Monday, August 1, 2016

Q & A: Young mom of many kids struggling with doing it all

Hi Zsuzsanna,

Could you please please please include in your homeschooling series how you schedule other things into your day? Like cooking and cleaning? What are your priorities? How do actually do all this? What kind of meals do you make or when in the day do you cook? 

I am pregnant with my fifth and will have five under five next year. I have started homeschooling and am overwhelmed.

Right now I have two children in nappies that need changing, one has spilled milk on their church clothes, breakfast plates are everywhere (they are eating as I type this), crumbs are everywhere, the dishwasher is unstacked, lunch hasn't been organised (God knows what we're eating after morning service, that's if I even get there since their church clothes need changing again), laundry hasn't been put away. My floors are grimy, the toilet needs cleaning etc.

My kindy student is getting an education alright, but at the expense of other things...e.g. meals made from scratch, porridge for dinner etc

The only reason why I'm online right now is so I can type this comment, and see if anyone else out there is struggling too.

If you have addressed this could you please provide a link?

Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Emmy,

I really feel for you as you go through this difficult season. When my oldest was five, I only had three kids, and that was plenty hard.

 My words of advice are:

- Don't do it all. Many things have to be neglected, the tricky part is knowing what to neglect. I read in a book that there are four categories of things competing for our attention: 
urgent and important, 
urgent but not important, 
not urgent but important, 
not urgent and not important. 
We are all great at tending to the urgent and important (like  a diaper blowout), but many of us tend to respond to urgent but unimportant (like a social phone call) before tending to the not urgent but important (like brushing your children's teeth). By doing so, the non-urgent but important issues pretty soon become urgent and important, but we could save ourselves a lot of time and trouble by addressing them before they become urgent. Always choose non-urgent but important over urgent but non-important. Does that make sense? Also, some chores are better neglected than others, because they don't compound while undone. For example, a floor that hasn't been mopped for two weeks still takes just as long to mop as if you did it every day. Laundry neglected for two weeks - not so much! Neglect the forgiving chores first.

- Simplify your life as much as you can. To simplify meal planning and cooking, make a list of the most common meals your family likes, and stick it to the fridge for when you are out of ideas. Have a list of simple meals that can be thrown together with staples you always keep on hand. Planning like this requires an initial investment of time, but it will pay off in the future (falling into the important but not urgent category). Use a slow cooker that you can get going in the morning and have dinner ready at night, freeing up your afternoon for errands or other outings. Cook a double batch for dinner and use the leftovers for lunch the next day (I have been doing this for years). Nothing wrong with simple meals. Porridge is fine for dinner for the kids, and if your husband minds you could just make a big meal a couple of times per week and serve that to him at dinnertime over several days. Have paper dishes and cups on hand for busy days, and use them. Other ways to simplify are to radically pare down the kids' toys (less messes and helps them be more creative with what they have), cut out outside obligations/voluteering, use the easiest possible curriculum that requires the least input from you, etc. At this stage of homeschooling, you could really just get by with teaching your oldest to read while sitting on the sofa feeding the baby, reading lots of books with him, involving him in the housework/cooking/childcare, and letting him observe and explore the natural world in the yard or a park. Basically, go into survival mode and become a minimalist. It is very freeing, and you'll find that you will get more done because you are not demotivated before your day even starts.

- Enlist the help of others. Maybe there is a single or childless lady in your church or social circle who would love to come over and help out (for free, but she'd gain much experience). Maybe an older lady might enjoy helping you with laundry or cleaning every week. Maybe your husband or a grandparent can make a set time each week when they take all the kids off your hands - my husband does this every Tuesday morning and it makes such a huge difference! Don't be shy about asking others for help. If your finances allow, you could hire someone to come and clean, but I realize this is not an option for most of us.

- Get a head start. Whenever possible, get up before your family does, get dressed, read your Bible, and plan the day ahead. Ever minute you can get on your own without interruptions is worth 10 minutes later in your day.  Life goes through stages and this is not always possible, especially when pregnant, but this is a great sanity saver when you can take advantage of it.

- Have a pattern for your day. I shy away from minute-by-minute schedules because they can quickly lead to frustration when something unexpected happens and you get behind. I have certain anchor points in my day, such as ready for the day by 9 a.m., lunch around noon and naps by 1 p.m., dinner at 5:30 and bed by 7 to 9 (depending on the ages). I have certain days set aside for errands and outings. but I generally avoid shopping after nap time or on the weekends because stores are busy and tempers run high, making everything take longer. To read my previous posts on scheduling, please click here.

- Enforce naps and bed times. Naps are moms' link to sanity. By having these times to count on and yes, look forward to, you will make it through the stickiest moments in your day. In our house, all kids age 5 and under take a midday nap. I learned this from my Grandma who raised six kids, and my mom who had five. Sure, there are those kids who will fight sleep, but remember, sleep begets sleep. And while you cannot force someone to fall asleep, they can be made to lie still, close their eyes, and not get up - which is just as good as sleep itself, and often makes them fall asleep in the process. The earlier they go to bed, the later they wake up the next day, no joke. If you have really early sunrises in the summer, hang a blanket over their window to block the light at 5 a.m. Never wake a sleeping child unless a foreign army is marching toward you, your house is about to be struck by a hurricane, or you are in some other deadly peril.

- Breastfeed. I say this with some reservations, as I certainly don't want to make anyone feel bad who cannot nurse their child, nor am I implying that your kids are not a blessing. My point is that by exclusively breastfeeding your children without a schedule and without stuffing them under a hot blanket, your hormones would prevent you from becoming pregnant so close together, which of course makes your workload a lot harder and is a major drain on your body.  On the flip side, remember that when your kids get old enough to really help out around the house, you will go from no help to having a whole team of helpers virtually overnight :)

- Take care of yourself and your marriage. I realize this can be hard to accomplish. Much of your down time will have to happen while you do other things, such as reading while feeding the baby, running errands without kids, browsing FB after the kids are in bed while you make breakfast for the next day, and such like. If everything hits the fan at once, secure the kids in a safe spot where they cannot hurt themselves or each other, and do what you need to do. Don't hold off on using the bathroom, brushing your teeth, taking your vitamins, or doing some other little thing that doesn't take long but will nag away at you subconsciously if neglected. Invest time and effort in your marriage, and realize the best gift you can give your children is happily married parents.

- Be realistic. This is just a phase. They are just kids. This too shall pass. Try to see the humor in things. Realize messes matter little in the scope of things, but how you react to obstacles will shape your little people for a lifetime. Do your best and leave God to take care of the rest.

Readers, if you have more advice, please share it in the comments below.


  1. This is a great response to a young mom. I homeschooled for 21 years and although I only had 4 children, each of your tips is sound. I even packed lunches either after the kids were in bed or early morning, so our lunch routine was an easy one. Because we homeschooled I used every moment possible to educate. While the kids ate lunch I would read to them. For laundry, I kept a communal sock basket, with the boys socks all white and my daughters colored. Since I bought the same socks they needed only grab two and I never spent time matching socks. I had only one towel per person. Laundry piles up because it seems we will use everything before we wash.

    For cleanup(and I still do this) I incorporated counting. Pick up 2 items and take them where they go. Or colors. Take the red items from the table to the fridge.

    Most important~expect to not be perfect and enjoy the moments. Your house will have fingerprints on windows and jam stains on the couch, and your children will have mussy hair and juice stain mustaches and THAT IS WONDERFUL. You will feel like you are not educating the child like the school does and that you aren't doing a good job at times. BUT I will share with you that my children-all homeschooled, all well mannered~all work hard. They understand family. Two have married and have children, one is engaged and they too wish for a family. They come home and help on the farm, and connect daily with us. You will see the rewards if you can accept that perfection is off the table.

    We know that we are to train our children and you are because they are not in school. When I look back on the differences between my adult children and others their ages I see that not being influenced by public school was an incredible blessing.

    Wonderful response Zsuzsanna!Forgive my wordy comment~but I know encouragement is ever so needed.


  2. Thank you for this article. I loved the last statement "Realize messes matter little in the scope of things, but how you react to obstacles will shape your little people for a lifetime" I have learned to please my husband first. My husband only cares that his dinner is made, work clothes are clean, and he has a clean fork, lol. So those things get done no matter what and meeting the children's needs. Everything else can get done once a week for all I care. As I'm typing this I just realized my 2 year old is sprinkling raisins all over the living room. Adios!

  3. Awesomesauce!! I remember what it was like having more than one under five. Its amazing I still have hair. LOL Your advice is spot on!

  4. Hi Zsuzsanna,

    Thank you so much for devoting an entire page on my question. I really appreciate it. I've book marked this article, and I'm sure I will read it again and again for encouragement.

    Your blog is a blessing.
    Thank you!


  5. Great post! Today while homeschooling, the baby wouldn't nap and the preschooler was mashing play doh on everything, including the globe. I was wondering how in the world larger family mama's get through the day. lol.

  6. One helpful thing I learned early on, was to insist that food be eaten at the kitchen table only. You will find that this dramatically minimises the spread of food scraps, thereby keeping the house cleaner. It's also a nice way to spend time together. Another friend told me that she had platters of healthy food on the table, (carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, etc) along with hummus so if they were hungry before a meal, they could help themselves. (This last suggestion is for older children of course).
    I didn't have as many children as you do, but something that lifted my morale and kept me on track, was to make sure the kitchen table was tidy and had a nice centre piece, say a bunch of flowers, or an ornament, perhaps with a candle ( you could use a fake candle if curious toddlers are an issue) by dinner time when my husband came home from work. I think it's important to have at least one area that is in order, it gives you a sense of being in charge, and not drowning in the rest of the mess.
    I also insisted that toys be kept in one main play area. Have a toy box that everything can be put away in at the end of the day. You could make tidying up a game with the kids, which will also teach them to help you (depending on how capable they are at their respective ages). Hope this helps. As has been said above, this season doesn't last forever. Good luck and God bless,
    Aussie mum.

  7. Hi Emmy,
    One thing that helped me was an article that suggested to insist that food be eaten in one place, thereby minimising the spread of crumbs and food scraps. This helped to keep the place presentable..

    Ditto for toys. When mine were little we would sometimes have a race picking up toys and putting them in the toy box / boxes.

    One suggestion from my husband was to stop at a certain time each day in order to have time to organise dinner, so that it would be ready as soon as he came home (hungry !) and we could all eat together. I also started putting a centrepiece on the table, flowers or ferns in a bowl with some floating candles. This made such a difference to my morale and the rest of the family was happier, too. Doing this also gave me a small creative outlet, which is often hard to achieve when you have little ones. I reccomend Edith Schaeffer's book "The Hidden Art of Homemaking ", a good read while breastfeeding!
    Hope this is of some help to you,
    God bless,
    Aussie Mum

  8. I take issue with your advice regarding breastfeeding and 'child spacing'. I once belonged to a cult-like church which enforced policies of 'absolutely no birth control' (along with many other extra-Biblical ideas) on the congregation. Those who failed to heed the no BC rule were disciplined and/or excommunicated if they failed to comply with the Elders as it "proved" they were "apostates" in the eyes of the church leadership. All couples were expected to have children as frequently as humanly possible. Absolutely zero consideration or discussion was permitted regardless of if one or both members of a couple disagreed with this policy and no thought was to be taken for the financial ability or health of the parents to support their children since "God will always provide".

    The five years spent as a part of that church nearly destroyed my marriage. We did practice breastfeeding exactly as you recommend above but we had children every 13-14 months regardless. To anyone reading this who has doubts about the 'full quiver' mindset/theology -- I encourage you to pursue those questions. "Each must be convinced in his own mind". If a couple desires to have zero or 20+ children makes no never mind to me, but NO ONE regardless of their beliefs has a right to tell other married couples how to live their lives and make decisions regarding their family.

    Thank you in advance for posting a dissenting opinion (assuming you allow this post on your blog). There is more to life and marriage then merely pursuing as many pregnancies as one's body can endure. Parenting is a lifelong commitment and is a 100% responsibility of parents for 18 years to each child they bring into this world. It should not therefore be entered into flippantly.

  9. In regards to the comment above, and Zsuzsanna's remarks on long term breastfeeding as a means of child spacing, I would highly recommend the book " The Billings Ovulation Method". My husband and I used this method throughout our marriage, and, if you follow the rules it works for either achieving or avoiding a pregnancy, particularly if there is a medical reason to do so.
    This method teaches the couple how to recognise the woman's fertile phase of her cycle by observing the changes in mucus day by day. This is not the rhythm method and no devices are required.
    The couple can then decide whether or not to use the fertile phase to try for a baby, or wait until another time if desired.
    It is particularly valuable during breastfeeding when a woman can ovulate unexpectedly if baby starts sleeping through the night. If the woman has been observing and recording her mucus pattern, she will know when ovulation is approaching and she and her husband can decide together if they need to post pone sexual relations until the infertile phase of the cycle. Ovulation only occurs once per cycle, although more than one egg can be released. There is a lot more to be said about this wonderful method, more than space allows, so I would encourage the mothers here who would like to know more to do some research and perhaps find an accredited teacher who can get you started. In a nutshell, though, it is the mucus which is the true indicator of fertility, nothing else. Because of this, a woman needs to understand HER fertility herself, then she can make choices based on the facts of her own cycle, not a generic theory which can never be "one size fits all".
    Kind regards,
    Aussie mum

  10. Good post, ZSuzsa. You're a great mom. It's a juggling act, sometimes a circus act(at our house!) but the greatest blessing.

  11. Your suggestion to nurse your child as a means of birth control caused me to laugh. I am a Momma who nurses exclusively on demand. My babes make a bigger deal of a covering than if I don't use one so I chose not to use one. No matter what I have had cycles by 6 weeks pp. I believed the theory that on demand nursing would prevent me from getting pregnant. When #1 was almost 4 months old I thought I had the flu. #1 and 2 are all of 11 months apart. Same happened with #3 and #4. Back to back (literally).

  12. Hello Zsuzsanna, i have a 1 and 7month old daughter and she has Down Syndrome, i was wondering when to start disciplining and how? I want to treat her as other kids therefore i dont want to spoil her!Thank you


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