I came across this beautiful little list. It said so many funny and absolutely things about living with a pack of little people.
One thing that’s happened as I’ve moved towards thirty-I found my groove with parenting. I am not in control of it all, any more than I was four years ago with a preschooler, a toddler, and a newborn, but what has changed is I have found a peace with my lack of control. It’s a happy place to be. When I am not in control, I don’t have to feel guilty when things go wrong. I deal with it and move on. But I thought I’d ad a few things that helped me realize that even though I was in ‘survival mode’ we were doing much more than surviving. We have thrived.
Somehow this year I keep coming across examples where parents really, really failed their children. Where adults who have dealt with abuse and neglect during their childhood have had awful effects in their daily lives. So for a while I have used as a great leveler to my priorities: Is it big stuff or small stuff? What sort of things do I want my children to have as an adult? What experiences? What securities? Nobody is going to do this job for us. We are the parents. We have a lot on our shoulders. So here’s how we’ve coped with the last few years:
1. You may have to re-write your priority list every day with some of the small stuff. Sometimes the focus is put on different areas of the home depending on the events coming up or how long you’ve neglected something. But, one thing to keep in mind, is that your house is always going to be messy and that’s normal. Keep the gross stuff cleaned up, prioritize, and move on. The messy house will still be there waiting for you after you are done taking care of your baby. Even if it takes 18 months or so for you to get around to certain tasks. Simplify meals. Try to find a balance between easy to serve and hitting all the food groups. Find a few meals you can make easily and always keep the kitchen stocked with them. When you are prioritizing and everything with the kids takes up a lot of time, having a variety of meals is something that can be sacrificed for a while. We have had taco night and spaghetti night a million times over the past seven years. Nobody has every complained that we’ve had spaghetti sometimes multiple times in the same week. Always overcook, and use the leftovers for lunch or a second meal. Start children with itty bitty bits of food on their plate so you don’t waste a lot when they actually aren’t hungry or just don’t feel like eating that. Don’t fall into the trap of making sure you are in control of your kid’s eating. What they eat, how much they eat, how often, etc. It’s not worth fighting over. We sometimes say, ‘no more x until you finish the food you already have’ but we don’t freak out if Pingu doesn’t touch his tomatoes or Sweet Pea freaks out about the new green thing on her plate or Scooby doesn’t bother to sit down for dinner at all. If waste bothers you, you can eat their leftovers. For snacks and lunch I keep a variety of stuff on hand I can toss out of a bag and onto plates. Kids are more likely to try something if it’s on a plate with something they already know and like. They are also more likely to eat something if they see other people eating it. There is a bit of a herd mentality with larger families and smaller kids will sometimes just simply adopt habits of older siblings without a word from mom or dad. All my children adore broccoli because it’s always been a favorite of my Foxx, my oldest. Also because of a phobia of my oldest, Pingu has developed a refusal to eat something that somebody else has touched. We also don’t really care what the kids wear around the house or even out as long as they are dressed appropriately for the weather. We get picky about school because of dress codes, but letting them pick their own clothes at a young age gives them a bit more responsibility and choice.
2. Learn to reorganize. And reorganize. With a growing family, your daily needs are constantly changing. What worked a year ago probably doesn’t work now. Shuffle the closets, store things a different way. Keep trying. It will never be perfect but managing the stuff flow of the house is something you just have to figure out what works best for you guys. We depend heavily on plastic totes. We use see-though ones for kid stuff that we use in the house, on shelves, for toys, homeschool and craft stuff. (Out of reach of little people for sanity purposes!) We use big 18-gallon totes for shed storage of off-season clothes, Christmas decor, and camping stuff. I go through and purge on a regular basis, at least every month or two I go through a closet for outgrown and unused. I don’t save it in my garage for a yard sale, I just donate it. It’s going to a good cause and it’s freeing up space.
3. Just like with organizing stuff, be very flexible in how you spend time with your kids. Each kid needs different attention at different times. Babies need to be held all the time. Right now my preschooler really benefits from me doing little workbooks or having her help me with chores. With the two in school we tend to do homework together, and DH plays video games with them as chill time. I also recently organized the older boys to help me get the kitchen sparkly after dinner. It’s all time with them, where you are involved in each other’s lives. Each one of you is an individual person and you are all getting to know each other and help each other. That’s family. Personalize as needed.
4. Make the effort to do big fun stuff. But it doesn’t have to be family-vacation big. Even taking an afternoon to the park lifts everybody’s spirits. Biting the bullet and trashing the kitchen for a bake-along or craft-along pays off once in a while. But it’s ok if you keep it really simple like boxed jello or crayons and coloring books, because if it’s too much work to be fun, it ain’t getting done! Kronk introduced the boys to Monopoly, which has never been my thing, but they all love it. Sweet Pea and Pingu LOVE going shopping with me. Scooby loves being chased around the house and tickled.
5. Keep outings short and simple with little people. We tend to do lots of exploring and family visiting in summer, when Kronk has lots of time off of work. Now that the kids are older we can expand our activities a bit, but when you have babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, keep in mind their ‘outing happiness’ runs out after an hour or two. So don’t get everybody all excited and packed up to spend an entire day in the snow. It will likely be an hour before they get tired/cold/wet/whiny, so plan for a brief trip ahead of time so you don’t get too frustrated. Lots of stuff that ‘kids’ find enjoyable, preschoolers and toddlers get overstimulated by. So keeping it simple and staying at home more when they are little is not only easier, it’s more enjoyable for them.
6. Movies are awesome. Before I was a mother I looked down my nose at parking kids in front of a screen. “Brain-rotting filth!” The stark reality is that you spend ALL your time with your kids anyway, and most of that time they are very demanding, making plenty of mess but not actually helping any. Children’s shows are interesting, some are educational, but an hour isn’t going to actually hurt them. It will give you a break. You could clean something. You could check facebook without worrying about somebody dunking the TP in the toilet. You could even nap within earshot. If you park them in front of the TV many hours a day the magic will wear off and they will demand it a lot, so there is moderation to be used. But when you are sick, or when you need to pack to move without children being around breakable and dangerous stuff, or you are PMSing and feel like biting everybody’s head off, then it’s ok to do a TV day. I strongly recommend Netflix. It has tons of PBS shows and no commercials. Amazon Prime has quite a few as well. Some people will look down their nose at you. See #7.
7. You have to ignore a lot of other people in order to find peace with your parenting. There are a million opinions about parenting, and there are so many haters out there. You just gotta say, “Forget them, they don’t own me.” Because they don’t. It’s your family. You are the ones raising them to adulthood. Your children need to live with you. No matter what you do, you will make somebody upset. If somebody gives you advice that makes you uncomfortable, you can either ignore them completely if you want, change the subject, or if they really matter to you, simply say, “I’ll take that into consideration”. In fact, you may strongly benefit from not discussing many of your parenting practices in front of other people if their disagreement is going to bother you. Just change the subject or find a reason to leave.
8. Research parenting style stuff. One of the ways you can do this is talking to people. My favorite are large family people. They have lived with the crazy and they don’t even bother with social standards, they just go with what works. I have found much help online with various parenting forums. There are many different parenting styles from everything with newborn care, how to diaper your baby, what kind of parent structure you have in your home (mother and father, mother alone, mother and grandmother, mother, father, and grandpa), who works and who doesn’t, homeschool, private school, public school, crunchy, mainstream, religious, nonreligious. You have something to learn from all sorts of people-never be done learning, always be ready to adapt. Your family is always changing and you need to be too.
9. Approach discipline positively. When you think of your parents as adults, what do you want them to have? How do you want them to treat other people? That’s how you need to treat your kids. Don’t ever approach discipline as a one-method-works-for-everything approach. Gather a huge toolbox of information. Find out about child development. Take a parenting class on positive parenting if you have a toddler that is driving you bonkers. Get behind the eyes of your child and find out where they are coming from and how they are seeing the situation. Find a way to work through a situation with your child in a way they feel understood, respected, and guided to acting rightly. Help them have compassion on other people. Raise their awareness of morality and the benefits of acting kind. Teach them about friendship and cooperation. Teach them by showing them in your words and actions that they are valuable, their voice is heard, that they make a great difference in your family. Teach them to take pride in being responsible and being a leader, in sharing and being creative. Let them do things all by themselves as they are ready, and cheer them on. Give them opportunities to use their talents and try new things. Encourage them in taking initiate and figuring out clever solutions.Keep an open ear to them even when they screw up.
10. When you fail, when you lose it and yell, when you do something selfish and hurtful, when you hate the job of parenting and are so sick of the endless mess and work you want to run away, remember that every other parent feels that way. Network with real people. Real people who understand that parenting is more a trialblazing mountain hike than a solid easy freeway, everybody has to find their own way up, and everybody hates it once in a while. Find ways to laugh at how ridiculous it all is. We parent even though we have no idea what we are doing most of the time. We continue to clean even though it’s messy. We get completely sleep deprived for creatures that poop on us and scream in our faces. There are no vacations or even pay. What other job makes you work this hard for free? That’s right, none whatsover. So find somebody who cuts loose from the crazy the same style as you. Take up hobbies for stress relief. Reading is great because it lets you escape into a much more exciting and interesting world than yourself, and then your kids see you reading and it makes them want to read too!
11. Take pride in your children. You have worked hard on them. You aren’t in complete control, but you know what? You made them. Even if their existence wasn’t completely planned, if you’re a mother you grew them inside your own body and you are responsible for their existence. Every triumph your child makes is also yours. Celebrate it. There will be haters who think that you are too into your kids. Haters gonna hate, but you gotta overcome the crazy with love. Nobody will ever love your kids the way you do. They are your shining stars. Don’t stop taking pictures, or marveling at their creations, or just gazing at their little faces. It goes by so fast (which seems cliche until your newborn is seven and up to your chest and by your calculations he ought to be about three.) The days are slow, the years are fast. All that time wiping butts and stepping on cheerios and having your walls crayoned are blossoming into a person before your very eyes. They can talk, they are clever, they show you their incredible personalities and you are just amazed at the person that was in there all that time but couldn’t express themselves in the English language enough to be understood. They care about you because you have cared about them, you have been there, you have taught them compassion and love. Be proud, parent. You have earned it.
12. Be so grateful for all the help you get. Aunts, Uncles, Grandmas and Grandpas, preschool teachers, PBS, authors of good books, grocery store cashiers, nice old ladies who give smiles at the store, they are all part of your village that’s helping you raise your child. I am so thankful I’ve never had to do it alone or just with Kronk. They too, are all a part of my child. They’ve helped in my dark hours, they’ve thrown baby showers and birthday parties, they’ve taking the kids for adventures or given them fun toys, and they love my children too. They have understood that sometimes a break for Mommy doesn’t have to be a necessity to be needed. They’ve rejoiced with my rejoicing, wept with my weeping, and been a very essential part of parenthood. I know I can’t even start to repay all the hours and dollars I’ve had in help. I am humbled and blessed.
13. Become a cheerleader for other people. Every other parent out there is struggling somehow. Leave the judging for the haters and see how you can help people right where they are. Even telling a mama her kid is adorable in the grocery store can make her day a teeny bit better. Especially gush over first-time pregnant women, for they are teetering on the bit of the roller coaster that is right before that first time take-your-breath-away drop. Never tell her anything about how big she looks or doesn’t look, just say she looks beautiful and she’ll be a great mom. You can conspire with other parents about how crazy it all is, or listen to them vent about how they can’t figure something out or rage against some system or another. We are all stronger together.
Anyway, during all those years when I thought I was in survival mode, but it was much more than that. Even though my home looks rather worse for wear and I have the muffin top from the dark side, my children are happy, healthy, confident, loving little people. The little years is when their personalities are forming. They really don’t care about a tidy floor or a TV-ready mommy. They just want their parents with them, caring for them, and teaching them how to be human. Now that Scooby is two we have a mere two years left of the little years. I am wiped out, but I know my babies have been cared for. We have taken this little band and made a team and this is our family.