When people see me coming with all my kids in tow, I get a wide variety of reactions. It usually ranges from looking at me like I have 8 heads growing out of my neck, to strange curiosity, to complete awe. The first sign someone has noticed us is the bulging eyes and looking back and forth between all the kids. I can see them doing mental math and trying to figure out how it could possibly happen. Then I usually get "Wow you've got your hands full." or "Oh my, you are so blessed." I have had all kinds of comments but the most common reaction is the question "How do you do it?"
To be honest, the answer is I don’t know. This is my life and it’s a bit of a sink or swim situation. Sometimes it feels like my head is barely above water, but for the most part we have learned how to manage our big group and feel we do it well. So here are some of the little tips I came up with when your kids outnumber you.
Keeping some routine and schedule
When my twins were first born, people told me get them on a schedule. I did everything I possibly could and they were complete opposites. One was awake and hungry the other was sleepy. So we spent a lot of time playing on my nursing pillow while one brother slept. I tried to wake them up to feed them at the same time, but sometimes there was no waking those kids up. Around six months I was able to start controlling times during the day better. I adjusted them to their older brother’s schedule. I started feeding them with him and trying for naps at the same time. From about that point on I was able to somewhat keep them on schedule. Every time I thought I had it down one of them would throw me for a loop with dropping naps or sleep regressions, but I always did my best to get us back to some sort of schedule.
When they were basically in sync, I was able to do things for all three at the same time. I had them wake up at the same time, then throughout the day they would eat and sleep at the same time. This is still true now. At our house there are meal times and snack times. They can choose to eat then or wait until the next time I offer food, but I don’t give them food whenever they ask for it. I know it may seem harsh but if I didn’t do it this way, I would never get out of the kitchen. I also dress them and get everyone ready at the same time. If someone throws at fit (which is a fairly common occurrence if they are the last one to get dressed), I take care of the easy ones first then move onto the more difficult situation. I bathd them all at the same time as well. Three slippery babies can be a challenge, but it was the only way I could get things done.
I have also found that flexibility in our schedule is important as well. I use them more as a guideline for how our days go, but if there are special activities or family events we don’t always stick to strict scheduling. Some nights they get to stay up a little later if we have company or if we have a movie night. I think those little moments can make for some fun memories without completely turning our household upside down.
Teach them rules for being out in public
I know this might sound crazy, but several times I practiced taking them all out when I didn’t have an immediate need. The last thing I wanted to do was be frantically shopping with four children having never been out of the house before. When they were old enough to walk in a store instead of sitting in the carts, I started taking them to stores and parking lots. I taught them how to walk nicely in a line holding hands. As much as brothers may not want to hold hands, when you have more children than you have hands, a parking lot can be a dangerous place. So we practiced walking.
Once we were in the store, I told them we had specific places in the store to go and they couldn’t run away from me. This was the trickier part because in our Target the toys are next to the diapers, and once a two year old has seen something fun they absolutely have to have it. Then comes the tantrum. I can’t tell you how many places I have hauled screaming, fit-throwing children out of. If one of my kids starts throwing a fit, they get some warning and I attempt to calm the fit. If it doesn’t work then out of the store we go. I have left baskets full of my things and apologized to store clerks as I left carrying children out. I like to call it the walk of shame. When we went to the pumpkin patch last year, my oldest was throwing a fit and I took him out to the car for about 30 minutes while he finished his tantrum. It is a hard lesson to learn but I am glad that I followed through.
Prepare in advance
Depending on what we have going the next day, I always try to be ready in advance and I leave myself plenty of time. I will pack our diaper bag/backpack and have clothes ready for the next day. It saves me an immense amount of time in the morning when anything could be going wrong. None of my children wake up friendly, so if we have a place to be first thing in the morning, I have to do my best to set us up for a successful morning. If I am rushed they often push back at me, which makes me more rushed, which makes them fight more. It’s a terrible cycle.
When we have an outing, I usually overpack versus forget something. I always have plenty of snacks and drinks to get us through our activities. I also have changes of clothes for each child, sometimes more. Inevitably the time I forget is when there is a giant blow out that requires new clothes to be purchased, usually from somewhere expensive like Disneyland.
Pick my battles
With multiple children, I think it’s even more important to pick my battles than if I had a single child. I am a very stubborn person. I have been told we are supposed to call it strong-willed when it’s in our children, but let me tell you my oldest is stubborn. When he and I decide to go at it, it is going to be a long fight. That means that if I am going to make a big deal out a behavior and try to correct it, we are going to be working for a bit. When we started time outs, I told Mr. Train that I thought it was never going to work and that it would take me an hour to get him to do a one minute time out. But we held on and pushed through. The reason I think it’s important to pick my battles is because if I am sitting in the hall working with one child, there are three others getting into all kinds of other trouble.
Some of the things we thought were really important and fought pretty big battles with are physical violence, blatant disrespectful language or behavior, and table manners. I know table manners may not be a huge deal but with so many kids, mealtime had become a nightmare of kids getting up, running around and yelling. So Mr. Train and I decided it was a battle that had to be won and there were a few nights that the kids got sent away from the table.
Work with your spouse and figure out what works for your family
The biggest thing I say to moms with more than one child, especially twin moms, is that I had to find what worked for us. Mr. Train and I talked about our strengths and weaknesses as parents and we have learned how to divide and conquer in a way that suits us. When one of us is getting frustrated, it is time for the other to step in for a bit. We know that our children are individual people and we have spent every day of their lives figuring out what works for each of them. When people told me to schedule my twins, it just didn’t happen for me for six months and I thought I was failing as a twin mother and that wasn’t the case. I had a nanny help me for two months with James when my twins were born and I had horrible guilt over that, but I didn’t know how to juggle three infants alone. I was doing the best I could and I was figuring out who my little guys were and who I was as their mother. I was told to sleep train with CIO and told to never let a baby cry. I was told when I should start cereal and how to breastfeed. Now we are getting into school and everyone has an opinion about that as well. I felt like I had a lot of information, but in the end I have to do what works for us and be confident in my parenting choices.
I have tried to will myself into growing a few extra limbs, or slowing down the earth’s rotation so there are more hours in the day, but that seems to be a bit futile.
What things have helped you manage more than one child?