Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How DO I do it?

If you are a parent of more than three kids, you are frequently asked, "How do you do it?" (of course, it's almost always accompanied by an incredulous look). Last night was no exception to that rule.

I was leading a Parents Club meeting at our younger kids' school, and, as it was the first meeting of the school year, decided to have everyone in the group (no, it was not well-attended!) take a turn introducing himself/herself. It was only fair that I begin the exercise, and so launched into my standard explanation of our family: "My husband and I have five kids. The oldest is in high school, the younger four attend this school. And, we have a baby girl due in December." I will spare you the details of the very few people who chose to give me a look of disgust (not kidding!). I have become used to the usual comments ("Wow! You are an expert!" or "God Bless You!"), and chose to play them off humorously and move the meeting along.

It was not until the meeting was over that one of the moms there came up to me and said, "I really want to know: How do you do it? Six kids? I have two and I'm losing my mind! Are you just a really patient person?"

While pointing to my stomach, I replied, "Well, the sixth one is pretty easy and quiet so far, so I have no issues with her yet! As for the other ones, I honestly don't know how I do it! I DO remember that I almost lost MY mind when I had two kids, though!"

I went on to explain that my oldest two are almost three years apart, and when the second one was about a month old, I was lamenting to my older son's toddler teacher that it was "sooooo hard" to take care of both of the boys. The teacher had two kids who were grade-school-age, but also 3 years apart, and she said something which I will never forget, "At these ages, this is the hardest it will ever get. These two guys are labor intensive, high-need, and totally dependent on you for everything. It only gets easier from here on out!" And, do you know what? She was RIGHT!

Another thing I learned was that it was OK to ask my older child to help me with small things. For example, "helping me" by being quiet while the baby napped, or helping me by making a peanut butter sandwich for himself and me while I nursed the baby (yes, even a three-year-old can make a pretty decent PB&J!). This accomplished two things: 1) it really DID help me in small ways, and 2) it convinced my older son that he was capable of doing so many things all by himself! When talking to this other mom last night, I did , however, include the caveat that while young kids can certainly do things by themselves, they will not be to "adult standards", but this should not discourage either the parent or the child.

Another thing that we are all guilty of (myself included!) is that we tend to think of our kids as if they are frozen in time. We think that little Clyde will never stop having temper tantrums in public. Or, that tiny Suzy will always need her mommy to help her in the bathroom. But, that is just not true! Children do, by nature and God's good graces, mature sooner than we think! They begin to be able to do most things for themselves, and only come to us occasionally for help or advice. This does not mean that they do not need us anymore! It means that they need us less in a "labor intensive" way, and increasingly in an emotional and intellectual way.

I tried to explain that I was not raising six children who were all at the same ages and levels of development, but, rather, I was raising six children who are all at varying degrees on the developmental plane. Certainly, a teen or pre-teen can understand that he has to patiently wait to ask me a question, while I deal with a very crabby two-year-old's temper tantrum. I explained that I am not sitting in the midst of six crying, hungry children day after day!

I could see that while she was "getting it" on one level (the "oh, yes, 14-year-olds make great babysitters!" level), she was not seeing that there is an inherent beauty and sense of wonderment in raising "many" kids of varying ages. I am not sure that I can explain how valuable and wonderful it is to see my nine-year-old daughter happily fixing her two-year-old brother his favorite snack as if she is his second mother. I do not really know how to explain the feelings of overwhelming love and tenderness I experience when my six-year-old tells me (with hero-worship in his eyes), "When I grow up and go to high school, I am going to go to the same high school my big brother goes to!". Those are the moments when you realize just how truly blessed you are to have all these beautiful souls surrounding you!

Of course, I had to be honest with the other mom, and tell her that I still have bad days... Even bad weeks. There are plenty of occasions where I feel overwhelmed, under-prepared, and completely helpless. I really do not think that that is particular to being a mother of many children. I think it is particular to being a mother, though. I explained that having a bad day does not make you a bad mom, it just makes you human; it is a fact we all need to be reminded of every once in a while.

And, to be completely truthful, being a mother to one, two, or twenty children is a demanding job. I think most of us are shocked when the realization of just how difficult and permanent it truly is! In my opinion, though, we cannot use this first shock as an excuse to "give up"; whether "giving up" means not trying to do our best, or "giving up" means limiting the number of children with which we are blessed. We should try not to confuse "difficult" with "impossible".

So, I will practice what I preach, and on my most "impossible" days, I will choose to overcome the "difficulties" by looking for (or, at least remembering!) all the ways I am blessed by my vocation of motherhood.

I cannot say what that mother was thinking when she left the meeting last night; she did seem a little dissatisfied with my answers. It seemed she thought that because I had many kids, that I must have found the Fountain of Perfect Parenting. Maybe she was a little disappointed to hear that there is no secret to being a "good" parent. Being a "good" parent is a lot of hard work, worry, and aggravation. But, being a "good" parent is also a lot of joy, love, and laughter, as well. It is your choice which type of "good" parent you want to be.


  1. I really enjoyed your comments on raising kids. I was the oldest of 7 kids and I've had many kids when you include all of my birth kids, adopted kids, gaurdianship kids, foster kids and even daycare kids. You are so right that the more kids you have the easier it is, although those toddler and newborn stages really are the hardest. My daughter Amber has noticed that three really isn't much harder than two. In fact two is the hardest she says. I hope you continue to have a wonderful time raising your almost six wonderful children.

  2. Thank you, Reva! I agree with you about newborns and toddlers, but I'm finding all new kinds of mental challenges in raising teens, too! Wow, right? I think you're daughter Amber has it right; I have always said 2 kids were more difficult than 3 (but that could just be b/c my #2 was very colicky! lol).

    I so hope that you are doing well!

  3. MaryKate,

    I was touched by your phrase, "I am not sure that I can explain how valuable and wonderful it is to see my nine-year-old daughter happily fixing her two-year-old brother his favorite snack as if she is his second mother." I am a mother of 10 and I very much appreciate the sentiment you express.

    I've had people pity my older children for "never having a real childhood." I'm already fretting over how I will give my younger children the same sense of being needed. As the second of eight, I can easily say that it is a beautiful thing to be loved and depended upon by a younger sibling.

  4. @theMom: Thanks for the beautiful compliment! After watching my younger siblings, I see that "sense of being needed" comes from helping out older siblings with their children, and/or helping out their parents as they age. Maybe not exactly the same, but still just as valuable.

    I, too, am an "older", and I love how you can remember what it feels like to be needed by a younger sibling. Makes all we witness as mothers that much more valuable, doesn't it?