“I don’t know how you do it.”
“They must keep you very busy!”
“How do you manage with a family that size?”
Anyone with more than two children has undoubtedly heard these and other similar remarks. As annoying as these comments might be, I honestly think that the people saying them are trying to encourage and empathize with the effort it takes to raise a large family. And, occasionally, I think they also really want to know how those of us with large broods survive.
Since more than one parent has asked me how I’m managing with my four spark plugs, today I want to share two of my very best parenting hacks as well as strategies for implementing them. These two things have had a dramatic impact on my ability to parent and have saved my sanity time and again.
Parenting Hack no. 1: Don’t let your kids get up in the morning until you let them.
Now, before you write me off as a crazy parent and click away from this post, let me explain. I need a lot of sleep. Not only am I often up multiple times a night, I also need more sleep than the average adult in order to feel human. When I get adequate sleep, I’m a much better wife and mom (just ask Jon and the kids if you need any convincing on this point).
So, when my oldest just naturally stayed in his room until I got him up each morning – something I can’t take any credit for since I never would have thought to teach him this – I quickly recognized the benefit of this happy accident. I purposely taught each of the other children who came after him to follow suit.
Because they’ve learned to stay put in the mornings, if I need an extra fifteen minutes of sleep (okay, in full disclosure, I’ve even slept in for an extra hour once or twice after a really, really rough night), I can sleep longer without worrying that they’re going to tear through the house and destroy it or get into things that could harm them.
I’ve also heard moms say that no matter how early they get up, their kids somehow know and get up early with them. If you feel as though you need a few minutes to read your Bible, have your coffee, and jot down the day’s to-do list, teaching your kids stay in their rooms until you’re ready for them to get up will go a long way toward this.
A word of caution: a good friend of mine once mentioned that when she got up before her kids, she started coveting that quiet time so much that she began to resent the time she had to go get the kids up for the day. I’ve had to be very careful not to fall into this temptation myself.
Why this works for us:
We’ve made each of the kids’ rooms childproof. All of our bedrooms are close together, too, so if the spark plugs need me, I can hear them. (For those with spaced-out bedrooms, an old baby monitor can work.)
We used to have a bathroom connected to the kids’ room, so they were able to use the facilities as needed. Now that we no longer have that setup, they’re free to leave their rooms for such purposes; they just go back into their rooms once finished.
Each room has a half-high bookshelf and a toy organization system to keep busy hands and minds occupied. For our school-aged children, they can get a jump start on their lessons for the day if they want to. They’re usually only too happy to do this; an earlier start means an earlier finish!
How to implement this:
- Start slowly. If your little ones are used to bursting through the doors at 5am, retraining them to stay put until you get them up is going to take some adjustment. I’m pretty sure you’ll be met with resistance, especially at first.
- Be firm. If this suggestion is a good fit for your family, don’t let your kids’ initial resistance cause you to give in. Be patient and give it a good 3-month trial before you decide whether or not this is worth the effort.
- Make it fun. Choose some toys or activities that they can only do during these initial morning minutes between the time they wake up and the time you get them out of their rooms.
Parenting Hack no. 2: Have all of your children (even your highschoolers!) nap every day.
Before I became a mom, I thought children willingly and easily napped and that when they were tired, they’d just fall asleep wherever they happened to be. Imagine my surprise when my 2-mont-old didn’t slip into a nice napping schedule. Confused, I called my mother-in-law to ask her advice.
“It’s funny,” she told me, “but I’ve learned that if you want kids to nap, even infants, you have to physically put them in bed at the times you want them to sleep. They don’t really fall asleep just anywhere.” She also shared something else that day. “Another thing I always did with my kids was to have all of them, even my high schoolers, nap for an hour every afternoon. They didn’t have to sleep, but they did have to go into their rooms with a book or quiet project for a little while every day. It saved my sanity.”
This was news to me, but since she’d raised 6 kids, I figured she knew what she was talking about and decided to try a more planned-out napping routine.
Not only did my little guy develop a fantastic napping schedule, but 11 years later, all of my kids still have nap/rest time every day. This brilliant parenting hack has been one of the best pieces of child-rearing advice I’ve ever received, and it’s one I try to pass on to everyone who asks me for parenting advice.
Why this works for us:
I’m an introvert, and with a noisy household, I need some alone time each day. With our daily afternoon nap time in place, I get some much-needed moments of quiet to finish up anything I didn’t get to first thing in the morning; to do my Bible reading; and to work on projects like budgeting and writing.
I’ve also noticed a change in behavior from my kids when they don’t get this rest time. They seem grumpier and much more likely to want to veg in front of the television, which isn’t my idea of time well spent. Giving them their own down time has been as good for them as it has for me.
Because I get some time to think and process most days, I rarely feel burned out. I don’t long for a weekend away or feel like throwing in the homeschooling towel. Since a Mommy-only weekend and public/private school are not options for us, it’s important for me to find ways to refuel in little bursts so that I don’t grow desperate for something that doesn’t work for our family.
How to implement this:
- Again, start slowly. If you have older kids who absolutely balk at the idea, aim for just 15 minutes of rest time at first. You can then increase the time until you reach an hour or so. For those kids who don’t sleep well at night after a nap, you can try shortening the nap time or moving it earlier in the day.
- Be consistent. Nap time interruptions will happen, but try to limit them as much as possible. If you have frequent afternoon outings, see if you can reschedule them so that you have a free hour or so right after lunch for rest time. If that’s not possible, aim for a nap time on the days you’re home. 3 rests a week will still be more helpful than none at all!
- Be flexible. If you get an incredible opportunity to tour your town’s underwater basket weaving competition at 2:30 in the afternoon, don’t forego the field trip just because it will interrupt your quiet time. Simply make sure that the day before and after the event have some scheduled rest time to compensate.
Note: While there are probably a few toddlers who truly get enough rest during night hours alone, my own personal thoughts are that the majority of children should be taking legitimate naps until around age 5. Just because a 3-year-old doesn’t want a nap or seems to function without one doesn’t mean that a nap isn’t good for him.
So, there you have them: teaching children to stay in their rooms until you get them up and taking daily naps, my two best parenting hacks. While neither of these may be very popular today, our entire day runs more smoothly because of them. I’ve seen improved behavior in both myself and my spark plugs, and these are what I recommend to moms who want to gain some balanced control and structure in their family’s schedule.
Your turn: What is your best parenting hack? What do you do to help your day run better? Would you ever try one of my two suggestions here? Why or why not?