How “I do it with four”, and what it taught me that I wish I knew when my first child was born
“How do you do it? I don’t know how you do it with four, I can barely do it with one, or two or three.” This is what I hear almost daily and certainly every other time we socialize with other moms. By do “it”, I assume these questions are asking how do I “do” parenting. Or perhaps, how do I stay on top of things. Maybe, how do I stay sane? All legitimate inquiries. So, let me answer this question. First of all I will say, I am the first to admit, I also do not know “how” I do it. Secondly, I have much more to learn and feel being open to making mistakes is a huge piece of the puzzle. Third, I have learned a few things along the way, that I wish my newbie self would have known with my first child.
So, I’ll start by saying, I no longer see parenting as accomplishing an outside, external perfect looking goal. I do not “do” parenting, I am a parent. I am mom. My entire being is mom from morning to night. Sure, I have other important areas of my life. But, to me, mom is not simply a title; it is a way of life. It is a mindset. It is a hormonal, physical, emotional all-encompassing change. I’ve learned to accept that.
This is not to say I do not take time for myself and tasks that lie outside the realm of parenthood. It means, my children are not a project and I am not fulfilling a job title. Instead, they are living, breathing humans and I am as well. We are on this journey together, with me as the guide. And sometimes with the biggest lessons being the ones they teach to me. Why is this important and not as obvious as it may sound? IF your children are a project you are looking to keep track of the project. You are objectifying their growth in a way that could be graded, assessed and fitting into pass/fail type of boundaries. This leaves a lot of room for judgement; of yourself as task master and your child as the one who needs to comply. It takes out the spiritual element, it takes out the love. That being said, there are certainly places where measurements need to be taken; in school, at doctors appointments, when issues arise. However, the general mindset is that the children are constantly growing and changing. “We are always in a perpetual state of being created and creating ourselves. (p. 221)”
― Daniel J. Siegel, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are If you look even deeper into developmental theory, taking measurements too strictly and acting from them, ignores that children are often in a state of change, as are you. That being said, there are certainly concrete lessons and tricks in the objective life of parenting that makes the day progress smoother while also leaving space for optimal development in your child.
One thing that happens when you have four kids is that you lose your mind. I mean this quite literally. Although of course it rings true in the figurative sense often. When surrounded by 4 other voices, I cannot complete my own thoughts for hours at a time. When fulfilling the demands of four other beings, the attempt that my own mind makes to put in a request just gets rejected. It’s like trying to show up to the most popular restaurant in town at 6:30pm without a reservation, cut to the front of the line and think you will get a quiet table in the corner and a quick meal. My thoughts are like the “still loading” symbol on my computer when I already have four active high content streaming tabs open. In other words, my ego takes a back seat. In some respects this is a good thing. But on a daily basis, this may be the largest and most challenging sacrifice of parenting. To balance this phenomenon, take time for your brain. Seriously. This one tip will save you from feeling totally fried. Whether its ten minutes of meditating before the kids wake up, a podcast in earphones on the way to soccer practice, making sure you have 15 minutes alone to shower. You need your own thoughts and feelings to be processed. You need your own brain activated and also relaxed-daily!
My second lesson is to let go of little things and make the big things super serious priorities. When my 8 year old insists on bringing three bags, 5 stuffed animals, and a blanket and pillow on a 20 minute car trip, I let it go. This is a ridiculous idea of hers, but letting it go fits into my bigger priorities. When I tighten the reigns and give my children really clear ideas on what those priorities are, smoother sailing ensues. In this case, getting from the house to the car with relative ease, allowing her a space to make her own choices (that will inevitably harm no one, even though it could set me up to feel extremely annoyed if I allow it to) and making it to our destination on time, will be the guiding principles on this moment in time. Some may say, choose your battles and be clear on boundaries and all of that applies here too. On bigger things, such as teasing. I attempt to enforce a no tolerance policy. No teasing, no mean words, only kindness allowed at all times. My kids are taught that angeris okay, crying is okay, frowning is natural, bad days are inevitable and sour moods come and go. As much as I stress that processing and accepting negativity is accepted, I focus on the behavior that we use to express these emotions must be kind and respectful. Does this always happen? 100%-no. Every day my kids give sass, talk back and lose their tempers. But, do I let this one go? Never. I always repeat the importance of kindness and I believe these instances then become less frequent and opportunities for growth.
Since having four kids, I’ve gotten really good at multiplying, fast. For instance, when one child proclaims “ice-cream” as we drive past the local dairy bar, I quickly calculate 2.50 (the cost of a cone) times 4, plus tax and say yes or no according to the answer. This goes for, small treats, drinks, seats in a car, clothes for the next day, time it takes to prepare meals, serving sizes, just about everything I do requires space, money and time for four. I should admit, I am not very good at math and usually defer this task to the husband when possible. Basically, I think in bulk. I operate from the big picture. I know if I allow something for one child, I must consider the implications for all the others. There is a lot of checks and balances happening behind the scenes.
On the topic of planning, I have learned to strategize and (try to) plan like a pro. This is coming from a free spirited, creative tree hugger who in all honesty could forget the day of the week before having kids. In fact, I don’t think I fully grasped that I am NOT an organized person or what that even actually looked like until after my fourth child, who is only 7 months old! However, because the flip side of this lesson is that you MUST be able to go with the flow when you have many kids (I’m pretty good at this one, maybe even too good as we have ended up in many unplanned destinations.)
Surprises pop up endlessly. Whether it’s, ‘oops mom I forgot I have a huge project due tomorrow” (it’s 9pm; and yup this one got my free spirit-sorry!) to the toddler needing to potty the second all the kids are buckled up and your key is in the car ignition; the school nurse calling that one has a fever as the baby JUST fell asleep for a nap as the toddler JUST asked for a snack. So, I’ve learned that the more I have accomplished and planned out ahead of time, the more I can go with the flow and not get caught up in the flow turning into a raging river of chaos. I try to pack food, prepare food, stock bags with extra diapers, stock car with extra clothes, stock closet with extra diaper bags etc. Okay, one time this back fired when I took a spontaneous trip to a farm and grabbed the wrong diaper bag and ended up across town with no wallet. But, usually this trick saves me more than anything. Im still working on getting good at this, but the concept of letting go of perfection materializes here and yet I realize to keep improving is a neccesarry goal in this area.
Lastly, delegate and involve. There was a time when I was almost ready to run off to a monastery and trade in the kids for nun robes; and spend the next ten years deep in meditation. Okay, this happened a couple times. However, this is what I did wrong. I learned my lesson. Every challenge I face, I look for the underlying opportunity. I believe that every single place where I feel stuck is a place I need to learn. And in this case I learned that I was separating myself from my children. I was mom. They were the kids. I did the cleaning up. They did the playing. I made the rules. I allowed them to challenge the rules. I cooked the dinner. They ate the food. This ties right into the first point I made, that your children are not a project and you are not the manager. Your children are growing up, literally; before your eyes and in your hands. They are your responsibility but they are learning to be responsible for themselves simultaneously.
Embrace that you are all in this together and delegate and involve the kids in your shared life. Now, we all cook dinner together; they set the table; I get down on the floor and color and force myself to forget about work or the laundry; I work later while they are working; ie; on a project or at school. We swim in the ocean together and I naturally grab their hands for safety as we laugh and roll with the crashing waves. Rather than anxiously wade along the side of the shore, commanding them from afar to be careful. The metaphor applies everywhere. The blessings certainly do lie in every challenge and above all I am reminded daily; Childhood is fleeting and temporary. It expires in 18 years and each year, each age is constantly moving toward the growing of adults. One day they will get there.
The biggest most important, most profound thing I can think of to do each day is live this life fully, mindfully yet spontaneously, with flow yet with intention; most importantly with my children as they grow, as they will grow.
Olivia Treubig ©