Q&A Thursday: Surviving and Thriving with all little ones

Today's questions are from Liz Wheeler:
Okay, here's what I'm looking for: what did your routine look like when your oldest was 7  and you still needed a nap everyday?  Here's another question: How long do your kids "train" like Eliza is doing - until what age?
To be honest, when you first asked the question, I drew a blank when I tried to think about what my schedule was back when I had all "littles" -- it feels like a long time ago and the years are blurry because I was so darn tired all the time!  But a lot of the things I do now I started then: 

(my kids -- ages 5, 3.5, 2, and newborn)
 *  We had Family Work Day once a week to clean the entire house.  It would have been faster to just do it ourselves, but we used the time each week to teach the kids how to work and do the tasks.  With both my husband and I there to help teach and work, it was manageable to divide the kids up and conquer.

*  I used "quiet time" in the afternoon.  This was and is the time TV is allowed for my little ones.

* I had a weekly routine of days for the various activities and chores I did.  I did laundry once a week (now it's twice), we went to the library once a week, and we'd go to the park several days a week in good weather.  I'd switch off with other moms to do co-op preschools and playgroups and things like that as well.

* I fit in exercise however I could.  One year, a group of us met at the local Church building to do aerobics together and we switched off watching the kids.  I also did a lot of videos and went walking a lot, often in the evenings when my husband could be home.

* I am a lot more relaxed about my younger kids helping with the work than I was when I didn't have older kids.  But I still ask for their help at various times and the 4-7 age groups work alongside us during family work day.  I expect Harmony (age 4.5) to clean her room several times a week and she's capable of doing it without help.  Eliza (6) empties a dishwasher every day, runs little errands for me, and helps clean the room she shares with Allison and Sarah.  I have noticed with each of my kids that there is a transition that happens with them around age 6 or 7.  With each one, there's a noticeable change that occurs in just a few months.  They go from whining and complaining about work to realizing that they are capable and enjoy being helpful.  They become proud of being able to empty a dishwasher or straighten the mudroom and seem to enjoy the responsibility.  The new-found confidence is wonderful to watch and while I don't push it by asking for too much, they usually do their daily zone without much complaint from then on.

*  As a sidenote, I've realized in my years of parenting that kids don't usually complain about the regular work they are used to; they complain about anything "extra."  My kids don't have a problem with working for several hours every Saturday, but if I try to throw in some cleaning or a project mid-week, I hear about it.  They don't complain about their regular daily zones (though they still need reminders), but if I ask them to do even simple additional jobs like taking out the trash, I'm more likely to get complaints.

There is no doubt, however, that having older kids definitely helps lighten the load on a family.  When they are young, everything depends on you -- even their regular chores require a lot of work from you in teaching, reminding, and following through.  It can be tough.  My friend Montserrat, a mother of ten who blogs at Chocolate on my Cranium, recently answered a similar question about surviving the young mother years on her blog: 

Surviving When All You Have are Young Ones

She asked a group of moms to contribute.  There's a lot of good advice shared in the post and the comments.  I encourage you to read the whole thing.  My portion was the following:

My first five were born in five years, and we now have 9 kids born in 13 years, so I remember those days when everything was on my shoulders with little helpers well. My top three tips are:
1. Despite how difficult it might be, find quiet time for yourself to reflect every day. Read scriptures, pray, and gain the strength to face the rest of the day.

2. Develop daily and weekly habits and schedules for your family. Consistent nap time or quiet time every day were essential. Once a week, we'd head to the library for storytime. Another day, we'd head out to the park or a museum for an adventure. On Saturdays, we started family work day when the kids were small. We'd all work together (including dad) until the house was clean. Having another adult around to train the kids to work and to help with the cleaning was a huge help to me. Routines help kids feel grounded and secure. Our daily routines included reading, play time, and an evening devotional.

3. Prioritize your own health and sleep. It can be easy to skip a nap yourself when you're tired, thinking that there is just too much to do to lie down. But if you take the time to sleep when you need to, you'll reap the benefits of a more peaceful mom and family. Take time to exercise in whatever way you can, whether it's getting up before the kids or going out in the evening when your husband can be home.
Finally, to quote all those old ladies you meet everywhere, try to enjoy the journey.  These are tough years, but they are rewarding.  The work you are doing in your home is important and is laying the foundation for happier years ahead.

What advice do you have for those with just little ones at home?


Tiffany Wacaser said…
I think that finding a balance between structure and free time is important. Sometimes I felt like I was just flying by the seat of my pants. During those times I felt low and frustrated. When I could create order and structure while maintaining flexibility I felt happiest.

Also, treasure the flexibility and time you do have. It's a gift.

I recently watched my nephews and they reminded me of the days my boys were small and my days were long with just little ones. Make sure to schedule in time to go outside and let the kids run and play.

Liz Wheeler said…
You are the Best! I just started laughing in excitement when I saw this post! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. This will help me sooo much!
Claire said…
As always, great response. I agree with the 7/8 age frame too. My oldest is eight, and all of a sudden she is a helpful young lady.

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