It’s half-past nine, an hour or so after the usual bedtime for kids in our home. The house is dark with the exception of the dining room, and the TV is playing a show on Disney. My 9-year-old sips a cup of tea and crunches on pretzels.
Alone. In the quiet.
It’s her reward for being the only one of these five little rascals to really help me clean up at the end of the day. The other ones help to the best of their abilities. That basically means after picking up a few things here and there, the 8-year-old got distracted drawing comics, the middle child was doing cartwheels, the 4-year-old was yelling to the neighbors through the screen door, and the 2-year-old was raiding the pantry for a pack of Skittles.
But not the 9-year-old.
No, my beautiful eldest child was diligently stacking magnet tiles and gathering all of the play kitchen food into a bin, toys she never even played with.
She lined up all the shoes by the back door and hung all of the coats.
She stacked up all the papers and supplies from a long day of school work and wiped the table down.
Earlier in the day, she cleared the dishwasher and helped me make dinner while the rest of the kids played outside.
Now she has chores, but not that many. She did all of them anyway. It’s not that she didn’t want to run out and play in the backyard, too. She just knew I needed her, and she loves being a helper.
And thank goodness for that. Because I don’t know where I’d be without her.
Having five kids is busy and difficult, rewarding and fun. It’s a lot of kids to keep track of and many mouths to feed. I feel like all I do is count heads and pour cereal all day.
I know seasons of motherhood look different for everyone. And some of the veteran moms might think, Bless her heart when they read this. But man, I have been tired for a very long time. And honestly, five kids aren’t even that many to me. My parents raised eight of us (and went on to adopt more later), and my husband is one of seven, so I feel like our family is sort of small. But in today’s world, it’s really not.
Someone recently saw me with my three youngest and said, “Three kids, wow. That’s a big family these days.” I told him he didn’t know the half of it. Literally. My two oldest weren’t with me!
I used to wonder how our parents, moms in particular, did all of it. Aside from being awesome, that is. Let’s face it, moms are great—we know this. But moms and other maternal figures in our lives are constantly telling us younger ones that we’re strong and we’re doing so great. I can’t be the only one who’s over here like, “But I’m hanging on by a thread, Aunt Mary. How did you really do it?!”
Listen to me. They didn’t. OK, fine, they did. But they had help. They had that eldest child on their team.
At some point, around age seven for us, that firstborn child really steps up and starts helping with literally everything.
They’re setting the table while you cook and clearing dinner dishes while you put away the leftovers.
They’re putting the toddler on the pot while you’re chained to the couch nursing a newborn.
They’re distributing snacks while you’re taking a phone call.
They’re reading a bedtime story while you grab a shower.
They’re feeding the family pet and jumping up with you to grab a towel when the baby spills her juice.
They’re just helping. With everything. And it’s awesome. They are awesome.
If you have a young family and have been in the thick of it for what seems like forever—I’m talkin’ all these kids back to back, don’t know how you’re surviving when you haven’t slept in 5+ years and your life is sustained by coffee, leftover apple slices, and peanut butter out of the jar (because protein)—hang in there, mama.
If you’re wondering when it gets just a little easier, give it time. You’ll have a helper soon.
And they are going to change your parenting game.
Let’s take this moment to celebrate all the other firstborns. You guys rock. Keep doing what you’re doing.