I used to laugh at parents who let their kids outnumber them. I always planned on having two kids, that's it, so that's exactly what I did. But then I got divorced, was an outnumbered single mom, and eventually met and married a man with two kids of his own. Earlier this year we welcomed baby number five, and while our family is loud and chaotic I wouldn't change a thing. It's not easy to be a mom with a big family, though, which is why I have created a few mantras for every mom with more than one kid. You know, so we can all survive those overwhelming, patience-testing, exhausting moments.
In many ways, being a mom to multiple kids is like playing dodge ball, running a zoo without cages, and probably working in Chef Ramsey's kitchen. Even when it's bedtime, and our home is quiet for the first time all day, five kids wake up at random moments with different needs, generally when my partner and I are sleeping or attempting to enjoy a little sexy time. I know that, sooner or later, I will probably have a conversation about tampons while changing a diaper, because our kids range in age from infant to puberty.
So mantras like, "you can do this" and "it will get better" and "it's OK if your house isn't pristine" make me feel better about my often less-than-perfect life. I also have to reassure myself that our family is just fine, no matter how often people make comments or jokes about how many kids my partner and I have. (No, we aren't the Duggars, and jokes like that are not funny.) Mostly, I give myself little pep talks to get through the day.
I had no idea what having a large family would be like. No clue. And, really, there's no way to know unless you've been there. I do know that everything is better when you engage in a little bit of positive self-talk, like these mantras:
"Let Them Play"
Parenting five kids is hard. So hard. But there are moments when it's actually easier than just having one kid. When my kids play with and entertain each other, I'm essentially off the hook.
Now, sometimes that means I have to break up fights, but mostly it just means that I don't have to spend my days building couch forts or playing with Legos or engaging in a never-ending game of hide and seek, which is both awesome and kinda sad at the same time.
"Always Choose Sleep"
When I had one or two kids, I spent so many nights leaning over cribs, bringing babies to bed, and sleeping on my preschooler's floor. I figured that I was a mom 24/7, so if my kids needed me at night, I was going to be there. It was exhausting. It took having more kids to teach me that my kids don't, in fact, need me to touch them every hour of every day. They need a mom who is well-rested, healthy, and happy more. So, yeah, choose sleep.
"Your Family Is Fine"
When you have more than one child, people seem to think they have a right to comment about or question your reproductive choices. I hear jokes about me not knowing how birth control works, comments about me "having my hands full," or "not looking like I have five kids," and questions about whether or not I am a member of a religious group.
You know what, though? My family is fine. I don't need your judgement or jokes.
"They Go Back To School Soon"
I am so done with breaks from school. The school day is magical for moms of multiple kids. I can actually work, get stuff done around the house, and spend one-on-one time with my baby. As we enter the winter holiday season, or as summer break approaches, I feel more than a little anxiety. I have to tell myself that it's temporary.
"Don't Mind The Mess"
My house used to be so clean, even after my oldest was born. Now keeping it clean is sort of like brushing your teeth while eating Oreo cookies — an exercise in futility. I have had to give up on my dreams of a company-ready house, and constantly tell myself that my ability as a housekeeper is not a reflection on my goodness as a person.
"You Can't Please Everyone"
At mealtime, there's always going to be at least one child that refuses to eat what I make. On the bright side, it's an awesome lesson in humility, but at the same time, it's freaking frustrating. I just repeat, "You don't have to eat it" usually five times per meal, and then try to make peace with my current reality. Mealtime with kids sucks. Mealtime with multiple kids sucks big time.
"Buy More Than You Think You'll Need"
We buy in bulk as often as possible, have two refrigerators, a deep freeze, a stocked pantry, and subscribe for things like toilet paper and paper towels on Amazon. I have learned so many lessons when it comes to being prepared and, sadly, what happens if you aren't. You will never need just four cups of yogurt or rolls of toilet paper. Buy more than you think you'll need, and always buy enough so that each kid gets the same number of something. I am grateful that we are able to do this every day.
"Don't Force Things"
While I love it when my kids occupy each other, I also know that it's important for them to have their own things, time, space, and time alone with me. I don't force my kids to play with each other, because I remember how much it sucked when my mom made me play with my siblings. Families and friendships work way better when you let them do their own thing.
"Consistency Is Key"
Parents to one kid know how important routines and boundaries can be to raising happy kids. Well, when you have more than one kid, you rely on an established schedule like you rely on coffee. You also need to be consistent and fair in your application of rules, depending on your kids' ages and maturity levels.
"You Don't Have To Try So Hard"
Having a big family has forced me to get organized, make lists, and change my goals to be less focused on perfection. I have learned to let things go and manage my expectations. I have learned that it's OK to eat off of paper plates, wear yoga pants, and not over-schedule my kids (or myself). It's also OK to have the same weekly meal plan on repeat, or to grab take out when I am drained. I am so much happier since I gave up on trying to be perfect, and I think that's a lesson every single mother deserves to learn.
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