Since soon after we had our first baby, my husband and I have been planning to have a big family. I started to learn all I could about big families. I visited some I knew. I talked to older mothers at church. I read blogs by experienced moms. I wanted to find out everything I could so that when it was my turn, I’d be ready.
Something that amused and puzzled me was how they seemed so put together, patient, and how they got so much done. I could barely manage to get dressed or keep on top of chores with one baby; how did they do it with 4 or 8 or 10?
But now I’m there. Now I’m a mom with 4. And I get a lot more done than I ever did with 1 or 2 kids. I’ve already learned a lot!
In my first week alone with all four kids, I:
- Got a shower two mornings (of 5)
- Had everyone dressed and fed breakfast by 9 AM
- Kept the house basically clean
- Did all the laundry (which, if you’ve read long, you know I am not good at keeping up with)
- Cooked all the meals from scratch
- Caught up on some blog work
- Went to my first Toastmaster’s meeting in a couple months
- Had an appointment with my midwives (baby was 3 lbs. over birth weight at 4 weeks old!)
- Took the kids to AWANA (all of them)
- Did homeschooling lessons with the kids
- Did major grocery shopping alone with all the kids (we got a LOT of attention!)
Even my husband commented at the end of the week — “You’ve done more this week than in any two week period in a long time.”
All this without neglecting my kids’ needs. Or my husband’s. I went upstairs to relax with him earlier than I used to. He was happy. The kids were calmer and listening better and helping more. You might call me super mom.
But, there’s nothing “super” about it. Anyone can do what I do. I’ve learned a number of important lessons that allow me to do these things.
Why More Kids is Easier
There’s no way I would have done anywhere near this much when I had one baby. I was afraid to ever put her down or leave her. I barely took a shower when my husband wasn’t home to watch her for months. I could barely take her on a short shopping trip for the first six months because I didn’t yet know about babywearing and there was a 50% chance she’d freak out in her car seat and we’d have to leave. I never got the house cleaned because I had no systems, no knowledge of how to do it, and I was afraid to put her down to do it. And since it was just her and me, I didn’t have to do all these other things. As long as I made sure she was fed and changed, I could let everything else slide. She didn’t care if I sat in bed and held her all day, and barely ate lunch and left the house a mess.
These days, life just keeps going whether I want to or not. Everyone’s up around 7 and ready for play time and breakfast. They’ll trash the house (because they’re playing, not trying to be destructive) so it has to be cleaned up. There’s a predictable feel to our day and I have to “manage” it — or else.
(As I hated being alone and without structure, yet also hated having to be out of the house for school or work 8 – 5, 5 days a week, this sort of loose, slow-moving, home-based structure is perfect for me. I was still in college when I got married but wanted to have a baby just as soon as I graduated, for this reason. Which I did.)
The biggest lesson has been learning to let go of the things that don’t really matter and pack in the things that do. All the stuff I get done sounds impressive, but it comes from making different choices than I used to. I want to share with you the lessons I’ve learned.
The Lessons: You Can Have Peace, Too
Lesson 1: Keep to a Routine
We have a routine every day, that is roughly the same. We are always up around 7, we always eat lunch around 12, we always have quiet time around 2, we always eat dinner around 6, and we always go to bed (the kids) around 8. Things change within that structure — we might spend our morning hours at the zoo, grocery shopping, or just playing at home. But the general structure, the flow of the day, doesn’t really change.
But, neither are we strict. If kids are tired, maybe quiet time gets pushed up to 1 or 1:30. If they’re not that tired or we’re going to have a late night, maybe it gets pushed back towards 3. Maybe if they’re having fun outside and I’m doing some chores, they don’t eat lunch until 1 or so. Our structure remains similar but we adjust as needed. Flexible, but predictable. Enough that when I when I served an early lunch one day and told the kids we were going out after, my 5 year old said, “But it will be too late, it will be quiet time already!”
Lesson 2: Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Realistically, I have to stop what I am doing a lot. I have to be available to give hugs, break up fights, and nurse the baby. It’s not going to work for me to be doing focused activities that I can’t stop or to try to rush through the day. I have to build in a lot of time for each part of our routine so that we can do what we need to do without anyone getting upset or anyone’s needs not being met. The kids are much happier when they’re not pushed, either.
The steady part is important too. I have to keep at it. Maybe I start dinner but the baby wakes and needs to eat now. I turn the food down or off and go attend to him, and perhaps stick him in a wrap so I can finish cooking after he’s fed. But I must keep going. I can’t sit around and wait for a “better” situation, because it’s likely one won’t come. Or if one does, it will last for all of a minute before there’s someone or something else that needs attending. I have to go with the flow on that; it’s how life is. Don’t let the crazy stop you from getting things done.
Lesson 3: Have a Mental To-Do List
Or a physical one if that works better for you. I do keep grocery lists and meal plans written down and posted prominently so I can refer to them often. My other “to do” is only mental. I know, for example, that I need to accomplish three loads of laundry and vacuuming the playroom on a particular day.
I’ve learned to be realistic about my “to do” list as well. It’s not likely that I’ll get through three loads of laundry if I’m working that day (I have a babysitter come in Tues/Thurs for 3 – 4 hours). Or if we are running errands or having an outing, I don’t plan a lot of chores then either. It goes back to that “slow and steady.” I plan more for the days I’ll be home and free all day, less for the days when I have another activity going on. I don’t try to push myself in the evening hours because I know I won’t get much done then.
Lesson 4: Multi-Task
A lot of things can really be done at once. If not at the same time, then at least in the same “work session.” I can start a meal cooking, do dishes or start a load of laundry while it progresses without attention, go back to the meal, start something soaking for later, help a child with school work, etc. all at the same time. I can spend 30 – 45 minutes doing one “set” of chores, then go sit down for awhile. I usually divide my day into several “sets” of multi-tasking.
In the morning, I refill the water filter and the ice trays while breakfast is cooking. I also empty the dishwasher and perhaps start a load of laundry. An hour or so later, I might switch the laundry, start some baking or cooking project. A couple hours after that, do some dishes, wipe down counters, sweep the kitchen, switch laundry again during lunch. Mid-afternoon, more laundry, more dishes, starting dinner. After dinner, a final wipe down, starting things soaking for the next day, and tying up any other loose ends. I work hard for a short time, then I’m “free” until I’m needed again.
Lesson 5: Remember the Small Jobs
A lot of jobs are small. It can take five minutes to clean a bathroom when all you need to do is wipe down surfaces and brush out a toilet. Starting things soaking in the kitchen only takes a few minutes. Picking up what is on the floor as you walk by is only seconds. Just do it. Don’t think of it as some big job that you have to set aside time for; just build it into your day. Call it part of your to-do list and either do it when you think of it or build it into one of the “multi-tasking sets.”
Lesson 6: Take Time for Yourself
I could forgo showers, getting to eat, rest for myself. Certainly, there are enough demands around here. But I don’t. If I want a shower, I set the kids up with a snack and one of those ios games that pay real money or a TV show (gasp! the TV!) and go take a shower. It’s only 20 minutes and then I’m ready for them. Or, I sit down to eat and I let them play or, simply, wait until I am finished! (I try to take care of needs before I sit down, of course, and I get up if it’s important.) If I didn’t carve out little bits of time to take care of myself, I’d never “find” the time. And I’d be an irritable, hungry, tired mama who was no good to anyone. Take the time.
Lesson 7: Let the Kids Help
My daughter really likes to hold the baby. If he is wanting to be held but I don’t feel like wearing him or need to do a chore that isn’t easy to do while wearing a baby (like bending over the dishwasher), then I will let her sit and hold him. Or, if the kids want to help cook dinner, I give them each a job to do. They like to peel and cut veggies, fetch items from the fridge or pantry, etc.
Other times they want a snack but I’m nursing the baby. They want to do it themselves. Occasionally they even want to bring me a snack! I let them. They enjoy their “jobs.” They enjoy learning how to do these things and feeling like they’re contributing. And these are really valuable life skills too.
Lesson 8: Keep Your Voice Soft
Yelling at kids doesn’t help. Kids are kids and they will do things that drive you crazy sometimes. They will make messes, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident. I know I want to yell when they do this…and sometimes I do, of course. Other times I try really hard to do it a better way. I pause, close my eyes, take a breath. Then I look the child in the eyes and speak softly. They usually realize I am serious and then listen much better than if I lose it and scream.
But, if you don’t remember to speak softly, or act patiently, or whatever else…know that no mother-of-many that I’ve met is magically more patient or “better” or somehow “super mom.” Nobody fails just because they can’t be amazingly patient and perfect. There’s just no such thing.
Lesson 9: Embrace the Chaos
Kids are crazy. The more of them there are, the more chaos there will be. There is always someone doing something, unless they are all asleep. Rather than trying to corral them, keep them quiet, keep them calm, just embrace it. We have play areas set up throughout the house. There is a TV in the living room (that comes on if we need a break) and in my room (good if baby kept me up and I need to sleep a little longer after the others are up). There are a number of options in the play area (art supplies, legos, kitchen toys, books, etc.). They play in the kitchen sometimes (paint brushes, pots and pans, water). There are toys in their rooms (books, a train table, desks with crayons). We also have a fenced-in backyard that they can go out in when they want to. It’s calmer if we allow them to move freely through these areas and it helps sometimes to separate them if they’re fighting — “You go outside, you go play in your room.”
At other times, giving them a job helps cut down on the chaos. See the “kids helping” part. It makes for chaos in the kitchen, but hey — it’s part of life.
Lesson 10: Enjoy Them
Despite the odd annoying moments, children are a blessing. Remember it. Talk to them, appreciate what they do. It was funny when my 20-month-old came in the house covered in mud, and I popped him in the sink for a bath. It was adorable when we visited my husband’s office and my 3-year-old offered to shake hands and introduced himself to everyone he met. It’s sweet when my daughter explains to me all the things she’s learned that day. And it’s adorable when my 6-week-old smiles and coos. 🙂 They are such fun and unique people! And it’s a privilege to get to know them and raise them.
Grace for Moms
There is no magic to it. I do feel more patient and more prepared with four than I ever did before. I find it less stressful and easier to understand and deal with.
But, I’m not super mom. I still get tired, upset. I still yell at them. I do lots of things I shouldn’t, especially on bad days. The good outweighs the bad absolutely but hey…I’m just as human and flawed as everyone else.
Pray for grace. Pray for peace. Pray for understanding. It’s okay to make mistakes — you are going to. We all do. I even wrote about the mistakes I make a lot before. And sometimes we’re all the worst moms. But since your feelings matter too — it’s okay.
Do you feel like super mom?