I’ve often been asked how I got through each day back when we had lots of little ones and no older children to help out. I have written about those bygone years before, but it’s been a long time and there’s no harm in revisiting old subjects is there?
The easy answer is that I got through the days one at a time. Anyone can run a house with 6 little ones for a day, right? Just one day? All it takes is 3 meals (2 if you cheat or run so late that breakfast turns into brunch), a load of laundry (better make it whites!), a few baths (or send them out to play in the hose; who will know the difference?), and straighten the house after they’re in bed. Somewhere along the line, squeeze in a few minutes each of Bible reading and reading lessons. It’s not ideal and it won’t work that way forever, but you can do this. Some days you can do a little more, and some days your 4yo will tell you she was out of undies 2 days ago.
Don’t fret about the fact that you have to do it all again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
God doesn’t give us the grace, or the energy, or the patience we need for the whole upcoming year all in one dose. He measures it out for us day by day, like the manna He gave the Israelites in the wilderness. Planning ahead is good in general, but when the Israelites tried against God’s command to gather enough manna for the following day they found it rotted. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Do your best today. God’s way keeps you coming back to Him. If you start feeling like you can do this all on your own, things are about to go downhill.
I said that was the easy answer, but it’s not the only answer.
Things went better if I worked hard and made good use of my time. I had more energy back then and got by on less sleep than I do now. We sometimes made cookies instead of doing laundry, but more often it was the other way around. I once made a full round of fancy Easter dresses, working late into the night. Never again, but some of those dresses are still in circulation. Those days were often a blur, and I have mercifully forgotten much of the hurry and bustle and exhaustion. I have also forgotten many of the good times, but that’s ok. I have living and visible reminders all around me, and they remember.
Things went better if I reminded myself that this was only a season in life. Sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but remember those busy days won’t last as long as they feel. In a year or two, you won’t have the same crew of Littles you have now plus a new baby. Your whole crew will be a year or two older. They will all move up a step, and the baby will have a new name and face. In effect, you’ll have a new oldest child, not a new baby. This realization was an epiphany for me when I felt like I was at the end of my rope with 4, 4yo and under.
Things went better if Perry and I stayed on the same page, and on good terms. We had times when our relationship wasn’t the best, and I’ll readily confess that these times were hard not just as a wife but as a mother. There is a trickle-down effect, and parents need to realize that their relationship with each other and with God deeply affects their children. I was and am a Christian first, then a wife, then a mother. I am His, then his, then theirs. I do the children no favors when I allow my priorities to become skewed.
Things went better if I was consistent in the children’s training. It’s so much easier to mother a child who obeys commands the first time than one who tests every boundary, every time. I know every child is different, but a challenging child is not an excuse for ineffective parenting. It only means we must – must – work harder at parenting effectively. Invest time early, and your days will go much more smoothly. That’s the blessing of consistent rules and discipline: if the boundaries are clear and firm, your children will learn that it’s fruitless to test them. There is no need for 2’s to be terrible.
Things went better if I got sleep. This is more easily said than done, but sometimes we fool ourselves. I tell myself that I need to wind down after the kids are in bed, but before I know it, it’s 1 AM. It’s so easy to vegetate in front of the TV after a long day of chasing toddlers and putting out fires, but even now I know that my day will go better if I don’t allow myself that free time in the evening. Go to bed! Yes, you might need to wind down, but 40 minutes of winding down in bed is better than 3 hours of winding down in front of the TV or the computer.
Things went better when I thought of “me time” as a gift, not a right. If I didn’t feel entitled to “me time,” it was a sweet gift when it came. Grocery shopping alone in the evening, volunteering to mow a lawn for a summertime customer while Perry stayed home with the kids, a late-night in-house movie with my sweetheart: these were welcome times, but if they were few and far between that was ok. In the high-power career of Motherhood, you are a highly valuable asset to the corporation. The hours are long and replacements are rare, expensive and poorly trained. You knew that when you signed up for the job, right?
Things went better if my attitude was good. And now we’ve come full circle. It was easy to stress about tomorrow, and worry that because we didn’t do reading lessons or Bible today our children were doomed to grow up ignorant heathens. But all that was really required was to repent if I was squandering time or making poor choices about priorities, then try to do better in the morning.