Parenting is a tough gig. Now that I have three kids, I look back to the days of being a one child family and envisage how much easier it was. But you know what, it actually wasn’t. Nor was it any easier when we only had two sweet treasures. Sure, there are new demands and extra little people thrown into the daily juggle of meeting needs, getting the basics done and trying to enjoy life along the way. But we somehow adjust to each change, to the addition of another person and to altered demands and expectations. The goal posts shift and we somehow become even more skilled at juggling a hundred and one things, and more efficient at managing our full calendars.
I was chatting with friends the other day and we were all commiserating that we, as humans, tend to push ourselves and our resources to the limit.
We fill up every minute of our time.
We spend close to our exact income.
For some reason, it seems that it is human nature to operate at “full capacity”, instead of keeping any stores in reserve. Stores of money, time or energy.
It’s important for anyone, but it’s especially important for our kids, to experience life at a slower pace. A slower and more enjoyable pace. I’m pretty certain these two things go hand in hand…slowing down and enjoying life more.
How can we simplify our busy lives? How can we make the difficult and complex task of parenting a little bit easier?
1) Say “No” sometimes
Our eldest daughter has inadvertently encouraged me to learn the art of saying “no”. I naturally like being out and about, and surrounded by people. She does not. So after five days at school, it’s pretty essential for her to have at least some quiet, down time, at home on the weekend.
2) Live and share life together
You don’t have to be involved in a zillion activities and provide your kids with every option that’s out there. Of course if they love dancing or tennis, pursue those endeavours and have fun.
Sharing life can be as simple as things like doing chores together. Admittedly, it takes longer to put laundry away with a little helper, but they feel good about “helping” and are occupied while you’re getting something done.
The other evening our three year old was tired and testy. She was starting to race around the house aimlessly and harass her sisters. I needed to get dinner. Instead of foolishly hoping for the best and needing to stop dinner preparations twenty times to intervene between sibling altercations, I recruited her to help me in the kitchen. Magic! She delightedly stood on her little step and sliced cubes of tofu for almost half an hour. Sibling relationships were all in tact and her esteem was blossoming.
3) Easy meals for adults and snack trays for picky eaters
Proper mealtimes cause me nothing but stress. So, I either cook a bigger, more time consuming meal in the middle of the day if I’m home. That way there’s less pressure surrounding evening routines and more time for the clean up. Or, I cook a super basic meal for the adults and serve up the kids healthy snack trays.
4) Skip baths
Unless there’s a need for it, our kids don’t bathe every day. It started out as a result of avoiding daily baths due to eczema, but now they only have a bath a few times a week.
5) Choose “battles” wisely
Some battles, for want of a better word, just aren’t worth it. Our kids are always wanting to wear clothes I think are inappropriate for the weather but it’s never worth the battle. We just take alternatives with us if we’re heading out.
6) Turn off devices
Make a conscious effort to put your phone down for the morning, or turn off notifications, or have a break from Facebook and so on. It’s so calming sometimes to just enjoy my cup of coffee while watching our daughters playing. When the playing is happy and cooperative of course!
7) Shared positive experiences
Are there hobbies or activities that would add fulfillment to your life that can be shared with your children? Things like yoga. You might not be in a position to leave the kids and enjoy a yoga class, but perhaps you can do one all together at home. Or crafts, sewing, painting etc. I know it depends to a large extent on the little personalities involved. I used to get out my sewing machine or jewellery making paraphernalia with my eldest when she was only 18 months - 2 years, but with our second daughter, Elk (aka tiny tornado with zero impulse control), that wouldn’t be the wisest thing in the world, at least not if I want to remain calm and with some remaining sanity.
Music always lifts my mood and fills my heart. There’s only so many times I can sing along to “There’s a house with a wall, with a wall, with a wall…” (Our 3 year old’s current favourite). I need my own music that touches my soul and reminds me of who I am, apart from a mama of three little treasures that I adore.
Connecting with friends always gives me energy - admittedly being an extrovert allows for this. But regardless of your personality, time with friends can recharge, and provide fresh perspectives and some fun.
10) Fresh air
Good for all of us, essential for all of us in fact. I always cope better and feel happier after some hours spent outdoors. Our 3 year old especially needs a significant chunk of outside play time. If she misses out on this for whatever reason, by 3pm she’s going a little crazy, looping around the house and running into obstacles in order to get some intense sensory feedback and release pent up energy.
Let’s strive for increased simplicity and joy in our lives. Let’s not push ourselves to our absolute limits. But instead, let’s consciously factor in some down time into our lives. Let’s rethink the way we do things and skip certain tasks or make things easier where possible.
More than a picture perfect dinner time, I want memories of sitting at our ‘dining’ table (we should just call it our ‘craft and Lego’ table) with our kids as they work on projects and chat, while eating snacks for dinner out of muffin trays.