4 Moms Q&A: the laundry monster, snacks, and what to do if you can’t do it all (because you can’t)

4moms35kids 4 Moms Q&A: life saving tips and tricks of the trade for moms of many

 Ami said, I have six kids. When I had 2 kids I was good at it (school/read aloud/housecleaning/meals). When I had 4 kids I was capable. Now I am decidedly not.   

I love my relationship with the Lord and truly glory in my weakness. I am so grateful that I am not in a performance based relationship with him  But, here, in this flesh, on this earth, I have to get things done. And Jesus is not down here holding a crying one year old while I get dinner made  And I don’t remember how to educate or make meals anymore. So my question is, How do I do it? How do you redeem your days? What about when you forget how you used to function?

I find myself in the same boat, and I also wonder about the whys and wherefores of the change.  How did I go from reading whole series aloud, to reading so little that finishing a chapter book is cause for celebration?  Who am I, and where did the old Kim go?

I used to create a meal plan every week without fail, and now I can’t seem to do it two weeks in a row.  We did 6 subjects in school every day, and my house was generally clean.  I read entire series of books aloud to my children.  And I had 4, 5, or 6 little ones, with no help.  What happened?

I think it really does get harder in some ways because as our children get older we are pulled in different directions.  It’s harder to find a book that will appeal to everyone at once, and it’s harder to find the time to sit down and read – especially if what you are reading is not universally engrossing.

With 20 years of experience and several helpers, it’s easy enough to put off planning and just wing it when it comes to meals – even though planning would save time and money.

There are enough of us to clean up after the little ones, so they don’t have to learn to clean up after themselves.

And I’m not the 20-something I used to be.  A sleepless baby can put me out of commission for most of the day.

How did I used to do it?  How can I do it now?   I can’t by my own strength, but I never could.  Just like the old days, I do my best and ask for grace and peace about the things left undone.  Or I don’t do my best, and ask forgiveness and help to do better tomorrow.

I ask my husband again about priorities so that we can be on the same page.  I am blessed to have a husband who cares about lightening my burden, so he offers suggestions, pitches in to help, and rallies the troops.  Maybe your husband will do this if he knows enough about your struggles?


From Tanya: We have a family of 10. And my laundry pile is huge! We have more clothes than we need but I am curious how much clothes, shoes, etc per person to keep. Do you have some sort of system for that? And do you get rid of clothing when there out grown or save it for a younger sibling?…at this point we are saving a lot but it doesn’t seem to get used by the next either because the seasons are different or their body sizes are different. Also getting the kids to help with chores etc is like pulling teeth any thoughts on that also?…thanks

I strongly suspect we have too many clothes, but we do work hard to stay right on top of the dirty laundry.  I hate when the washer goes out and it becomes an instant crisis because we were already operating on the cusp of disaster!

One thing that makes a big difference for us is to keep all the dirty laundry in one place, where I can see it easily.  If it’s out of sight, I forget about it entirely.  If it’s divided into a separate hamper for each bedroom or each person, we can be 12 loads behind before we know it!  When it’s all in one place right under my nose, “behind on laundry” means we have 3 or 4 loads to do.

Another thing that helps is not allowing the little ones to have free access to their clothes.  Anyone young enough to enjoy a good game of dress-up is young enough to require supervision.  When the 4yo needs fresh clothes, she has to ask first and have somebody watch her get them out of the drawer – so we know she isn’t emptying her drawers onto the floor searching for her very pair of underpants.

I pass clothes directly from one child to the next whenever possible, because the “out of sight, out of mind” principle works here too.  If we pack it up to save it, there’s an excellent chance we will forget about it until it’s no use to anyone.  If we don’t have a very near-term use for an article of clothing, we donate it and plan to buy again later from a thrift store.


How do you organize kids clothing? Anything you especially keep or don’t keep? 

Our clothes right now consist of 3 cubbies for each child, plus hanging space in the closet.  The cubbies hold:

  1. Tops
  2. Underclothes & pjs
  3. Bottoms: pants, shorts

Some of us have a few more cubbies as the system has evolved, but that is basically how it works.

When it comes to hand-me-downs, I usually only keep what I expect to use within 2 years.  That means I am keeping none of our 4yo daughter’s clothes because we don’t have another little girl up-and-coming.  We try not to keep anything too worn or stained, of course, which means nearly all of the boys’ clothes get pitched faster than they get passed.  I keep just a few newborn outfits because they tend to receive them as gifts and use relatively few.

I also keep very few heavy coats or other winter apparel because they take so much space to store and we use them so rarely – sometimes we go the entire winter without needing more than a jacket, and most of my Texas-born children don’t even know what a snowsuit is.  I don’t own anything heavier than a lightweight denim jacket myself.  I just layer it with a sweater on the really “cold” days.

Ideas for healthy yet inexpensive snacks? I’ve got a boy who is 4 years old and could eat me out of house and home.

Most of our snacks are real food: anything that works for lunch works as a snack, too, and it probably has more staying power than traditional snack foods.  I also lean heavily on milk as an add-on.  It’s a good balance of protein, fat and carbs.  Peanut butter is another versatile source of protein.  Anything with protein and fat will tend to keep kids satisfied for longer.

  • Animal crackers and peanut butter
  • Apples and peanut butter
  • Banana bread with peanut butter
  • Any appealing leftovers I’m eager to get rid of
  • Banana roll-ups: spread peanut butter on a tortilla and wrap around a banana.  If we happen to have extra hot dogs buns, we do this and call it a banana dog.
  • Cake or muffins made of leftover oatmeal or other hot cereal.  Serve with a big glass of milk.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich – heavy on the peanut butter (we keep tortillas on hand instead of bread, so ours are pbj roll-ups)
  • Carrot sticks and ranch dressing
  • Tortilla chips and salsa – the only chips we do in our house with any sort of regularity.  We buy these in a big box from Costco, very cheap and much better for you than potato chips.  Maybe it’s weird outside of Texas, but my little ones beg for salsa.
  • Peanut butter and banana smoothies


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4 Moms Q&A: Potty training, talking about difficult news stories, and YES I will pull this car over right now if you don’t stop.

4moms35kids 4 Moms teach what they dont know

Rachel has a question that I’m going to share this week not because I have the answer, but because I think she’ll be encouraged to see how many of us share her problem:

Question (and it’s a long one!): Have any of you ever had a child that struggled greatly with potty training? My almost 5yo boy has had such a difficult time with this particular skill and we’re at our wit’s end with how to help him (he’s very smart otherwise, reading and writing, doing simple addition, etc.). He has had weeks at a time where he does really well and I think we’re done. Then he’ll have a week or two where he’s having accidents of both kinds again. We’ve tried rewards/consequences, and his brain just doesn’t seem to work that way. His usual excuse is that he “just forgot”. I’m so frustrated with this situation! His two sisters (almost 7 and almost 3) have had no trouble in this area so it’s hard to understand what the deal is with him. :/ Any words of wisdom from any of you ladies? Not necessarily a solution, even, just a “there’s light at the end of the tunnel” kind of encouragement. Thank you!


I don’t think it’s a gender issue.  Half the time I hear that boys are easier to train, and half the time I hear that they’re harder.  I do seem to hear that they often train later, but that doesn’t really sound like what you are dealing with now.  I’m going through the same frustration with my almost-5yo daughter, and also did with another daughter until she was 5 or 6.  Both had many accidents, but the part that frustrated me was not the accidents.  It was the fact that they didn’t seem to care; they were content to wear their accidents.

In both cases, I think physical maturity played a role because both wet a lot at night, when urine production is typically very low.

In the case of one child, I think maturity of one sort or another was the main cause.  She was physically able, but just didn’t have the attention span, maturity or self-awareness required to really care about it until she was older than many.  She is a sweet and beautiful girl, but does tend to be a late bloomer in some aspects even now.  I’ve learned to be ok with that because she’s worth the wait.

In the case of the other child, I think accidents could also be a sign that she needs more attention.  I don’t mean that she does it on purpose, but maybe that she has a tendency to not pay attention to herself so that others will.  She is more needy than our others have been, and it takes a lot of loving to fill her love tank.   I can’t complain, because she gives it all back with interest and I know she will outgrow the accidents someday.  In the meantime, I just try to enjoy the times when she can sit on my lap without both of us needing to change our clothes.  😛

I do have a related question, though.  The second daughter mentioned above seems to have very low sleep needs, i.e. she needs less sleep than any 4yo I’ve known.  She lies down every day for a rest but rarely falls asleep, and wakes bright and happy after a 7 hour night.  I think she doesn’t sleep soundly at night either, often waking us just because she is bored, lonely, or can’t find her blanket.  I honestly think she could function well on less sleep than most adults, at an age when all my other children were still heavily dependent on naps.  Does anyone think this could be somehow connected to her incontinence, esp. at night?  Is she producing urine when the rest of us don’t because her body isn’t spending 9-10 hours in “hibernation mode”?

And I would also love to hear others’ solutions to Hadley’s problem, which I share:

Here’s my question for next week 🙂 What do you do with things like shoes, bags, coats, etc. that usually get dropped on our floor at the back door? Mail, things that need to be returned to folks, things that get brought in the car, etc. I’m trying to come up with a workable plan for all our junk at the back door. It’s OVERWHELMING!

What, indeed?  I’m full of great and useful threats that would doubtless solve the problem if only I were mean enough to carry them out:

“Any shoes left on the floor can be found in the goodwill box, which gets donated every Monday.  If you’re missing shoes, I suggest you look for them before Monday.”

“For every item you leave in a vehicle, you’ll have to bring in 3 extra items and put them away.”

“Anything left on your bedroom floor for the 9 AM inspection will go straight into the trash.”

“If your bedroom isn’t clean by the 9 AM inspection, you will miss breakfast.”

Probably the most useful plan was the rule that a person had to put away 2 extra things for every personal item left in a living area or other inappropriate place.  It didn’t teach them to put things away in the first place, but it did provide a convenient cleanup plan when they didn’t.

Sarah asked,

When did your sons learn to snap their pants (and had the hand strength to do so)? what did you do until that point? Special brands to buy or something?

This wasn’t an issue to me.  I just snapped when he needed help, and if pressed for an answer I would say that my children probably still needed occasional help until about 5.  A bigger potty-help issue to me: how long should I help them wipe?  Ugh.  We all want to be done with that duty as soon as possible – the helping, I mean – but if we rush it, the consequences are so much worse.  My general rule of thumb is to let them do it as soon as they can exercise a reasonable amount of awareness about the geography down there (exactly what needs wiping, and where is it?), then carry out regular backup wiping until I see consistent signs of good hygiene.

Just in case you didn’t already pick up on this, we’re in the throes of potty training once again.  Parker is at Day 7 and doing great!

I am wondering how you handle disobedience/ tantrums in the car? Do you pull over and discipline right away? And what if you can’t do that?

I’ve noticed that this rarely happens when I have been consistent about enforcing rules.  Of course children will act up now and then, but in general they push the boundaries that seem worth testing – the ones where they think they have a chance at victory.

I have pulled over to deal with incidents right on the side of the road when I felt it was necessary.  When I felt it could wait or just wouldn’t be safe/appropriate to do it NOW, I switched my pinky ring to my index finger (my way of tying a string ’round my finger so I won’t forget) and dealt with the incident as soon as I reasonably could.  After just one or two roadside incidents, nobody felt the need to test that particular boundary for a very long time.  Added bonus: when they know you’ll stop the car, they also believe you’ll get up off the couch, get out of bed, lay the baby down, or do whatever else it takes to address disobedience promptly.  Stopping the car = major score in the Mean What You Say category.

I don’t remember if I asked this before, so kindly disregard me if I did (chalk it up to postpartum Mama brain.) But how do you ladies handle difficult news stories? Things like Newtown, Boston, Gosnell. We have no TV so our children aren’t bombarded with inappropriate images daily, but our kids do listen to the radio, and even christian news outlets cover these stories at length. We address the questions as they come, but I wonder if I should address them in a specific manner? I don’t want to sweep it under the carpet. The world IS an evil place, but I wonder sometimes if having my 6 year old hear about these tragedies is a grievous parenting error. But, I can’t avoid it altogether either!

We listen to a lot of talk radio and tend to discuss the big stories, so our young ones are exposed to some of the horrors of what happens in our fallen world.  However, we try to avoid getting too wrapped up in the details and especially about filling the heads of the very young with those details.  It’s not uncommon for me to say, “We don’t need to talk about the details of what happened.  It was very, very sad.”  Or, “We don’t need to know all about his sins.  We know that he broke the 6th commandment and did some very wicked things.”  I think it’s important for kids to understand that wickedness is defined by breaking God’s law, so they need to know His law and what sorts of things people might do to break it, but it’s up to parents who know their children best to decide how much detail is healthy for that child right now.

I also think that questions should be answered to a certain level, even about horrific events, because a child’s imagination is likely to run away and just wondering can cause him to dwell even more on the wickedness.  But like other delicate subjects, it’s helpful to avoid offering more detail than the child is requesting, and sometimes the answer can be, “You don’t need to know that right now.”

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When time is short and you know you can’t get it all done, what things are at the top of your list? What’s the most important things in your day/week?

My mantra each morning is, “Jobs, Bible, School!”  I don’t usually command breakfast because I know it will happen.  I concern myself more with the items that are important but prone to procrastination.  Basically, we have a flexible schedule that focuses more on the order of operation than the time of day, and these are the items at the top of the list for us.

Things that can wait on busy days: deep cleaning, decluttering, school subjects outside the 3 R’s, projects of any sort, baking sweets.  Well, except brownies.  Those are on my list of priorities, especially on a busy day.


How do you deal with lying when there is no hard proof of who didn’t it, though you strongly suspect who did it?

When there is no hard proof, I follow the Biblical rule that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses a thing is confirmed.” [Deut. 19:15, I Cor. 13:1] If we don’t have witnesses, we don’t have a conviction, i.e. no punishment.  But if I have strong suspicions, I will often have a private word with the suspect, choosing my words carefully to avoid the possibility of false accusations.  I say something like, “You know that we have no witnesses to tell us what happened, but God knows.  If you didn’t do it, I’m very glad.  If you did, you need to confess because the Bible says that a hidden sin eats away at us, and God hates lying lips.  We should be more afraid of displeasing God, who knows all of our sins, than of confessing that sin.”

After that, I don’t stress about it.  I have a feeling that too often accusing a child of lying without solid proof can discourage them and leave them feeling that they might as well lie, since they are already thought of as a liar.  I have also learned that when a child begins to lie, he/she will keep it up until the sin is caught and dealt with.  You’ll have another chance, so just keep both eyes open and you will soon have another opportunity to instruct.

At what age do you start talking with your girls about puberty/periods etc and how do you do it?! (my 3 year old already notices sometimes when i’m using sanitary pads, given that i’m rarely able to go to the loo by myself!)

Of course this depends a lot on your own comfort level with the subject, but I’m very open with our children about puberty and sex.  If our kids are old enough to ask questions, I just try to give them answers they will understand.  I usually try to not to volunteer a lot of extra information and unnecessary details, being careful to answer only the specific question.  We have 5 teens now – one of them married – and this approach seems to have worked very well for our family.

Shoes!! How do you store every day shoes?

Ditto on the shoes! I have just two little ones (a toddler and a newborn) but shoes seem to take over!

With the younger children, I try not to have too many pairs.  I know wee little shoes are adorable, but somehow the more shoes your child owns the harder it is to find two that match!  When we nothing but littles they usually had just two pairs: dress shoes and play shoes.  Now that I have more help, we can handle a little more: church, sneakers, sandals or flip flops.  This is Texas, so they like to have boots too. 🙂

As they get old enough to take care of their own shoes, the collection tends to expand.  Our new house has built-in shoe racks in each closet, which helps immensely with storage.

Once they are old enough to buy their own shoes, all bets are off.  Some of my teens owned over 20 pairs of shoes at one time, though most try to keep their collections a little more manageable.

Laundry : what are the logistics of getting it done and back in the closet/drawer? We don’t have a family closet and only 1 ‘big’ to help with this task (with the excepting of putting away, which they all help with )….. thank you !!!

I would love to hear how other big families handle laundry!  We are always tinkering with our laundry system, but here is what works for us right now:  Everyone is responsible to get their laundry to the laundry room, where they sort it into either the Light/White bin or the Dark/Bright bin.  Then one person is responsible to wash/dry 2-3 loads each day, sorting clean laundry into baskets as it comes out of the dryer.  Clean laundry is sorted by bedroom, so it’s just 4 baskets plus one for linens.  Then the residents of each bedroom sort and put away their own clothes from their room’s basket.  Each of the younger children has an older one assigned to help make sure laundry is put away properly, but they do most of the work themselves.

How do you teach your 2yr old to obey the first time every time and how long does it take? Mine has started throwing fits and when I tell him to do something he says “It’s FINE!” or “No”. He obeys when I move but not before I do.

We teach by requiring first time obedience, every time.  The key is consistency.  If you want your little one to obey the first time, you need to correct each time he waits.  If he doesn’t get corrected when waits for you to move, then he’ll keep waiting.  It is human nature to test the boundaries, and if he has learned that you don’t really mean it until you move, then that is when he will obey.  If my 2yo waits until he sees me heading his way and then obeys, I still correct and say, “No, you didn’t obey quickly.”  Sometimes it’s helpful to do a quick replay.  It may feel a little silly to you, but tell him “Let’s try again so you can obey quickly.”  Then go back to where you were and repeat your command.  This helps him to be very clear in his mind about what is acceptable and what is not, and gives you the opportunity to praise him for obeying promptly.

Verbally refusing to obey is an instant swat in our house, so it almost never happens.  I often say something like, “God tells you to obey your parents.  Did you obey?  God says I have to swat you when you disobey, and I’m going to obey God because I love God and I love you.”

Throwing fits is never acceptable in our house.  I correct with a firm swat and say, “No, you obey happily.”  If he doesn’t calm down right away, you might want to put him in his bed until he is done so he doesn’t have an audience.  If your little guy is already in the habit of throwing fits, it may take a while to break the habit, just as it can take an an adult with a bad temper some time to learn to manage his temper.

You might not be comfortable swatting a 2yo, but regardless of how you discipline or correct him, the more consistent you are the sooner he’ll believe you mean it.

It may sound like we give a lot of spankings, but that’s not true at all.  Generally speaking the more consistent you are, the less often your children will need them and they are relatively rare in our house.  When I find myself having to discipline more often, the first question I ask is, “Have I been less consistent lately?”  Inconsistency and letting bad behavior slide produce unpleasant children who test every boundary far too often, because they have learned that the standard is different from day to day and hour to hour.  Our children are far from perfect, but they are usually pleasant and well-behaved, and I think this is largely because we have worked hard to consistently train them to God’s standard over the years.

How would you answer the questions above?

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Happy Thursday, friends and moms.  We have an announcement to share: We’re going to change the format of our posts to weekly Q&A’s.  You are invited to post your questions on the 4 Moms 35 Kids facebook page every Wednesday – just watch for the announcement and be sure to post your question under it so we don’t miss you!

The current plan is that once each month we will continue to have a topical post in which all of us answer the same question in more depth than our Q&A posts – unless the toddler, preschooler and 4 other children conspire to sabotage somebody’s computer time.  In that case, you’re lucky there are 4 of us Moms.

Here are the questions I chose from this week’s list, mainly because some sort of answer immediately popped into my head when I read them.  I hope you won’t mind that I skipped the ones which elicited a blank stare while I thought to myself, “I have no idea what helpful advice I could possibly offer that poor soul.”

How did you guys handle late pregnancy/postpartum when you had all littles? Expecting no. 4 any day now, and currently have all littles, 6, 4, 2. I froze a few meals ahead of time, but the housecleaning is already suffering. Did you guys just plod through the season, knowing it would be over soon? Or make some sort of action plan?  ~Elizabeth

 Elizabeth, the short answer is, yes, I plodded through.  I planned ahead when I was able, but sometimes I just felt rotten at the end of pregnancy, and it’s actually easier for me to take things a day at a time than to try to plan everything ahead.

One thing I do consider to be a priority before the baby arrives is child training.  Make sure you consistently require first-time obedience, because they will test all the boundaries as soon as you sit down to nurse a crying newborn.  While you’re thinking, “Don’t make me put this baby down!” they have to know that you are absolutely ready to do exactly that.

How do you handle your personal fitness and health? ~Celina

 Celina, my activities change all the time, but here is what I do now:

  1. I try to do a few quick exercises every morning.  While getting dressed, I often do a set of push-ups and/or kettle bell swings.  I often do longer, slower exercises in my room during my morning Bible reading: planks, leg lifts, bridges, etc.
  2. A couple of times/week, Perry and I go work out at a nearby gym.  This is new for us, but before we moved into town we used to walk or jog as often as we found time, which was rarely as often as we should have but better than nothing.  🙂

I’m still carrying a little extra weight from the last few pregnancies, but I’m feeling better all the time and enjoying a more active lifestyle than most of the past 10 years.

What do you do to make mornings smooth? Mine are crazy & we homeschool. I need a good transition from breakfast to chores to school. ~Claire

 Claire, I”m glad I’m not the only mom who struggles with that!  I can’t tell you how often I look at the clock and realize we spent the entire morning on food and chores!  I don’t have the secret to smooth mornings, but I have learned a few things that help move our mornings along:

  • Have a fixed order for doing things: My mantra is jobs, Bible, school.   Breakfast happens when it happens.  You might like to start with Bible, but I find it hard to focus on what I’m reading when there is a mess around me.
  • Clean up before bed to minimize morning chore time.  I love it when we go to bed in a clean house so we can get right to Bible in the morning.  
  • Make sure your kids understand the standard.  Our new rule is that bedrooms must be clean before breakfast.  If you sit down to breakfast, you are telling me that your bedroom is clean.  You’d better not be lying.
  • Be vigilant to avoid distractions – even “good” ones, in yourself and the children.  That closet may be sorely in need of cleaning, but don’t do it in the morning.  Don’t let your kids spend 30 minutes culling their clothes in the morning when they should be making the bed and heading downstairs.
  • Prioritize.  Don’t feel like a failure if you don’t get it all done…again.  Start with the things you consider most important and work your way down the list.  School works better for our older ones in the afternoon when the little ones are having naps and quiet time.  School for little ones doesn’t have to happen every day, and it doesn’t have to take long.
  • Try again tomorrow.  And the next day.  And the next.

Do you use the “buddy system” like I’ve seen on the Duggars? And if so, at what age do you pair up an older with a younger? And what duties does the older buddy do for the younger and what do you not give the responsibility for? Our oldest is 6 1/2, youngest is 6 months, (3 others in between) and we’re considering having the oldest and youngest pair up in another year or so and having the oldest help with carseat in and out, serving/cutting food, help getting dressed, brushing teeth etc. And then any future babies, if God gives them, would be paired up with the next oldest child. Any thoughts on “buddies”?  ~Jaclyn

 Jaclyn, we have used a system like that on and off over the years, and I keep telling myself we should go back to it.  There are no hard, fast rules; just do what works best for you and your kids.  What you suggest sounds reasonable if your oldest is mature enough and is excited about helping.  I usually don’t have them change dirty diapers or help with baths until much older, but a 7yo can be a capable and enthusiastic helper in countless other ways.  It sounds to me like you’re on the right track with your ideas.

What are your favorite dinner recipes that your families like?  ~Debbie

 We’re working to cut our food budget, so right now we’re experimenting with what we light heartedly call “peasant food.”  We recently tried and enjoyed Greek fakes, Louisiana Red Beans and Rice, and often have homemade chicken pot pie (light on the chicken, with lots of veggies) or dinner quiche.  We’re having fun with new ethnic foods, and I want to try my hand at Ratatouille soon.  We also eat a lot of homemade artisan bread and challah bread.


My 11-year-old daughter is growing up FAST physically…I’m curious how you handle “leg shaving” – like what age do you start that?  ~Jamie

 Strangely enough, I’ve never had to “handle” leg shaving.  We don’t object to our girls shaving when they are old enough to become self-conscious about the hair on their legs, and they have all started at what I consider to be a reasonable age, somewhere during puberty – often without my knowledge, because it simply hasn’t been a big deal.  Of course I’ve also been asked by 7 and 8yo’s, but they’re just asking for fun and they easily take no for an answer.

When watching a movie as a family, how do you keep all the questions,comments, needless talking down? We are a family of four right now and I am constantly saying “sshhhh”. Do you have a no talking rule during the movie?  ~Stacey

 This question makes me giggle, and I hardly know why.  I think this is one of those things that drives some people insane and others hardly think about it.  I go from one extreme to the other, but subtitles keep me sane.

We do allow quiet, courteous talking that is not disruptive or overly distracting, but it often gets out of hand.  If someone initiates a serious discussion about the movie, we sometimes pause the movie and engage the topic.  Who wants to miss a teachable moment like that?  But if there is just too much chitchat, we either turn on the subtitles and pity the non-readers, or tell them to shush – and when we say it, we mean it.  An unrepentant chatterbox might be invited to leave the room or go to bed, since he or she obviously finds the movie uninteresting.  We’re heartless like that.  😉

Do you keep all hand-me-downs? If you do how do you keep them organized?  ~Tonya

 I have learned to never turn down an offer of hand-me-downs.  I want people to keep sending them our way, so we accept them gladly and pass along the ones we don’t need.  For teens and adults, we keep almost nothing that we won’t wear right away.  For younger ones, I try not to keep anything that is more than a couple of years away from fitting.  For example, I am getting rid of 4yo Bethany’s clothes as she outgrows them because even if our next baby is a girl it will be at least 5 years before she can wear Bethany’s things.  I tend to stockpile a little more for the boys than the girls because boys are harder on clothes.  No surprises there!

I keep clothes that aren’t currently being worn in containers labelled by size, one smallish rubbermaid-type tote for each gender/size in storage (remember, these are just for the little ones).    If it doesn’t fit in the tote, we either pass it on or thin the contents of the tote to make room.

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4 Moms Q&A: bedrooms and bedtime

4moms35kids 4 Moms: How to get kids to work hard with a good attitude Welcome friends.  This week’s 4 Moms post is a Q&A about bedtimes and bedrooms.  On your mark…get set…GO!

1.  So here’s my question for all of you… How do you handle bedtime with 4 under 4? My youngest two are 1 1/2 and 3 months, and bedtime when my husband is not home is awful (he doesn’t get home till sometime between 8 and 10pm).

Oh. my. goodness.

I have no advice.

Well, just this: I would keep the bedtime routine super simple and short.  Baths can happen at other times of the day.  Teeth can be brushed right after dinner.  Bedtime stories are good if they help settle the kids, but totally optional.  A quick prayer and a kiss is all it takes to be a good parent, and I’ll confess that we have never done bedtime prayers with any regularity.  Even pajamas can be optional if you and your kids are OK with it.  With 4 little ones and no help at bedtime, no one in their right mind will blame you for questioning habits and traditions, and stripping the routine down to the bare necessities.

2.  I have 3 boys in 1 room ages 3, 7 and 9. Any suggestions on bedtime?

We have found that bedtimes don’t really need to coincide just because kids are sharing a room.  Staggered bedtimes can sometimes make it easier for kids to wind down, since they are not there to play with each other.  On the other hand, it might be easier to get it all over with at once.  I put our boys to bed at the same time and often sit quietly in the doorway after the lights are out, correcting them if they try to play.

If you feel the younger ones need to be in bed earlier, they can learn to sleep through late arrivals – or just go back to sleep without drama if they are awakened.  Of course latecomers should do their best to be quiet.

The point here is that there are no set rules; much depends on your children’s habits and temperaments, how they interact with each other, and how you want bedtime to work.

3.  How does the division of rooms work in your new house? Are the bedrooms the same size? Same amount of rooms? Are you still using the shelf beds?

Most of the bedrooms are a little bigger than the old house, and we now have 4 instead of 3.  We also have far more closet space!  Here’s the breakdown:

The boys have the smallest room.  Calvin sleeps in our room, so for now it’s just 6yo Perry and 2yo Parker.  I keep all of their clothes in their walk-in closet and most of the toys are in the sunroom, so their room really only has beds.  We found a great deal on craigslist for matching car beds, one twin and one toddler size!

The 3 oldest girls (17yo, 16yo, and 14yo) share the middle-sized room.  It’s about the size of the bedrooms in the old house, but there’s a small bonus: a second-story deck.  I’m a little jealous of the view.  We offered to buy them beds, but they were adamantly against such a waste of space.  Instead, they used their “bed allowance” to buy chalkboard paint and a bright red sleeper sofa – another craigslist deal – so that they could decorate their bedroom as a sitting room.  They use the mattresses from the old shelf beds, just laying them out on the floor at night and rolling them up in the corner of the room during the day.  They think their bedrolls are much more comfy than regular mattresses, but are thinking of trying thinner Japanese style mats to save even more space.

They have their personal collections of books and pets displayed on shelves mounted high on the wall to preserve the limited floor space.  They hope to add a drop-down style table soon to hold Kaitlyn’s old-fashioned record player and provide a surface for laptops, etc.

Instead of a walk-in closet, they have two double-door closets covering one wall.  The inside is immaculately organized with shelves, cubbies and hanging rods to make use of every square foot for their myriad shoes and extensive wardrobes.  It’s a wonder to behold, but I don’t know if they want the world to behold it so I didn’t take a photo of the inside.

The biggest kid bedroom belongs to the 4 younger girls: 13yo Natalie, 11yo Becca, 8yo Rachael, and 4yo Bethany.  They have 2 walk-in closets.  Each of the older girls is paired up with a younger one to keep their closet in order, and each has one entire side to herself.

They have bunk beds with a full size bed on top and a [full size] futon on the bottom.  Rachael usually sleeps on the bottom with Becca, and Natalie is all alone on the top, waiting for Bethany’s bladder to grow.  Right now Bethany has her own toddler bed, because…um…we don’t want to change full size bedding every morning, if you know what I mean.

Perry and I share the master bedroom with baby Calvin.  We have a walk-in closet like the kids, and I have to say it feels luxurious to have one entire side of the closet all to myself!  And we have our own bathroom.  It’s glorious, I tell you.  I love this house.

4.  Instead of bedtime, how about waking up?? they all share a room great EXCEPT for the waking each other up in the morning, for some too early, because the rule right now is that they can’t come out till 7. But when we tell them they can just come out when they wake up, they choose incredibly early times… the excitement of being up with mom and dad must be off the charts for our children  even when this mom and dad are practically comatose

If your children are old enough to trust for a little while in the morning, I would instruct them to start their day as soon as they get up.  This alone might motivate them to hang out in bed a little longer.  😉

If they are too young to be unattended, then you might want to manage their sleep a little differently. I know this isn’t always the case, but if a child is consistently waking up too early, my first answer would be to see that they might not need so much sleep – either move bedtime to a little later, or skip naps.  This would definitely be my first move with children too young to trust alone, who are waking up before I do.  Ideally, they should sleep until they’re not sleepy anymore, and then wake up – with wake up time landing right where I want it to.  Of course that’s easier said than done, and it takes a little trial and error to figure out how much sleep a particular child needs.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, I still wouldn’t want to discourage an early riser, but I certainly understand the inconvenience.  Rather than discouraging a good habit, I would look for ways to work with it.  Maybe you can change the rule a little? If early morning is your quiet time, then anyone who wants to rise early with you must be quiet too.  If it’s Bible time, you could require them to read as well – even if this means a pre-reader sitting quietly and looking at the illustrations in a children’s Bible.  If it’s your coffee time with hubby, then other early risers could be restricted to the living room sofa with a book.

5.  We just moved our toddler out of the crib and our 8-month old sleeps with my husband and I. We are trying to get some form of routine – keeping toddler in bed and get baby used to the crib. Any sleep suggestions? How does a tired momma get sleep at night??

 Are they both in your room?  Wherever they are, I would focus on diligently putting them back in their beds when they wake up.  It might seem easier to bring them to your bed because then you can sleep too, but in the long run it just prolongs the situation and you get less sleep.  Guess how I know?  I still sigh every time Perry reminds me of this, because all I want to do is get a full night’s sleep, but I know he is right!

Also, you might want to wait until the toddler has adjusted to his  bed and is sleeping well before you try to transition the baby out of your bed and into the crib.  Two changes at once sounds like more than I would want to tackle, and you may be provoking an additional problem if the toddler resents the baby moving into his bed.  I find it easier to stagger changes whenever possible so that I’m only dealing with one major issue at a time.

Oh, and when you learn the secret to getting enough sleep at night, let me know.  🙂

6.  We have three girls 14, 12, & 10…and two boys 7 & 1. We have 3 bedrooms for them. Oldest has own room, middle girls share, 7yo old hates to sleep alone, but we cannot get 1yo to be on same sleep schedule as big brother.  So for now 7yo is w/oldest sister & 1yo is in our closet… What do we do???

 I’m not quite sure I understand; is the boys’ bedroom empty now?  At any rate, it sounds like the kids have found a temporary solution until your boys are sleeping better, if the 14yo doesn’t mind terribly.  If it were us – and we have a very similar situation going on – I would make sure the 7yo knows that he belongs in his room, even if he wakes up with his sister most mornings.  I might also keep the little guy in the boys’ if he’s sleeping through the night, and let them adjust to each other’s schedules.

We just started having this problem since we moved to a new house, and I’m finding that a little reward in the morning goes a long way toward motivating a boy to stay in his own bed.  I have a treat jar with small individually wrapped candies and some quarters, and every night that 6yo Perry or 2yo Parker stays in his bed, he gets to choose a treat.  If one or both of them wake during the night and try to join their big sisters, they gently remind him that his treat is in jeopardy, and he usually decides to go back to his own bed.  On the rare mornings that he insists on staying with a sister, Perry wakes up annoyed that they didn’t send him back to his own bed.  Parker just shrugs it off and decides to try again tomorrow.  🙂

7.  Do your kids ever share beds, either because they want to or because that is their set up?

 They often share beds for one or both reasons.  Right now, 8yo Rachael sleeps with either 13yo Natalie or 11yo or Becca, who have full size bunk beds.  2yo Parker usually starts out in Perry’s bed instead of his own.  Regardless of where he starts out, he often wakes during the night and climbs into Becca’s bed – maybe because she is such a light sleeper that she was always first to go to him if he woke during the night.

8.  I have a really hard question for you: How is your last name pronounced?? It’s been bugging me for months!

Our last name is spelled Coghlan.  There’s no U or I in it, even though family and friends who have known us for most of our lives still spell it that way. It’s pronounced koff-lan.  I know, it doesn’t look like it sounds.  When someone needs to spell my name and I don’t expect to meet them again, I pronounce it kog-lan, because even though I spell it out slowly and distinctly, they ALWAYS put a U in it, and an I for good measure: Coughlin.  They still do it even when I try to make it sound like it looks, but at least I can console myself with the knowledge that I did everything I could to avert the mistake.  Their misspellings be upon their own heads.

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From the mailbag: Church with 5 little ones

My recent Q&A post included the topic of keeping children quiet in church, and elicited the following comment from a reader.  Maybe you understand how she feels.

Oh, Kim! I am feeling so defeated about having our littles in church! We have worked so hard with our 4-year-old and our 2-year-old and they do pretty well. We have great conversations (esp with the 4-year-old) about the things we learn in church. We have a 12-month-old foster-adopt son who is getting to a challenging stage (vocally and “sitting still”-wise), and because we cannot use Biblical, physical forms of discipline with him, we are struggling with how to train him.

Add to that: our lives have just been turned upside down–we found out we will have his newborn sister placed with us (surprise!), and I am 4 days postpartum with our third bio-baby. We will have five kids, and the oldest is 4!

Even if my husband is always with us in the pew, we don’t have enough arms between us to hold all the babies, let alone train them! I am especially discouraged because in a few weeks, once the youngest can be out in public, we have to begin the church-hunting process in this not-child-friendly city. What will people think when we walk through a church’s front door and cause chaos in the sanctuary? Back when we only had the older two, we once visited a church that asked us to sit in the foyer seating area because children were not allowed in the sanctuary for “videotaping” purposes.

I guess I realize I am overwhelmed with lots of things, and worried about being rejected by believers when we most need the support of a good church.


I hardly know where to start.  I want to offer a dozen pieces of advice and encouragement all at once, along with a shoulder to cry on.  I’m just beginning to come out of the post-partum fog, so let me remind you of one huge thing: Even though your concerns and challenges are very real, everything looks and feels even worse now while you are riding that rollercoaster of hormones and sleep deprivation.  If you can just take the next few months one day at a time, you’ll be able to look back and breathe a sigh of relief, realizing that it wasn’t quite as bad as you thought it would be.  I know this because I was a basket-case when we had a wedding, a move, and a baby all in short order, closely followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and hordes of happy houseguests.  It was overwhelming to me at the time, but looking back I can only blame hormone-induced stress.  It was a loud and busy time, and everyone but me was having fun.

But you do have your hands full, and they’re getting fuller.  You are overflowing with blessings, and overflowing is stressful.

It sounds like your biggest concern is finding a church that will love and accept your family.  I don’t know where you live or what your doctrine is, but I strongly recommend you look for a church on the NCFIC.org site (National Center for Family-Integrated Churches).  These are congregations from many denominations that encourage families to keep their children in worship with them, so they will joyfully tolerate the disruptions as you train your children to sit quietly.  While they may be able to point you to a nursing room or cry-room, nobody will give you dirty looks for having your children sit with you, or suggest that you send them to children’s church.

If you don’t find a suitable listing in your area, you might want to ask around on Facebook (or I’ll ask here for you) and see if anyone knows of congregations in your area that are not listed on the NCFIC site.

I understand that corporal discipline is not an option with your 12 month old, but there are other ways to teach him.

  • Many families recommend regular daily times of quiet listening as practice for worship.
  • During church, when my little ones get too noisy and I take them out, I don’t entertain them.  I make sure being taken out is less interesting than sitting in church.  For example, quiet toys might be allowed in church but not when you take the baby out of the sanctuary.  Certainly don’t reward him with a trip to the nursery if you are trying to teach him to sit quietly in church.
  • A firm vocal command can be effective.  Just tell him “no,” softly but firmly with no hint of a smile.  If he smiles in response, don’t let yourself smile back.
  • Be self conscious not to encourage the baby to squeal and play.  Funny faces may keep his attention, but who do you blame when he laughs and squeals?  My babies are quieter when they face forward rather than facing me.
  • If you can work it, a nap is the perfect way to keep a baby quiet during church.  Yes, they might fuss a little before they doze off but then you are rewarded with an hour of sweet silence.  I don’t know about your schedule, but for us worship falls squarely into naptime for our babies.

When it comes to the mechanics of worshiping with lots of little ones, we have found two seating techniques that were very helpful when we had lots of little ones:

  1. You and your husband resist the temptation to sit right next to each other, placing troublemakers between you and on your laps.  With 2 children between you, one in each lap, one on the far left and another on the far right, you can have 6 children sitting on or next to you and your husband.  While it doesn’t solve every problem, keeping them within easy reach does allow you to notice problems and address them promptly.
  2. If you really, really want to sit together – and I don’t blame you – try this.  I like it better than the first idea.  Rather than stretching out in one long row, have some children sit directly in front of you.  Sometimes this is more effective than having them sit next to you, because they are directly in your line of sight while you watch the pulpit.  This also allowed my husband and I to sit together while keeping an eye on 7 or 8 children – one on each lap, one to the left of us, one to the right of us, and several in front of us.  I won’t name names, but we still do this with our troublemakers and fidgeters.

Having two newborns is going to be tricky no matter what you do, but remember: moms do it all the time.  It’s called twins.  Seek out moms of twins, and get advice.  Most are glad to help.

And speaking of help: once you find a family friendly church, seek out a baby-loving teen who is willing to help you during the service.  Our girls have been known to sit with the little ones of another family when both parents are occupied with needy wee ones.

Do you have advice for Karen?  Let’s hear it in the comments.

Q&A with the 4 Moms: competitiveness, pregnancy and newborns, Bible for little ones

I know, I know.  It’s Thursday and the other Moms are way ahead of me.  I hope you already visited all 3 of them to see their Q&A while I was still sleeping  taking care of a newborn.

I put a last-minute request on Facebook for some easy questions that wouldn’t reveal the effects of sleep deprivation.  Here’s a sampling of what I received.  I may or may not have picked the easiest ones.

Savannah Perkins-Berniquez um…what’s 2+2?

Bless you, Savannah.

Savannah Perkins-Berniquez This might have been covered before, but in what ways do you purposefully spend quality time with your kids? right now we have 3 (soon to be 4), and the baby doesn’t really need mommy or daddy dates yet..but I’m curious how those with BIG families do it..i guess also just looking for ideas

Oh, I see, Savannah.  You were just buttering me up for the hard question!  Fortunately, the 4 Moms posted on that topic already, so I don’t have to think of a new answer.

Kimberly Rivera How DO you get those babies to sleep through the night??

Well, first I’ll confess that Parker is still a little hit-or-miss when it comes to sleeping through the night.  He was a high needs baby and was high-strung long before birth.  I felt him startle in the womb at every loud noise that came along, and in our house that’s a lot!

Now if you still think I might be a good source of advice, I’ll recommend my previous posts about how I got my [other 9] babies to sleep through the night from an early age: Sleeping babies Q&A and Sleeping Like a Baby are good ones to start with.

Elizabeth Clouser Sacks I’ll ask you the same one I asked Raising Olives: How on earth do you handle homeschooling after having a newborn? Do you take time off? How much? How does everybody else get along? Esp. the little ones? I am SUPER interested in your answer, because we are expecting no. 4 in March, and our other 3 (6, 4, 22 months) might need more of a transition than I expect. I’m looking at taking a month off possibly, just so everybody has time to adjust. But I’ve never done this before, so both of your perspectives will be wonderful help!

Elizabeth, we school year-round and take time off whenever we need to.  Even when nobody is sitting at the table with pencil in hand, learning happens, so I have learned too: I have learned not to stress over the particulars of the school schedule and just make sure their brains are getting plenty of exercise.

Since your children are so young, I would especially encourage you not to stress over missing school time.  Just do a little informal review every now and then to make sure they don’t lose what they have already learned, and pick things up again when you feel ready.  You may find that relaxing your school schedule can make it an enjoyable passtime for the kids rather than a source of guilt and stress for you.

Just read aloud to them (Bible and other books), engage them in discussions, and encourage them write, draw, etc.  If they are reading at all on their own, have them read with you a little each day.  If they can sit next to you on your bed while you rest and nurse the baby, everyone will be happy.

Katelyn Ahlgren How many months/years between each of your children? What’s the most important thing you have done/eaten to maintain your health through childbearing and nursing? Will you post pics of how you organize your new house, once you’re happy with it!

Our oldest 6 are about 19 months apart.  After that, our spaces are closer to 2 years.  Our last two are 28 months apart.  I know it could be due to declining fertility in my 30’s, but honestly I think it’s because my later babies have nursed longer than the first several.  In the early days with so many littles, it was harder to find time for nursing so our babies tried more solid foods at an earlier age and nursing tapered off sooner.

The most important thing I have done to maintain my health?  I know diet is important, but I have heard that exercise is even more vital to health.  While I loudly proclaim my hatred of exercise, I have tried over the years to stay in reasonably good shape and I think this has helped prepare my body for so many pregnancies as well as helped me recover from them afterwards.  Now Perry is after me to start fitness class in 6 weeks.  He seems to think that just because he is working out regularly, I should do the same.  Pbbbt.  [I really appreciate his encouragement and I know I need the extra motivation because – did I mention this? – I hate exercise.]

Kelley Dennis How do you deal with jealousy or competition in your teen girls? I have two that are 14 months apart, and though their Dad and I greatly discourage it, they are always competing with each other with everything from friends, clothing, school….ugh! I dread the day that boys are thrown into the mix!

Kelley, I do agree that competitiveness can become very unhealthy and think you and your husband are wise to watch and mediate, but I don’t feel the need to completely discourage.  Instead, we make sure our children’s interactions are governed by Scripture.  Competition can encourage both parties to work harder and do better, or it can discourage and tear down others.  When we see unkindness, we correct it as such.  When we see healthy competition, we encourage it.

Instead of competing directly with each other, they need to set their goal on honoring God with their best.  With the right goal in sight, some friendly competition can provide good motivation and encouragement.  When the competition itself becomes the end goal, then there is a definite problem.

I think in your example, it can be dealt with as selfishness.  Does one child want to succeed only so that the other won’t?  Does she want to buy/wear that particular blouse because she knows the other really wants it?  Does she want somebody to be her best friend because she knows that person is her sister’s best friend?  That’s a lot like a toddler who only wants a particular toy when she sees somebody else playing with it.  It’s coveting, and God forbids it.

Once these patterns are established it’s much harder to change them (ask me how I know!).  Change can be painful, but the sooner you can do it, the better.  Especially if you do it before boys are thrown into the mix.  🙂

Andrea Garlach How do you start introducing the Bible to little ones? Any tips for starting a Bible/worship time for kids who have never had one? We go to a bible study where they have their own lesson, but as far as doing stuff as a family, it’s something i want to incorporate, but feel at loss as to what to do since I didn’t grow up in a religious home and don’t have an example to follow

We talk about the Bible every day in every imaginable context, so even if our little ones aren’t part of the conversation they are being exposed to the Bible.  They are listening and learning that the Bible is the foundation of our thinking.

When it comes to reading from the Bible, I love the Golden Bible.  It is heavily based on the King James Version of the Bible, only lightly edited to simplify, and includes far more of the Bible than the typical children’s collection.  The illustrations are beautiful and reverent (no silly pop-eyed Jesus), and there are no additions to the text as far as I can tell.

We also read to them directly from the Bible, and have them read from the Bible as soon as they are able.  Psalms make a good starting point since many are short and may be familiar already.  The book of Jonah is another good one for beginning readers, again because it is short (just 4 chapters) and tells a familiar story.

We often read a daily chapter of Proverbs together.  There are 31 chapters, so you can do this every month.  You might be amazed at how soon your children begin to recognize their favorite verses and are able to complete sentences as you read.

Whatever you do, be sure to allow plenty of time to discuss.  Don’t be frustrated if you have to stop OFTEN to answer questions and don’t cover as much material as you had hoped and planned.  Just be happy that they are engaged and thinking, and follow the rabbit trails!

Heather Bunting How do you survive the first trimester when you only have littles?

Heather, I had terrible morning sickness with my first 8 pregnancies, so I feel your pain!  I learned to pare down my activities to the absolute minimum during those difficult times.  We ate a lot of cereal for breakfast, peanut butter & jelly for lunch, and very simple dinners.  My kids watched a lot of educational DVDs because I simply couldn’t crawl off the couch some days – or if I did, it was only to run for the bathroom.  I changed the toddler’s diaper, did dishes and laundry, and picked up the toys at the end of the day.  Everything else could wait.

I learned to let go of the guilt and took comfort in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be sick forever, and each time there was a great reward at the end: a new eternal soul in my care.  🙂

Lela Smith Erthein How do you deal with playmates from outside your family /church.

Lela, we lived in the country for the last nine years so all of our kids’ playmates were from church, family and work.  Now that we’re in a neighborhood with actual neighbors, I’m wondering the same thing.  How do you deal with them?

Amanda Hartung How to get littles to be kind even when they’re frustrated?

Amanda, I have a little mantra I repeat to my children: Don’t let others lead you into sin.  Then I might elaborate, depending on the situation: “I know she wasn’t nice to you, but is it ok for you to be rude because somebody else is rude to you?  Did you like it when she was rude to you?  Are you treating her the way you want to be treated?  No, we’re not talking about her sin.  We’re talking about yours right now.  I’ll talk to her about her sin…”

If it’s somebody too little for that, I simplify even more: “No, you be nice.  Love your sister.”  No need to discuss the sins of others with others.  I deal with them individually, based on their own actions, and remind them each, on their own level, that the actions of others do not excuse their own bad behavior.

Anna Aho How do you teach little children to take care of books?

I don’t, but I’d love to learn how.  Paperbacks are consumables in our house, in every sense of the word.  If they’re not destroyed by a toddler within the first week, they are typically eaten by the baby in the second week.

Shalayne Lammiman Do you sleep your babies on their front, sides or back?

I’m a victim of ovarian guilt.  While I personally believe that the dire warnings against letting your baby sleep on his [pick your time period with its accompanying sleep position: side, belly, back] are mostly nonsense based on scare tactics, poorly executed studies, and faulty logic, I could never deal with the guilt if my baby succumbed to SIDS while sleeping in a non-AMA approved position.  Until they can roll over and thwart me and the AMA, I currently put my babies to sleep on their backs.

Mary Jo Murch What do you do with babies who want to be held all the time and won’t sleep in their beds? My 16 day old is like this and I’m not sure what to do. Cry it out? Just enjoy snuggling him and not worry?

My general practice has been to let them work up to a good solid cry before picking them up, and if I want them to learn to sleep in their own bed I just sooth them a bit, check for needs (diaper? hungry? too warm or too cool?) then put them back in bed.  You might want to read my posts on getting babies to sleep through the night, linked above in my answer to Kimberly.  I do let an older baby cry longer than a very young one, though I wouldn’t say I let them cry it out.  So far, 9 of my 10 babies have developed very good sleep habits from a young age.  The other one contributed heavily to my personal sanctification, so it’s all for the greater good.


The other moms are taking questions too:

Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • October 11 – Introducing kids to technology
  • October 18 – Food preservation
  • October 25 – How do you keep the car clean?
  • November 1 – Q&A

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Wedding Q&A

I shared a few photos and highlights from last Saturday’s wedding here.

Now to answer some of your questions:

What did you do for bridesmaids dresses?

There was only a maid of honor.  Deanna gave her a color and some general guidelines, and she chose her dress.  I think she found it at David’s Bridal.

What did you do for the reception, especially for food, venue, and flowers?

The venue was the fellowship hall belonging to the same church that owned the chapel, so that part was simple.  It was just the right size for our group of 150 close friends and family members.

Photo: Going to the Chapel

Centerpieces for the table were coke bottle vases with a tulle bow, each holding a red carnation and a small bunch of baby’s breath.  They were simple and pretty, and everyone loved them!

For food, we served pulled pork and two kinds of sausage.  I asked a couple of family members to bring specific side dishes, and a few close friends to bring veggie trays. They were thrilled to know how they could help.  They provided two varieties of potato salad, a green salad, beans, and five veggie trays.  We had intended to provide the sausage ourselves, but I asked a friend to grill it for us and she insisted on buying it as a gift.  🙂

To keep things simple, I specifically requested that veggie trays be brought fully prepared, with dip, and ready to serve.  Since each contributor brought just a single tray, it wasn’t hard for them and it kept the workload on Saturday to a minimum.  We also provided tons of watermelon, baby dills, etc. Drinks were sweet iced tea, ice water, coffee, and this punch, which got very good reviews both on the website and from our guests.  It was light and refreshing, deliciously fruity but not overly sweet.

What did the bride and groom do for a honeymoon?

Since everything happened so quickly, they decided to wait and do something special for their first anniversary.  In the meantime we sent them to the coast for a weekend in a beachfront hotel.

What does he do for a living? Where will they live? How is your back? 🙂

I don’t know how much detail about their personal life they want to share, so I’ll skip the first question.  Deanna joined him in his home in San Antonio, so they’re near enough for us to see them regularly.

My back is behaving.  It’s just sore enough now and then to remind me to get plenty of rest.  🙂

How much did you cry?

Not a bit.  I cry when I’m mad or sad.  I don’t usually do tears of joy, and this was a joyful occasion!

My children want to know who gets D’s bed/space etc 😉

So do mine.  😉  I don’t think there’s really any extra space, since she has been in the process of moving out for a while.  By that I mean that her possessions have been spread out everywhere in preparation for the grand exit.  I think her personal spaces just got absorbed gradually as she emptied them.

Best piece of advice for planning a wedding on a short time table??

Don’t sweat the details.  Find out what the bride’s and groom’s priorities are, and focus on those.  Make a list right away, so you know what needs to be done early and what can wait.  Pace yourself – don’t be afraid to leave the easy things until later as long as you’re checking important tasks off your list.

We started with a guest list so that we could get a rough headcount and secure an appropriate venue.  Then invitations went out (couldn’t do those until we knew when and where the ceremony would be!) so that out of towners would have as much notice as possible.  After that, we started looking for a dress, because we knew it could take a while to find the right one inside our budget.

Clothes for the flower girl and ring bearer were next.


I had a hard time finding a dress that I felt was flattering in my third trimester, but in the end I found one I really liked – and of course this wasn’t about me anyway!

Food and decorations came together last.  They wanted something fun and informal, and we knew we could make those decisions quickly if necessary.  I nearly waited too long on flowers, but it turned out the florist had just what I needed in stock, so I was able to get a great deal and didn’t have to order 7-10 days ahead as usual.

Any helpful hints for cutting corners and keeping the cost low?

Accept offers of help.  If somebody offers help that isn’t exactly what you need, thank them sincerely and ask if they would be willing to do ___ instead.

Ask for help.  I felt very self-conscious about imposing on people, but every time I mentioned that I was hoping we could find ___, somebody piped up and told me how much they would love to help!  My sister-in-law called to put me in touch with her mom, who was able to loan us tablecloths, punch bowls and serving trays.  We asked to hire a young couple we know and love to play the piano and call the dances at the reception, and they offered to do it for free as a gift to the bride and groom.  I asked a friend to grill sausages, and she insisted on picking up the bill for the sausages.  We were able to borrow some equipment from our own church, and the church we rented had a well-equipped kitchen as well.

Ask for suggestions and input.  This gets your creative juices flowing, and also gets others involved in ways that can prove helpful.

Do it yourself if you can:

  • Kaitlyn and Deanna designed the invitations themselves, then we had them printed on ivory cardstock and cut by an office supply store.  Ivory envelopes in standard card sizes came from Amazon.
  • We couldn’t afford a high-dollar photographer and I’ve seen what the cheap ones get you, so we did photography in-house.  We printed out a checklist for the formal shots before, during and after the ceremony, and enlisted a few friends with good cameras to help out at the reception.  The bride and groom insisted that they didn’t want or need all the typical and traditional poses, though we did make an effort to cover the basics.  What they really wanted is a fun way to remember the day, and I’m confident they will have it!  This isn’t a corner everyone would be willing to cut, but it worked for us.
  • The groom’s aunt did the cakes, and she did them beautifully!

What wouldn’t you do next time?

The photographer, who probably wants to remain nameless, says that she wouldn’t lose her checklist of important shots right before the ceremony.

I would be more organized about reception photography, which was more important to the bride and groom than the formal shots.  I did enlist help from talented friends with good cameras and I’m sure we’ll have lots of great shots, but next time I would assign specific tasks to individual photographers to make sure all the bases were covered (e.g. First person get some nice shots of the food and people eating.  Second person focus on the cake table, guest book, and other decorations.  Third person take photos of dance, helpers, volunteers, DJ, etc.  Fourth person focus on bride, groom and family members.)

I would stick to recommended amounts of food based on the number of people we expect, and I would trust the built-in safety margins.  I wanted to play it safe – don’t we all? – and our guests ate less than half the food we provided.  Of course leftovers are a grand thing, but we had a lot of food to pack up, haul back to the house and fit into the fridge!  More conservative quantities would have been plenty, much easier to clean up afterward, and easier on the budget.

I would keep a more detailed account of our expenses so we can plan more easily for the next wedding.

These are all very small things because overall, we’re thrilled with the way things went!

And I can’t end this without special thanks to two of my friends.

While many of our friends and family contributed in various ways, two friends really stood out.  Laralee and Laurie both asked what they could do to help.  While I had intended to oversee the meal with help from my older daughters, I asked if my friends could make themselves available while we were occupied with post-ceremony photos.  These two dear ladies absolutely insisted that I not plan to work during the reception – they entirely took over on my behalf.  When one apologized for being “too bossy” about the idea of me helping out, I thanked her heartily and assured her that her own willingness to step in and take over allowed me to step down without guilt.

Laralee and Laurie and their families made the whole process go better: both had helped with other weddings, and brought a lot of expertise to the table.  They helped with planning, asking good questions that hadn’t occurred to me.  They helped with set-up, serving, and cleanup afterward.  They enlisted help as needed from others and made sure that all the bases were covered.  They each contributed some nice touches of their own to the setup and decor.  They worked tirelessly to make sure we didn’t.  And I’m sure they did a lot that I will never know about.  🙂

Without friends like these, I think the wedding would have been an entirely different experience, and I’m thankful to count their families among our close friends.

4 Moms Q&A:

This week is another 4 Moms Q&A session!  Here are some of the questions I received this time.  If you have a question you would like to see answered in an upcoming session, keep an eye on the Life in a Shoe facebook page.  I usually ask for questions on Tuesday or Wednesday before the Q&A post.

How do you keep you teen children in church?

 Our respectful, obedient teens only leave to take the little ones on bathroom trips, but duct tape is good for the stubborn ones.  It is reasonably inexpensive if you use it conservatively, and it’s easy to keep a roll in your purse or diaper bag.  Just make sure it doesn’t leave adhesive on the pews/chairs.

In all seriousness, we make sure our older children understand the importance of regular worship.  Skipping church isn’t an option, so keeping them in church just isn’t an issue.  If one began to drag her feet about attending church, we would look for and address underlying issues, because those decisions don’t happen in a vacuum.

What were the biggest changes you found in raising girls and boys?

 Noise and activity levels come to mind immediately.  My girls are anything but tame, but the day our boy started walking was the day he started running laps around the house – and 5 years later he hasn’t stopped.  We have worked hard to teach him manners so he’s not wild and crazy…just crazy.  His energy level is on a whole different spectrum than the girls, and he needs direction to burn that energy in a non-destructive way that doesn’t make others want to attack him with a roll of duct tape.

Another difference that I have found is in how our boys deal with altercations, discipline and correction.  With girls, there are often hurt feelings and emotions to deal with after any sort of unpleasant encounter, whether it is a disagreement with a sibling or a correction from a parent.  In contrast, I have found that our boys are generally willing to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, apologize and/or accept apologies, and move on with their day.  They tend to accept correction and instruction in a very matter-of-fact way, with no hard feelings and lots of good discussion.

What tips do you have for gently shepherding a child’s heart when they are still babies? My daughter (my first) is 7 1/2 months, and I can already tell she wants something when its in your hand, and she gets defiant if she doesn’t get her way (in other situations, too). Right now I’m calmly saying the word “please” before something is handed to her, to try to teach her to associate the word with asking for it. Do you have other ideas?

 I love this question, and I think it’s great that you are already thinking in these terms!  Too many parents assume that babies can’t understand these things so they allow them (i.e. train them) to be demanding little tyrants – and then the rules abruptly change when parents decide they are old enough.  This just isn’t kind to the baby.  They can begin to learn good manners and a sweet disposition from the very start, and you’ll find that you have a much more pleasant toddler than the Terrible Two-year-old that some people think is inevitable.

To answer your question, your baby is old enough to start learning sign language, if you are interested in taking that route.  The sign for please is a very common one to start with – just a pat on the chest with one hand.  I would also suggest that you make sure she have a good attitude before you hand over the desired object.  If she is being angry or impatient because you didn’t hand it over quickly enough, just move it to where she can’t reach it and tell her in a firm voice, “No.  You be nice.  Don’t be mad.  Do you want it, please?”  As soon as she relaxes, give it to her.  At first, this may mean waiting a minute or two until she has begun to lose interest, but babies are smart and she’ll catch on quickly at her age.

This idea can be expanded to other areas as well.  Just try to spot a bad or demanding attitude wherever it shows itself and deal gently but firmly, as it sounds like you are already doing.  Consistency will pay off, and I think you are on your way to having a very sweet little girl!

Tips for keeping littles (7 months, and two 22 month olds) quiet in church.

 Maybe you’ll enjoy these posts from a few years ago about how we train our babies and little ones to be quiet in church.

I’d love ideas on simple weddings when you have a large family. My oldest is 20 and my youngest is 2 months and I have 5 in between. 🙂

 We’re new to the world of wedding planning, since this is our first!  I’ll be happy to share more about it afterward if it goes well.  If not, well, you can learn what not to do.  We’re definitely keeping it low-stress and not worrying about too many unnecessary details.  We are keeping it mostly traditional but relatively informal.  My oldest is so not a details person, and I have decided that if certain things about her wedding are not important to her, then they’re not important to me either.  It’s very freeing!

What do you do with an overly-emotional little boy who cries at *everything*? His siblings don’t do this, and I’m at a loss as to how to handle it. I don’t coddle or encourage, but brushing it off / ignoring it hasn’t seemed to work either. Help!

 While we as moms want to be gentle and understanding, we do not want our children to be ruled by their emotions.  Proverbs 25:28 says,  A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

My basic response with either gender has been to admonish them to self control.  With a very little one, I would simply correct him in a firm voice: “No, that’s not a reason to cry.  You hush.”  With a 7yo, I would explain to them that falling into tears without a very good reason is very much like having a tantrum of sadness instead of anger.  It’s sin, and they need to work hard to control themselves just like they would if they had a bad temper.

It might also be helpful if you can determine why he does this: is he high-strung? Prone to self-pity?  Easily frustrated?  Using tears to deal with anger?  There may be an underlying cause that you can identify and address to help him overcome this tendency.  If you can get to the root of his tears, you may be able to give him some useful tools to deal with the problem.  If he’s high strung, he can learn to go to his room for some quiet time if he’s feeling stressed.  If he is prone to self-pity, he needs to learn that this is another form of selfishness.  Get the idea?

See what the other moms say:

Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • September 13 – Handling different standards between you and your husband (homeschooling, dress, etc.)

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About 4 Moms, including a complete list of all past topics

Samaritan Ministries Q&A

You know how much we love Samaritan Ministries because I’ve blogged about Samaritan’s medical bill sharing many times in the past.  I’ve answered a few new questions recently that I thought I would share here since others may have similar questions on their minds.


Our insurance has gone up yet again, and it’s lousy insurance to begin with. I am very interested in this. I love the idea of helping others, cutting free from big business insurance companies, the personal connection, and the midwife clause! Haha. I didn’t know about the car accident policy . . .

My husband is deeply skeptical and asked me to look for some negative/neutral reviews. His concerns are 1. not actually having our medical expenses met in a true medical situation where the bills are more than we can handle or 2. having something happen to make us ineligible for insurance (or in the current situation–eligible for insurance we could affordable) like a chronic condition or disability and then have Samaritan Ministries fail. Is this group going to be around for the rest of our lives?

We are committed Christians and I know some of this will have to be taken on a matter of faith, whatever decision we make, but my husband takes his provider roles seriously. Just wanted to know if you had any comment on any of this.  ~Andrea


Switching from a traditional mega-insurance company to Samaritan Ministries *is* a big jump. It’s something that we had talked about for years, but probably wouldn’t have done if Perry’s employer hadn’t presented the option in the place of traditional insurance. But I’m so glad we were nudged into it, and I hate the idea of ever going back!
To answer your husband’s concerns, there is no guarantee that this company will be around forever, but there’s also no guarantee that the big insurance companies will be around – or that they won’t change dramatically if and when the government gets more heavily involved in healthcare. As they stand, they’re already far from ideal, stable, or affordable, and it seems likely that they’ll only get worse. Samaritan is big and growing, so unless government regulations crush it the future seems bright. :)
About having needs met, we have had every penny of our own needs met each time we submitted a need, and never had a need over $300 that wasn’t eligible. The rules clearly state what is eligible, and unlike traditional insurance the company is on *your* side. They want to help you, so if something seems ambiguous in the rules they are going to interpret it in the best possible light rather than just trying to get out of paying the bill.
Our needs have all been under $5,000 so far, but we have personal friends whose needs were much closer to 6 digits (some may be over; I haven’t asked) and their bills were paid in full by Samaritan members as well.

I think it’s very telling that it is almost impossible to find negative reviews by people who actually participated in Samaritan Ministries. The few negatives you find are either those who never joined and just doubt that it could work, or those who belonged to other medical sharing organizations that were poorly run and they assume that Samaritan must be similar.


How is it determined whether or not the care is “preventative”? For example, if my husband is concerned about some moles and wants to have them looked at, at what point does SMI begin to cover? None if they turn out to be benign? Or would it cover the testing to see if they are okay? And, do we send in all of the bills for one medical “event”? What about a chronic condition that is diagnosed after joining (making it not preexisting”?

Lastly, I guess this is a silly question, but I’m already pregnant…I suppose I couldn’t get an out-of-hospital birth covered this time around?  ~Debbie

In my own words, preventative is when you go in just for a checkup or a physical, not when you have a specific concern. When my husband had his heart checked out because it was racing, it turned out his heart was fine – but the cost of all his visits was published and paid for by Samaritan members. Even though each visit was less than $300, the *chain* of visits and follow-ups was considered a single incident because they all stemmed from a single cause, so the total need was publishable.
So in your example, all visits relating to the moles should be publishable as a single need, even if it turns out to be benign – unless the total cost is less than $300, of course.
You can send in bills one at a time if you want, but it’s easier to submit them all at once if you can cover or make arrangements for the cost in the interim.  That’s what we did when Perry was having his heart checked out.
A chronic condition discovered or diagnosed after joining would be publishable since, as you mentioned, it’s not preexisting. Even if you suspected it at the time you join, it seems to be more of an ethical issue than anything else. If you believe you had it before joining but it was never confirmed, I think it would up to you to decide whether you could submit needs for publication in good conscience.

Preexisting needs are not normally publishable, but pregnancy gets special treatment.  With a preexisting pregnancy, your need will be published up to the amount that you have contributed so far, i.e. if your monthly contributions as a member totaled $1,250 before the baby was born, you would be eligible to receive $1,250 toward the birth of your baby.  If you get pregnant after joining, the entire cost of prenatal care and delivery can be published, even though it can much more than you have contributed.

Do you have questions?  My first suggestion is always to ask Samaritan directly, to get the most accurate answer.  But if you want to talk to a happy member, I’d love to help.

Just a reminder – I don’t work for Samaritan and I can’t speak for them, so please check my answers against the member guidelines or call them directly. I’m just a very satisfied member who loves to encourage others to join.  If you do decide to join, please be sure to give credit to the member who referred you (me? was it me?!).