If you think bathtime is tough in your house, imagine keeping seven kids clean: It’s a day in the life of Jackie B., the biological mother of seven humans between the ages of 6 months old to 17 years old living together in the East Bay of San Francisco, California. (Her daughters are 6 months, 3 years, 5 years, and 9 years old. Her sons are 12, 14, and 17.)
Because it’s fair to say she’s run a few (thousand?) baths, here are her top time- and kid-tested tips on managing what can be the most fun or most challenging household event.
1. Once a week is plenty.
When Jackie had her first son, she followed all the baby books like gospel. “I thought I had to bathe my kid every night or I’d be a horrible mother,” she says. “As I had more kids, it all went out the window. I developed more perspective: Kids don’t need a bath every day. They don’t need to do every sport and take every class. A lot of these things really don’t matter.”
Only desperate times call for disinfection. “Unless they’re rolling in the sand at the park or doing something else that I think is gross, I’m not going to put them in the bath kicking and screaming,” says Jackie, who identifies as a germaphobe. She calls for baths exclusively when her children are filthy (which makes a whole lot more sense than planning specific days of the week to soak).
2. Kids exit the bath in age order, youngest first.
Bathing several kids at once is an exercise in logistics, Jackie explains, but safety always comes first. When washing multiples (and yes, they share the same bathwater), she takes the youngest out first, then the next oldest, then the next oldest — all without taking an eye off anyone. It’s not until all children have exited the tub that it’s towel time, lest the remaining soakers slip while their little brother or sister is getting wrapped up. “Someone always ends up running around the house wet or peeing when you take them out. It can get a little crazy,” she admits.
3. Just accept your official role as bath sergeant.
In her household, Jackie has always taken responsibility for bathtime — not her husband. “I’m in charge of the kids. It’s my thing,” she says without an ounce of passive aggression. (Seriously!)
4. When help is offered, get out of the way.
A few months ago, Jackie’s oldest daughter, 9, decided she wanted to take two of her younger sisters in the shower — a one-off activity that’s since become a soup-to-nuts standard routine. The big sis (electively, no less) soaps up, rinses, dries, and dresses her younger sisters. During shower time, “I make sure I’m in the other room doing something else, not overseeing them; it would just stress me out,” Jackie says. It’s like a kiddie spa, but free (and freeing).
5. Bath bombs make the best bath toys.
Bath bombs are beloved in Jackie’s household. After all, they turn the bath water into different colors for endless intrigue. Her kids are also big fans of the classic squirting rubber duckies, which seem to be crowd-pleasers at every age.
6. Don’t even try to win bath battles.
Kid doesn’t want to get in the tub? Surrender and avert the conflict. FWIW, the only battle Jackie really goes to bat on involves screen boundaries, particularly with her three oldest children. “I could avoid every argument if I allowed complete access to phones and computers at all times,” she says. “But then they’d never talk to me. It makes me sad to see them so addicted.”
7. Put bad bath behaviors in perspective.
“The worst thing my kids have done in the tub is dump the water out, and sure, it frustrates me to have to clean it up,” she admits. But it doesn’t put her over the edge — at least not anymore: “I have more empathy and patience than I did when I had just one or two kids. Now I know that messes don’t matter in the grander scheme of things.”
The best way to maintain your cool with little monsters is to remember that the toughest times are as fleeting as the most special ones. “Kids grow up so fast,” she says. “I try to love every moment before they only care about devices, start talking back to you, and go off to college.” Amen!