How do you do it?
I am asked this question quite frequently. It, the question itself, comes at all times of the day and from many different people. The spark of the question can be the fact that I attend monthly midnight manias, scrapbooking into the wee hours of the morning or dropping a “thinking of you” note (handcrafted, of course) to a friend thousands of miles away or simply down the street. I’ve been asked this question whilst grocery shopping, hosting or attending a party, or simply taking a family adventure walk. The question need not always be asked in words, but can also be implied by a glance or a glare. The “it” is everything: spending time with my family, crafting, socializing, cleaning, cooking, taking other families’ portraits, having my own kids’ portraits taken regularly (even the famed third child, who otherwise usually falls into the “third child category” of forgotten pictures and memorabilia), and most recently blogging. So how do I do it?
If the “it” were just the family, we make it happen: happiness, wants versus needs, and an emphasis on family; our family. As for the public perception of our caravan of smiles, usually when I get comments or glares, either of sympathy or pity, I just smile. If people say, "Wow--you've got your hands full!" I respond, "If you think my hands are full you should see my heart!" If people say, "How do you do it?" I respond, "God's grace." If people say, "Where do you put everyone?" I say, "When there's room in the heart there's room in the house." That's from St. Thomas Moore. If people say, "How do you afford it?" I respond, "Everyone makes choices as to how they're going to spend their money. We choose kids." Of course, when #3 came along, I was asked daily, "Don't you know what causes that?" I typically answered, “We just figured it out," when I really wanted to say was, "Yes--and apparently we're very good at it."
I don't even think that 3 kids equates a "big" family, with plenty of 5 and 6 kid families to out-do us. In our case it’s the span of ages that usually knocks people off their feet. People that don't have "larger" families or have bigger age gaps between kids, think our life harder than it is. They look at their lives with one or two kids and can't imagine having more, but in some ways it becomes much easier as your family size increases. You don't feel like you need to run around to every play date or "enrichment activity" because your kids have each other to play with. It's easier to clean up a house because you have more hands to help. Meal prep is easier because you always having a willing soul who wants to be the kitchen helper. You don't feel like you need to rent out a $500 bounce place for a party because you could not do it for each kid. “It” takes the pressure off and you have the kids' best friends over for an old-fashioned in-home party. You hear the friends say again and again, "This is the best party I've ever been to!" largely because they just had the opportunity to get together and play and do what they want without all the pressure of people telling them--do this now--and all that. They work together to choose to create the party into what they wanted it to be. They get back to living and enjoying one-another, instead of having commercialized-everything and expectations of a hoopla thrust upon them.
You learn that your kids are more capable of “life” than you might have originally thought. When my oldest was 4 I wouldn't have even thought to ask her to help with folding laundry or cleaning bathrooms, but now my almost-3 year old asks to fold and put away his own laundry because he sees his sister doing it. This is not to say that my 5-year-old is the most meticulous bathroom or bedroom cleaner, but she’s coming around. From the kids’ perspective, having sibling forces them to learn compassion and patience. If the 10 month old falls and bumps his head I have to run faster than all the other kids to get to him if I want to be the first to comfort him. If it's breakfast time and everyone is hungry, they know they have to wait their turn to get their cereal poured, or they can learn to do it themselves and help their younger sibling. A child who has just learned to read has no better audience than a little cuddly sibling who just wants to sit and be read to again and again. I had a special mom-moment recently when I returned from putting the baby to bed, to find my oldest “reading” to her little brother. Both we sitting in his bed, just as I usually do with each of them. Yes, I realized that I am not the only person who they look to for comfort, and I realized the little things I do has an enormous affect on their lives. Now, if I ask my son if he wants me to read him a story or tuck him in he might say no, but instead he’ll ask for is sister to read his story or “lay down me.”
This is not to say there are no challenges--scheduling three different kids for three different doctor or dentist appointments and balancing ballet and birthday parties is hard. We also have the future excitement of shuttling three kids off to three different places/schools next year. But it's fun. We don't have to do this stuff. We get to do this stuff. Making special time for each child every day is a challenge, but we do it because it's important and we want to do it. We look forward to it. Once you accept that you can’t do everything, all the time, the other wants just fall into place. Or, they don’t; and it honestly doesn’t matter much. When you hear your 5 year-old squeal in excitement over craft time, using the Froot Loops that were tossed on the floor during breakfast and the salvaged ribbon from last week’s birthday party, the projects and parties that aren’t finished or attended don’t bear much weight anymore.