Every so often, I’ll have someone look at my family, look at my belly, and then look at me and say, “How on earth do you do it?” Most of the time, I answer something like, “By the grace of God!” Well, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned and employed along the way, and some that I’ve learned but have yet to employ. I thought that this would be a good time to write this post, now before baby comes. That way, along about about the middle of September and forward, when my little three have become little four and the inevitable wails of a new baby are ringing in my ear at all hours of the day and night and I feel completely incompetent and exhausted (not that I’ve ever been there before, you know), I can return to this post and remind myself of all the ways I’ve figured out how to save some sanity while raising a bunch of kids. Now, let me just say a couple of things here at the beginning: 1) I hesitate to even write some of this because it’s highly probable that someone who has read one of my great ideas or methods will catch me parenting in a moment of weakness where I completely go against whatever I’ve written. Please remember that just because I’ve written great ideas doesn’t mean that I’m perfect at following them. I mess up. A lot. That’s where the whole grace of God thing comes in. 2) I am not trying to suggest that any other mom or family needs to look at my ideas and tricks as advice for their family. People have shared their great tips with me before and I have immediately tossed them into my mental trash can, knowing they would never work at my house. The same may be true of my tricks at your house. This post is not called “Why you should do what I do,” and please don’t read it as such. 3) Going along with the above, some of my confessions here may appall you. Again, please don’t judge me and please remember that I’m not asking you to do it my way. Now, with all that said, here is how I do what I do.
* It is one of the most frustrating and inevitable facts of motherhood, no matter how many children you have, that you will spend a lot of time cleaning things that will almost immediately need cleaning again, or doing things that will almost immediately become undone. You know exactly what I’m talking about; most housework falls in this category. Here’s how I cope with the frustration that goes along with this unfortunate fact: I prioritize!! Dirty bottoms, that’s kind of high priority. I generally go on and clean those right away even though I know it won’t be long until I’m right there cleaning them again. Chocolate faces or ketchup faces or baby food faces or…(you get the idea), the priority here depends on the situation. For one thing, are they finished eating? If not, why waste effort wiping their mouth when the next bite is going to mess it up again? The only time I clean a face or hands that aren’t finished eating is if the food is actually dripping off or threatening to drip off. Then a swipe is in order to save a shirt. Also, are we at home or in public? I don’t try quite as hard to get them completely clean at home, especially if I know it’s almost bath time. Dirty dishes, those usually get attention once a day. Once, not every time one goes in the sink. Dirty laundry, usually one, maybe two days a week unless someone’s drawer is dangerously close to empty. As far as clutter is concerned, I do try to stay on top of the kitchen and living room simply because it helps my sanity to be able to see floors and counters. This usually involves gathering up clothes and throwing them up the stairs until my next trip up, and gathering up toys and tossing them into the playroom. Now, cleaning the playroom is something that is relatively low down the priority list. We attack it about once a week. Any more than that I consider wasted effort. Things like cleaning windows, the sliding glass door, or dusting the bookshelves in the office: I confess that these hardly ever get done. Everything you clean will eventually need to be cleaned again. Prioritizing where the effort is concentrated helps me to stay on this side of sane.
* Remember that I’m raising children, not grownups. This tip comes in handy when my children sing through the grocery store, causing second glances and raised eyebrows from almost everyone we pass; when they’ve been home all day playing inside and about five o’clock feel the need to chase each other around the “circle” (hallway, kitchen, living room, hallway, kitchen…) screaming at the top of their lungs; when they spill drinks; when my three year old and one year old have trouble sitting still at the five year old story time; when I come upstairs to find a puddle of lotion on the floor and a baby smelling strongly of sweet pea while a three year old suddenly feels the need to hide from Mommy; when you can name everything they’ve had to eat that day simply by studying their face and clothing (see above paragraph). Almost all of the parenting books that I’ve read and love fool me into thinking that my family can look like theirs, when most of their methods and principles are best suited to older kids. When I look at my family, sometimes I tend to despair that I will ever have children who can sit still at dinner and keep relatively calm in public, but my children are preschoolers. The oldest is only five, and three preschoolers together can cook up quite a lot of chaos. I constantly need to remind myself that they are little, they will learn, and this won’t last forever.
* We have tried to figure out what is important at our house and stick by it, and then fudge on some other things, without letting the opinions of others make us secondguess ourselves. For example, I know that at times along the way, if you know us personally, you have thought we were too strict on bedtime and naptime. Let me just say that we’ve seen the result of slacking off here and we don’t enjoy it. There will be special occasions that we blur the bedtime lines, but not very often. We are strict on bedtime and have sacrificed lots of possible social or serving opportunities because of this. We are not ashamed. We like girls who have gotten their sleep. We are also, to a lesser degree, kind of strict on sweets and junk food. We end up fudging here more than on the bedtime thing, but I know we’ve told grandparents and relatives and friends no when they’ve wanted to give our kids sweets enough that you probably talked about us after we left a time or two, but I have three girls who I would love to not have to struggle with their weight as adults like I and so many people I know are currently doing. We try to teach them moderation now so they won’t have to try to learn that later. Another more recent example is taking our kids to worship with us. To do this, we dropped out of the choir, so we are constantly having to explain to fellow choir members why we’re not singing with them anymore. The first Sunday we did this, we had to explain to the ushers that we knew where their class was, but we wanted them to experience worship. People usually respond the same, with an, “Okay, weirdo” vibe, but this is important to us and we will stick to it. There are other issues I could list, like modest and age-appropriate dress, what they watch on TV and movies, and certain words that are not allowed in my house. Every family will differ slightly on their issues, but it helps tremendously to define the ones that are most important to you and then stick with them.
* On the other end of the spectrum, there are things that I’ve learned are not terrible, no matter what I may have said with my first baby. For example, I will confess right here before the whole of cyberspace: I let the TV babysit my kids, and I do it almost every day. Now I didn’t say ALL day, but there are times every day that I turn the TV on, usually while Elisabeth is asleep, so that I have a chance to get something done in relative peace. I used to think that was terrible, now I think of it as necessary. Think what you want, I do it. Also, if Elisabeth finishes eating before us at a restaurant, or even at home, and is on the verge of throwing a royal fit about staying in her seat, I get her out. This is no longer a battle worth fighting, in my opinion. I never would have done that with Abigail, but now my priority is a peaceful meal, both for us and the people around us. Next confession, there are days that we don’t get dressed and don’t brush hair. This is something else I once swore I would never do. But I do it, and there’s not really an excuse for it. It just eliminates one more task out of my day. (This only happens on days that we don’t leave the house, in my defense.) So I guess the tip here is: I don’t sweat what to me is small stuff.
* Tips and products that help me do what I do: There are several things that fall into this category. 1) My most recent lightbulb idea was to buy gallon size ziploc bags and put matching tops and bottoms in them in the girls’ drawers. Now I can tell Abigail and Catherine to go get a bag out and get dressed and I know their clothes are going to match. Or I can ask Clay to go get Elisabeth dressed and he doesn’t say, “Well, you go pick out her clothes because I don’t know what goes together. This is working quite nicely.
2) My double stroller is absolutely wonderful. It has shoulder straps as well as a lap buckle and is the absolute only buckle that Elisabeth has yet to climb out of. Plus, there’s the extra front seat for when Catherine becomes too bouncy in the library or store or Abigail complains that she can’t walk anymore, so I can buckle one of them in, too. I try not to leave home without it. 3) Also, I’ve learned that baby wipes aren’t just for bottoms. They can clean almost anything in a pinch. I’ve used them on dirty faces and hands, the cruddy highchair, even the kitchen floor. 4) I use the tubs that baby wipes come in to store small toys. I have heard of people storing plastic bags in them, but I don’t do this. We keep the princess dresses in one, and we’ve kept other things in them, too. 5) I have lots of shelves and cabinets and drawers in my playroom, and believe it or not, everything not only has its place, but my kids actually know the places and can now clean the playroom without help from me. My storage system is not so intricate that they can’t do it, but it is enough to make it neat and organized and prevents their toy pieces from getting all jumbled up together. 6) I also keep games and other things with zillions of small pieces on the high shelves, so they can only get those down when I help them, which prevents those pieces from spilling all over the place all the time. 7) Finally, and this too may appall some readers, I do regular trips to Goodwill with toys and books. My kids are so blessed to get so many gifts at birthdays and Christmas and in-between, and if we never got rid of anything my whole house would be decorated in Fisher Price and stuffed animal and Disney Princess, not just the playroom. So every time a birthday or Christmas approaches, I do a sweep through and bag up the books and toys that never get played with or have no special sentiment attached to them or have lost pieces or whatever, and we clean out. My aim is to have all the toys having a home in the playroom, not in bedrooms or the living room, so I constantly weed out so that all the current stuff fits.
I know this was an extremely long post, but remember I wrote it for myself as well. If anyone else has some tips or tricks or products that you think may help me do what I do, feel free to share them in the comments section. And if you see me on the verge of breakdown along about the end of September or beginning of October, please feel free to remind me of what I’ve written here.