I asked permission to post and answer this question on my blog because I had a few similar emails just like this one and I thought I’d share my thoughts all at once.
I’ve been reading your blog for about 10 years now. I stumbled upon it when my oldest was just a baby and I was trying to navigate life as a new full time mom. I always look forward to reading your thoughts on motherhood and your wisdom, advice and toy recommendations have been like gold to me so thank you!
Your latest blog entry about attitude really struck a chord with me and as I was looking through your book recommendations for boys (thank you!) I thought I would email you and seek a little more advice and wisdom in regards to the area of attitude. I am now a mom to 6 kiddos 10 and under. 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 year old twins! Lately I am having a terrible time finding joy in my role as a mom. I feel so overwhelmed with the needs of six kids, my husband, the house, food prep, grocery shopping, cleaning, organizing and then trying to look all my kids in the eye and have meaningful conversations with them – especially the older ones about school, friends, faith, etc. I feel like I’m completely failing the older ones…the only calm time of the day is after the twins are down and it’s after dinner and I’m having a hard time not just wanting to sit and zone out on my phone OR just keep pushing the pace by prepping lunches for the next day or making sure everything is put back in order. I hope I’m making sense here! I know you have 6 kids with a wide age range so I’m sure you’ve felt the difficulty of having older kids with babies still in the mix.
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for balancing a large family and how to find joy when it just feels chaotic a lot of the time? How to parent the older ones when you feel like you’re living in two worlds – pre teen (new territory!) and baby land? I can do babies easily – just love that phase but as my oldest gets older the fear sets in on how i don’t know what I’m doing and it’s all new all over again!
Dear Mom of Many Who Feels Overwhelmed;
I love you. I was you and I still am you sometimes. Maybe not every day since my older three are “adults”-but I remember the days when they were all at home too. (I put adults in parentheses because I am still mothering in a different way, sometimes with more on the line and more emotion involved-kids ages now: 25, 23, 21,16, 11, 7.)
It is ok to not feel joy some days because the job you are doing full-time with almost no time off is the hardest work anyone can do. Yes, because you have six kids and two year old twins, you are doing the hardest work on the planet. The needs never end, your job is never over, there is no feeling of accomplishment and you are giving of yourself constantly physically, emotionally and mentally. Even when you are taking a break, you are conscious of the time and what needs to be done when you get back. And everything is new coming up to teen years, and it’s scary as heck. You are stepping into a foreign country and the travel guides are too general and impersonal.
You are not failing. You are doing what you are supposed to be doing and doing it well whether it feels like it or not. Your children are some of the most blessed children on earth and you are doing more for them than has been done for most children in the history of the world. They have full bellies and a safe place to live and a pillow to sleep on and parents who love them and care about their future.
You are probably burned out. Be so so careful of being burned out. Burning out for me led to some icky functioning depression and anxiety I ignored for years. I felt just like you-that I could never be enough, the pace was so exhausting and I wasn’t meeting anyone’s needs. Like I was failing. Like I had no right to complain because look at all I had.
I remember a book my mom owned for her career that was about girls growing up with pressure. The cover was striking so I have a visual memory of it along with the catchy title:
I AM DANCING AS FAST AS I CAN.
Does that resonate with you? I often repeated that when I was where you are. I am dancing as fast as I can…I can’t keep this pace anymore, no one understands, I’m drowning.
Step back. Look at your life really really honestly. Write down things that made YOU feel good and refreshed. Remember what those things were. Right down the things that make you feel bad and then brainstorm practically with a business mindset how you can change them. Do this every year, gosh do I wish I would have done this.
Think of all of this as temporary during the most intense period of your life. Lead well! Make the logistics and practical housekeeping the easiest you can make it! You are trying to find a way to relax more and have more fun.
-Meal prep-buy frozen foods and make the same easy meals all the time. Do only cereal in the morning. Go through the pick up line if you have one. Order from Amazon Prime for everything else. (I just discovered this and why am I always behind on these awesome inventions!) Just do ANYTHING to make it all simpler for a few years, and a little more automatic so you can get it off your mind. Yes I am giving you permission to not buy organic food and cook something amazing every night. Right now your number one word for meal prep is EASY.
-If you can afford a house cleaner twice a month get one-remember this is temporary if that makes you feel weird or guilty. If you can’t do that than streamline like crazy (a million suggestions on Pinterest) and give your kids jobs, the same ones, every day and every Saturday. Cut your housework as much as possible-delegate, but don’t make it complicated. My mom used to post jobs on the fridge and you didn’t go anywhere or do anything till they were completed.
-Say no to your older kids if driving or activities stress the family out. Or hand that duty to your husband IF that works. The parents COME FIRST.
-Organizing-start putting half your house away. Half the toys up in the attic or away where probably no one will miss them. Half the clothes. Half of anything that makes you have more work. (For me this is clothes and toys.) Less things = more time.
In other words, take a week to figure out how you can streamline the practical work of raising a large family down-WAY down.
-Look at your calendar. Mark aside a time every week to connect with that older child in a meaningful way. Ten minutes, a breakfast, a walk, a laying on the bed and quick conversation when you are exhausted moment. Of course you are always there, but YOU need to KNOW that you did this to feel better. And if you schedule it, or write it in a list you will relieve yourself of the thought “I am completely failing…” Or write them notes and put them on their beds with gum or a candy bar. Capitalize on the time they are in school and it’s quieter at home. My older kids say this meant so so much to them and that they read them all the time in the hard teenage years.
-Share with your husband how you are feeling and ask for help, or suggestions.
Write out what makes you feel good. SO much of this is a mindset. If you feel like you aren’t enough and something makes you feel guilty (which never feels good, it’s supposed to be a sign to wake up and assess) than see if that is actually warranted. Maybe it’s just that your expectations are way too high? Examine that.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Do you read a blog or look at Instagram and think that moms are always looking in to their children’s eyes with big smiles on their faces while they are thin and have makeup on and all the kids clothes match, and having deep felt beautiful best friend talks with their teens who adore them every moment and that every home is organized and clean? (If you think that’s me and I ever gave you that impression than I sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart. I love my kids as much as you and have felt EXACTLY like you do now and that is SO not my life, in a million different ways, heck no.) Sometimes those images and ideas can seep into our minds as much as we know the truth-even I who write about this am guilty still of thinking some mom has special magical powers to do it all perfectly or “better” than me at all the things.
Remember we live in a culture that thinks if you don’t throw your child a birthday party you must be the worst mom ever. If your house doesn’t look like one of those fake images on Instagram you must not have your act together. If your baby isn’t speaking full sentences by the time they are 18 months old, you didn’t stimulate them enough. If your teen isn’t begging for service hours and wanting to wear one piece turtleneck bathing suits and read all day and go to church we really screwed up. When I compare our expectations of mothering to my grandmothers expectations (who each had a boat load of kids) it’s laughable. Because we are going to KILL ourselves trying to meet those expectations and yes-never find joy.
Watch your negative thoughts. They grow. If you think “I am never enough” or “I must be doing this wrong” or “my kids will be messed up because they are being neglected because I am taking care of babies” 🙂 STOP. I told my good friend with eight children (Hi Sarah) one day after my sixth was born that I go to bed feeling guilty, thinking of everything I didn’t do, or who I didn’t hug or talk to, or who I snapped at. She said, “I try to go to bed thinking of what I did give my kids that day.” HELLO!!! And if it’s a warm bed, and food, YAY!!! If it’s a house where they know they are loved, boy, do they have an incredible start in life. If they have all that and a mom and dad who are setting an example of what love really is-serving others-how awesome is that. Go on from there-toys to play with, good schools, siblings to learn about life with, a mom who cares enough to write to me about how she is overwhelmed…see!!! They have what they need. Period.
You are doing enough. You ARE enough.
I could write a book on all this so two things I will still address-transitioning to raising teens as a mom (OUR transition can be just as rocky as theirs), and raising many kids at once (so many benefits if you are lucky to have many children.)