As a father of three under nine (eight, seven, and three for the record) you could say there are few, if any, dull moments in our household. I work fulltime while my wife, Jamie, who just got her degree in December looks for a job. She currently stays at home with the kids. It’s pretty obvious she has a much harder job than I do. A summer day in the Norris household consists of a mash-up of the following: waking up, eating, whining, fighting, playing, not sleeping, eating again, peeing, playing some more, eating some more, pooping, more whining, a lot more fighting, some good play time, eating yet again, asking Dad eighty-seven questions when he gets home, eating, playing, bathing, eating, and if we’re lucky, finally sleeping. (Did I mention our children eat?)
That’s a lot of time spent tending to the kids, so I thought I would share a few tidbits of information that have enabled us to stay somewhat sane. It’s not rocket science and it may not work for everyone, but it’s worth a try.
1. Don’t feel like you have to be on top of them 24/7.
This is hard for a lot of people, including me. I remember freaking out the first week our oldest ate Cheerios thinking he might actually choke on them. The point is, while young children shouldn’t be left unattended for very long, if you get a chance to step in the other room for sixty seconds, even if it’s just to take a few deep breaths and regain your composure – do it.
2. Go out together (without the kids) at least once per month.
We have friends who take our kids once a month, and we theirs, so we can have one date night a month with the added bonus of not paying for childcare. Even if your spouse starts cutting your food while at the restaurant because he or she is so used to doing so for the kids at home, take heart. At least you know this food will actually be eaten and not thrown on the floor or at someone’s head. You need this time or else you will look up one day and find yourself talking to your spouse the same way you do to your 3-year-old. And trust me, no adult wants to be asked if they “need to go potty.”
3. Stay focused on the good.
If Jamie and I harped on the challenging times our kids provided us we’d go gray, then bald, and finally, crazy. Again, this is not an easy thing to do. Some days it seems like our kids have a copy of a manual that shows exactly what buttons to push and when to push them, just to set us off. However, even after the youngest has spent the day yelling, throwing fits, and just generally doing the opposite of everything he is supposed to, I look at him when he’s finally fallen asleep for the night and all that goes away. The two or three minutes of just standing over his bed and watching him peacefully sleep the night away make up for his overuse of the word “no” and seeing if he can make his dinner stick to the wall – even if in his dreams he is most likely plotting how to drive Mom and Dad crazy the next day.
4. Find humor in each day.
Here is how I try to look at it: If these were someone else’s children or happening in a movie, would I laugh? Almost always the answer is “yes.” So even when I’m yelling, or my wife is about to cry, we try to find the humor in our children’s actions that are well, should I just say inappropriate? I mean, you’d probably laugh if you saw Mike’s two-year-old son peeing off the front porch or heard Mike’s six-year-old daughter Sass her mom in public and say, “Don’t talk to me right now – I’m in a mood!” So, I’m thinking, Why can’t I? Of course it will be happening while I’m laying down the law of parenting and gently letting them know that sassing and peeing in the yard aren’t generally looked upon positively. (There is one exception, however. While you might laugh at the remote that flew out of the toddler’s hands and into the plasma TV, I still need some time. Get back to me in about ten years.)
5. Take advice with a grain of salt.
I’m not saying ignore everything I’ve just written, but no one knows your children better than you do. Go with your gut. If your toddler just threw all two hundred books off her shelf or emptied a beanbag chair on his floor (true story) and all of a sudden you feel the urge to be far away from her, that’s okay. If it means you need to have your spouse stay with the kids and you go out with friends, take the time and see a movie with them. Or find a sitter for the kids one day, even if you are staying at home. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, despite what others may think (yes, or even say). And hey, your kids may make a new friend if they are in a different environment for the day, and you’ve taken out two birds with one stone: restored your sanity and given them a new BFF!
The fact of the matter is, I’m no expert. No matter how long you have been a parent, every day is a new experience. We’ve never had to deal with an 8-, 7-, and 3-year-old until this past year, and next year will bring a whole new batch of challenges and laughs. And while it is sometimes hard to practice what you preach, these tips have helped us enjoy our kids even on the toughest of days. It’s never easy or the same every day, but with a little time apart and humor when together, every day can be a fun one – even if sometimes it’s in hindsight.