And this reminds me of the comment Susan left in the comment section awhile back:
Okay, can you please tell me how you manage to cook and clean with 5 kids, esp 5 young kids?! i do not know how you manage it, without, like, a maid and nanny. even if your housework standards are low, i know your kids still get dinner, have clean clothes, and i can see from photos your not drowning in chaos, so some cleaning must be done.
HOW THE HELL DO YOU DO IT?!? please teach me. i am in your hands. i bet others would like to know, too.
Susan is right to assume that although my first response would indeed have been that I DON'T cook or clean, HAR HAR, I do in fact do some basic meal preparation and some cleaning. I don't LITERALLY let the children rummage in the cupboards for cereal to eat off the floor.
All day, but especially during Our Morning Routine (6:15-8:05), I rely on a system of MESHING activities: I get one thing going that can maintain itself for awhile, and then I get another thing going. It's like the plate-spinning trick. Or like getting the washing machine going before you start cleaning the bathroom. (How's THAT for a depressing example?) Then you and the washing machine are BOTH working.
So, for example, the first thing I do is get breakfast on the table, even if the baby is crying the entire time, because then any child who isn't doing something else can be eating. And if the baby is NOT crying, I also get the coffee pot going so it'll be ready later.
I get one older child into the shower, because once I start the water, they can handle it all the way through to showing up at the table fully dressed. I nurse the baby while three children eat, then fourth child joins them. I get the twins dressed either BEFORE this (if they wake up before baby) or AFTER (if they wake up after baby). I assemble lunches.
Sometimes I have coffee and cereal out on the counter for myself to eat as I'm assembling the lunches.
Then I shower while the big kids supervise the little kids.
The whole routine takes an hour and fifty minutes, and at the end of it we have six dressed people, at least five fed people, and at least two showered people. Also: two lunches assembled, two backpacks packed, two kids in outerwear. I have a list by the door of everything that needs to be IN the kids' backpacks and everything they need to have ON, and so I can say, "Okay, get ready for school now," and they can do it without any of us forgetting anything.
The older kids go off to the bus stop, and then the rest of my day is pretty flexible: it doesn't really matter what time we have lunch, for example.
When we do have lunch, I make extra sandwiches. I put them in the freezer for the older kids' lunches the next day. That's why I used the word "assembled" above: I found it stressful to try to make sandwiches in the morning, so now I take sandwiches out of the freezer and just make the snacks. If I have a little left in a box of crackers, I put that in a baggie and put it aside for a future lunch.
I usually have three tasks in mind for each day. One of the three tasks is always laundry, whether I actually put a load in or not: laundry ALWAYS needs to be done. The other tasks might be to take out the trash, or to wipe off the counters, or to make a batch of baby food, or to make soup, or to scoop the cat box, or to write a letter, or to change sheets, or pay the bills that don't get auto-paid, or some other thing. I might get to these things or I might not; typically I get to two of them.
When the older boys come home, I work on their homework with them. I try to schedule the rest of the day so that I'm not in a huge flurry of activity when they come home, since they bring that huge flurry of activity home with them already.
Other than that, I don't have challenging goals. I don't try to keep the house CLEAN-clean: I take care of the worst areas as they bug me. I don't try to do crafts other than coloring--but I didn't much like crafts even when I had only one child. I don't try to grocery shop: Paul does that on the weekends. I don't try to cook dinner: Paul cooks for the kids when we have a nursing infant, and we cook our own meals after the kids go to bed.
I'm sorry, this is so LONG and so BORING. But, you know, it IS that way!
The keys to it, I think, are:
1) Mesh activities. Get one thing going that can sustain itself, while you go on to the next thing. There should be as little "standing around waiting for mommy" as possible.
2) Separate what really must be done now from what can wait. A soaking wet child really must have a quick bath before getting dressed---but as much as I'm itching to change the wet sheets, those can wait until after the older kids leave for school.
3) Employ even sub-par resources. The two older boys are slow and messy, but they CAN help. If I'm in a rush, it's like having extra hands. Maybe it takes them three times as long to pack their lunches, but it is possible for them to do it.
4) Get up early enough. I used to get up at 6:30, but found I always ended up raising my voice near leaving time. Setting my alarm for 15 minutes earlier SUCKED, but it made all the difference in how pleasant our morning was.
5) Grab opportunities. Some mornings, the kids wake up earlier than usual. When they do, I'll have both older boys take showers, instead of just one. I might give a littler child or two a quick bath, or I might change sheets. If I'm waiting for soup to heat up, I don't stand there reading a book (PAUL), I do a few dishes. (Note: I'm not talking about opportunities such as naptime, or the kids watching TV. I use those for computer stuff, not chores.)
6) Don't try to do too much. I can't tell you how important it was to me when Paul went back to work after Henry was born and said, "If all six of you are alive when I get home, I will be impressed." I do what doesn't send me over the Cliff of Despair, and everything else can wait until the kids leave home for good. Assuming they ever do.