Why Am I Not Better at This Yet?

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I have been a mother for 26+ years now. I have ten children. Other mothers look at me and ask me how I do it all. But they are usually only the ones who don’t know me well yet. They don’t know that I have still not completely cleaned up after last night’s dinner and it’s 2pm. They haven’t seen that my floors haven’t been vacuumed in over a week, nor has the floor been swept in days. They don’t see that I am so tired that I find myself unable to sympathize with a child who was walking backward in Target and nearly impaled himself on a shelf.

When I ask for help, whether advice or physical assistance, some of the responses I get are:

“Your older kids should be doing more around the house!”

“You have ten children, you should know!”

“You need to just lower your standards a little, you have a large family.”

“You need to make time for yourself, get away for a while.”

“Just call me anytime, I can take {one child’s name here} to play for an hour or so…”

Let me address those one at a time, and maybe you can see how I can still be such a novice mother after 10 children and 26 years.

“Your older kid should be doing more around the house!”

You know what? They do help a whole lot. But once they are older there are other things to keep in mind as well. They have homework. A ton of homework. They have jobs. And, the bottom line is, they are still kids. So while they have jobs to do, I am still the one who has to follow up on every. last. one. What is that saying? Kids will do what you INSPECT, not what you EXPECT. Very true. And to my kids, if you are reading this? Thank you for the help you give, you know instinctively that loving on the little ones is higher priority than a clean bathroom, and I am grateful for that. But I do still need help with the dishes and bathrooms and stuff.

“You have ten children, you should know!”

Yes, I do. I know an awful lot. But here is a funny thing, I am so tired from trying to stay up late to make sure the computer gets turned off when the older kids are done with their homework, being up with the baby off and on all night, and then up at the crack of dawn with the younger kids, I start to doubt my own mind. I can’t remember things. I wonder sometimes if I am making mountains out of molehills because the only thought I can fully form is “Should I have another cup of coffee and try to be functional or should I stumble around half asleep and hope that I will get to close my eyes and take a nap?” And another thing… there are a lot of new things coming out, being discovered every day. Maybe someone has come up with a sure-thing cure for diaper rash and I am too busy to have heard of it. So I ask a fellow mom, “Hey, what do you do for this kind of rash?” Remember, since each child is different, we are a first time parent to that child.

“You need to just lower your standards a little, you have a large family.”

Oh. my. goodness. If I lower my standards any more the neighbors may complain. My standards are low. But even in houses with low standards the floor must be swept sometime.

“You need to make time for yourself, get away for a while.”

Yes I do. My kids are an overwhelming bunch. But if I ask you to babysit…

“Just call me anytime, I can take {one child’s name here} to play for an hour or so…”

I’d love that! It would be really nice for {one child} to have a play date. I do appreciate when they get that opportunity. And I’ll love it even more if you are the one to drive. But unless you are taking one of the kids who is really too young for a play date (and classifies more as highly focused aerobic babysitting) then my load isn’t really any lighter. In fact, if you are hosting one of my kids who is 8 and up, my job will become a little harder for that time because I have fewer hands around to help out. That’s okay, they need their breaks and social time too.

So here are some facts:

1. I am a mother with several small children. That is a lot of work. They make constant messes and still have “fussy days” when they just need a lot of holding. They aren’t fond of sleep.

2. I am the mother of a few middle grade kids. They can help a bit and yet still need a lot of help. They are hard to keep track of and try to negotiate out of bedtime.

3. I am the mother of some teenagers. They are a lot of emotional work. They need guidance making decisions that will impact their whole lives. They also sometimes need supervision somewhat like toddlers. They don’t sleep either.

4. I am the mother of some adult children. They help out, they need help. The help they need is often of the more expensive variety. They are a lot of worry because I am not the one in charge anymore. I don’t have to worry about their sleep unless they are doing it in my living room.

5. Each of the above groups are both delightful and hard work. All of them generate a lot of dishes and eat a lot of food. And the paper! Some days I am afraid I actually growl at the 4th or 5th child who comes home and hands me more paper.

6. I make a dinner for 8-12 people almost every night. And when I don’t cook it, it is still my job to figure out what it is going to be and how much it is going to cost. That is a major job.

7. I can have the laundry caught up OR the kitchen running smoothly. Not both. Never both. Sometimes neither.

8. If you have fewer kids than I do, I do not think you have it easy. Parenting (if you’re doing it right) is always hard work. I do not wonder why you have however many children. I can barely manage my own life, it wouldn’t cross my mind to manage yours.

I realized the other day that one of the reasons I am not more adept at this is that I start completely from scratch every two years or so. Each time a baby comes, I have to take time to physically recover and then I step back into running my home, but it is different after each baby. The family has grown, the kids are going through their own adjustments, the bedroom assignments have shifted. The youngest has been dethroned and is generally not happy about it. And I have to restart or refigure all my routines and plans, only this time with a tiny baby in one arm and a toddler hanging off the other one. Then… then a new school year starts and we shift who is going to which school and we have to get the routine down again – the snacks, the driving, the money, it’s a whole new plan.

I guess what it boils down to is that I am good at this. It just changes so quickly that adapting is difficult. For any plan I make to manage our lives, there are so many possibilities for variation (and disaster, lets just say it) that I often forget that I ever had a plan in the first place, which makes me feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants and wondering why I haven’t figured this all out yet.

Comments

  1. When I read, “If I lower my standards any more the neighbors may complain. My standards are low. But even in houses with low standards the floor must be swept sometime,” I wished I could have given you an air high five!

    So many mothering books talk about lowering expectations in order to find joy in this vocation. Actually, there comes a point where standards can’t be lowered unless people stop wearing clean underwear. How do you go lower than just hoping all the kids survive the day?

    I’m glad ultimately you came to the right conclusion, though- – you ARE better at this. Can you imagine if 18 year old you tried to do what you’re doing today?!?! You’ve gotten better even as the challenges keep changing. That doesn’t make it any less overwhelming, but it’s still true. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  2. Karen D says:

    Oh my goodness, I am sobbing, so much that the baby I’m nursing is looking at me like I’ve lost my head or something lol! Thank you! Thank you for writing this! Definitely what I needed to see today. I only have 7, 12 and under, but yes, this will be the first time I have a 12 year old boy, a 10 year old girl… I always say I can now do this whole baby thing pretty well, it’s the rest I’m still learning and that makes the stuff I’m pretty good at, harder. May God bless you and keep you, this day and always 🙂

    • A friend of mine once pointed out that with our family situation I have to be so much more flexible, and that things that would freak her out, just were par for the course when they hit our family. It was nice to see that what often feels like disorganization is partly flexibility. Keep hanging in there and doing what you do!

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