I'm asked all the time, "How do you do it?" which always seems to baffle me. Here as a mother of three, I'm in awe over the mom with four kids juggling it with creativity, grace and ease, another mom of six running multiple successful side gigs, friends from our old church with SEVEN (four biological and three via foster adopt - all under six!), and thousands of other families like us or bigger making it work, some setting the bar unattainably high. That's I guess where you find a bit of peace, knowing there's a million different ways to raise and be a family, and yet no playbook. What works for some won't work for all. Each family, like each child, like all of us, is unique.
That said, I'm garnering more responses to this question as I begin to take ownership of this mom life career, realizing maybe we are doing something right. Five years in, I know we have a lot to learn but I also love what we are building. And some of it may be worth sharing, as it is often by seeing others' examples that we become inspired to implement new traditions, parenting methods and philosophies. I'm excited to be at a place where I can give back some of the words of wisdom I received, to some young mamas just starting this wild journey. So here are 10 things that help us make it work!
I knew my husband and I would weather life's storms together when he willingly started praying with me during our time dating. Hearing someone openly share their gratitude, struggles, appreciation and fears forms a bond not much can break. The heart is revealed to a point where all you want to do is protect, love and nurture it. We are seeing that same heart come about in each of our children, as prayer has become a familiar part of their days at both meals and bedtime. Initially our daughter's prayers were broken versions of what she heard us say, but now her heart and humor is coming out as she prays over things she knows we are dealing with, thanks the Lord for blessings received throughout a day and asks for care of loved ones.
Some of my favorite memories from childhood were of when my dad got home and would play with us. My brother and I would run in pretend terror and he would chase and tackle and throw us around, pretending to be a vicious monster. I can still hear the screams and giggles and see his face, trying to look scary but not able to hold back his smile. Today my days are at an all-time high when I'm in the kitchen preparing a meal or doing dishes to the sights and sounds of similar theatrics in the living room. The only thing I wish I remembered more was my mom being a part of it, so I try to make sure I get involved in the pretend and roughhousing a few times a week. Mamas, stop what you're doing sometimes and join the fun. The dishes can wait, childhood can't.
Start the day with a happy dance
I remember reading this somewhere and couldn't figure out exactly how to implement it naturally. Then one day it happened. I remembered in my turbulent adolescence my dad always saying, "Tell yourself first thing in the morning that it's going to be a great day. That way you set the tone for how your day will be." So I took a chalk message board and wrote, "Today's going to be a great day!" With that a new tradition was born. I took my children to it and said, "Do you know what that says!? TODAY'S GOING TO BE A GREAT DAY!" To their excitement I continued with spastic dancing while singing, "Today's going to be a great day, today's going to be a great day, today's going to be a great day, GRANT FAMILY FIVE!" Then we all put our arms in and say, "Grant Family Five Wooooo!" They love it. I love it. What better way to start your day?
Make ordinary days special
We all know this parenting gig can be daunting, especially when you stay at home and are thus basically on the clock 24-7. Make ordinary days special. My littles have come to look forward to a few things they can expect. It helps me in not having the "What's for dinner?" panic or "What are we doing tonight?" a few times a week. It has also helped in teaching days of the week. Mondays are our date nights, when one parent takes one kid out for some one-on-one time. Anything to make that kid feel special, even if it's just a quick park visit, bike ride or even a trip to the store where they get a special treat. Taco Tuesdays of course. Wednesday is mom's night off (quality daddy only time). Fridays are almost always Friday Night Dance Party, where we bring out all our instruments and blast music while we dance, sing, play and enjoy letting loose. It's quickly become a family favorite and another tradition that I wanted selfishly so I could get my dancing fix, maybe get back to learning to play guitar, and of course teach some music appreciation and rhythm along the way.
The dinner table is the heart of the home. I realize this can't work for every family, but it was a priority for me from the beginning, and because my husband is home at a reasonable time every day, it works. There are so many studies that prove the positive affects of eating together on a family's bond. Important conversations. Life lessons. Memories. And again, prayer, revealing the heart of each family member to another. Ronald Reagan put it like this, "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." It's not always perfect. With babies and toddlers, we experience a lot of messes, tantrums, maybe a utensil thrown and nothing touched on the plate, but we press on, knowing we are creating a healthy tradition of togetherness, sharing and nourishment.
Intentional apologies and forgiveness
I met a real kindred spirit (for my fellow Anne Shirley lovers) at the park one day and we got to talking about discipline. She told me with her three girls (fourth on the way!), she makes sure that when they apologize it's rarely a simple, "I'm sorry," but rather, "I'm sorry for (insert misstep here)." Following, the offended does not say an empty, "It's okay," because it's rarely okay, right? Instead she teaches them to say, "I forgive you." This ensures the offender knows what they did wrong and that they've been forgiven, and the offended doesn't have to brush it off as okay but instead has taken the high road of forgiveness. I have been implementing this ever since in our household ... husbands and wives could probably learn something here too ;)
Although my oldest is just five, I'm really starting to see and appreciate the benefit of having little helpers. It sure eases the burden of housework, and definitely teaches some valuable lessons. Of course with this comes lots of patience for teaching, grace for mistakes, and being easy going enough to not need things done YOUR way. When everyone pitches in, the burden isn't all on one person, and that in itself is enough reason to start sharing the load. Your less likely to harbor bitterness and resentment over all that housework if you're not the only one cleaning up! Plus, it teaches them about cleanliness, respect, listening, teamwork, priorities, consequences of messy habits ... the list goes on.
Be present, not busy
So I know having your own hobbies and interests is important, friends, but in this season I want to be present for my kids. After all, it is just a season. So we have implemented the phone basket, we set aside personal time so we are more present during family time, and we aren't too busy. Learning the art of saying no is a beautiful thing. Less is more. Simplicity. Minimalism. Free play. There is much to be said about these topics. More and more studies are finding that keeping kids schedules packed with activities is actually not as beneficial as we want to believe, and kids with too much on their plate can forget what downtime feels like. Constantly on the go, they don’t know how to tolerate boredom, much less what to do to fill their time. Life goes by so fast and kids have the rest of their lives to deal with the busyness of being an adult, but the magic of childhood is too soon a blurry memory. So for now we are slowing things down, finding enjoyment around our home and in nature, learning skills together, and making memories alongside each other.
Expanding on the idea of being present and not too busy, is the great outdoors. I grew up camping and playing outside so I've always appreciated nature, but never like once I became a parent. I remember feeling at a loss the first time I experienced an inconsolable baby and just walking outside was the cure. Or when a chaotic morning would seem to be an omen for a bad day but after an outing to the local nature park all things seemed new. Children and nature are most certainly a match made in heaven. The freedom, awe and wonder found in open spaces can never be matched in a living room. Richard Louv has a million brilliant points on this topic, such as "Nature is often overlooked as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child's life. You'll likely never see a slick commercial for nature therapy, as you do for the latest antidepressant pharmaceuticals. But parents, educators, and health workers need to know what a useful antidote to emotional and physical stress nature can be. Especially now."
Five years and this is one we've stuck with from the beginning. Studies show reading aloud to children, more than talking, builds literacy. I started reading a handful of books to my daughter at bedtime when she was just a few months old and we've never stopped. The location has changed from living room to bedroom to our room and now back to the living room. Sometimes it's just me and the kids. Sometimes my husband. Most of the time, it's all of us. And it's as sweet as it sounds. Yes, they interrupt, or don't agree on the book selection, or can't make it through without poking and fighting over who gets to sit next to whom. But this precious time settling down for the night, reading quality stories, doing silly sounds and voices, and just being together, will likely live on in their memories forever.