Note: During the month of November, I’m giving away prizes to commenters on my blog. A comment of more than 25 words qualifies you to win a weekly drawing! This week, I'm giving away a copy of The Happiest Toddler on the Block DVD by Harvey Karp, MD.
Whenever I meet the mom of a really big family—especially is she seems the least bit well-rested—I slip into journalist mode. I can’t help it. I have so many questions, mostly about sleep: How on Earth does she get all of those kids into bed, night after night? Does she EVER sleep through the night? And how does she manage to have any time to herself?
So when I crossed paths with Erika Shupe online (she contacted me about a sleep article I’d written), I jumped at the chance to interview her. She’s the happy mom of 9 kids under the age of 14 (including 11-month-old twins!): Karen, age 13; Melanie, age 12; Brandon, age 8; Anna Marie, age 5; Riley, age 4; Tyler, age 2; Spencer, age 1; and twins Lacey and Lilly, 11 months.
In addition to juggling an enormous parental workload, Erika finds time to homeschool her children, spend time with her husband Bob, and blog at Large Families On Purpose. As I corresponded with Erika, her warm, happy, calm persona radiated through the computer. And, wouldn’t you know, she chalks her sunny attitude up to getting enough rest. How is that possible, you ask? Let’s find out!
With nine children under the age of 14, it’s hard to imagine how you juggle the different sleep needs of everyone in your family. What is the biggest sleep challenge you face as the parent of a large family, and how have you handled it?
The biggest sleep challenge we face with our nine children is helping them get the varying amounts of sleep they need, while still maintaining afternoon naps for our five children under five years old. Most of the children need the same amounts of sleep at night, about 10 ½ hours, so they go to bed at 8:30 pm and get up at 7:00 am. The exceptions are our 13-year-old daughter and our 4-year-old son (who needs the least sleep of all our children). Our oldest goes to bed at 9:00 pm, and our 4-year-old goes to bed at 9:30 pm, but they both do quiet, independent activities during that evening time, understanding that the evening is mommy and daddy’s time.
We’ve told our children that if they need less sleep at night, they are welcome to get up earlier in the morning, but not stay up later at night. Mommy and daddy need to be “off” at night for a little while, and the morning time is a good productive time to get a jump start on their day.
How important is it for you and your husband to get enough rest as the parents of a large, active brood? What are some benefits of getting enough sleep for parents?
As parents, being well-rested is absolutely crucial for us. It’s one of our highest priorities, and totally affects how well we’re able to function the next day and do our jobs—for him, as sole financial provider, and for me, as a homeschooling stay-at-home mom.
When I’m well rested I can maintain good health, be peaceful (generally—*wink*), and creative with the children’s needs. I can smile, I can keep life and all of its events in proper perspective, I can offer myself to others (blogging, speaking), and still have smiles and energy to bless my husband with when he comes home from work.
When Bob is well-rested he is awake and alert at work, he has clarity in his thinking, and when he comes home in the evening he still has energy to offer the family.
How much time do you spend on each child’s bedtime preparation and routine? And, do you have time left over for yourself and your spouse after the kids’ bedtimes are done?
We spend time teaching the children so that they’ll know what “get ready for bed” means. It’s all routine and habit for them. The oldest children get ready independently, the middle children just need supervision to stay on task, and Bob and I do bedtime prep for our four children ages two and under. This time helping the toddlers and babies is good, quality one-on-one time while we get them ready one at a time; we love it. All together, “bedtime prep” takes about 30-45 minutes.
Bob and I definitely have some time together in the evening, but we have time together before the kids are in bed, too. I go to bed at 9:30 or 10:00 pm, so we have about 1-2 hours in the evening. Bob has “his time” after I am in bed for another couple of hours.
The addition of a new baby can affect sleep for everyone in the household. Can you share a couple of tips on how to keep older siblings’ sleep on track when a new baby arrives?
When we bring home a newborn, Bob takes 1-2 weeks off from work so that we can not only all be together as a family, but primarily so that he can take over for me, enabling me to rest and heal as much as possible so that I can start strong with everyone once he’s back to work. I don’t have to get up early in the morning when he’s home, and I can sleep when baby is sleeping. Also, the children are not kept up at night by a crying baby because the baby sleeps in our bedroom (in a bassinette) away from the children’s bedrooms.
Do any of your children share rooms? And if so, how has that affected their sleep?
Yes—we have a “boy’s room” and a “girls room,” currently with four boys together and three girls together (soon to be five girls together, but they baby twins are currently in cribs in our bedroom). We don’t have a problem with the children keeping one another awake, because we pay attention to how much sleep each child needs, and make sure they’re not overtired (which can result in crying or misbehavior) or undertired (which can result in getting out of bed and keeping tired siblings awake). When their heads hit their pillows, they should be ready to fall asleep pretty quickly, thus minimizing discipline issues.
Anything else you’d like to share on promoting healthy sleep for large families?
We maintain an active role in setting our children’s sleep schedules. When they’re older, around age 14 or so, and they are able to set a reasonable bedtime that allows them maintain a cheerful, cooperative, productive countenance the next day, they are welcome to do so. Until then, we choose their bedtime. *smile*
Thanks for sharing, Erika, and for the reminder that healthy rest is attainable for families of all sizes.