There was a time, not so long ago, when we had five kids under the age of five: a four year old, a two year old and three newborns: identical triplets who rocked our world and changed our plans… and still do! In reflecting on what got us through those early years (and many days since), there were a few keys to our surviving that remarkable time when we had five tots under five:
1. Create a routine.
Say what you will but when it comes to kids, routine is good. For everyone involved. You need your coffee; your baby needs a bottle. You both get grumpy if you don’t get what you want when you want it. Fair enough, right? Babies – and kids of all ages– thrive on routine. They are simple souls who respond well to knowing when to expect a bottle, a bath, a meal, a walk, a snack or a story. Routine has been the key to survival for our family, especially during those first few crazy months with the triplets; we had three babies who ate eight times a day, two toddlers who required a fair amount of care and feeding themselves, a dog who needed a walk, and a massive mountain of laundry. The only way to tackle it all was with a routine… although, I have to say, that mountain of laundry continues to grow!
2. Baby Proofing is good but rules reign supreme.
I marvel at the booming business “baby proofing” has become. Don’t get me wrong, certain things are essential; if you have a crawler, you need outlet covers and a gate at the top of the stairs and it’s always a good idea to keep medicine out of reach. But toilet seat locks and stove knob covers and the rest? Save the money and set some rules instead. Rules are good. Kids like to know what the boundaries are and are astute enough to respect them far sooner than you think. Don’t be afraid to yell “HOT!!” or even a good old-fashioned “NO!!!” They will get it, they will learn from it and you will be grateful that when you wake up to pee in the middle of the night, the potty is not in lock-down.
3. Don’t forget the “me” in Mommy.
I’m a firm believer that a happy mom is the key to a happy family. “Me time” is essential and, as my husband and kids will attest, everyone benefits from it. I love my early morning runs, occasional yoga classes, book club and the rare girl’s night out. These things are all part of the me I was pre-kids and that me still exists. Remember the “me” in you and you’ll be a better Mommy too.
4. Out and about beats in and insane.
All of our children were born in the fall in the Northeast… the time of year when the leaves fall, the wind blows and the temperature plummets. I asked our pediatrician on one such blustery day if it was ok to take our firstborn out for a walk. Her response: “Do you think people in Alaska never leave the house?! Of course you can take him out! Just bundle him up and you’ll both be fine.” And we were. The fresh air did us good and to this day, it still does. Our toughest moments (screaming/yelling/fighting/etc.!) tend to be when we’re all cooped up in the house for too long. So, as the saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” My advice: get going! Every day. Rain or shine, steaming hot or freezing cold -- get up and go and take the kids with you; you’ll all be glad you did.
5. Just say yes.
Being of rather proud and stoic Irish descent, I’m not one to ask for help and my husband wouldn’t dream of it. When we first came home from the hospital with the triplets, there were many offers of help. “Just tell us what we can do,” said countless family and friends. “Oh no, we’re FINE” I’d reply as I wiped the sleep from my eyes and staggered by them in a daze. Fine? Really? No way! We were so NOT fine. We were exhausted and overwhelmed and it took me getting a nasty case of bronchitis when the babies were six weeks old for me to finally “cave in” and accept the assistance that had been offered. I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long. It turns out that when people offer to help, they mean it. So do yourself a favor and just say yes.
6. Trust your gut.
Let’s be honest, that gut expanded to provide you with the little bundle (or bundles!) of joy that everyone including the mailman has something to say about. Bottle or breast. Work or stay home. Binkie or blankie. Organic or not. Whatever it is, don’t believe everything you read or hear; take it all with a grain of salt and do what feels right for you and your family. There’s a reason for that old adage that “mother knows best.” You do. Go with it!
7. Plan ahead.
Anticipation goes a long way toward prevention and this holds especially true when it comes to tiny tykes (and tired moms!) who are prone to melt down when they are tired, hungry, overwhelmed, or all of the above! Too often, I push myself – and our kids – past the breaking point. The result? Simply put, not good! The solution? Pack snacks, wipes aplenty and even a change of clothes. Plan activities for when you – and your offspring – will be at your best. And while you’re planning, plan to cut yourself some slack because no matter how much you anticipate, there will be days (in fact, many of them!) when things go awry – like the time when not one, but TWO of the triplets vomited repeatedly at the doctor’s office and had to go home in pumpkin costumes. That certainly wasn’t part of my plan but those costumes were the only clean clothes in the car and hey, it makes for a good story!
8. Just say no.
This is as important as learning to just say yes. The sooner you can apply this two-letter word freely and guiltlessly to requests like “can you bake 4 dozen cupcakes for the school fundraiser?,” the better! You don’t need to do it all – and the odds are good that you’ll be happier if you don’t. Please don’t misunderstand – it’s great to volunteer for the bake sale as long as it gives you satisfaction and won’t drive you crazy. But, do not under any circumstances say yes when something deep down inside is urging you to take a pass. When this happens, refer to # 6 – trust your gut AND just say no!
9. God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt.
There are so many ways this is applicable to parenthood. To start, babies don’t need baths every day and a dropped pacifier is A-OK… as long as the dog hasn’t licked it. Just sayin'. For what’s its worth, you don’t need a daily shower either so, don’t beat yourself up for those days when you segue seamlessly from pajamas to workout wear and back again. And then there's the house. I like mine neat and tidy. Perhaps not surprisingly, having five kids makes this almost impossible. So, I’ve adjusted what “neat and tidy” means… these days it means the mail is jammed into an overflowing basket, the dog hair is swept under the rug and the kids wipe their own boogers off the wall. Usually. And yes, the walls!
There is such tenderness and humor – and a fair amount of chaos too -- in this crazy journey called parenthood. Allow yourself the opportunity to pause and appreciate it as much as you possibly can. Laugh loud and laugh often and your children will too. That belly laugh of baby days will be one of your fondest memories. If you could bottle it, you would. There is no better feeling. And God knows, after what you’ve endured to bring a baby into this world, you deserve a good laugh!