“How do you do it?” That’s one of the most often asked questions in some variation when people find out I have five children. To be honest, I’m a little overwhelmed myself. That’s not a small family. To be fair, one of the kids is out of the home now, in college, but when people ask I usually say I have four at home and one away in college. I always make a point to ensure my oldest is never marginalized or forgotten.
A recent post of 4 Kids Or More got me to thinking about how do we actually do it. Yes, we, because I certainly don’t do it alone. Here’s the bulk of what we have to contend with:
A second grader, a first grader, a pre-schooler, a toddler with 2 naps a day
The first and second grader are in “cross country”, the second grader is in Cub Scouts, the first grader in Daisy Scouts, the pre-schooler and first grader taking weekly gymnastics class. Those three kids also have a weekly swim lesson.
My wife is going to school to get her Teaching Certificate to be a classroom teacher. The program will also get her a Masters Degree in education. Most of the classes are on Saturdays, but some are on Thursday evenings. She is currently also doing her student teaching this year in a first grade classroom. I run this website and am a crossing guard, amazingly, at the same school where Laura is doing her student teaching.
There’s more too, such as our involvement in our parish, but that’s not nearly as much time as you might think.
I know I’m going to be forgetting something, but here’s a list of “how we do it” in relative order (meaning, how it pops into my head, not in order of importance):
1. We Do Without
We don’t rent movies or buy new DVDs, if we want something, hopefully it will come in for review, otherwise we miss out. We don’t go on trips, buy new clothes, or even go out to eat nearly as often as we used to. We also just don’t buy stuff, either for us or the kids. No, we’re not living in poverty or not able to enjoy life, but more often than not, the answer is “no” to whatever question it is that is being asked when it pertains to material things or entertainment. This goes double for Laura and myself.
Laura and I work together, backing each other up. We sit down, even if it just for five minutes sometimes and go over the plan for the day, or the next day, or how we will approach things. A lot of this is communication, and it doesn’t always work, but we always work at it. At times teamwork means picking up the slack, or it means knowing the other will pick it up when he or she has to. She does more of the laundry and I cook more of the dinner. We work together, and that’s the main thing, even if it’s unloading the dishwasher.
3. Organization And Scheduling
No, not having a place for everything and everything in its place, which would be nice, but knowing what is happening and when – then plan for it. There is a lot of juggling that takes place just to get everybody to and from school each day – there are five of us on four different schedules. Mornings are especially difficult and hectic, and if we didn’t have things worked out ahead of time, there would be a lot of tears and frustration. It also means having a calendar on th refrigerator with blocks for each day large enough to have everything written down (and when).
We plan our dinners a week ahead of time. There’s some flexibility in there, but we usually sit down on Saturday or Sunday and figure out what is going on for the coming week and what we will have for dinner on which day. Is a certain day of the week packed with afternoon activities? Macaroni & Cheese. Early dismissal and nothing else on the calendar? Casserole. Not only do we not have to scramble around the kitchen attempting to figure out what to make, but we have a general idea of what we need at the grocery store ahead of time.
5. Letting Go/Pick Your Battles
The kids “Cross Country” practices are twice a week. We only make it to one. That’s just the way it is. Certain things just don’t get done the way we want. Is all the laundry folded and put away neatly? No. Would we like it if it were? Yes. You do what you can, and while it may not be the way you want it to be, it has to be alright. Are the kids making a mess of the front room while you are distracted cooking dinner? Which is more important – getting on the kids about cleaning up or getting dinner on the table? There’s almost a constant sense of triage going on, assessing what needs to happen, and it is constantly changing. You have to be flexible and pick your battles.
A regular bedtime is perhaps the best thing we have done as parents. There’s a lot to this, and it’s worthy of its own blog post, which I might get to. Once dinner is on the table, the clock is ticking backwards down to bedtime. There is a routine we have had for the last 14 or so years, and it’s not perfect, but it works. The abbreviated version is dinner, bath, stories, bed. By 7:30 most of the kids are in bed, with the second grader being the exception. Right now the routine has him staying up later to read Harry Potter. Part of the point of the regular bed time is to give the kids enough sleep, but also to give mom and dad some time alone every night as well.
7. A Sense Of Humor
This might be the most important item on the list. Sure we get mad and lose sight of … whatever. Sometimes we have to work at it, but we definitely try to laugh as much as possible. When Xavier, our youngest (currently 16 months) is climbing on the table AGAIN or pulling down books and CDs from the shelf, you have to shrug it off. Finding the little everyday humor goes a long way in helping to cope with the many stresses of living in a large family, let alone trying to help run it.
8. Time Management
This might go under organization, but it’s significant enough for me to have under its own section. In order for me to get what I need done, I get up at 5am before everybody else (hopefully). If I’m lucky, I get an hour and a half to wake up, get coffee started, start going through emails, and possibly editing reviews. I simply can not write at that hour. Once the kids are up, I’m too busy helping get everybody to school (including my wife and myself). It isn’t until much later that I’m able to sit down and get some work done. Most nights I find myself sitting in front of the television with my laptop going through emails, posting headlines, etc.
9. Date Night
Well, we don’t have an actual “date night” as you might envision it. We don’t have a regular babysitter for a number of reasons, so we stay in a lot. As in, we never get out together. Instead we have one night a week, usually Saturday (after Laura’s all-day class) where we have a treat of some sort, and a couple of favorite television programs on the recorder. Doctor Who, Burn Notice, Hawaii Five-0, Psych, whatever. The point is, we carve one night out where we simply get to relax. Most nights we are watching television after the kids go to bed, but we are usually working at the same time.
I could go on, but I’ve been working on this post off and on for three days as time permits. It’s time to be done and post this.