As a mother of five little boys seven and under I often get asked how I manage. Of course, two alternative answers are that 1) I don’t. Or 2) By the grace of God.
But here are the more specific strategies:
- Be intentional about your village. It is tempting, especially as a mother, to try to do everything yourself. But that’s a bad temptation because you can’t do everything and you can’t do everything well. It has been so important for my husband and I to determine which things we are best at and divide the tasks accordingly. For instance, I’m a night person so I handle wake-ups until 3AM; my husband is a morning person so he handles wake-ups after 3AM. I have an endless repertoire of songs; my husband has an endless repertoire of funny stories. Some grandparents and babysitters are better with the bigger kids and some are better with the toddlers. We’ve learned to let each person do what they’re best at and hope the children benefit from all the extra love.
- If you do find yourself having to do everything— pray, persevere, and focus on the essentials. Prior to COVID, we had a babysitter coming a couple of times a week and we had grandparents nearby. In February we found out we were pregnant with #5 just before my husband brought home what was most likely COVID from a West coast business trip, became totally knocked out by it at the same time that I became totally knocked out by horrible morning sickness and then the virus he had unknowingly spread to me. On top of being at our very weakest, we had no help because of the uncertainties with COVID and immune compromised helpers. It was a tough time. But the human person is resilient. And life can always be pared down. During tough times we don’t worry about things like homeschooling or clean rooms or green vegetables. Figure out your essentials and stick to them. Pray for patience and strength and take joy in the accomplishment of being pushed to your limits and surviving.
- Get off of social media and consider getting off the smart phone. Life is very busy with little kids. Lots of people are asking for your attention. It was transformative for me when my phone was no longer asking for so much of my attention. We all know that social media and the smart phone are time sucks. Worse, they can become means of escape from the life you’re supposed to be living. I know that can seem like a much needed escape, but the problem is that it is not usually a refreshing or renewing escape. Now, a massage, a good book, a walk by yourself in the fresh air, an in depth conversation with a friend— those things are refreshing and renewing. And when you don’t have social media and/or a smart phone you’re more likely to make time for those things.
- Don’t do unnecessary things you don’t enjoy. I know this sounds crazy to say as a parent who inevitably must give birth and change diapers and quell temper tantrums. But those things are necessary. There are other things parents feel pressured to do which are not necessary. You do not have to sing songs or read books or watch shows that you find mindless or annoying. You do not have to make kid food for dinner. You do not have to play every time you are asked to. You do not have to dress in sweat pants and t-shirts because the baby might spit up on you. You do not have to buy toys that look horrible in your living room. You must give your children time and affection and wisdom. You are not required to give them everything they want. Playing with your children, reading to them, singing with them, adventuring with them— all these things are beautiful extras. And you are in charge of how they happen. If you let the child be in charge of everything you will become resentful and a resentful parent is not her best self. You don’t have to enjoy the essential parts of parenting all the time but you should enjoy the beautiful extras and you should not feel like parenting sucks away your maturity, your individuality, or your dignity.
- SIMIPLIFY. The cool thing about having a big family is that there is a lot of entertainment to go around. That means there can be substantially less stuff. I am constantly pruning away stuff and it makes such a difference. We have limited toys and limited clothes and clear routines for how those toys and clothes are cleaned up and taken care of. We also have found that, at least for little kids, less space is better than more space. We have been moving around quite a bit for the last two years and, although it sounds counter-intuitive, the bigger the house the bigger the mess and the bigger the stress. Yes, kids do need some space but the American standard is way over the top. The two exceptions to this rule: it’s hard to have too much land or too many books (provided they are good books).
- Marriage comes first. And there’s no excuse for letting it suffer. Don’t waste time on petty arguments. Your time is limited. It’s difficult to schedule date nights when you get to that point where no one babysitter can watch all your kids at once. But friendship and romance do not depend on date nights. Remember how creative you were in high school or college to get to see your boyfriend or girlfriend? That same creativity can be applied in marriage. You can always find ways to charm and surprise each other. You can always find things to enjoy, things to laugh at, and ways to bond. Even if, for a time, it is only over the insanity of your current situation. Just make sure you bond over it and don’t let it pull you apart. Remember that some of the greatest romances are forged in the midst of turmoil and chaos!
- Don’t be afraid of the state of the world. I know a lot of people might feel like things are too dangerous and unpredictable right now to take a chance on having kids or more kids. But the state of the world does not have to determine the happiness of a family. As so many of the greatest stories of all time teach us, happy families can flourish during times of sickness and danger and unhappy families still abound during times of prosperity and safety. Children born during times like these can become great heroes and their families, havens of goodness and beauty.
Do not be afraid!