Recently I was reminiscing about my childhood, growing up as an only child until I was ten. I grew up convinced that if I ever had kids I would have at least two. And on top of that they would be closer in age than ten years. No surprise then that my family welcomed two boys – two and half years apart. Ah, but the plot thickens as one of my boys now has a family of four of his own. That’s what got me thinking about the family dynamics of one child, two kids, and then three, four or more children. The required love and attention are the same, but the process can be significantly different when you have one child versus four. So let’s take a look at some of the challenges of parenting a multiple children household.
Know Your Child
Sounds simple, but trust me, it takes an open mind to accept the fact that all of your kids are not alike. That would just be too perfect anyway, wouldn’t it. Each child is an individual with their own particular likes and dislikes. Their own sense of right and wrong. Each has a unique need for attention and love. And some kids want you to show your love by paying attention to them in very specific personalized ways. One child matures at a different rate than another. Another child learns how to learn quicker than his/her siblings. You may have one child that excels in sports while another prefers the arts. You can have one child who in an introvert and spends hours reading books and have a child who wants to join every extracurricular activity offered. One child does best when alone – discovering the world at their own pace. Another child needs to be part of a group in order to grasp the nuances of a particular subject.
As you can see, the children I’ve described are very different on one hand but they are very alike on the other. They are all your kids. And that’s all that really matters. As their parent you have been given the task to make sure that each child is heard, appreciated, educated, involved, well-rounded and loved. In the same way they broke the mold after each child’s birth you will have to customize your approach to parenting each child as a unique individual. Ah… now it sounds kinda hard doesn’t it. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t have to be. In fact, as hectic and all-consuming as it may seem at times, multiple children families are tons of fun. And the children in those families grow up to be adults who have learned to think beyond themselves. They’ve had to growing up. When it’s not all about me, it forces you to think about us.
Organization and a Sense of Responsibility
The fastest way to get a handle on your daily routine is to be organized. Knowing what to expect of your day will make your life so much easier than flying by the seat of your pants. Forgetting important dates and events can be avoided. Running out of supplies (food, school stuff, etc.) shouldn’t happen as often. Laundry – the thread that seems to run within every household – no longer strikes fear in the hearts of each family member as you realize five minutes before walking out the door that “I don’t have any clean socks.” or “I’m not gonna wear that. I want to wear my new jeans.” (but the new jeans are still in a pile on the floor) And let’s not forget carpooling. You know you have science club on Wednesdays and promised to take your child’s friend home, but Oh no! If I do that how am I going to get my son to little league and my daughter to soccer practice? Any of this sound familiar?
First off – use a calendar to write down your itinerary. Post the calendar on a wall or write down a week’s worth of activities on a chalk board or whiteboard. As the saying goes – Knowing Is Half The Battle.
Once you know what you have to do and when you have to do it you can work on developing specific chores and routines for each family member. Now I know some of you may automatically deem this approach as too structured. Well… yes it is, but not in a heavy-handed way. It’s all about responsibility and consequences. Like it or not, we all have to live our lives based on our personal responsibilities and the consequences of living up to them. Why not teach this lesson at an early age?
Each family member needs to know what they are responsible for on any given day. Some families make posters. Some use charts. You can keep track of things by rewarding your kids with decals or stars on these charts. Whatever works for you and your family. Find a way to let everyone know what they are responsible for. And let’s be flexible here. No sin if your kids switch out chores. Also, let’s be honest – they are going to forget, not want to do it, and try to put things off to the last minute. Such is the nature of kids. Go with the flow… but continue to insist that everyone participates.
Pick chores based on your child’s age and capabilities. If it works better having two kids do one chore, go for it. Older children can help the younger ones as well. Don’t be a stickler for perfection. In the beginning it’s more important that your children actually know what to do and do it than living up to your standards. You’ll live if the clothes aren’t folded perfectly. Forgetting to take out the trash from one room in the house is not life shattering. Again, be flexible.
Consequences are the partner of responsibilities. Equally important as learning to fulfill your responsibilities is learning to accept the consequences of not doing so. As the parent, you decide how you will deal with your child when they don’t want to participate. First, I’d make sure there isn’t a good reason for not wanting to help out. Maybe they’re feeling sick today. You always want to give them one more opportunity to do that chore before the consequence kicks in. Make it absolutely clear that it is their decision not to do as expected. And so it should be no surprise when the consequence follows. This is one area where both parents have to be on the same page. Consistent implementation of the responsibility – consequence rule is what will work best. No giving in. You are the parent. You set the rules.
I know of households where the kids rule the roost. They do homework whenever they feel like it. They go to bed at whatever time suits them. They get up for school only when they have to and stall and complain as they are prodded to eat breakfast and get dressed for school. With no sense of timing they are habitually late for activities. Assignments were not turned in on time because there was no acknowledgment of the clock ticking. All of this confusion and grief can be eliminated or diminished significantly by following a routine. A routine set by the parents based on their understanding of what works for their family and their kids.
On any typical day kids should know when it’s time to wake up. How long they have to get ready for school. After school, they need a set time to do their homework. If after school activities are part of the mix, will they have time set aside before or after those activities? Dinner time can be problematic. It would be great if you could have a rough idea of when you hope to have dinner each night. It gives everyone something to shoot for timewise. And then there’s bedtime. Each child should have a set bedtime. If showers or baths are in the rotation on a particular day get them started in time to be in bed – on time. We all know how well your day progresses when you have a child who hasn’t slept well the night before and becomes more and more cranky, belligerent, and out of control as the day goes on.
Let’s be clear here about routines. Nobody enjoys a tyrant and so adhering to a routine is something you should strive for but never let get in the way of common sense. Be flexible. Anticipate problems as best you can and then… move on.
Finally, learn to chill… mellow out… smile… laugh… listen… learn… ask for help…
Kids don’t come with instructions. Parenting does not have a handbook that covers all families. It’s up to you, the parent, the be in tune with your kids and what your family needs. This task can be filled with every emotion imaginable. Don’t let the tough times get to you. Learn to laugh at mistakes. Learn and grow from them. There is no sin in asking for help. Friends, family and even groups and organizations are there to lend an ear and offer advice. Recognize that your family is a living and growing thing that will never stop changing. So, get used to change! Just when you think you’ve got it under control there will be something new thrown in the mix. Adapt and move on. All the while try to remember to smile. A smile can take the edge off a tough situation. A hug can soothe hurt feelings. Listen. I can’t repeat this enough – listen to your kids. Perhaps not always in a verbal fashion, your kids will definitely let you know how they are doing. Remember that sometimes a child that is not speaking is indeed speaking volumes. When that happens, ask questions.
Author: Gret Boyd