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.
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!
4. Give yourself space—and grace
I know (as in, experienced it this morning) that with multiple small children, all your patience and 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.
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.