4 Moms Q&A: overwhelmed, clingy toddlers, TV syndrome, co-sleeping, ovarian guilt

4moms35kids 4 Moms Q&A
My real-life friend Lori asked, 

How do you keep from getting overwhelmed? I have 5 and feel like I’m constantly being pulled in 5 different directions… someone needs help with a toy, someone needs a snack, someone is smearing poop on the wall, etc all while I’m trying to load the dishwasher. My stress quickly elevates and I end up yelling. I have 2 bigs that are very helpful but I feel really guilty when I’m constantly asking them to assist me. How do you manage the chaos and keep your sanity?

Lori, parenting a big family is hard.  Sometimes it’s all happiness and lollipops, and some days you really do want Calgon to take you away.  Usually I have enough big helpers to keep things under control these days, but it hasn’t always been that way.  Even now, my Bigs often go five different directions in the morning so it’s just like old times – just me and the teeming hordes of Little People.

When it seems like everything is falling apart at once and I can’t put out the fires fast enough, I sometimes just put everyone on a brief impromptu quiet time.  I tell them, “This is not punishment or naptime; we just need to be quiet for a few minutes because our attitudes (or mom’s attitude) is suffering.  Everyone get ONE BOOK if you want it, pick a place, and plant your bottom.  Don’t sit near anyone else, and no talking until the timer beeps.”

While the little ones are neutralized, I either enjoy the quiet or use the time to get ahead of the messes.  I might even enlist the help of one or two willing and able-bodied volunteers who want to feel big by avoiding quiet time.

About getting help from your bigger children: I used to feel guilty, but I have realized two things over the years:

  1. They don’t feel oppressed when we require them to help unless somebody tells them they are oppressed.  That is to say, our own feelings of guilt may lead to a bad attitude in our children.  If it’s clear that I am asking for help when I don’t feel I should, they are likely to agree and resent having to help.  Be clear in your conscience.  Is it sinful to require the amount of help that you do from your older children?  Unless you’re watching soap operas while they do all the housework, I don’t think so.  If you are watching soaps while the kids do the work, then maybe the guilt is appropriate.  🙂   If you are being a good steward of your time and theirs, don’t feel guilty.
  2. Children like to feel valued, and being able to help is one way to do it.  Make sure you praise them lavishly and openly, and they will enjoy helping.  You are teaching them valuable skills for later in life and building good memories right now.  Someday they’ll be thankful for the skills and work ethic you are instilling right now during these busy days, and others will praise them too.

And above all, remember: this season in life is short.  It may feel long today, but one day you’ll blink and find that you are 20 years older and your little ones are grown.  I don’t know how it happens, but it does.  And those poop stories will finally be funny.

Trisha asked, 

My twins are turning 2 this week. One of them wants to be held ALL THE TIME! He has never been clingy in the past. I’m going crazy. Should I indulge him – does he just need some extra love and attention right now? Or, should I not indulge him so he can get over it. Please help!

Trisha, I don’t know your children or your parenting style, so I can only guess.  My first guess is this: teething.  Is he getting his 2yo molars?  Teething can make children just uncomfortable enough to be not quite themselves: extra whiny, clingy, ornery, etc.  I try to remember to check for new teeth whenever one of my younger ones gets especially difficult for no particular reason.

My next guess is illness.  You didn’t say how long his clinginess has been going on, but if it’s only been a few days or even a week, it could simply be a mild illness.  My younger ones often act up for a week or more after a bug, and while I don’t tolerate bad behavior, I do remind myself that they still may not feel well and extra naps may be in order.

If it’s not a physical issue and it’s been going on long enough that you don’t expect it to stop, I would definitely give some extra love and attention, but not always on his terms.  When my toddler does this, I might hold him for a minute or two, give him a hug and a kiss, and set him down.  If he complains, I gently tell him, “No, I love you but your holding turn is over.”

When they want to be carried around, I often laugh at my toddlers as though they are pretending to be babies and tell them, “You have legs.  Use them!”  When he asks to be held too much, I might make a game of it and cradle him like an infant, cooing at him and offering to nurse him.  More often than not, he gets the point and squirms away on his own.

You know your son, and I’m sure you can improvise.  In all of these examples, the idea is to encourage him to be just a little more independent without making him feel rejected.

Heather asked,

While I was recently pregnant I was extremely tired due to repeated episodes of false labor during the last two months. My coping skills were next to nothing, and as it was the middle of winter, my kids couldn’t go outside. I resorted to A LOT of TV, just to be able to get naps so I could have enough energy to stay on top of dinner and laundry. Now that my baby is almost 5 months old, my oldest two kids have gone back to their normal activities, but for my two year old TV IS his normal activity. I have tried everything to get him to stop asking for television, but that is all he ever wants to do. Almost all of the time I say no, and then he follows me around whining. Getting rid of the tv is not possible (wish it was) because my husband uses it in his work. What can I do to break this horrible habit of his?

Heather, it’s hard to break a firmly ingrained habit, and 6 months is a long time in the life of a 2yo.  He probably doesn’t know what to do or how to entertain himself without the TV, and he’s going to need help to form new habits.  I see this on a smaller scale every time we have a virus in our home and let the little ones watch videos to pass the time.  Once they feel better I have to keep reminding them: No, today is not a movie day.  They know the answer even before they hear it, and eventually they stop asking.

I think you are on the right track by consistently saying no about TV, but you’ll need to invest some extra time and energy (because new moms have plenty of that, right?) in teaching him to play without the TV, because right now his to-do list looks like this:

Playtime Options:

  1. Watch TV
  2. Ask Mom if I can watch TV

Why don’t you make a list of things he can do, and spend a little time working and playing with him?  You don’t need to play with him every moment of the day, but you could spend a few minutes to help him get interested in an activity.  Definitely enlist your two older children to help!

And since you are raising a future adult, make sure to give him plenty of “work.”  He can follow you or his siblings around, helping with whatever you are currently working on.  Have him fold washcloths as you sort laundry, put away silverware or “organize” a cabinet while you do dishes, carry the dustpan around for you while you sweep, hold the baby’s hand out of the way while you change a diaper…you get the idea, right?  Now he needs to get the idea.

Karen asked,

My youngest of four is 4 months old. The older three were swaddled in a cradle and slept well through the night early on, but this one had lots of feeding problems, so I have kept him with me at night to increase his feeding opportunities, skin-to-skin, etc. Now we love co-sleeping and will continue at least until baby is robust and gaining weight well. How do you make co-sleeping “work” with your husband (kwim)? My husband is supportive, but this is our first time having a baby stay with us.

Karen,  co-sleeping doesn’t work well for me because I don’t sleep well that way.  Nonetheless, I often fall asleep while nursing in bed and end up co-sleeping by accident. The way to make it work – if I understand the gist of your question – is just to let the baby sleep in his own bed for the first shift.  Then when he wakes to eat, let him stay with you for the rest of the night.  This way he’s not in your bed the entire night.  If he has trouble falling asleep in his own bed at night, try having him nap there during the day to make it a more familiar and comfortable place.

Diana asked,

How do you handle/combat ‘ovarian guilt’? My boy was sick this last week and I just felt so guilty! He is almost never sick and my husband kept reminding me that getting sick is just part of life, but I couldn’t shake the blame and worry. I also struggle with feeling torn between spending time with him (our son) and other things that need done (housework etc.).  While I’m doing one I feel guilty about not doing the other.

I’m hoping this will balance when we have our second (due in 4 weeks), but I’m afraid it will get worse.

Diana, I understand how you feel and I think it’s very common, but I’m afraid my answer is going to sound a little like this.  Don’t be offended – it’s a running joke in our house!  For some reasons we moms are prone to feel guilty about things that are not within our control.  I think there must be sin buried somewhere in that feeling.  Is it lack of faith on our part, because we are worrying about things that are not within our power?  Is it pride, in thinking that we should be able to control things that are not within our control?  At any rate, we just need to stop.  We need to pray for discernment to use our time wisely, do the best that we can, and trust God for the outcome.

To answer your question more personally, the way I handle it is by making a joke of it.  If I don’t make a joke of it, my family steps in and does it for me.  🙂 Yes, I sometimes feel guilty about things outside my control, or for not being able to simultaneously appear in two places at once, or for not possessing 6 arms.  But I know it’s silly of me to feel this way, and I laugh at myself for it, and don’t let myself dwell on it.  I’m a mom.  Guilt is what we do, but it shouldn’t be who we are.

Your turn: How would you answer the questions above?

See what questions the other moms are answering today:


  1. Not to sound preachy or anything, and I’m not speaking from personal experience, but I’ve heard accidentally co-sleeping can be really dangerous. If it’s going to happen, or likely to happen (and I’m guessing that’s true for most people occasionally) the environment needs to be prepared for co-sleeping. Most of the co-sleeping related deaths one hears about are the result of someone who doesn’t normally co-sleep bringing a child into their bed. If one isn’t accustomed to sharing their bed with an infant, they’re less likely to have the sense of awareness that prevents co-sleeping parents from rolling over on their children. The bed’s also less likely to be a safe–free from extra pillows, loose sheets and blankets, etc.–place for an infant to sleep. Again, not nagging, just please be careful. If you or your readers are likely to end up with a child in your/their bed, maybe do a little research on preparing your environment. I realize, eleven kids in, you probably have a good system, but there’s a first time for everything and I can’t help but remind people; properly preparing for co-sleeping saves lives.

  2. For Trisha:
    The “boring cuddle” is handy for kids who want to be picked up all the time. If they want up, you go and sit down somewhere there’s nothing else for them to do or watch and just cuddle them. No playing, singing, rocking, just a bit of bodily contact. They’ll usually get bored after a few minutes and want down. Do this every time and you’ll soon find out if they want up because they can see what you’re doing, or because it’s fun, or just because they need some comfort from Mum. Also giving them a cuddle for a few minutes is a whole lot easier than trying to get on with whatever you were trying to do with a whiny toddler hanging onto your leg yelling “Up! Up!”
    Worked for me anyway 🙂

  3. My two year old has been extra clingy lately too. Probably partially because we have travelled a lot for hubby’s work lately. A few days ago I asked him if he wanted to go for a walk with me. He was so excited and knew just where he wanted to go. It took maybe 5 minutes of my time and then he was ready to play and be happy. I think he felt a bit insecure and that little bit of quality time with mama made all the difference. I was so amazed at the results, I have decided to do it more.

  4. Julie Tysh says:

    Kim, what you write is so refreshing to me. I learn a lot reading your blog. I’m VERY grateful for all that you share. I’m in my mid-twenties with one baby, and your posts are always an encouragement in my walk with God and my relationship with husband & family. I also enjoy your boldness and sense of humor. =P

  5. Thanks Kim! It has taken A LOOONG time to realize it but I am learning how much my attitude does affect the responses from my children. Wise words. Thanks!

  6. For Heather I would suggest putting a visual notification of the TV being OFF. Hang a sign on it, or put a towel over it when it is not to be used. That will change his perspective of the availability of TV without any further input from you. Supplement of course with other suggestions for filling his time 🙂

  7. I thought my daughter and her husband dealt with this issue in a wise way. They don’t have TV, but their two year old was constantly asking to watch a movie. Finally they designated Friday night the night he could watch movies. It didn’t take him long to catch on that no, today is not Friday, you must wait, and he soon quit asking. You could do whatever works for you, a certain morning or afternoon. With consistency I think they catch on pretty quick. It was funny, because I noticed when he was here he had quit asking as well, and then my daughter told me what they did, so it even worked when he was at our house!

  8. To Diana (re ovarian guilt)
    I can remember vividly feeling exactly this way when I had one child and how fearful I was of balancing two children, making sure they both felt loved, etc. I was truly anxious about it for much of my second pregnancy. My mom offered the advice that “love doesn’t divide, it multiplies.” The math doesn’t work out in our logical brains, but with God, love really does multiply. You won’t be dividing your love between your children so that anyone gets less. It just works out. And there is probably not any way to really believe it until you experience it, but once you have your second (and more…) you will begin to understand.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    As far as TV and a 2 yr old goes, just turn it off and let him whine. My husband is (was maybe) TV dependent. He’s getting much better though-realizing we can converse without the th on in the background. He’s learning that its ok for kids to be disgruntled. Our boys have learned to be obsessed with the TV. My 4 yr old screams when it gets shut off. I remind him about the screaming and we do something else. Their boys’ (age 2 And 4) favorite thing now is singing. As mean as it sounds, sometimes ‘let them whine’ works for us. Eventually TV will become less of a priority.

  10. I had an issue with the TV thing for the exact same reasons. We simply unplugged the TV. It helped give the “no” extra oomph when there was no opportunity to say yes. Not only was it a no, but there was a specific physical reminder. In the morning, when we woke up, I would unplug the TV, in their sight. Then, when they would ask. I would say “No, you remember, I unplugged the TV, it is not a movie day.” Then I might give them other options. On top of their chores, My kids love to help with the cooking, moving laundry from the washer to the dryer, washing dishes, (they dry.) After about a week of complete consistency, everyone forgot. They found better things to do. They had their chore lists to work through (my 2yo has one too.) and then we have a pre-set list of activities to move through when Mom is busy. Coloring, Puzzles, Dress up/role play, play a game of “make the baby smile”, sing a song to the baby, Playdoh, etc. It takes time, commitment, and consistency.
    The TV got plugged in when Dad got home from work, and if Dad thought their behavior was fantastic, and there was enough time after family worship and before bedtime, he would choose to allow a movie after dinner.

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