How to Have a Good Day with Small Children

There’s this strange struggle to me. So many of my days have what I consider high notes: we finished school work for the day, I got in some work, we snuggled and cuddled and read. But even on those days there’s still the reality of life with small children. If I added it up in consecutive minutes some days there are literally several hours that one of the three children is either crying, fussing, or needing disciplined for poor behavior.

One Monday we had what I consider to be a high day with school going well and some quality work happening during naptime and yet there were those 2.5 hours of dealing with the behavior. I’ve been working on how I handle this imbalance. How I still have- and call it- a good day when there’s so many  trying, and yes, even hard times mixed in?

Two things have helped but they are a bit of circular reasoning.

How to Find Your Mama Community

Occasionally motherhood makes me feel like a crazy person. I’m often convinced that I’m the only woman in the world who has ever felt the way I do about my children until another mom says, “Oh no, I definitely feel that way too.” It’s doubly confirming when it’s coming from a mom with almost grown kids because it assures me that I (probably) won’t go permanently crazy from chaos that surrounds our normal routine.

One of my volleyball girls recently started babysitting my boys about once a month and in the middle of January Justin and I found ourselves sitting in a booth at a pizza place having an uninterrupted conversation that spanned the upcoming inauguration, our ongoing ball seasons, and how weird it was that we weren’t being interrupted. That was some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, but I’m not sure I would have noticed either way because we were alone for a few blissful hours. That helps center my marriage and I was ready to jump back into mothering with both feet when we picked up the boys.

We need to date our husbands, go to doctor appointments, drink the coffee while it’s still hot occasionally. We need to remember that we are women with skills and abilities as well as mamas. We need to offer our life experiences to women younger than us and we need to learn from those who are older than us. We need other women (not just mamas) to love on our kids and we need to love on other women’s kids.

The Comparison Trap in Marriage

I really have gotten better at the brutal game of comparison with other women. I don’t handle it perfectly but it no longer consumes me as it has in the past. But recently I’ve found myself wrestling with another art of comparison that I thought I left behind long ago.

My husband had the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off. It made for some great memories, a few magical moments, and other moments when I wished for bedtime and a normal routine.

When he went back to work, I found myself suddenly the only adult to whom the children could offer their requests. Three people constantly plying, and often whining (we’re working on it), about the things they wanted, needed, or injustices that were being done.

My response was irritation at my husband whose life I had suddenly decided was much easier than mine. After all, he can go to the bathroom in quiet, whenever he likes. He can leave work and come home to eat lunch, or stay at work in the conference room ordering lunch in like an adult, or leave and run out to get fast food. No buckling other people in car seats or telling children not to fight while they wait on their turn to walk out the door.

Setting Expectations for Your Kids

I’ve not parented for very long but I have learned one thing. Most often, when I’m having problems with my kids, I’m the problem.

While I was recovering from my broken ankle, I realized a lot of ways I was parenting weren’t working. I was frustrated. They were frustrated. It wasn’t the way we wanted our home atmosphere to be. So I started praying about it.

The majority of times when I start praying about problems with my family I don’t hear words from heaven. Ok- I’ve never heard words from heaven. I don’t see writing in the sky or get letters from Sally Clarkson or find that my children just magically start doing what I want. But as I spend time praying about it over the course of days or weeks I start getting ideas. I read something in a book. I see a graphic on the internet. I hear something on the podcast. And I realize I can change what I’m doing.

Practical Tips for Bad Days

I sent my husband a text with the dancing lady emoji that said, “They won’t break me!”

Sometimes it seems that my children’s behavior is determined to break me down. Sometimes I let it. Because no matter how much work you put into your kids and how much you love them, you have those days when you are ready to call it quits, toss people off the front porch, head out on a run, and end up somewhere with ice cream instead.

That particular day we had scattered some well-sorted and stacked piles of paperwork that were in the office. We had flung pasta all over the kitchen during lunch (mama’s gotta go to the bathroom sometime!), we had poured water out of our cup into the van cupholder and splashed around in it with our hands, we had peed in the floor instead of the potty, you get the idea. (Notice I carefully left our any incriminating names.) You all have mornings, or afternoons, that you can line up similarly.  It’s just one thing after another and you find yourself sitting on the table beside the fish tank asking for grace and more grace to not explode.

No Cheese on Anything

If Facebook documented my relationship with food instead of my husband it would say “It’s Complicated.”

I used to like food. I grew up helping my mom cook, sitting on the counter while my Mamaw made biscuits, and perusing the aisles of the grocery store during our weekly visits.

Cooking dwindled during college except for the rare occasion in a dark dorm basement with rusty pots. But my love for feeding myself and the people I cared about revived when I got married and we moved into our first small apartment.

The kitchen and living room were just one open end of the apartment with the stove tucked next to the sink. There was no counter space beside the stove, that was on the other side of the table around a wall beside the refrigerator but that didn’t bother me. I told myself it had atmosphere.

Modeling Life-Long Learning

“It’s quiet time, boys. Go ahead and play while mama works.”
 
Every afternoon I lay my toddler down for a nap and stick my boys in their room to play for a while. Then I settle in at my desk to edit podcasts and blog posts, watch a few moments of an online class, or draw. While I do learn best in a semi-uninterrupted state (let’s face it, that’s the best it gets if they are awake) I do talk to the boys about what I’m doing. I want them to know that mama’s still learning, still dreaming, still doing.
 
Education doesn’t end when you’re finished with school, whether that’s high school or college. My husband is pursuing his Ph.D. currently and I’m chasing #personalgradschool, where I’m learning to do bits and pieces of my work better. The boys see this and it changes the way they look at school too.
 
One of the things I love about homeschooling is that it doesn’t relegate learning to a 7:30-3:00 time slot for nine months of the year. We follow a year-round schedule for this reason and try to have a reasonable flow between “school” activities and life activities that are just as much as important a part of education.