This one’s for any mommies out there who have wanted to know what others may have found to be helpful as we learn to juggle the needs of multiple young children. Whenever I try to share advice I feel silly, like somehow I am trying to be an expert when I’m such a novice myself. Let me just say, I have gathered all of the suggestions below the hard way and it is my earnest hope that by trying to share them some of those who have written to me on this topic will be encouraged or helped in some way. (And that I will grow in these things myself!)
Pray. “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). Striving without praying is wasted effort. If we want to bear fruit, we will pray.
When baby arrives, don’t make any assumptions about your future life for at least the first six weeks. The initial adjustment period is in its own category. If you have tons of support and your mom typically stays for a month or your best friend lives next door, start this period after their help starts to slack off. Things will get less crazy as you
grow go, your ability to juggle and multitask will inevitably increase, your children are slowly aging, etc. Avoid letting your weary post-partum (or post-adoption-process) brain think heavy and overwhelmed thoughts. Just kiss your baby a lot and wait it out.
Be a team. It is still one of the best two pieces of practical marriage advice I’ve been given: your husband is your team. It will feel like you both have differing agendas sometimes: try and view each of your individual needs and goals as things you both have to accomplish and work together on them. Communicate about what would be helpful, support and receive his efforts, be thankful when he helps you, talk nice to him. Another word about this (which will reveal to you my own mess): Don’t get sucked into the silly, sinful, and futile Who-Is-Really-Doing-More-For-This-Family game. Make it your personal goal to each do as much as you can for the other and it won’t be a problem. (It’s biblical: See ‘Outdo one another in showing honor’ in Romans 12:10). Regularly practice putting yourself mentally in your husband’s shoes and think through all of the things he has to do, taking note particularly of the stressful things or of places where you can help. When you are tired, tell him you are tired and ask nicely if he can help you in some way. Don’t say that he is not doing enough or that you are the overworked, underpaid slave of the world. (Who does that, seriously.)
My husband understood the concept of team much sooner than I did. He has always cheerfully helped a great deal with the children and other things. Maybe because we’ve moved so much, most of the time he’s all I have in terms of help, relief, or backup. We’ve had to learn to juggle together and I am more aware than ever as we anticipate a fourth child that I could never juggle it all alone.
Quit comparing. Nobody’s a perfect mother, but if there is one I promise you she has found more profitable uses of her time than crying over how everyone else is doing it better. I can find zero biblical precedent for scrutinizing other people’s strengths (real or imagined) and using them to feed our own discouragement and insecurity. Let’s aim to be faithful from the inside out.
Make your routine work for you. (Remember, you are the Mommy in this family.) Forget dogs, predictable routines are man’s best friend. If you can’t remember the children’s names before 8 a.m., set bedtime later so they’ll sleep later. You can do that. We are early risers, but we tend to be bombed, busy, or needing time together in the evenings so we’ve always set our children’s bedtime early while they’re little. If something is not working for you, change it. I don’t like a long, complicated bedtime routine. I rarely do baths at bedtime. It works so much better for me in the mid- or late afternoon. Everyone is less tired, it provides a nice change-of-state or change-of-mood, often my little people like to play in the tub. If we’re not going out again, I put them in their pajamas or comfy clothes. There is an added advantage in winter if we are living in a place where the heat is not good–no one is going to bed chilly or with a wet head. Also, I don’t do baths every day (think of peanut butter as leave-in conditioner). I aim for every-other day, often it’s three days, and one memorable week recently everybody ripened for five days before Mommy did anything about it.
Plan ahead as much as you can. Invest some precious time that will bear big dividends later. It’s easier to grab Sunday outfits on Saturday night when you aren’t already running late, brushing your teeth, and holding a crying baby while you look at the clothes. Grocery shopping happens less often if you wrote a menu, holidays are more enjoyable if you laid your plans last month or last week.
Remember to enjoy it for what it is and enjoy each child for who they are.
Remember that children grow in phases. Each stage of each child’s growth and the way it combines with the other children’s stages create your current phase. None of the phases really last very long. Remember that some phases are going to be harder than others. It’s okay to do less for a while. The phase where child 3 is screaming incessantly and child 2 is trying to kill child 3 is a bad one in which to remodel your kitchen, sign a book contract, or plan an international move.
Tackle the problem spots one at a time. Often we can let stuff that bothers us build quietly because we don’t have the energy to face it or fix it. (The problem is, when it boils over it can seem like everything is all wrong all at once.) Maybe the household is a little or a lot more chaotic or more negative or more messy than you really want it to be. Pick one thing to work on and give your focused energy to improving it. This helps on the micro-level too, on those really crazy days when everyone needs something all at the same time all day long. Pick one crying child to help or discipline or band-aid or feed and get them stabilized and then move on to the next.
Teach for independence. Last, and maybe best thing I’ve learned. You’re not rushing them to grow up, you’re not missing anything, by encouraging appropriate independence as they go. If a child will soon be able to do something on their own or with less support, put the time in now to carefully teach it. It is worth every drop of energy you spend and extra time you “lose” watching those little fingers bumble through something if they are learning to do it well and successfully without you on a nearby day. When it’s time to leave the house, my oldest two can use the potty and wash hands, get out their shoes and put them on, grab their jackets, climb into the van, and buckle their own seatbelts. Harriet has learned all these tasks in the last six months. Before she could do them add at least twenty minutes to every departure while I tried to do them all for her while juggling a much younger Hugh, grabbing the library books, locking the door, etc. Sometimes there are reasons why your child just isn’t ready for the “normal” milestone at his particular age. But if there aren’t, don’t hold him back. It seems so easy getting the older ones ready for bed when you can say, “Go to the bathroom, wash hands, and brush your teeth.” (Except Harriet has not earned the privilege of brushing her teeth without supervision yet, as eating the toothpaste has proven a stubborn vice. “But it’s my favorite food, Mommy.”)
Bedtime is bedtime and no is no. [More than] enough said.