Lady at the grocery store: “Are all these kids yours?”
Lady: “You have your hands full.”
Me: “Yes, of good things.”
This is a typical comment that I get when I go out with our four kids aged 22 months to seven years old– and clearly pregnant. I’ve usually just told Theo to stop licking the grocery cart and
asked the big kids to stop hanging on the edge of the cart because I can’t steer properly when they do that/ we end up taking out innocent shoppers as we go down the aisles. At the same time I’m looking at the shopping list on my phone and trying to figure out what’s the best price on apples. Needless to say, my response is rehearsed but I just don’t know what else to say in one sentence that honors the gift that my kids are (who are listening) and yet is real. Or, real enough.
When Dave and I got married I thought we’d have two or maybe three kids. We each grew up with one older sibling, so thinking of a family of five was already faith stretching. But after trying for a year to conceive, our mindset shifted. It went from, “We’ll start our family after we’ve been married for two years… you know, enough time to get to know each other and have a few adventures,” to “if God gives us kids…” How seemingly in control we were before we started “trying.” That changed though when we realized we weren’t guaranteed children– two or three of them. So, we opened our hands to God’s design and plan for our family. First Lexie, then 20 months later Jackson, Chloe was 23 months later, Anna Louise (our little girl in heaven) would have been about 23 months after Chloe and Theo is 2 1/2 years younger than Chloe. Our next little guy will come a couple weeks before Theo’s 2nd birthday. This is our crew; and I love them.
So when folks look at me bewildered at the grocery store or girlfriends say, “I don’t know how you do it… I can barely handle the two I have” I think what they’re trying to say is, “good job mama; I can’t imagine it is easy.” It isn’t easy and I think each of us feels our finite nature and capacities regardless of what our job is or how many kids we have or where we live in the world.
Having a “big family” is our normal now and I like it. I love how our kids play together and are each others’ best friends (we have reminded them of this since they were wee people). One of the reasons we decided to homeschool was so that they could get more time together. It’s really fun to see Chloe talk to Theo like a little mama, cooing and comforting him if he gets hurts. Jack will run to Chloe’s aid if she calls for him and generally they are helpful. This isn’t to say there aren’t crazy days and crazy maker moments throughout each day, because there are. Theo happens to be taking the longest nap he’s ever taken right now, giving me space to do something I love: write. But yesterday was a different story. No rest time for mama because one of the kids was pitching endless fits about school and sucked up my rest time. I actually drove to pick Dave up from work instead of him taking his carpool home because mama needed back-up asap.
A couple things that help us as we grow our family:
- Dave, my husband, is 100% in. We co-parent in the fullest sense of the word and I could no way do this without him.
- We help the kids become independent, solution seekers and helpers. This year we’ve started daily chores (emptying the silverware and Tupperware in the dishwasher, wiping the table and vacuuming the kitchen through out the day). Weekend chores still feel like we are wasting our Saturday morning trying to motive our kids. But wise mamas tell me it will pay off some day. Also, we can’t always help them, so we encourage them to help each other, figure out a way to do it or wait.
- We hired a sleep trainer! Yep, I only discovered this amazing resource with Theo, our 4th. I needed it so badly with our 3rd but didn’t know it existed or that it could be affordable. She’s helped all of us get the sleep we need. If this sounds like a luxury or “too good to be true,” check out Sarah Bay’s website. You will thank me. A teaser: she has different packages based on your needs. Ranging from $30 for a few emails or if you live in Colorado, you can just have her come to your house and sleep train your child for you for $825. https://www.8straightsleep.com
- Dave gets the kids going in the morning. He gives them breakfast (which is Cheerios Monday through Friday) and sends them to “do their lists” in the morning (get dressed, brush teeth, brush hair). That means I get about 40 minutes to spend time reading my Bible, getting dressed and quickly thinking through meals and homeschool for the day. As an introvert, this really helps me engage with my kids and not be totally overwhelmed off the bat.
- The kids aren’t in any extra-circulars during this season. I get frazzled trying to get everyone out the door, so this is one way I can cut down the stress big time. Last year I did find ballet and karate classes for the three older kids that took place in the same strip mall from 4:45-6:00pm on Tuesdays. That meant I parked once and walked between the classes. That was doable for me.
- We value the first floor of our house being picked up but not deep cleaned, with the exception of the kitchen. The kitchen is where most of our time is spent as a family, so we like to have the counters, floors, etc clean. The other rooms get spot cleaned or I accept how the kids clean them. As for upstairs, I try to “let it go.” The kids’ rooms and bathroom are up there… and I just don’t have the energy to tackle that part of the house.
- There are pretty clear consequences for when the kids disobey. For the older kids, the first consequence is an extra chore. An extra chore is emptying the garbages in the house, cleaning the windows, vacuuming the entryway or something like that. In theory, clear consequences make for a less emotional ordeal when the kids don’t listen. It also helps get some of the chores done around the house.
- The kids have quiet rest time or nap each afternoon. This means I usually get at least 30 minutes and maybe an hour and a half to myself. I’d go crazy if I didn’t have this time to decompress and not have to respond to different demands.
- I meal plan but don’t always stick to making what I planned for a certain day on that day. But, I have the groceries in the house to make “enough” meals throughout the week. We also always splurge (haha) on Little Caesars $5 pizzas on Fridays. Did you know you can order it on their app, they’ll stick in the “portal,” and you can just run in the store, enter a code and voilà here’s your pizza!? Dinner done!
This list can make it sound simpler than it really is. These are just a few things have helped us as our family has grown but there are still so many areas that get away from me. As Jamie C. Martin says in her book, Introverted Mom, “I only do what’s mine to do.” What she means by this is that she tries to figure out what God’s calling her to do in this season and let the other things go. And, she emphasizes not trying to live everyone else’s lives. (But that mom cooks from scratch. But that mom hosts the best kid birthday parties. But that mom works outside the home and…)
A couple of areas I need to let go of is comparing my kids’ progress in school to other kids’ progress or to the state “standards.” It can be a real killer or a real prideful practice. Another thing I feel self-conscience of is how early our kids wake up. Somehow I feel I am a deficient parent. “Shouldn’t” we train them better? Slowly I am getting more comfortable with the reality that our family (all of us) get up and going early. We also go to bed early.
So there you have it. Yes, all these kids are mine and I love them and we can totally drive each other nuts. There are lots of practices that have helped us grow into a bigger family and plenty of areas we’re still figuring out.
What are some ways that you’ve found to help you not compare your life, passions and calling to someone else’s? What’s helped bring order to your life and/or family? What’s an area of your life you need to let go of? I’d love to hear from you!