As we have more children, our parenting standards seem to fall from ‘perfect’ to ‘good enough’, because it is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining to attempt to control one little person – let alone 3 or more! When our standards fall too low (from ‘good enough’ into ‘I don’t even care anymore’), or our kids blindside us with their unpredictability, my sisters and I hold each other accountable by giving Bad Parent Points. Most of the time I rack up these points because sometimes, something has to give. How do I “do it” with so many children and still stay sane? Usually, by choosing what gives.
I’m last on the list of babysitting candidates.
My mom is always asked to babysit first, then my other sister, then the in-laws, then our aunt that lives in a neighboring city, then that crazy old lady on the corner… and then they will ask me. Oh, they say things like “I don’t want to bother you or give you more kids than you can handle”, but what they really mean is, “I’m scared my kids will get lost or ruined at your house“.
Actual text of my sister asking me to babysit this weekend:
“I was wondering if you would be willing to…. I can’t believe I’m going to say this… Keep my 4 boys until mom gets home”
Apparently, serving the kids cookies for dinner makes me a bad babysitter…
We all have limited resources, so it is important to prioritize our …um… priorities.
I want my children to learn how to care for themselves while also learning about the world. Most of the time, it’s all I can do to help them care for themselves. Sometimes I fail.
A clean house is important to me for several reasons, including the possibility that if word gets around to my mother that the kids’ rooms are a mess, she’ll show up with garbage bags and a shovel. That being said, something has to give for the sake of my personal sanity.
With four young boys running around, our house isn’t perfectly orderly. The house is mostly sanitary [Pro-tip: Don’t use the kids’ bathroom], and organized well enough that when we are expecting a visitor, so we can “Emergency Clean Up” pretty quickly. We also periodically do a “5-Minute Clean Up” if it looks like things are getting out of hand.
My “Tiger Mom” sister cooks balanced meals and makes her kids eat everything on their plate, which is the same thing she cooks for herself and her husband. This has resulted (in cooperation with their genes) in tall, healthy boys with healthy eating habits and willingness to try new foods.
I’m less stringent. I cook kid food and adult food. The more mature kids will at least try the adult food, but the younger kids will only eat from the pizza group, the cheese group, or the fruit group. Sometimes, a kid gets burnt out on bean and cheese tacos or pizza, and will make themselves a sandwich instead.
The drawback to cooking two meals is, well, cooking two meals. The advantage is that kid-friendly meals cost less than meals that include ingredients that appeal to adults (for example, the cost of meat). Another advantage is that kid-friendly meals are relatively easier to prepare. The older kids have learned how to cook these meals on their own. Also, I give them vitamins, so that evens it out, right?
This might not sit well with some parents (like my mother), but our kids are on a bath schedule. We started bathing the kids every other day because the doctors said their eczema (dry skin patches) would be better controlled that way. Now, with so many in our household, we stagger bath times to spread the hot water and cut shower wait times. There are a few of us that bathe in the morning, and a few that bathe before bed. And there are also a few that just don’t need a bath daily yet.
I let my kids get dirty. We minimize the mess (leaving wet/muddy clothes outside to dry before attempting to wash them, for example), but I don’t stress over it. If we’re eating something dangerous, I’ll take the shirt off the baby and/or let the boys eat outside. Spilled milk? If you spill it, you have to clean it; that’s the rule, but let’s face it… my floor needed to be mopped anyway.
One of the privileges the older kids get is a later bedtime. My husband should go to bed earlier than the younger kids because of his schedule. I can’t sleep until the kids are all in bed, and Number 7 has had his final pee of the day (always and hour after he falls asleep, and not always aware that the trashcan is not the toilet).
There was a time when we would sit on our only child’s bed, read daily prayers, and snuggle a bit before bedtime. Our oldest calls that time (before getting his first sibling at the age of six), “The Good Old Days”.
These days, my bedtime ritual is a quick visit in each room. We exchange “Goodnights” and “God Blesses” intermixed with “Night-time is quiet-time, and if you can’t be quiet, I’ll send you downstairs to sleep by yourself.” The kids are pretty good about putting themselves to bed, especially Number 6; he’s always the first to fall asleep at a slumber party with his cousins… and his own birthday party.
When I feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities as a parent, I realize that something has to give.
I’ve seen mothers of many kids that have it all together; it’s impressive. As much as I envy the control these mothers have, I understand my personal limits. When things start to go south, I have to ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I have to weigh the possible consequences against my level of stress. In other words, I try to choose what “gives” before something unpredictable happens. More times than not, it’s myself that I have to give. I’ve realized, though, that something has to give if I want to enjoy my kids’ childhood.