Large Families Sometimes Struggle to Manage Time, Order

Many large families are forced to master time and stress management and maintaining order in a household. This week's Mocha Moms — Jolene Ivey, Davina McFarland and Cheli English-Figaro — talk about the dynamics of large families, including how to maintain healthy spousal relationships.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, Money Coach Alvin Hall explains the delicate balance of money and love. But first, they say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with members of this mother's support group each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. Now everybody's heard the joke about how the average American family has 2.5 children and everybody wants to know who has the point five. Well, it's true that smaller families are the norm in the U.S. But what about those life lessons that bigger families have to share? We don't want those to be lost. Also, love is in the air this week. Valentine's Day means roses and candy for some. For others, a full night's sleep would be even better. Everybody says it's important to keep the partnership strong, but just how do you do that as a busy parent? I'm joined to talk about all this by our regular Mocha Moms, Jolene Ivey, Davina McFarland and Cheli English-Figaro. Welcome ladies, moms.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Mocha Moms): Hey, Michel.

Ms. DAVINA MCFARLAND (Mocha Moms): Hi, Michel.

Ms. CHELI ENGLISH-FIGARO (Mocha Moms): Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: And Cheli, before we get into the body of our conversation, we did mention to our listeners that you've suffered a loss in your family and we all want to say just how sorry we are.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Thank you.

MARTIN: And how you've been in our thoughts, and we're so glad you're back at the table with us.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Thank you, Michel. Thank you, everyone.

MARTIN: So Jolene, let's get into the subject of today. This is actually your idea. You mentioned to us that, that as a parent of five, you think that sometimes we forget that, you know, bigger families have lessons that they can teach smaller families about how to manage family life more efficiently and more fun. And the other ladies, I should say, Shelly has three at home, and Davina has four. So we all have experts here to draw upon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And we won't do the sexist thing and say, and if you add in the husbands. We won't go there. We won't say that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Get us started on organization. What's thing one you can start us off with?

Ms. IVEY: Well some of it's small things, like, you know how, when you try to get all your kids dressed in, like in nice clothes. I only have boys, so I only know suits - suits, ties, dress shirt. All of that stuff is really hard to put all those things together. And for five boys at the same time, and they all have to be someplace on time or you wouldn't be getting dressed up, right? So I keep all their suits in the same closet. I keep all their dress shirts in the same box. I have a big plastic box, I put dress shirts, the undershirts that go with them, and the ties and the socks and then shoes in a bag that goes over one of their doors. So that way, I can immediately know, what do we need?

MARTIN: So you keep all the dress clothes separate from - instead of putting all the dress clothes in each child's closet…

Ms. IVEY: Forget it.

MARTIN: …you keep all your dress-up clothes in one place.

Ms. IVEY: Because in my family we're passing it all down from kid to kid, and then I can just look and say, well what size do I have? It doesn't matter what person it's supposed to belong to. It's, you know, who does it fit today?

MARTIN: Wow, I never would have thought of that. Cheli, what about you? What's your tip for keeping it together?

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Well, I think it's really funny. I'm an only child. My mom thought I was crazy when I wanted to have three kids. So I can sort of see this both ways, and I think when you have just one child, the mom can pretty much do it all. Like when I was growing up, I didn't have to have chores, because even though she was a working mom, she only had one child to shuttle around. I grew up in the city, so I walked to church and I walked places that I needed to go. And she didn't have to be involved in a lot of that stuff, and so consequently, I came into my marriage never having cooked a meal. So, that's the truth.

MARTIN: Some would say still haven't, but we won't go there.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MCFARLAND: That was my line, Michel. That was my line.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: That was Davina's line. Okay, but so I think my children have to do a lot more than I had to do as a child. Even the littlest one knows how to fold laundry.

MARTIN: And why do you think that matters? And why do you think that that's something that smaller families would benefit from doing, even if they don't have to - technically have to?

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: I think it would be nice if children knew how to do things before they left home. But then again, you could always learn on the fly. I'm okay, see?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MCFARLAND: Well I'm not okay. I did not grow up as a single child. I have a sibling, but I did grow up in a house where I didn't have to do anything. When I went away to college, I did not know how to do my laundry. And so I paid my roommate to do my laundry. That is the truth.

Ms. IVEY: Yeah, I've heard that.

Ms. MCFARLAND: I would not like my children to be in that same situation. That's why I think it's important for kids to have chores and to know how to take care of yourself. You should know, you know, what it takes to take care of your home.

MARTIN: What are your other tips, Davina?

Ms. MCFARLAND: You know, coming from school for me is a busy, busy time when everybody comes home and we're getting started on homework and snack and that whole thing. And that runs like an assembly line in my house. Everybody unpacks the backpack at the same time, and they're handing me the agenda book and the homework and it's a line. You give it to me, you get your snack and you go. You give it to me, you get your snack and you go. So, I mean, literally, I have four little people standing in the line. Okay, it's your turn now. That's how we kind of keep it together.

MARTIN: What I'm hearing you say, though, and how I feel that this is relevant to somebody with a smaller family, is dedicating time to tasks, not multitasking.

Ms. MCFARLAND: That's true. The other - you know, this is not necessarily something that smaller families wouldn't do. But this is something we do because we have a large family. And I'm a stay at home mom, so my kids spend a lot of time with me. But they don't necessarily spend a lot of one-on-one time with my husband. So Monday is daddy day. Every Monday, one of the children gets to go with daddy and do something alone. They don't have a lot of alone time. When you are in a big family, you don't have that. And that is precious, precious time, and Monday is our day. We know we don't schedule anything because that's daddy day.

MARTIN: If you are just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are talking with the Mocha Moms about lessons learned from big families that smaller families can learn from. Speaking of alone time, one of the things I've heard Jolene, you talk about and other folks talk about, is in a big family it's sometimes easy to neglect the relationship with the spouse because - or the partner - because the logistics of managing can be overwhelming. And one of the things I've heard you talk about is the necessity to maintain that healthy bond with the spouse, to carve out that time. So it's almost time for Valentine's Day, and I know some of us with really appreciate more sleep as a present. But let's talk about that, how you maintain time for the spouse.

Ms. IVEY: Well, these days, it's particularly difficult for me because we're both really, really busy with our jobs. So what we used to do, I'd say, is have lunch together once a week. We have a standing lunch, and my husband's secretary is really good about carving out that time. And I actually am the one who's more likely to cancel more than he is, I have to confess. Right now, we can't do that because of our jobs. I've been encouraging him to learn how to text. Now that might seem like a silly thing, but if we are both really busy at work and you want to just give him a little note real quick, it'd be nice if he would text me back. Glen, just do it, okay? You understand?

MARTIN: Let me help you understand that your - let me help you understand something. Number one, your husband's a lawyer, so he's not texting anything to you, okay?

Ms. IVEY: But why?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Kwame Kilpatrick. That's all I have to say. Sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IVEY: But it's our own private cell phones. I'm not talking about on the public's time. Okay, nobody…

MARTIN: I'm just saying.

Ms. IVEY: …is going to look into our cell phone records. I pay for his cell phone.

MARTIN: Okay, let me just say - let me - can I throw out one? One of the things that we do is, we do our errands together sometimes, just to have that alone time. Even if he's going to the dry cleaners, I'll just ride shotgun just so we have that sort of alone time in the car.

Ms. IVEY: Right.

MARTIN: Now that's not romantic, but it is the kind of thing that when you're dating, think about it. You think any time together is awesome. So Davina, what about you? And I'm also curious about the - why you think it's important to show your kids your kind of relationship?

Ms. MCFARLAND: Well, because you're their first teacher, so they are learning how to be in a relationship and how to treat a partner from you. So, of course, you know, you want to make sure you're setting a good example. But you also need to nurture your relationship with your spouse because one day, those people are leaving. Thank you Lord, hopefully they're all walking out one day and then you're going to be…

MARTIN: You mean the little people. Yes, the little people.

Ms. MCFARLAND: No, no I'm talking about the children. One day, they are going to go, and you're going to be left with your spouse or your partner and you're going to say, oh, hi. I don't even know you. So you don't want to get to that place. So that's another reason why it's important. You got to carve out the time however you find it.

MARTIN: How do you do it?

Ms. MCFARLAND: You know, my husband and I, he's an early bird and I'm a night owl. So that's hard. But we both make the sacrifice once in a while. One of us will stay up - he'll stay up late or I'll get up early and we have you know, long conversations in the wee hours of the morning.

MARTIN: Do you schedule it?

Ms. MCFARLAND: Not necessarily, no. But we do spend a lot of time together in the evenings because, you know, my kids go to bed pretty early. They - and, of course, I have a teenager who doesn't want to talk to us much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MCFARLAND: So we do have time in the evening where we kind of just can chill and be with each other. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten to the place where we go out you know, to the movies for dates and things like that. But we used to do that when they were younger. It's a little bit more difficult now, because who wants to babysit three?

MARTIN: Cheli, what about you? How do you maintain that time with your spouse?

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Well, ours is a little bit different because my husband works all the time. He is an ICU doctor, and he runs his own practice. We snatch time. That's the only way I can tell you, because we don't see each other at night and we don't see each other in the morning. So…

Ms. IVEY: But you did manage to have three kids.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: I sure did. And I'll tell you how we snatched the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: More information than necessary. Thanks, Jolene. But we snatch time. I never know when he's going to be where, and I work for him from home. So we have business meetings, and then we sort of meld that into some personal time. So, and that's the only way we can do it.

MARTIN: Well Happy Valentine's Day.

Ms. IVEY: Thank you.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: You too.

MARTIN: I have to say that I hope you all get your hearts' desire this Valentine's Day.

Ms. MCFARLAND: You too.

Ms. IVEY: That good night's sleep would be good. Hint hint.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: You too, Michel.

MARTIN: That's right.

MARTIN: Our Mocha Moms, Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro and Davina McFarland joined us from our studio in Washington. You can find links to the Mocha Moms at our Website NPR.org/TellMeMore. Ladies, moms, thank you so much.

Panelists: Thank you, Michel.

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