My grandmother had seven kids in six years (no twins), and as a colonel’s wife, she spent large periods of time raising a big family alone.
Growing up, and even in my early adult years, we would always joke, “Man, I don’t know how Nana did it!” Then all the aunts, uncles, cousins—and even Nana herself—would chuckle and the conversation would move on.
Now that I’m seven-years-deep into raising kids myself (and “only” three of them), I find myself truly asking, wondering, “How did Nana do it?”
I wish she were here to tell me her secrets, to give me the “recipe” she used to raise seven kids into adults that are good people, adults that I adore, but this month marks three years since she passed away.
Instead, I try to think about the Nana I knew for 30 years and what I’ve gleaned from her 383 years of parenting. (Yes, I believe she deserves credit for each year of each kid. After all, there had to be times where it felt like she’d been parenting for 383 years).
1. Say goodbye to shame.
Oh the stories I’ve heard over the years! One uncle’s favorite:
“Remember that time we were running late and Mom was trying to pack our school lunches, screaming, ‘WHERE IS THE SALAMI?!’ The whole time, it was right there in her hand!”
Of course, there was also the time she bought four carts-worth of groceries at the commissary and accidentally drove home without any of them.
Or the time that she inadvertently left one of my aunts at church.
I’m sure she felt terrible about those things at the time—she was a mom, after all—but she didn’t hang onto that feeling. When one of these stories was retold around the table (and one of these stories was always being retold), she would just shrug and laugh.
No one is perfect. The sooner we can get over ourselves and accept our shortcomings—maybe even laugh at them—the better. As the saying goes, the only perfect parents have no children!
2. Give privacy a farewell, too.
Growing up, Nana was always a little too open for many of our comfort. She’d hang her just-washed granny panties from the sink. She’d lift her shirt right up and show you a mole on her stomach. She wouldn’t hesitate to tell a complete stranger about her Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
I remember being rather puzzled (and a tad embarrassed) by these things growing up, but now I understand: privacy goes out the window when you have kids. I regularly entertain bathroom questions with my kids about my stretch marks, my squishy stomach, and where my penis is.
If you have seven kid in six years, well, I’d imagine privacy basically explodes into microscopic smithereens, never to be seen again.
If you’re going to make the most of this parenting gig, it’s best to embrace the constant invasion of your personal space and see it for what it is: a season that will pass.
3. It’s not your place to judge other people. It’s your job to help them.
Mom-shaming is all the rage these days. Do you breastfeed or bottle-feed? Do you sleep train or co-sleep? Are you a helicopter mom or a free range parent? Judging has practically become a main event in the Olympics of Parenthood.
That’s not how Nana rolled.
My Nana witnessed plenty of challenges in her lifetime, in and out of her own family tree—unexpected pregnancies, divorces, addictions, and so many more. Still, to this day, I can only remember her saying something negative about someone one time. What did she say?
“Well . . . I don’t think she’s a very good person . . . “
That’s it! I like to consider myself a kind individual, but I can top a criticism like Nana’s before breakfast.
Growing up, one of my aunts had a boyfriend with no family and nowhere to go. My aunt sneaked him in to stay in a walk-in closet in the basement, under the stairs. Nana came across him one day and let him stay, never telling my grandfather (who was compassionate, sure, but not eighth-teenager-living-under-the-stairs compassionate).
Nana was a living example of unconditional love, always doing for other people. Even at 80, her last year on Earth, she still volunteered “with the elderly” (her words, not mine).
You might be stretched thin, but you can always help someone. Nothing can snap you out of the everyday overwhelm of parenthood like reaching out and offering a hand to someone else.
4. If everyone feels loved, you’ve done enough.
With seven kids so close together, I’m sure there were times when some kids needed more attention, more monitoring, more “intensive parenting.” If you have more than one kid, there’s just no way to parent each of them exactly the same.
We do the very best we can to meet as many of our kids’ needs as possible and we let God handle the rest.
No one is perfect. I’m sure my grandmother made plenty of parenting missteps in her day, but you know what?
No one recalls them.
Sure, everyone speaks kindly of the dead, but in our massive family, I never heard one negative word uttered about my grandmother while she was alive—well, except for her pack rat tendencies and loose relationship with food expiration dates (but I don’t think those count).
This gives me more comfort than anything else.
I am doing the best I can for my kids. Some days, that actually looks like someone’s best.
But other times? Other times my absolute best looks pretty shabby, and that’s OK. If at the end of the day, everyone feels loved, I will have done enough. You will have done enough.
A mother’s love is the greatest gift we can give our children, and it’s a legacy that will last long after we’re gone.
Just look at my Nana.
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