I am the mom of five very active, different children. Parenting one or two children through the rigors of childhood into adulthood is a tremendously daunting task. How do moms of several children manage the mayhem? I’ve often been asked this, and while there are many, many days I fantasize about escaping on a cruise to the Bahamas, I have developed a few strategies that help to de-stress and simplify my busy household.
Everyone’s priorities and personality are unique, and I encourage moms to reflect and identify what things cause them the greatest amount of stress. Whatever items are at the top of the list are usually the best candidates for a simplicity makeover.
The following are a list of stressors that I’ve identified in my household, with a corresponding strategy I’ve tested and tried to address each issue, as I seek to bring order and simplicity to my soul and environment.
Stressor #1: Chaotic Schedules
- Morning Routine. This looks different depending on whether children are in school or learn at home, but a simple routine can help in avoiding tantrums and anxiety in little ones. Establishing a basic order of events that my kids can count on doesn’t just help to organize our schedule, but it also vastly decreases the number of times I have to negotiate with my 4-year old over every little activity. Consistency is king!
- Extracurricular Activities. The perk of being an only child or one of two is that it’s much easier to fit in all the extracurriculars. Having five kids, I decided early on that the only way to enjoy my job was to cut my losses. I reasoned that while my kids may not get to be involved in as many activities as smaller families, they have the perk of built-in playmates, and it won’t hurt them to do only one sport a year. It’s okay. For us, I have two that play baseball in the Spring, and two that play soccer in the Fall. Hi, I’m Mom. Not your full-time chauffeur, but I am available for those two seasons to shuttle you to practices and cheer you on at games.
- Dinner Time. Sharing a meal together as a family once a day is a priority for us. Some day when they are teenagers it may be harder to keep this time sacred, but for now while they are young, I cherish one time a day when all their faces are sitting before me and we can talk and eat together – TV off, phones and distractions put aside. With sports, parties, work meetings, and even church activities, this can be challenging, but we guard it carefully – shooting for at least 4-5 nights where we can eat together as a family. I’ve discovered such an inner sense of satisfaction when we make this daily ritual a priority.
Stressor #2: Constant Messes
- Outsource. Yes, more people cause more messes. But I’ve got one word for you: MINIONS. Why would I spend five hours by myself sweeping, cleaning toilets, dusting, mopping and folding laundry when I could knock it all out in one hour with five little helpers? Even my 3-year old gets on the floor with a wet rag, scrubbing or dusting furniture, and it all makes a difference! Good for their character, and great for mom’s back. Utilize the resource!
- Zones. I’m a neat-nick. But if I’m a neat-nick over every area of the house, I would have to check myself into a psych ward. Instead, I organize my home into zones. The living room zone gets picked up throughout the day, so it looks nice and I can find my zen. And there is no food and no toys allowed for the most part. Books, puzzles, pillows and throws are about the only thing I have to worry about and that tidies quick. The kitchen zone gets cleaned after each and every meal (again, with my helpers!), so it’s not a disaster by the time I have to make supper. And the kid’s zone? Well, I try to have them clean it once a day, but if it doesn’t get done, I don’t stress, because it’s not my zone, not my responsibility, and I don’t have to go in there and look at it all the time. I also try to keep the master bedroom zone tidy, because it’s a sacred space for my husband and I, as well as my retreat location for getting myself together after a rough morning.
Stressor #3: Feeding Frenzies
- Meal Plan. I used to get away with not thinking about dinner till 5pm and going to the grocery store a couple times a week. Then after I had my third baby, I realized almost overnight that that strategy would no longer work. Now, once a week, I sit down with Pinterest and my recipe book and plan 5-6 meals that I will make (in no particular order) and add all those ingredients to my grocery list, for a one-and-done grocery shopping trip – peace like a river.
Stressor #4: Neglected Spouse
- Early Bedtime Routine. Life as a mom can easily take away from fostering a quality relationship with my spouse. We shoot for an 8 o’clock kids’ bedtime, often having an audiobook for them to listen to in their rooms, to minimize their temptation to come out and interrupt us for various reasons. Mama and Papa time must be respected and prioritized. I don’t often feel disconnected from my husband with this routine in place, because we set aside ample time to connect face-to-face in conversation and times of intimacy, and it’s incalculable how de-stressing such a simple habit can be, when it serves to bring you and your partner together as a team.
Stressor #5: Big Events
- Simplify Expectations. I love Pinterest as much as the next girl, but when it goes beyond inspirational ideas and starts feeding holiday stress with outlandish expectations, it’s time to shut it down. In planning an event, I always ask myself if the party is doable and repeatable. For me, themed birthdays with lots of guests and party favors are out of the question. Some moms are energized by that sort of thing, but since I couldn’t envision doing it annually for one child – let alone for five – it had to go. We do breakfast in bed, a family-only party with presents and cake, and finish off the day with a movie night, and that’s it. For every child, every year. And you know what? It’s their favorite, most talked-about, anticipated day of the year, and they don’t feel deprived one bit. Find what works for you!
It is possible to have children and not feel constantly overwhelmed. I hope some of these strategies serve to get your wheels turning as you take stock and simplify the areas that cause you stress as a mom. What strategies have worked for you? We’d love for you to share!
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Marilynn Song Harri is a happy wife, mom and homemaker in the small town of Walla Walla, Washington. While she keeps very busy raising and teaching five children at home, she pursues a life of simplicity, laughter and loving Jesus.