What saved me in the early stages of having 4 children under 4

#4. Give yourself space—and grace.

What saved me in the early stages of having 4 children under 4

After having two babies 18 months apart, my husband and I decided to try for our third—and intended final—biological baby. Growing our family with children close together in age made sense for us, and we figured we’d just continue to march through diapers and sleepless nights.

After a longer-than-normal first ultrasound at 12 weeks, the sonographer said, “Here’s your baby...and here’s your other baby!”

While my husband was over the moon, I sank into the chair. If it were my first pregnancy, I would have been over the moon right alongside my husband. But this wasn’t my first rodeo, and I knew how hard just ONE baby was.

How on earth would we survive having four little humans so close together? Would I ever sleep again? How could we pay for childcare? Orthodontia? College? I was panicking.

When my oldest was 3 years and 3 months old, and my second was 19 months old, I gave birth to two beautiful little girls. The girls are now 19 months old themselves, and while many days I still feel like I’m only just figuring it out, I’d like to think I have learned a thing or two about raising a gaggle of small children.

These five things have saved me:

1. Making my mental health a priority

I do a nine minute meditation every morning (or at least I try to, often with multiple interruptions!). For me, a formula of a three minute devotional, three minutes reflecting on things I’m thankful for and three minutes setting intentions for my day works best. I almost always see a shift in my attitude and response to the chaos that inevitably will come my way when I have taken a few short minutes to prepare for the day.

On really tough days, I do another round in the afternoon!

2. Figuring out my “job description”

Every mother has her own priorities that reflect their personality and family. When our twins were born, my “job description” included keeping two tiny babies alive and filling the love tanks of our two older kiddos, who were 2 and 3 at the time. That took between 16-20 hours of my day.

Equally important were the things not on my list: dishes, vacuuming, folding laundry, and much more. I’m a pretty tidy person, so letting go of what wasn’t in my new “job description” was tough, but I knew it was only for a season. Setting and protecting your priorities will keep you sane. Trust me.

3. Get help. Get more help. Then get even more help.

As a mother, the only way you can take care of your family is to take care of yourself.

If you can identify what you need, you can ask for it. And the people who love you will help you get it. So take a deep breath, and think about what you need.

For me, with four-under-four, I needed help with childcare—and sometimes, to actually feel like I was getting a break, I asked for the help of more than one other adult. But I felt like I could use help beyond that, too.

Remember the vacuuming, dishes and laundry that weren’t in my job description anymore? They still needed to get done, but instead of always doing them myself—I found other people to help with them.

I've actually come to realize that, for me, household help is more important to me than childcare. It's pretty frustrating to hire a babysitter, then find yourself or your partner in the kitchen making dinner (or even worse, cleaning up from dinner) while someone else plays with your children in the living room or reads them a bedtime story, or just watches them play while they're playing independently.

We want to be the ones playing or reading, not scrubbing dishes. So we flipped the script. Ask—or if it’s in your budget, maybe pay—someone to help with cooking and cleaning and laundry so you can use your sparse moments to just be with your kids.

If you have family or friends who can chip in, be very explicit about when you want them to come and what you want them to do. If you’re hiring people to help, be very specific about what you’d like them to do.

I went so far as to put a list on the fridge of things that needed to get done, and when someone said something like, "I want to help you but I'm just not sure how" I would say, "Check the list," and they’d find something they could do. They were happy to help, and I was happy to receive the help. Win-win!

Bonus: If you can “Marie Kondo” your place by getting rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy or isn’t absolutely essential. (I found Motherly’s 48-hour decluttering course to be a great place to start!)

4. Give yourself space—and grace

I know (as in, experienced it this morning) that with multiple small children, all your patience and kindness can be zapped by 5 a.m., and then you're still supposed to be a functioning parent and member of society for the rest of the day. It can be crazy overwhelming.

For me, ‘space’ came through going back to work three days a week. Working gave me professional challenges, a definite reason to shower, a place to go where I could pump and additional income. Work refreshes me from my children, and my children refresh me from work.

Give yourself grace with the choices you make, too.

Your days will be filled with endless decisions to make—from how to feed your babies to how to get them to sleep to what you should do for childcare. Big or small, making these types of decisions is hard! You have to parent with your brain, with your emotional intelligence and with your intuition and instincts. Not everything has to be a big deal, but if something is a big deal to you, make sure your decisions line up with your conscience—regardless of what anyone else says.

5. Stay realistic

Your social life usually changes a bit when you have children—for some it’s more drastic than others. For the first year with four-under-four, we didn’t go anywhere as a family of six beyond occasionally (very occasionally) the arboretum or church. We’d trade off with the kids, but didn’t do fun family outings all together for a while.

I had to remind myself that we have years of adventures ahead with my crew and it was okay to stay home during this time in our lives when naps are so crucial and getting out the door feels like a marathon.

Believe or not, I’m regularly struck by how much joy fills our lives and I am truly loving this season with four young kids. It sure can be hectic, but it’s so incredibly beautiful, too.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


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