parent opinion

'In a big family, corners must be cut.' Constance Hall on the reality of raising six kids.

Survival guides for big families will always get you in trouble. Any time anyone has let their “secrets” out for how they get through the day, they receive backlash.

I remember Madeleine West wrote a book called Six under Eight where she coughed up her secrets, like putting her kids to bed in their school uniform the night before school, in order to keep sh*t functioning the next day.

The internet went wild envisioning some kid who sleeps in the same uniform day-in-day-out with school sores and fleas, whose mum doesn’t give a sh*t – instead of a mum who says to herself, “Hmm, maybe after your shower you can put on your school top or trackies and sleep in them so we don’t have a sh*t fight of looking for six uniforms in the morning.”

Her kids are under eight… They literally don’t have BO yet and bed is probably the only place your kids keep clean.

Constance Hall speaks to Mia Freedman and gets honest about money. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

So sharing my secrets of how I really survive has never been a witch hunt I felt like directing at myself.

But f**k it, someone has to say it. I hate it when people say to me, “I don’t know how you do it with six kids, I can’t even handle my two,” because the truth is, I probably did more parental work when I had two than I do now.

When it comes to my survival guide for big families, my top six tips are…

Flatmates

If you are fortunate enough to have a spare room or can convince your kids to all share, then you need a flat mate – single mums, couples, everyone. If you have the privilege of not needing the rent money, just bring someone you trust and love in anyway. My life changed the minute I started getting flat mates.

I can go to the shops on my own, I can go out for a drink when the kids are asleep, I have company and don’t spend my entire day waiting for my husband to get home and unload on him. Family is great. I’ve had female cousins live with me, my stepdad live with me, now I have a lovely Māori friend living here.

My kids get to learn all about other people, form connections, learn stories and I get a break. Most of the time my kids don’t even need to be ‘looked after’ – they have their own sh*t to do – I just need someone here to keep them safe if I duck out, and to keep me sane when my partner isn’t around.

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Food

Dinner doesn’t have to be as stressful as we make it. How many times a day do you say “What the f**k should I cook for dinner?” It rules our lives.

We live in a very dinner-orientated culture, threatening no ice-cream if they don’t eat it, not letting them leave the table, bribing them into one mouthful for an hour only to watch them dry wretch and spit it out. And we assume they will either starve to death or develop some undernourishment disease that’s grounds for the DCP (Department of Child Services) to take them away and give them to a foster mum with 13 kids who magically gets them all to eat.

Truth? Your kids won’t starve, they just wont. I am no heath professional, but I recently interviewed the famous Midwife Cath (AKA Cath Curtin) and she told me she sees it all the time – stressed parents taking their kids’ complete distaste for all healthy foods personally, and creating the most tense environment at dinner time. It always ends in raised voices, long stand-offs and storm-offs.

Eating should be one of the pleasurable things you share with your kids, not a blur of angry memories. So if they don’t eat their dinner, don’t stress, try something else, keep trying or just let the turd eat his plain pasta and tomato sauce.

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Kids are hardwired to eat as much as they need, unless there is an illness. Usually we are creating traumatic dinner times for nothing. None of my kids ate anything healthy under seven, they all eat well over seven and they are perfectly healthy.

No amount of nightly screaming would have changed that.

 

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Picnic dinners – both in and out of the house if it’s warm (my preferred method is out) – are great. You just cut up some carrots and celery, grab a cooked chook, and go to the park or beach. It’s cheap and it gets dinner done.

Feast with your hands. Dishes are the worst part of dinner. In other cultures everyone eats with their hands off the same plate. I often put a huge pile of vegetables along with another plate of sliced meat or whatever you’re making. It’s like with dogs: give a dog some dog food and he turns his nose up at it. Introduce another dog and he will race back to competitively eat. It doesn’t always work but there are less dishes.

Some nights they can just eat a toasted f**king sandwich. They want it, you want to give it to them and half the time it has more nutrition then whatever processed chicken kiev you were trying to give them anyway.

Food needs to be taken down a notch or two in general. If the kid hates broccoli, let him have an apple and be done with it.

Clothes

I have a clean clothes couch, and I’m proud of its grand stature.

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However, once I shared a video of it publicly and I received a gamechanging piece of advice. Go and get those massive coloured buckets in all the different colours, label them for your kids and just chuck each child’s clothes in the bucket. If they want it folded they can do it themselves. We have a huge undie and sock basket in my laundry because I am not a woman who wants to spend eternity going through socks and undies trying to find a pair.

You want a pair? You go and find one. I put all the stuff that looks like yours crinkled in that green bucket.

 

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Stress less about what they wear. When my first child wouldn’t go to kindy unless it was in this hideous long velvet dress, I would die. I wanted her in kaftans and turbans and boho jewels, treating her like just another accessory, but she was desperate for the princess dress. Thankfully she shat herself in that dress and mummy sent it to the dry cleaners and it must have gotten “lost” in the mail…

Let them be free! My second daughter wears goggles and capes to kindy. She is the weirdest thing I have ever seen but god do I dread the day that magic is taken away from her.

White noise

Some call it “ignoring,” I believe I have levitated to a spiritual state where I don’t hear them fighting or whinging for me.

I have become so good at blocking out the sound of my kids that once someone had to walk the whole three metres towards me to let me know that my son was crying – screaming in fact. I felt terrible, but that’s the level I had to graduate to in order to stay sane.

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I can’t respond to the 400 questions a day by six different kids: the fights over whose turn on the iPad it is, or who ruined what. I just can’t. So I block it out. I even put headphones in and tell them “Mummy’s having mummy time.”

Everyone needs a check-out time

I check out at around 7.30pm. Anything you need that’s not an emergency after that is up to you to do. I’m not your mum; I’m not here. I’m not your slave, I’m just a statue of a woman who an hour ago wiped your bum and is now drinking wine chatting on the phone to her sister.

Similar rules in the car. Unless it’s a confession or something really juicy, I have my headphones on and am out of service.

Bathing

They don’t have to bath or shower every day. They can quite often skip that part of the routine if it’s getting everyone down. I’m like, “Fine, stinky, go to school and gross everyone out”.

I mean some kids like it and some adults like it, I personally can’t be f**ked bathing everyone every night. The American Academy of Dermatology claims that kids aged six to 11 only need to bath once or twice a week unless they are dirty, sweaty or have a skin condition. I know it makes them look more loveable when they are all clean and smell fresh, but really, skipping a night bath or morning shower a couple of times a week won’t kill them.

 

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Don’t sweat the small stuff

I worry we spend so much time trying to keep everything perfect that we miss the important stuff. Like the moments, the repetitive actions that make out babies cackle over and over again, the moment our 10-year-old really wanted to tell us about her new crush but we missed her hints, the walk forward with your lover because you just didn’t know how to walk away from the piles of things you had to do.

You have the choice to judge yourself on floral smelling fabric softener, home baked cakes and spotless floors, or chill the f**k out, laugh a bit louder, turn the music up and love them all that bit harder.

The thing about being a parent is that it’s a 24 hour a day job no matter which way you look at it, whether you have checked out, or whether you have one kid or six. You are always on. So if you make the decision to have a big family you need to accept that corners must be cut.

There is almost always an easier option and for the sake of your sanity I beg you to find it. F**k the backlash and the ‘perfect parents,’ I promise that one walk with your five-year-old in the bush where you are fully present will mean more to him then having his undies perfectly folded every day for three years.

And by ‘fully present,’ I also mean doing a bit of filming for Instagram. Because what’s the point of killing it at motherhood if it’s not online… right?

For more from Constance Hall, you can follow her on FacebookInstagram, or her website. You can buy her book, Still A Queen, here.

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