’re smart to be thankful for her strengths while recognizing where you can do better.

When it comes to children and work, remember that we should be training them into adulthood, not endless childhood.  Parents do their children a disservice when they let them practice at being childish until they are adults.  Now what?  These adult children have no idea of how to act or work like an adult, and must spend the next portion of their lives figuring it out for themselves, or simply avoiding it.

In my experience, children love to help while they’re little.  This often isn’t helpful for us – it may take longer to do a chore with the help of a little one than to do it alone.  But this is when you can most easily nurture and nourish that desire to help.  This is when your child is forming ideas and opinions about work, and if household chores are associated with warm fuzzy memories of sweet time with Mommy, your future looks bright!

What it comes to, then, is teaching your child that work is good for us.  For a little one, it’s fun times with Mom.  As you work together, begin planting thoughts for later: explain that God gave Adam work to do even in Paradise, that the Bible speaks severely about laziness and indolence, that in all labor there is profit (Pro. 14:23), that we are to glorify God in everything we do (I Cor. 10:31).

Expect some resistance now and then.  Children are sinful like the rest of us, and we’re all prone to laziness in one degree or another.  Realize that your children will likely mirror your own flaws and weakness, and set a good example in your own approach to work.  Make sure it’s an attitude your children can see and hear: talk to them about your work, and why and how you do it.



I have been listening to you on the Baby Conference mp3s while I nurse my 2 month old twins.  Question for you…how do you handle sickness in your large family?  My other children are 10, 8, 6, and 5.  I believe we have the influenza bug starting in our home.


We don’t really “handle” sickness.  We go about our business.  The sick ones go on light duty, doing school or chores if they’re up to it, or camping out in bed if they’re not.  The rest of us avoid sharing cups with anyone is, was, or might soon be sick.  That sums up our policy on sickness.

OK, maybe there’s more.

We take extra vitamin C and D3 when we remember, and…well…that’s it.  Yeah.

Unless you want to take notes so you can blog the really, really bad ones.  That way you can laugh someday about how ____ puked in ____’s hair while she was sleeping, then ____ woke up, saw what had happened, and threw up on _____.

What?  You don’t have one of those stories yet?  You will.


Question from Jenny:

Hey Kim, Can you talk about dogs? Specifically, what to do when dogs drive you crazy? Needy dogs? How do you instill a love of animals in your kids…and be nice to the dog when you don’t feel like helping one more needy creature?


Jenny, I’m really glad you asked this question.  My husband likes to tease me about ovarian guilt, a phenomenon mostly related to mothers and their children, but I think I feel more guilt when it comes to dogs.

We have 3 dogs.  Two are beloved pets, and one is not.  In all fairness, I should also mention that one of our dogs likes to eat treats from the cat box.  Can you guess which one?

I guess you could say that like people, some pets are easier to love than others.  You just have to do it.  Love is not an emotion, but an action.  Maybe you don’t have to love pets, but you can say the same thing about kindness, mercy, and being nice to the dog even though her breath really, really stinks.  You don’t have to feel it in order to do it, and your children can understand this too.  Sometimes a dog just needs a nice pat on the head or a good belly rub.  He doesn’t have to know what you’re thinking at the moment.

We make a bit of a game out of saying mean things to the poop-eater in a sweet, syrupy voice.  She loves the attention, wriggling with joy as we address her and list off her faults.  I don’t recommend trying this with the annoying humans in your life, but it might make you feel better about the dog.

Question from Lisa:

My question is about your chickens. This could probably be a post in itself, or perhaps you have already done so? I just want to know all about them: how you assign care for them, how you handle the eggs (dirt, storage, etc.), predator protection…anything else you can think of. I ask because we have a small flock of our own (23 hens + a rooster), but living in the middle of Alaska, and only being a family of three and one on the way, we probably “do chickens” differently, especially because they are literally cooped up for much of the year. Thanks!


I think Lisa is right.  This could easily be a post in itself and I have posted about our chickens in the past, but because my judgment is sleeping while my fingers type on unattended, I’m going to answer her questions in quick bullet fashion:

  • Lydia does the daily animal chores in our family, including chickens.  This is at her request, because she really enjoys animals.  I’m glad, because she is a mature, trustworthy gal and I can count on her to remember to lock up the coop at night.
  • We usually gather eggs more than once/day and put them straight into the fridge in styrofoam egg cartons that our friends save for us after they’ve eaten their store-bought eggs.  I’m still working to teach the kids to wash the dirty eggs, but clean eggs should not be routinely washed as this removes a protective coating.  At first, we marked the cartons by days of the week so we could remember to eat the oldest eggs first.  As it turns out, we have no trouble eating our eggs in a timely fashion so this system has gone by the wayside.
  • With 3 dogs and a fake owl, we have very little trouble with predators.  I’ve seen foxes and hawks have a go at the girls every now and then, but numbers remain fairly stable with no extra precautions beyond a nightly lock-up in a secure coop.

Apparently the auto-pilot function on my brain crashed, because the post ends here.

The other moms are taking questions too:

Upcoming topics for June: TBA because we didn’t plan ahead again surprises are fun!

Recent topics:

  • May 19 – 4 Moms try to lose the baby weight
  • May 12 – 4 Moms practice hospitality, and YOU are invited!
  • May 5 – 4 Moms talk about you-know-what
  • April 28 – 4 Moms Q&A: sleep, exercise, and making do with one bathroom
  • April 21 – Large families & church, part 2: keeping them quiet
  • April 14 – Eating inexpensively on the road
  • April 7 – 4 Moms teach history
  • March 24 – Large families & church, part 1: getting there on time
  • March 17 – Bread baking linky
  • March 10 – Spring cleaning
  • March 3 – Books for early readers
  • February 24 – 4 Moms Q&A: my first audio blog on potty training and more
  • February 17 – Individual time with children: scary stuff here.  Just kidding.  Let go of the guilt.
  • February 10Cooking with little ones without losing your sanity
  • February 3 –Teaching reading, because it’s so much easier than teaching them to use the toilet.  Do not request a 4 Moms post about potty training, do you hear me?
  • January 27 – Q&A: Must-have baby equipment and other nitty gritty stuff
  • January 20 – Top 10 Books for Preschoolers
  • January 13 – Soups and Stews
  • January 6 – Teaching Bible
  • Comments

    1. Meghan V. says:

      For a future Q&A session: Do you have a good recommendation for a phone app for scheduling? I know you said you used your alarms to remind you to do things but I guess I’m looking for more of a calendar type program.

    2. I have a question for your upcoming Q & A. How do handle mealtimes with self-feeding babies/toddlers? I have 3 children, the youngest is 12 months, and each one has loved to feed themself bite size food as soon as they are able. This makes it very convenient for me to do other things (like feed myself) while they eat, but afterwards we’re left with a ginormous mess. I debate whether it’s worthwhile to just save myself the 15 min clean up afterwards and feed them myself. What do you do?

      The 4 Mom’s posts are always fun and helpful!

    3. Oh, that was my question! And I’d totally forgotten I’d asked it!
      I now have an almost 20 month old and I’m 3 months pregnant, and we’re still breastfeeding. I think we’re just going to see how it goes. She still likes the milk in the morning and at night, and for comfort sometimes during the day, but she’s distractable if she starts asking “dis mama?” and patting my top while we’re out and about and it’s not really appropriate!

      Oh, and for me the morning sickness made me drop about 14 pounds (a stone as we’d say over here). Problem is I don’t think it will stay off for long!

    4. I made a toothbrush holder a long time back and it works perfectly. Its a hand towel folded in half and sewed. Takes about 5 minutes to make and holds as many as 10 toothbrushes. You can throw it in the washing machine when it needs washing. It holds all the toothbrushes in their own sewed section and you can sew them to suit the size of your toothbrush. The holder is hung on the wall and if you go on vacation you can just pull the whole thing down roll it up and your ready to go. I have also made them to hold teh toothpaste in the center. You can see a pic of it here and how to make one: http://homefullofboys.blogspot.com/2007/01/how-to-make-towel-toothbrush-holder.html

      • Audrey,
        I love your toothbrush holder! I wish I had seen it before I bought the plastic cheapies from Amazon. Now I won’t mind so much when they break…

    5. I grew up in a house of 10 kids 12 of us all total. We had 3 of the toothbrush holders for a family of four this solved the problem easily. We each were given 10 minutes in the bathroom and it was on a timer. We had to get up extra early to get ready for school so that each person could have 10 minutes in the bathroom and still make it to school on time. If you had an emergency there was an extra toilet only in the basement but it was very old and no one ever wanted to go down there you really had to be desperate ! Roaches and all you know. We had a mirror in our bedroom for the girls hair makeup and stuff. These were the rules and not one of us ever thought to buck the system , baths were taken at night after school in shifts you were allowed 30 minutes for a bath. We had no shower.

    6. Jennifer says:

      Maybe I’m just not country or rural enough to get this, but, er…what is a fake owl?

      • He’s a plastic lifelike owl that perches near the chicken coop, protecting his territory from other predators.
        Hawks find them quite intimidating. You sometimes see them used in the city to keep pigeons away from landmarks.

    7. Once more, thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Love how you intersperse humour through the serious and mundane. Keep it up!
      Hope the little one is better soon…

    8. Kim,
      I found this great tooth brush holder at Lakeshore Learning. It works great, keeps the toothbrushes dust and contaminant free, and it is easy to clean when it gets smears of toothpaste on it. (I have been known to throw mine in the dishwasher.) If you search for “toothbrush holder” at http://www.lakeshorelearning.com .

    9. We bought the 2″ deep plastic drawer units from WalMart or Target for toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss. All 11 of us have our own drawer to put our own toothbrush, toothpaste & floss in. Each of us girls also has another drawer for jewelry and hair barrettes so we can keep track of things we each use on a daily or almost daily basis.

      The drawers take up a little room, but its been soooooo worth it even though we have precious room to spare! It organizes. It gives a home for eachperson’s toothbrush and paste. It makes things neater. We all know which drawer is our own.

      Plus, we’ve not had so many sicknesses since our toothbrushes are sharing germs back and forth in a cup and since we each have our own toothpaste, we aren’t sharing germs back and forth on the tip of the toothpaste tube.

      Another advantage is I know who is going through how much toothpaste……….and thus those who aren’t brushing their teeth are found out ; ) and those who are using too much toothpaste can be instructed to just use a pea sized dab instead of the whole length of the toothbrush brush.

      This system is the best we’ve ever used for organizing and storing tooth care products.

    10. Great responses, Kim!

      We “only” have 7 (#8 in July) children, but I have an additional idea for the toothbrushes. We drill holes in the bottom of cheap plastic cups (so that the children don’t drink out of them). We give one to each child, decorated with their name and a picture of a monkey (we affectionately call them the little monkeys) and each child gets their own toothbrush and tube of toothpaste in their cup. I have pictures of our bathroom sink here: http://www.myblessedhome.net/?p=4909

      We’ve done it this way for a while now, and no complaints since. 🙂

    11. Love your posts, Kim! You are the first of the “four moms” that I discovered, thanks to a facebook friend linking your blanket training post to her wall a few months ago. Thoroughly enjoy your blog, your writing and your wisdom. Thank you!

    12. (I found your blog from Frugal Gardening 101 at Smockity Frocks.) When we lived in a different house we made a toothbrush hanger out of a hand towel. We folded the bottom part up about 4-5 inches and sewed that down using a 1 – 1 1/2 inch spacing. We put gromets on each corner and hung it inside of our cabinet (a low one for the kids). It was great. I had forgotten about it… I might need to make some for this house.

      Love your blog.

    13. Toothbrush holders….. no use with battery toothbrushes. I want one of my kids to design a holder for battery toothbrushes and patent the design…. then I’ll retire! Oh, hang on – I don’t earn money anyway, do I ?? Oh well, onto Plan B….

      WE use Covenant Eyes too but…. do you check it through? I’m very negligent. shame on me 🙁

    Don't just think it: say it!

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