Large Family Stress Reduction: Keeping Track by Herding

If children do not know where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing, they get creative trying to figure things out, and the results can be disastrous!

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I once passed a park in a rural area and witnessed a fascinating display. A number of people had gathered to watch a sheep dog at work. With amazing speed and agility, this canine used everything within his power to move a number of sheep withersoever he wished. He was so good at his job that he caused the sheep to move as though they were one fluid entity.

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And that is what I have learned to do as a mother of many children.

Many years ago, when I had number of small children with few old enough to help out much, I knew how crazy things could get. I had witnessed first-hand how allowing children to scatter and “express themselves” usually led to discord and disaster.

Of course this is obvious when out in public. Just one child left to himself can get into mischief, so a handful of children can become a noisome nuisance. Because I thoroughly believe in the Golden Rule, I always kept my children together, close at my side, no matter where we were, whether at church, in the store, etc. If they started milling about I gave them a place to sit, and if there was no place to sit I gave them something concrete to stand against, such as a counter, a wall, grasping a cart, or hanging onto my skirt (we call this “gluing,” and often all I have to say to a dangling youngster is “glue” and they automatically grab onto the cart or to me).

For me, at home this is just as important. I try and act like a sheep dog and move my little flock fluidly through the day.

First of all, we have blocks of time for everything. Notice I did not mention the word “schedule”–I do not like to be a slave of time slots, although I do have goals of things that need to be done by a certain hour of the day.

Also, I have trained my children to “hear my voice.” Just as the sheepdog expects the sheep to follow his cues, I make announcements as to what we are doing next–and it may change from day-to-day, but I expect that when these changes take place everyone will adapt.

For instance, this morning I am having them do their personal hygiene before our morning meeting, yesterday we had our morning meeting first, the day before we started our chores and then broke for our morning meeting. It is all according to the needs of the day.

And this is how our day goes. I announce the next band of activities, and then have everyone flow in that vein. I don’t announce we will spend time reading silently, then allow someone to wander off and scooter outside. Everyone is expected to participate in what we are doing at the time.

There are many benefits to this type of system. It keeps a lid on mess, since I can make sure everyone is cleaning up after an activity. It cuts down on confusion, since I am not trying to keep track of numerous activities at once. Waste is minimized because I am able to supervise more, and it is less noisy.

We own both the new and the older versions of the movie, “Yours, Mine and Ours”. These movies attempt to portray what life is like in large families. The newer film depicts two distinct types of parenting styles–one that is free-wheeling and driven by creativity and the moment with disorganization and mess being a part of everyday life, and another that is orderly and clean with a military influence.

I was sure my children would favor the free-wheeling type of family life, but, to my great astonishment, they were disgusted by such “creativity.” They loved the orderliness of the military family, and even told me we should strive to be more like them!

And this is coming from kids who love to create and draw, play music, etc.

Of course, within any system there should be time for individual expression, and any parent who does not deliberately make space and time for her children to be alone as individuals is nearly evil, but without boundaries the situation very easily turns into an ugly, dysfunctional monster. There is security in orderliness, in having three meals a day and routines, or in knowing where to find your socks in a hurry!

Over the years I have learned to listen to my stress level. If I find I am stressing and feeling pinched, it usually means I am trying to do too many things at once. I immediately stop everything and reassess, praying for wisdom, of course. Streamlining and simplifying are my best tools for a peaceful, Godly home.

Of course this means we can’t do everything; we can’t have all the “experiences” our little hearts may desire. But we can enjoy the few things we do to their fullest and enjoy each other at the same time instead of feeling fractured and lonely while pursuing 15 different self-interests.

Even as the older children have outside demands, such as jobs, activities, and deadlines, I still expect the younger bunch to follow along as they always have. In this way the younger children do not hamper the older ones, and the older ones are considerate of the flow of our household and encourage their younger siblings to cooperate. It may sound fun

ny, but even the older children choose to do things together as much as possible. The two grown graphic artists in our home sit next to each other while they “art,” encouraging and consulting as they go along.

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Following this principle has created a better cohesion and given us a family identity that wouldn’t have been possible had we all been scattered all of the time. The house stays cleaner, and the positive interaction has become more lively as the children age.

Sometimes maybe a little too lively for an aging mom, but still it is a blessing!

5 thoughts on “Large Family Stress Reduction: Keeping Track by Herding

  1. The sheepherding analogy is a great one, and your suggestions were helpful to me! I love the idea of giving the children something to lean against if there’s nowhere to sit down — a “concrete” resting place will be especially helpful for my busy boys who have trouble understanding, “Just stand still!” 🙂 Thank you.

    • I’ve had antsy boys (and girls), too! In the past it was impossible to do my errands without my children, but what do you do with seven children under the age of 10 when you are in a bank or waiting in line at the DMV? This is why I had to come up with a strategy for keeping them in one place, and it worked!

  2. This is so wonderful. I needed this more than you can imagine. I have an Australian Shepherd and frequently watch him herd the cows on our farm. I’ve often thought what a brilliant idea that would be applied to parenting. Not too far off from our Shepherd gathering us either… Thank you so very much for your help and insight. You are such a blessing!

  3. Sherry, I just had to write to you and tell you what a difference maker this post was for me. Our summer schedule had gotten looser and looser until I felt like I was losing control. The messes were epic, eating schedules were erratic, and attitudes were awful as the structure deteriorated in our home. In the name of not wanting to be too rigid, I had let everyone do their own thing and it was NOT going well. I remembered you had done a post on this principle of herding and reread it in detail. I prayed and asked God to help me make a schedule in order that I could fluidly move our family throughout the day without extra chaos. The Holy Spirit was so faithful to guide me and this week has been SO much better. I have been able to keep a lid on the messes and meet the needs of my family in an orderly manner. So just wanted to say thank you for sharing your wisdom, it has made such a great difference in my family.

    • Thank you for letting me know, Kristi. I totally understand the confusion and mess that happens when we don’t keep everyone going in one direction! So glad you mentioned the leading of the Holy Spirit–He is the one I lean on, too:)

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