Before I had kids, I had a lot of ideas of what I thought parenting would be like and pretty much none of what I thought is reality. Honestly, the only thing you can count on as a parent is things are always changing and there is always a challenge ahead. I have learned a few lessons along the way that help me manage my five kids, their busy ever-changing lives, my marriage and myself!
Laugh.. A lot.
Parenting is messy… and pretty funny if you can take a step back and just laugh. At some point every day, all hell breaks loose in our house.
The pot of water is boiling, the dryer buzzes, the Amazon delivery is ringing the bell which causes the dogs to bark, a kid spills their juice, and one of the boys brings their skateboard in house because they don’t want it to get dirty … and while all of this is happening, you are still in your work clothes, which reminds you that people take you seriously during the day- And here you are cleaning up juice while one of your kids asks where babies come from. (This scenario is not made up).
It would be easy to get frustrated and mad when things get crazy. Try to keep things in perspective: the laundry will eventually get done, the house will be clean, the garage will be organized, and one day you will miss these crazy days.
I have found that with five kids, I can’t spend as much one on one as I would like with each. I used to feel really guilty about this. But I have realized that not everyone needs the same thing (and I need sleep to be a good mom). There are times when one of the boys needs more time and attention than the rest.
This is when I “check in” with the other boys. I set aside time to ask how things are going, how I can help with school, what is coming up that you are excited about. This time is very focused, intentional and personal. I generally try to do this at bedtime when the house is quiet and I can have that one on one conversation. I have always found my kids are more likely to share when they feel safe and comfortable (and are a little sleepy). Kids are intuitive and care deeply about their siblings. They know when one needs a little extra and do not feel slighted because of it. But it is so important to make sure they feel seen and heard.
When I was a classroom teacher, parents often told me that their kids never shared anything about what they did at school. My advice would always be the same- stop asking them “how was your day” and start asking more specific and maybe even silly questions. This has worked with my own kids.
What made you laugh today? What book did your teacher read today? What was shocking today? Did you teach anyone anything today? Would you rather eat a worm or a spider?
Participate in the conversation. Share about your day, give them insight to your work, share how you dealt with challenges, and be silly.
Change the dance
We all get stressed (I am not exactly sunshine and rainbows when all hell is breaking loose -see above). My kids react to my stress and mirror it. When I started to notice this, it really bothered me. I hated hearing them say the things that I had said or mimic my tone at one another.
That is a serious mom-gut-check. I started to change the dance. I thought about when I was stressed most (dinner time, getting everyone ready to leave, and bedtime) and made new routines. Dinners were prepped as much as possible to make sure weeknight dinners were easy to get on the table or counter. Clothes were laid out the night before, bookbags, shoes, jackets, were all on each kid's hook before they went to bed to make the morning easier. Bedtime became a little less rigid and way more calm.
Please do not get me wrong, I still get stressed but now I tell my kids, “Boys, this is stressful for me and I need some quiet and some space so I can _____ (cook, clean up, etc.)” When things calm down, I say “Thank you, I was really frustrated and needed that time to get myself back together.” Now, I hear them saying that to one another and I hope they are able to carry that into their lives outside our home.
We all make mistakes as parents. My dad gave me the best piece of parental advice when I had my first son. I do not remember the exact conversation that led to the advice but I am sure I was expressing my anxiety about parenting and fears of not doing all the right things. I was young, very inexperienced with babies, and a perfectionist.
He said “You will never do anything to intentionally hurt your kid.” I think in the moment I brushed the comment off and remained fixated on what type of bottle I should be giving my new baby to reduce gas and not cause dental damage. But that advice has stuck with me especially when the house is quiet, the kids are asleep, everything is prepped for the next day and I think about the day, and start to doubt my mom moves. Was I too hard on him? Was I not hard enough? I remember that I am trying my best and would never intentionally hurt my boys.
If something is really bothering me, we talk about it. I have no problem telling my kids that I was wrong or overreacted or even that I am not sure I did the right thing. That conversation can only take place when everyone is at baseline but it is so important.
Like I have said before, parenting is not easy. Give yourself a break! Follow me for more about our experience Living With 5.