updated 09/22/2011 AT 2:10 PM ET
•originally published 09/23/2011 AT 1:45 PM ET
With a blended family of nine, country star Sara Evans and her sports radio host husband Jay Barker know a thing or two about keeping the peace.
“People think that with seven kids you can’t expect anything but chaos, and that’s not necessarily true,” Barker says. “It just means it’s more important than ever to have order.”
After the couple married in 2008, Evans, 40, brought her three children (Avery, 12, Olivia, 8 and Audrey, 6) from Nashville to live in Birmingham, Ala., where Barker, 39, hosts his radio show and shares custody of his kids from a previous relationship (Andrew, 13, Braxton, 11, Sarah Ashlee, 10, and Harrison, 10). “The kids love each other like Jay and I love each other,” says Evans. “It just really works.”
Reaching that happy state, however, came with a few house rules that all nine family members are required to keep up on:
Keep It Cozy: The couple chose a relatively modest house – 3,700 sq. ft. – deliberately. “The point was to bring the families together and it’s a lot easier to do that in a smaller house,” says Evans.
Keep Things Organized: Mom and dad set up locker-style cubbies in the garage for each child’s sports equipment. “It is important for each kid to know they belong in this family,” says the singer. “This is my locker, my bed, my cubbie. But also teaches responsibility – to take care of your things.”
Keep Up With The Rules: Laminated house rules are posted in the kitchen (on the list: Make your own bed when you wake up; Boys use only your own toilet and shower; Be respectful of God, parents, one another and yourselves). “In the beginning, we were so concerned about the adjustments the kids were going through, we wanted it to be all fun and games,” Evans admits. “But then Jay and I realized we were spoiling them, and it wasn’t doing them any favors. They need boundaries, they need rules, they need to know they can’t run over us!”
Keep Dinners Simple: “We eat at home together at least three nights a week,” says Barker. But, adds Evans, “My rule is for lunch, I’ll make you whatever you want, but for supper, whatever I cook is what’s for dinner. In the beginning, I tried to make everyone happy. I was like a short order cook! It was ridiculous.”
Keep Sleeping: “Our Saturday rule is that the kids are not to disturb us until 10 a.m.,” Evans says. “They’re old enough to get up, make their own cereal, turn on the television or whatever until we get up at 10 and get our coffee.”
For exclusive photos inside the homes of country stars like Sara Evans, Lady Antebellum and Brad Paisley, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE Country. And for free music from artists like Vince Gill, Billy Currington and Ronnie Dunn, go to people.com/free