I’m often asked how I manage raising and spending quality time with three happy, healthy kids while also doing all the traditional domestic tasks (cooking, cleaning, etc.) and all the traditionally male tasks (fixin’ stuff, mowin’, etc.). Honestly, the answer is “by the skin of my teeth.” It’s not easy and it’s taken me three years to have perfected it even this much (although I got into a good groove at around 2 years). But I do have a few tips and tricks I can share if you’re interested that help me to manage all the minutiae of my life.
Just whatever you do, don’t forget that you’re home with your children to be the best mentor and guide for them. Help them discover and become confident within themselves. You’re there to play with them, share joy with them, and explore the world that’s new and unfamiliar through their little eyes. Take a moment to say “the dishwasher can be run later”, if they’re begging you to play.
First, cheat as much as you can. This is a giant of a task you’ve set before yourself and you owe it to your sanity not to make it any harder than it needs to be. For example:
- Don’t let your eighteen month old quit napping. Lots of people I know hit a wall with naps as soon as their toddler learns that if they scream enough, mommy will give up. Now I’d like it if my 3 year old slept until 8 AM every morning (it’s usually 6:30 AM), but if I did I wouldn’t have a 2 hour block in the middle of the day where serious tasks could be accomplished. Sleep when the baby sleeps? Heck no: work when the baby sleeps, sleep when your wife sleeps. I used every trick in the book to push through the 9 months when Fini started refusing naps: I’d lay with him, I’d read to him, I’d drive him around, I’d take him to the park in the early afternoon knowing he’d crash on the way home . I knew he was tired, but stubborn. Eventually he learned I wasn’t giving up. After I won the force of will battle, now he’ll be asleep in 5 minutes when I tell him to climb into bed.
- I have a backyard. Better: I have a trampoline. Kids LOVE physical activity. Let them get their energy out. They’ll go out and play in the backyard while I sit on the deck and write, garden, or grill.
- Siblings: let them play together. The more there are, the easier your life will be. Cole has the ability to keep both littler boys out of trouble and they all have a great time playing together. Even Finian is happy to push Wes in the baby swing if I’m otherwise occupied. Do I sometimes have to come running because one is screaming bloody murder that the other smacked his head? Of course. But it’s part of learning self assurance and confidence to teach them, “Finian, tell Cole you don’t like it when he takes your Hulk. And Cole, you’re a big enough boy to walk away if you see Fini getting frustrated.”
- While it shouldn’t be on for more than a little while, sometimes things just won’t get done without the electric babysitter (gasp, I just said TV). Sometimes I need an hour or so to fix the car. Without Elmo, no one would be happy; I’d be upset with my superfluous help, he’d be upset I wouldn’t play with him. If your kids are spending quality time with you and getting their energy out most days, most times – an occasional show can benefit you both, especially if it’s educational (Sesame Street, Blues Clues, Super Why and Nature Shows are our family’s favorites).
- If sleeping in a bed isn’t happening and there’s no siblings to play with, put that baby on your body. Babywearing is how I mow the lawn, make dinner and generally get stuff done. Now that Wes is 15 months I’m able to let him loose in the playroom or let him hang out in the backyard swing with the older boys, but for the first year he practically lived in our Beco Gemini.
- Give your kids jobs. Whether it’s to stir the pot for dinner, to count out 9 blueberries for each bowl, or to pick herbs from the garden – there’s nothing too small or too big your kids won’t be excited to help you with. They’ll know when it’s a chore (cleaning their room will result in whining) but the task of retrieving eggs, finding the 2 biggest, cracking them open without shells and stirring them up – they’re focused, out of your hair and getting stuff done for you.
- With all the stuff I need to get accomplished, I would never scrub my floors and dust if left to my own devices. Not everyone is able to do what we did, but we found deep cleaning our house was the one area that Stacy and I struggled with. So we hired a relatively cheap house cleaner every two weeks to just tackle the major stuff. This takes a load off of my shoulders and allows more time for important and time consuming tasks. Stacy and I would have to do this on the evenings and weekends otherwise. If you can’t find time to mow the lawn or do basic household chores, find a reliable person to do it for you and decide if the cost is worth it for what you’ll get in return. For us that meant weekends entirely free to spend together as a family having fun. We make sacrifices in our spending in order to have that quality time.
I use these measures to buy myself time in order to focus on the tasks that I need to do, like laundry or repairs or cooking dinner. Cole is a huge help, too. As hard as the one year to four year time period is, once they hit Kindergarten they become practically another set of hands for you to use. Not only can Cole now set the table for me or put away laundry or play gopher for ingredients in our downstairs pantry or freezer, he can do all this while making sure his brothers don’t perpetrate violence on each other.
In the next part I’ll discuss training your children to be independent enough to not need you as early as nine months old. We promise, they’re capable of more than you might be imagining they are.