Okay, so I’ll grant you that most of successful mothering has to do with letting go, improvising, confidence (in both God and self) and a bold sense of humor. That’s no short order but fighting for those things to be in place is usually worth it. If a new mom comes to me those are the factors I’m going to hammer away on the most. Still, every now and then there are some crumbs to be gleaned in the way of practicals. And a small tip can go a long way when you’re constantly having to find your way with children in tow. So, here are some of my go to’s as a mom of five.
The 10 Minute Tidy:
Okay, usually my house is a disaster. But every now and then I decide that it needs to be a lesser form of a disaster. Doing it myself makes it five against one. So I’ve turned the tables. From about two on kids can totally help clean. That makes it still five against one but now going in my favor. However, it can feel like more work to get children to clean. Then I discovered this little trick. I crank up the music and the rule is that no one stops moving for three songs (about ten minutes). We literally run around the house picking up and they think it’s fun! Honestly, I think it’s fun. If you have small one’s give them a bag or basket to fill. The hard stop keeps the children from losing heart after a couple of minutes and and it helps me focus (because you all know the creepy cleaning mommy wander; where you go from room to room sighing only to get absolutely nothing done). I particularly like to use this trick at about 4:00 before I have to hit the supper sprint. It gives me a clean slate, helps dad not walk into a war zone (sort of) and makes them have a natural transition to having some down time to (because kids lose their minds between four and six).
Yeah, having your kids help with chores is great but then don’t you just have to go back and do it right? Nope. Mommy does a quality check. If I tell them floor duty and they say they are done then I go check and for every item they missed they get an extra chore. Suddenly “mommy clean” is the only standard of clean.
Single income. Soup. No time. Soup. Not a great cook. Soup. Hate the dinner mess. Soup. Need your kids to eat vegetables. Soup. Never feel full. Soup. Do you catch my drift? Soup.
My favorites Include: Turkey Corn Chili, White Chicken Chili, SW Salsa Soup, Sausage Potato Soup, Beef Stew and Roasted Garlic Soup
So I want the kiddos to have some independent time without resorting to the telesitter. With those restless toddler years I found setting out a couple of blankets with a different activity on each one helps. Then I set the timer. I like fifteen minutes but you can work up to it. When it beeps they switch. It buys you enough time to check an e-mail and they work at developing a skill. My big kids seem to think this is novel too so it works great with multiple children. Activity examples include, Lego’s, Play-doh, coloring, puzzles, favorite toy, etc.
The Write Way:
Please forgive me because after a few babies you sort of learn to “feel” your way through those first months. I sometimes forget that with my first child I desperately craved someone telling me “how” you were supposed to do this thing. Unfortunately, there is no “how”. You have to figure out what works for you and your child. The best gift I got was from my sister. It was a notebook and pen and she told me to write it down. “What?” I asked. “Everything” she said. It helped so much with getting a feel for my baby and his natural rhythms. Then I could learn to work with it. I try to pay that gift forward to each of my friends who’ve joined the mommy ranks.
On Getting Baby To Sleep:
Okay, so I’ve never been one for super extreme methods when it comes to infants. However, I do acknowledge that sleep and sanity well… they are sort of the same thing. All of my children except one were sleeping six hours by six weeks. Most of them eight by eight. The only tip I followed was from another sister who had twins. She said “Feed when they wake, have awake time, then to bed”. That has yet to not work for me. Now with my second, he was not a good napper. I understand now that he was a very gassy baby and some gripe water would have saved us much heartache. Oops. A backpack was very helpful for him because if he woke up 15 minutes after he fell asleep with a burp and it hadn’t been 2 hours since the start of his last feed he would often just go back to sleep. Once he started getting good sleep I was actually able to get him on track and lay him down for naps on a regular cycle. Funny, better naps usually mean better sleep at night.
Okay, so I’m terrible at this. But every now and then I get it right. I found that my children are happiest when I just get on the floor with them (especially the little ones). I don’t have to do a darn thing. They don’t want activities. They want me. They want interaction. They want to touch. It’s usually the last thing I want but I always walk away going. “Oh yeah! That’s was not so bad at all.” Additionally, just a short ten minutes seems to really fill their tank and they are able to be more content when I do need to multitask. And it’s something about the floor. Trying to get them to sit on the couch with me isn’t the same. I think maybe it’s too formal. Sitting on the floor is the epitome of meeting them where they are at and the rewards are nearly immediate.
MUSIC IS MAGICAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Seriously, I don’t get it, but singing works. It’s how we all learned our ABC’s. It’s every jingle from our childhood (Juicy Fruit is gonna move ya’). Whether its spelling, virtues, corrections, singing is powerful. I somehow can get through to my kids in a way that just speaking doesn’t. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has the corner of the market on this. Watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood!! It’s magical. Incidentally, it’s hard to yell at your kids if you are singing to them. Also, I put music on when work has to get done. Classical music for school work. Gospel for cleaning. And I stress to the kids that when we do work with joy it becomes worship.
Build In Talk Time:
So I also have an eight and nine-year old right now. They have a very different set of needs than the eight-month old. Some months back my hubby and I realized we hated bed time. It was stressful and we all ended the day not liking each other. So we prayed and the answer came. “Don’t treat bedtime as something to get through.” So we moved bedtime up, recognizing that the boys needed to wind down (just like I do) and that mommies come with expiration dates (mine is every night at 8:15) Now that I’m not looking for obedience to be a five-minute bathroom sprint and and lights out with nothing but a ‘yes mom’ I’ve been able to embrace that time together. And the conversations have left me full and humbled. We’re able to connect on a significantly deeper level and I find God teaching me so much in those times. And usually we still like each other when the lights are turned out. F.Y.I- I don’t spend this same amount of time with my littles in the bedtime routine. Different ages equal different needs. Ironically we want to hold our infants for an hour before bed and then send our big kids off with a peck on the cheek. I’ve personally found that the opposite is usually needed.
My older children work a lot better with lists. It might be because they are mini-men. It might be just their personalities but lists are golden. I can tell them things but if I write it down it seems like they suddenly feel like life is happening on their terms and it alleviates a lot of tension. When they couldn’t read I would draw little pictures on the board to tell them what I expected and would often put a picture of a goal at the end. When they can check it off and have clearly defined expectations it kept them from losing heart. Saying “we’re going to clean the house today” seems overwhelming. Writing “empty garbage, clear table, pick up sitting room” now they can do it. Also, it holds me accountable to not adding in a bunch of stuff which I am really good at doing.
I have a two-year old. Need I say more? But I will. I have an incredibly strong and capable two-year old who is as daring as he is handsome and that is saying a lot. So my lot is broken into the boys, the littles and the baby and one necessary chore in my house is the older children entertaining the younger children for set periods of time. At first this usually meant they went downstairs and jumped off the furniture until someone hit their head but I’ve now started adding parameters to help both sets of children build necessary skills. For the older children it usually means laying aside their agenda to do something that is simpler and engaging for the younger ones. It also means being patient, flexible and encouraging. For the younger it helps them start to take instruction from others and build strong relationships with their siblings. This helps me get one on one time with the kids too. For instance today, I had one of the boys on dishwasher, the other on toddler duty while I got to do a puzzle with my daughter. Then we rotated and I got some time with that dashing little guy. Again, ten minutes goes a long way in toddler time.
No talking in the Car:
Almost pile-driving that poor sedan while running a red light was the best thing that ever happened to me. Actually, it was horrible. I mean really, really, bad (tired mommas please don’t drive if you don’t have to) but a rule came out if it. No talking in the car. And it was brilliant! You don’t have to be a sleep deprived mother of five to have a hard time focusing on the road. We now use that time to be still and it’s wonderful. It’s a great time to observe and listen and watch the world go by. And your kids don’t even need to know that you just want a break from their beautiful little voices. Just explain that driving is very dangerous and you need to pay attention so you don’t hurt anyone. A quiet car is a happy car!
Geometric Coloring Pages:
I’m just vain enough to sort of not love that all of America is in an adult coloring rage. Truth be told I was printing geometric coloring pages off the internet for my foster daughters like four years ago so… (petty I know). Still, they are not adult coloring books. They are wonderful for children. It works older children’s motor skills and attention to detail and I find that the small sections make it great for small children. Now they have lots of excuses to change colors and directions and all the things they love to do when coloring. And mommy gets to fill in the gaps. My second son just doesn’t enjoy coloring at all so he gets a Sudoku which he loves. Colored pencils don’t break easily (though you do need a good sharpener) and are less likely to be consumed than crayons because apparently wax is delicious and peas are not. Who knew?
This is one bandwagon I will gladly hop on. Coconut oil is a staple. My kids are mixed so for half of them I use it in their hair. For everyone else, it’s lotion, diaper rash cream and salve. It’s great for nursing moms because you don’t have to worry about baby ingesting it like you do lotions. I also know people who brush their teeth with it. Oh! You can actually cook with it too. Almost forgot about that. A large tub is less than fifteen dollars when I buy it at my local bulk store which makes it über affordable too.
I’m sure there are a million other things I could put here. If you’re dying to know I suppose you can ask in the comments. These just work for me and they evolve as our family does. Mostly, be kind to yourself. Rest often. I mean it. Sit on the couch and daydream of sleeping. The laundry can just stay in your bathtub (where mine is) and reject guilt. Violently reject guilt. You are likely doing better than you think you are. Reach out. Your not alone.
May the Father of life, Father you today. And may your peace be full to overflowing.