As a parenting educator, I make a point of sitting in sporting venues or playgrounds and watching parents interact with their children. No, I am not judging you—I am watching and learning. In this watching time, I discovered I could pick out the mothers of many children, because they seemed to be more relaxed and less irritated. I tried to distil what it was about them that made them stand out, and realized they had some traits in common. Wanting to hear more about what works for them, I asked my facebook page community to chime in, and wow, they really did.
Here are seven things mothers of four or more children do to make their lives better:
1. "Let it go" and "pick your battles" are their mantras.
The most common responses in my facebook survey on this topic were: “let it go” and “I pick my battles.” Make a decision to not let things bother you, let the kids handle their disagreements (as long as there isn’t blood), and be okay with things in the state they are currently in. One mom said, “Perfection is for idiots. It’s one thing that we can decide to stop—and stop caring if others expect us to be perfect. That is their problem, not mine.” This was one of my favourite quotes, “There is a lot of stuff you can ignore. I simply don’t have time to worry—I let natural consequences be the awesome teacher they are.”
Many moms talked about letting go of being “pissed off.” One mom said, “I finally realized all my blowing up and frustration was sucking the life out of me. I decided to change that and, wow, my life is so much better since I did that.” (I wrote about how to do that here.)
2. “I’m sure he’s okay,” is the answer when a child starts shrieking.
I was chatting with a mom of four during our kids' soccer, and she said, “A woman in the car dealership came running over to me that my eleven-month-old son had fallen and was screaming. I just said, ‘I’m sure he’s okay.’” My first thought was, you let your eleven-month-old child lose in a car dealership?! The way she explained the situation, it made complete sense that she would handle her car troubles and allow her four children to wander around, exploring. She seemed relaxed and trusting—she was definitely not careless. The older kids were on top of things.
When my own children start screaming, I don’t run to them. This is interesting, because I see people uncomfortably looking at me to do so. I say, “If he needs me, he will find me.” Bonks happen every day. When we give children space to try and manage them, a sense of capability grows. If we run in to save the day, we can inadvertently take away their natural ability to sooth themselves and problem solve. If my child does come wailing up the stairs over to me, I will definitely meet him with a hug (empathy), but I won’t race to help until he’s had time to help himself first.
3. Let the village take care of the younger ones.
You have likely heard the phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child.” It seems families with large number of children have created their own village. Moms step back and let the older children’s natural nurturing ability take over. I watched a four-year-old open a snack for, and feed her one-year-old brother. He happily sat on her lap while she sang, feeding him.
Parents with one or two children can do this by inviting older neighbourhood children over to hang out with your little ones (I do this a lot!). You can hang out nearby (and rest) while an older child uses her boundless energy to build a block tower twenty-seven times, so the toddler can gleefully knock it down.
4. Trust your child’s own good judgment.
Give your children space to fall and to fail. When parents hover—preventing mishaps or challenges—the valuable skills to problem-solve during adversity might not develop. Your child will learn what his legs can do, what happens if he goes too fast, or reaches too high. Let your children learn how to get back up again.
5. Everyone chips in.
Give children the opportunity to be independent as early as possible. Most moms said this came from necessity, because older children or house jobs need to be attended, and the younger ones have to figure out how to do things on their own or wait. Author Vicki Hoefle wrote a great book, called Duct Tape Parenting, where she explains how to coach your children to help themselves, so parents can use their time to rest or do what needs getting done.
6. "Organic" can sometimes mean “with dirt on it.”
One mom put it best, “Clean is relative. As long as I keep my sanity, and I can find everything, I don’t really care how clean my house is. I also don’t care what my mother-in-law thinks about how clean my house is.” A mom said this, while sitting for tea, while her four children screamed happily in a different area of the house.
At an indoor sport field, while I was ridiculously trying to get my guys not to touch the ground with their bare socks, lifting them (they are heavy!) over one pair of shoes into the other, for fear the little rubber turf bits everywhere would get on them, I spotted a mother of four. Guess what she was doing? Her toddler dropped a cookie on this same rubber-ball-infested surface and watched as he stared at it, then picked it up, popping it straight into his mouth. I gasped. She shrugged, saying, “Those things will just come out the other end, right?” Then she laughed, sat back, and had a sip of her coffee.
7. Create systems and trust them.
Routines reduce battles, so it wasn’t a surprise to discover that moms of many kiddos use really good systems to handle mornings, bedtimes, and getting out the door. A mother of eight children wrote an awesome book, called From Frazzled to Focused, about how she (an organizational expert) creates space for rest and fun, and manages her big family effectively. One of her awesome suggestions is to create an “away place” for everything, and say, “Don’t put it down, put it away.” This is a great book to read to help understand systems and how they can help any family thrive. Here are my suggestions for an effective morning routine that reduces battles.
I continually post free parenting help and resources on my facebook page. I also ask questions there to be able to help everyone better, so please do pop over and share your thoughts. Have you learned something that would help other parents?
Here are some of the quotes from my page that resonated the most with readers:
“I think we are calm because we are at peace with organized chaos. I know that someone always needs something, but they have to learn to take turns. There are just too many! And they know it too because I tell them ‘I will help you in a little while, I am helping so-and-so now.’ My kids are little 7, 4, 2, 1 and I just say the same key phrases like ‘we are team lets work together’, ‘we have to take turns’, ‘everyone is important not just you dear.’ I think even though they are small they accept it—I can't be the perfect soccer mom who does Pinterest projects and has a spotless house! Moms of 4 kids and more know its just not all gonna get done. So we let go of the guilt and give it to God.” –Trisha C.
“Embrace chaos and the absurd, be loose, go with the flow, accept that things will only go the right way about 30% of the time. Remember that they are kids and not small adults and set your expectations knowing that, and love that you are a travelling circus. That's what has kept me from losing it.” –Emily E.C.
“Kids in larger families tend to learn a couple things early on. They learn to wait, and they learn to do for themselves. And as the parent, I learn to overlook a lot, and that the calmer I am in dealing with them, they calmer they are in dealing with me. And I think parents of larger families just have a higher tolerance for noise and chaos.” –Dianne L.G.
“Keep calm and move on. The only person's emotions I need to regulate are mine. If I keep my cool, stay respectful, show enjoyment for whatever it is we are doing, they will too. Foster friendships between them, teach them empathy for one another, respect their individuality. And laugh. Oh goodness, always laugh." -Mom of 11-, 9-, 7- and 4-year-old, Louise G