Wednesday, May 13, 2015

4 kids in 5 years: My Top 12 tips!

I had four children in five years. At one point the ages in our home were 5, 5, 2, and newborn. I have decided that surviving this makes me allowed to share my favorite tips. So here they are. I tried to narrow down my list of the things that really helped me the most during the last seven years.

I have been changing diapers without a break since May 7, 2008. It doesn't matter how you do it. It doesn't even have to be an actual changing table. But having a place in your house (or more than one if you have two stories) where clean-ups take place is so vital. I put everything I could possibly need at this changing station so that I am not finding myself with a baby on the table and the absence of a vital piece of survival.

We had a hand-me-down changing table and I registered for some cute baskets in our first nursery for Isaac and Sidge. This was a one-floor house so I could put everything in the nursery.

With the nursery upstairs in our current house, I wanted a changing area downstairs. My father-in-law made this table and the shelf above it in two hours. We knew we were only going to live here a year so we didn't spend a lot of time on making it look beautiful. We simply got the job done.

If you find yourself with an abundance of baby stuff, having it organized will make your life SO much easier. After ten years of marriage without children, we had more things given to us than I could possibly use. In my case, I hung all of our clothes in size order so I could easily shift to the next size when the next child came. I also used a ton of plastic bins, clearly labeling them with the right size so that I can easily pull them out. And, because I have had multiple children, putting the clothes back in an appropriate bin has also been incredibly helpful. When the next child came, I instantly knew where to find the next season or age of clothing. (And, I've easily loaned tubs to people as well because they are so well organized.)

I'm a huge fan of hanging clothes (if space allows) so that you can see exactly what you have and you don't need to pilfer through drawers to find exactly what you are looking for.

Before we had kids, my husband and I used to go to our friends-with-kids houses and shake our heads in despair. We promised ourselves that we would NOT have toys all over our house. That lasted until our kids got mobile. And then the toys took over. It is truly the one thing we underestimated as pre-children people. 

As the mess took over, we discussed this and brainstormed and finally decided, we want it that way! I want my kids playing. I want them exploring. I want them engaged.

So where is the middle ground between normal clutter and crazy-out-of-control disasters?

I created the 10 minute rule. I decided that as long as everything had a place and could be returned to that spot within 10 minutes, I'd accept the clutter during the day. Our toys are very well organized. The kids know where everything goes, but at any given moment, when you come into our home, there are toys all over the place. If I can say, "Clean up!" and we can do it within ten minutes, then the mess is acceptable. 

I also have attempted, depending on the layout and size of our house, to try to create a toy-free living room. Toys can come in there, but they aren't stored there so I can attempt to wind down at the end of the day without Mickey Mouse and Legos and baby dolls.

Anytime you find yourself shaking your head in despair, wondering how you will get your child toilet trained, sleeping through the night, eating food without throwing it, or allowing you to change their diaper without having to use wrestling moves, my answer is ... "Just wait." It passes. You'll get through it. We still brainstorm and discuss how to handle things at night after the kids go to bed, but we find ourselves more-often-than-not simply saying, "Let's just give this a week and see where it is then." Usually, the problem has dissipated and there is something new to discuss.

Coupled in this piece of advice is a reminder that things seem like big deals like how to put baby sleep, whether or not to breast feed and for how long, wearing baby vs. a stroller, making baby food vs. buying it, and cloth vs. disposable diapers just really doesn't matter. Just love your kid the best way you know how. Love is, after all, the greatest commandment.

Every single day I strive to exhibit PATIENCE and CONSISTENCY. Those are my only two goals and only two routines. Everything else will fit under those two things or pass before you have time to figure it out.

We do not buy ANYTHING new. Period. There are just so many deals on kid stuff and so many used items that unless it was given to me as a gift or I had a gift card for it, we just didn't and don't buy things new. The exception? Good car seats. Otherwise, scour online sites and garage sales and put that money toward something much more important. 

It is important to try to buy ahead. The few times we have gotten "stuck" spending more for something than we would like is when we waited until we had  to have it and didn't have the time to wait for a deal.

When we first moved back to the States, we wanted to get bikes for the boys. While it took a little more time, we saved a ton of money and made some great memories finding used bikes that we fixed up. 

If you ask me what the one most indispensable and important item in my mother life is, I would say, without a moment's hesitation ... my JOGGER. Especially when you need a double one, strollers are just too heavy and hard to maneuver. But a good jogger has simply changed my life. By far the most expensive item we have purchased for our kiddos was our BOB jogger. (Although we did have a ton of gift certificates we applied to its purchase.) We actually attempted to find a used BOB but they are simply very difficult to find since most people who get one never let it go! I have ZERO regret and am still in love with my friend Rachel for introducing me to this amazing piece of technology. 

The boys in my "BOB" stroller when they were both just under and over one.

Sleep is SO important. It is important for the parent. And it is important for the kid. People ask me how I did 4 kids in 5 years and I tell them, "THEY SLEPT AND SO DID I!" You can click here to read how we instituted this in our home. You don't have to agree with this. You don't have to do it. And I know there are exceptions to the rule and babies that don't cooperate like our children did. 

However, my husband is a family medicine doctor. Whenever he got a parent/s in that was struggling with parental exhaustion, he basically taught them what I have included at the above link. When parents followed his instructions, he saw 100% success. And without a doubt, each time, the parents returned telling him how many doubts they had in the beginning but how thankful they were in the end.

And I'm not just talking about night-time sleep either. For the first four years of motherhood, I had a strict two hour period EVERY DAY that I got horizontal and relaxed. I called it my "Wipe-your-own-butt time." It made me the woman I am today.

Moms disagree, and I respect them, but I truly believe that all the running around we do when we have little children is not for the kids but for us. During the first two years of Isaac's life -- when I had two small babies at the same time, I instituted a rule for myself. 

1. Only leave the house two times a work-week via car. (Walks are fine and on the weekends when your spouse is with you, the rule doesn't apply.)
2. When leaving via car by yourself, baby can only be strapped into the car seat two times. (This means ONE stop.)

This rule was designed to stop me from running all over tarnation and making my life harder than it needed to be. Stay home. Have people come to you. Keep the kids in their routine. Go for lots of walks. Run errands when spouse is home. But stop making things harder by needing to be on the go.

I have my kids do nearly anything and everything that they can do themselves as soon as I possibly can. Putting on their own clothes, cleaning up their own toys, putting their dishes in the dishwasher, getting their own food out for breakfast, brushing their own teeth, putting away clothes, washing their own bodies in the tub. If I think they can handle it, I let them do it. I think that this is one way kids in larger families develop faster independence. If I just had one child, I wouldn't have felt this so important. But with so many of them and so few of me, I need their help. Don't underestimate your kids ability to help you and help themselves. 

The first five years of motherhood for me included intensive traveling since we lived overseas. I kept my sanity for deciding that while traveling, there are no rules. I threw the rules out the window. Junk food, lollipops, technology? Bring it on! It's one day and you can get them back in gear as soon as life resumes normally. (Click here to read my post on flying with little kids.) While I obviously try to not go to extremes, I do whatever I can to survive travel. You should too.

I have been pretty outspoken about technology in past posts. (Click here to read a bunch of posts on this topic.) In general we still tightly adhere in our family to not allowing our children on technology in public. We also don't do video games in our home and don't have TV. However, my friend "Stebbs" has a slightly different approach. She says: "It's in my tool bag." In other word, stop relying on technology to save the day all the time, but don't be afraid to put it in your tool bag if you need it. I have really taken this to heart. I try to not make hard and fast rules but instead use things that I'm not that fond of, sparingly.

We just don't keep junk food in our house. Things we don't want our kids to have, we don't buy. You will rarely find chips, soda, cookies, or anything with corn syrup in our house. This doesn't mean my kids don't ever eat this stuff. They do. But it is a treat instead of a regular occurrence. We stock our house with healthy snacks and then, when they ask for a snack, they know what is and isn't there. Junk food snacks are eaten outside of the house. It may cost more money to buy them each a snack at the gas station individually, but I think it is better than buying a huge bag that lasts entirely too long.

In general though, if it is not something we value, we keep "IT" out of our house. Sure they can do it outside of the house, but that is temporary. We strive to only have things within our walls that we adhere to and value.

There you have it! My rules. What about you? Something that is has been vital to your survival? Leave a comment and fill me in!

1 comment:

Traci said...

Perfect advice! Other things I've come to appreciate over the child-raising years:

1. Don't have toys that are more aggravating than fun. This includes toys which need more batteries than imagination, and ones that aren't age appropriate causing your child to become frustrated.

2. Do provide them endless opportunities to be outside. Climbing trees, riding bikes, swinging, drawing with chalk on the driveway, finding bugs, feeding the birds/cows/other animals, and the list goes on. Even if it is raining! Puddles are always great and mud washes off. (Bonus: no toys are being spread around your house during outside time!)

3. And, most importantly, don't worry about what any other parent is doing for/with their children. You know your child best, so trust your instincts (this goes along with your "just love them"). Of course, we all need help at times, so don't be ashamed to ask when that time comes.