Our eldest daughter was merely five days past her fourth birthday when our youngest (3rd child) was born. Barely old enough to take direction well herself, she became the leader of the pack, especially for her 2-year-old still-in-diapers sister. Not only were we now outnumbered by three nearly helpless munchkins, but our youngest developed multiple severe food protein intolerances and I spent the better part of 6 months drastically adjusting my diet to try to calm his intestines down.
To say that I spent those early days in a foggy haze would be a gross understatement. I felt tired, frustrated, and very isolated. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go out, I simply couldn’t. I had such a severely limited diet nursing our son and the other two girls were still so young and needed so much attention, I often couldn’t take all three out of the house without the help of my husband.
However, now that our son is nearly a year and a half, I look back and see there were a few key things that helped us survive those early days at home, and surprisingly enough, none of them involved putting my older two daughters in front of the TV. I’m a pretty avid proponent of a simple childhood, and for us, that means drastically limiting our kids’ screen time. Our middle child also has a hard time controlling her emotions after she’s been staring at a screen, so this also helps my motivation to keep my kids’ childhood screen free.
So here they are, in no particular order, my top 5 survival tips for being outnumbered by your kids without using the TV or Ipad:
- Get Everyone Dressed. We all got dressed and ready in the morning, if possible before my husband left for work. My hair was usually in a pony tail, but I made my best effort to get dressed and put on makeup before we started the day. This way, if we decided we needed to go somewhere, we were ready. The bag was usually already packed (with snacks stashed in there for the older two) so we could simply put on shoes and be out the door. I also find I’m more productive during the day if I’m mentally ready to face it.
- Have things for the older kids (even if they’re still little) to do within their reach. Nothing’s worse than sitting down ready to nurse or feed a baby and hearing “Mom! I need…” Having it available and within those little arms’ reach was paramount. For us, that meant a LOT of coloring books and colors. My girls spent many hours sitting at the table coloring when I was nursing our son on the couch or preparing a meal or snack. Figure out what will help your other children be successful during the day and keep it handy so you don’t have to dig out things for them.
- Make ahead freezer meals and crockpot! Our middle child also had a milk and soy protein intolerance that she is just now recovering from (at 3 1/2) so we very rarely eat out and eat mostly clean, homemade meals. I simply couldn’t start making dinner at 4pm with the girls going crazy and our son needing to nurse, as well as needing to make a separate safe meal for myself. It was too much. I started using a freezer meal plan and making several meals at once that could be dumped in the crockpot in the morning and be ready for dinner.
- Have grace on yourself and your kids. Transitions are hard, and transitioning from two to three kids for us was the hardest. I had to let go of expecting myself to have a perfectly clean house as well as the kids clothed, fed and somewhat clean. There are other stages of life to deep clean your house. Or to try that ridiculously complex meal. Now is a season of simple.
- Accept help. I’m notoriously a “I’ll do it myself” woman, but honestly, if I hadn’t had a fantastic husband who genuinely took on a large part of the cleaning, shopping and at times cooking, our first year as a family of five would have been far more traumatic. We live 1400 miles away from our families so there is no grandma to call in if things went south. My husband and I banded together and worked as team, and he led our family so very well by serving wherever there was a need. He kept his eyes open and took care of the things that were escaping my sleep deprived eyes.
The years are short, but the days are long. Focus on accomplishing small things and enjoy one day at a time. You won’t even realize it’s happened but the fog will lift and you’ll have a natural rhythm to your new life with those precious little ones.