Like I've said more than a few times before, motherhood is pretty much total chaos. We are all struggling to find balance, choose joy, and raise our babies to be the best human beings possible. I don't like it when mothers put themselves against one another; I think we are all in this thing together, and since it's a pretty tough gig most days, I think we should encourage and lift one another up.
One way I like to do this, being a busy mom of four kids age six and under, is by sharing what helps make my gig a little less chaotic. Nothing makes me click away from a blog post faster than a snooty blogger chucking smug parenting advice at me, and while I've only been a mom for 6.5 years, I get asked "how do you do it??" a lot. Maybe my tips won't work for you, maybe you've got your own good thing goin', that's cool. But on the off-chance that something I've figured out on my own personal journey sparks something in you, I'd like to share what helps me out.
I'd say this is probably the area that has been the biggest frustration for me in daily mom life. One kid is whining while another is pooping and another is crying for a snack and yet another is lost somewhere in the store. Serenity now! I have finally figured out a few things that work.
- Bring lollipops. Seriously, I don't care how health-conscious you are, how bad they are for their teeth, when you have to get everything on your Target or Costco list and you've got a herd of cave-people to bring with you, lollipops are Godsends.
- Be a crazy person about who stands where. Bella always walks right by my side, Leland holds onto the left side of the cart and walks, Hudson sits in the seat part, and Emmett is in the Ergo on me. And nobody moves from their assigned locations. It just has to be that way or I won't be able to get a thing done; all I'll be doing is telling the kids what to do and what not to touch. There's already enough of that even with their location assignments, it would be total chaos if I didn't have them set up like that. They know if they move from where they're supposed to be, they lose their sucker and have to spend ten minutes in their room when we get home. Don't mess with the shopping cart locations, people.
- Go fast, mama. I organize my shopping lists beforehand whenever I can, that way I've got my list in order of the store's layout, and can move like a breeze down the aisle, grabbing what I need and reaching checkout before the lollipops are gone. It doesn't always work out this way, but when I plan ahead and am organized, it usually does.
- Go first thing in the morning. This is the time of day that my kids are their best selves. I may be my worst, as I am not a morning person by any means, but the kids are at their best, so I grab an extra large cup of coffee and we head out as early as I can get everyone dressed, fed, and out of the house.
- Save technology for the checkout line. My kids always start to get antsy at the end of the shopping trip, and I've found that when I hold off on letting them watch YouTube on my phone until we're checking out, it's a lot easier. Unloading a cart full of crap while wearing a baby isn't easy, but knowing the other three kids are happily crowded together at the front of the cart watching funny cat videos allows me to do what I need to do quickly, without interruption.
- Park near the cart corral. I have to. Leland hyper-focuses and will walk into an oncoming van, Hudson wanders...I need to be able to just get everyone straight out of their car seats and into the cart.
I'm sure you've heard the saying "Cleaning with a toddler in the house is like straightening papers on a desk with the fan on". It's true. But kids aren't toddlers for very long, and even while they are, we've got stuff to do and a house that needs keeping. I go into a lot more detail in my book, Mama Needs A Reboot, but here are some of the bullet points that help me.
- Clear dishes, wipe the table, and sweep underneath it after every meal. No exceptions, just do it.
- Teach your kids to pick up after everything they do. After a little while it'll be a habit for them and less work for you. Win-win.
- Start the day on a productive note and it'll keep you going that way. Right when you wake up, make your bed, then start a load of laundry, then have your coffee. I promise you'll feel like you've got it all together and it really only takes up a few extra minutes.
- It takes twenty-seven days to form a habit, so form a good one. Choose one thing that you wish you had a habit of doing every day. Maybe it's making your bed in the morning or running the dishwasher every night. Whatever you choose, make it something that would make your life a little bit easier, write yourself a reminder or set one in your phone- make sure it will get your attention at one point every single day- do it for a month and it will become a habit.
- Keep the kitchen sink clean and the house will feel clean. This is a trick I learned from Fly Lady that's so simple but really works. When I keep the sink free of dishes and food, I normally end up treating the rest of the house the same way and having less to clean up at the end of the day. Clean as you go, keep your sink clear, and you will feel great about your house and be ready for company at the drop of a hat.
Feeling Good About What You Do
If you feel defeated all the time, you're going to lose your drive to do what you need to do, and if you're like me, you might even start to struggle with depression. When I feel good about what I do every day, when I am reminded of my purpose and feeling accomplished more days than not, I do this motherhood thing really well. How I feel affects everything. Here's what works for me:
- Make a list of only 5-7 things that need to get done each day. This keeps you from setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and keeps you focused on what really needs to get done rather than what would be nice to have done. Your goal should be to tackle important tasks and feel accomplished at the end of the day, not to make a giant to do list and feel defeated when bed time rolls around. Having a longer list doesn't mean you'll get more done, it just means that's how much more you'll feel you failed, even if you actually got stuff done that day.
- Hit restart any time of the day you need to. Sometimes a totally crap day comes around, and no matter what you do or how prepared you were the night before, things don't go as planned and you feel like you got dragged nine blocks by a semi by 9AM. When this happens to me, it is so helpful to pause, mentally hit the reset button, and give myself a fresh start to the day. Maybe it's your big cleaning day and you needed to tackle your chore list, but your baby woke up with a fever. Maybe you were gonna work on a project after the kids went to bed but your husband came home after a horrible day and needs you. Reevaluate, move your priorities around, and hit restart. I've done this in the morning, the afternoon, even at night. Sometimes you just need to start over, so go ahead!
- Get the kids dressed from head to toe. Most days I get myself at least somewhat put together, because I feel good when I'm dressed, but there are plenty of days when I'm gonna be cleaning and I don't even bother. Either way, it really helps me feel "on it" if I've got my kids dressed. Usually after breakfast (which is always at 8:00 in our house), I'll have the older kids dress themselves and I'll get the younger two changed out of their jammies. Then I have them brush their teeth and I do all their hair. When they're put together, I feel put together. It's a simple thing that helps me a ton.
- Smile at the starers. I used to think I was a little paranoid, but now I know people actually are very rude sometimes. They stare, mouths gaping at how many kids I have, they ask my age (whaaaa??), they make rude comments on my lifestyle choices, they're obsessed with what's going with me while I walk through Target, and I really don't get it, but it's rude regardless. I've learned that smiling back at them puts an ends to it usually and lets them know that I don't care and I'm good and I've got this. Even if Bella is asking a thousand questions and I'm about to lose my stuff. Just smile....
- Let the little things go. This is my weakness, but I try to keep the big picture at the front of my mind. In the end, will it really matter that Hudson brought his juice into the living room and spilled it on the rug? When all is said and done, will it really matter than someone had a stomach flu explosion all over my new leather couch? Everything is fixable and none of that stuff really matters. So I try to let it go, Elsa style.
- Schedule yourself some breathers. If I know I am going to get the young ones down for naps at the same time, and I have Netflix ready-for-hire at the same time and can get lost in a novel for an hour in the middle of my day, I feel so much better! If I know Brian is bringing home a bottle of wine and we're gonna binge on Seinfeld reruns, I can handle whatever chaos the day brings me. If I know at the end of the week I've got a sitter coming over so I can go thrifting with a cup of coffee for two hours, then I am really on top of things that week. Taking care of me is important. I always say you can't give to your family out of your well if it's empty.
When You Have Somewhere to Be in the Morning
Why are most events for moms so early in the morning?? 9AM, really?! It is so. hard. to get myself and four children fed and dressed and presentable and out the door by 8:45, but sometimes that's what I have to do to be somewhere I need to be. I never used to be late, like ever. But since Emmett came along, I have been about 10-20 minutes late to pretty much everything, and I've had to be okay with it and just do my best. There are a few things that help me get out of the house without screaming bloody murder or cancelling the event altogether though, so... that's good.
- Pack everything the night before. This doesn't always happen, because I honestly really don't need another thing to do at the end of an incredibly long day. When I do pack for the next morning the night before, I never regret it. I get diapers and wipes in the diaper bag, PBJ's made if we'll be out during lunchtime, sippy cups filled, apples sliced, shoes by the door, and supplies like the park blanket, lawn chairs, etc in the car. This can shave like thirty minutes off a chaotic morning!
- I lay out everyone's outfit, including mine, the night before. Similar to the point above, but another morning-saver. There have been so many mornings where I'm rushing around, looking for something to wear that ends up being dirty, or I'm unable to find somebody's other shoe. I save my time and my sanity and spare my kids from seeing Mean Mommy when I have everything prepared the night before.
If you made it to the end of this post, I applaud you. You're either very desperate for help or you just really love me. Either way I hope I helped! If you have a question, leave it in the comments. I'll always get back to you :)