Today’s guest post is from my friend, Alice, who last shared her story of her twin baby girls in Surprises. Thanks, Alice, for another beautiful and honest post.
When I daydreamed as a girl about having a family of my own, I can’t say I envisioned the choices I would eventually make. There was no wistful sighing over a future homebirth, or longingly imagining how awesome it would be to homeschool. But there’s one choice I imagined that did become my future; I always knew I wanted a large family. But the reality of life with lots of small children? Not part of the dream. As our family grew, our views on parenting flexed and changed, and what we ended up choosing was the path of peaceful parenting.
When you know how you want to parent – and I don’t mean the impossible ideal of never making mistakes, but in general the kind of parent you want to be – it’s discouraging to feel like you fall short. There was a brief period in 2010 where not only had I found my parenting niche, but I was living it every day. Radically unschooling and parenting peacefully in harmony with our 3 boys; our home was like a little utopia. There was enough of me to go around, there was enough time in my day for my boys AND my husband AND myself.
I would read articles and blogs about gentle parenting, and what to do as alternatives to traditional authoritarian methods, and I would think, “Yup! Got that down!” My boys were 6, 4 and 1 year old; life was good. So good, in fact, that we decided to add one more baby to our family. Surprise! We added two baby girls and became a family of 7. And life was great – and it was hard, scary, frustrating and overwhelming. Nowhere could I find help and advice for my situation. It’s all well and good to redirect a toddler when you actually have free hands – what about when you’re sitting on the couch with a baby attached to each breast? It’s fine to not get upset when said toddler dumps a whole box of baking soda on the steps when you have time to clean it up – but what about when you haven’t even cleaned up the last 3 messes, there’s no food in the house, and a mountain of dirty laundry is threatening to take over?
How in the world do you parent peacefully when you are so overwhelmed you just want to yell?
Oddly enough, I never found any articles with that title. In my stress I found myself reverting to authoritarian parenting; setting arbitrary limits, losing my patience, and yelling. Lots and lots of yelling. I felt like a failure – not because I was yelling mean or abusive things (I wasn’t) but because that was not the kind of mother I wanted to be. I knew how I wanted to parent, but I could no longer see how to do it. I was barely making it day to day, going on little sleep. Patience was a thing of the past. Fun was an impossible dream.
With five kids 7 and under, I needed to find a way to implement peaceful parenting in a frequently less-than-peaceful environment.
My first step in stressful situations became choosing to give myself a timeout if I felt like yelling. It’s important to know that this didn’t change what was happening around me; during my timeouts, sometimes the babies were crying. Sometimes my toddler was crying. Sometimes I was crying. But in the 30 seconds, or 3 minutes, whatever I needed to get myself under control, I gave myself a talk and came up with a plan. “Ok. When I go back out there, I’m not going to yell. I’m going to ignore the mess, and we’ll go play outside.” Changing me and my attitude was frequently the key. If I could keep my cool, we could get through whatever the problem was without someone melting down.
Next, I lowered my expectations. A lot. If we all made it through the day and everyone was safe and had their physical and emotional needs met – success! Who cared if the house was a mess? If I managed not to yell and lose my patience – victory!
Once I changed my attitude and my expectations, the next step was creating safe zones for everyone to coexist. Baby gates became my new best friends. With my 5 and 2 year olds hitting each other, and my 2 year old not grasping the need for being gentle with babies, this was critical. I wasn’t punishing or banishing anyone, and I made sure the boys knew that. But my most basic job is to keep all of my kids safe. I gated off sections of the house, and knew that when my toddler was alone he was safe, and he couldn’t hurt anyone else. I could sit in another room and safely nurse the babies, and even if everyone wasn’t thrilled with the arrangement, it was a temporary fix.
On the absolute worst days, when I had to get out of the house, I would load all 5 kids into the car and drive for hours. The boys would watch a movie, the girls would sleep, and I would breath and enjoy the peace.
The past year has been really long. It’s contained a lot more yelling and crying (by all of us) than I would care to think about. But there’s a lot that I’m proud of too. I kept everyone safe and happy. There were no trips to the ER, no injuries. I didn’t yell hurtful or abusive things. I didn’t spank anyone. I always, always apologized when my parenting fell short, and each morning I chose to start over and try my best to parent in partnership.
I can see glimmers of the old utopia ahead. The girls turn 1 on May 19th, my boys are 8, 6 and 3. Our life has developed a smoother rhythm, and with my arms more often free I can finally be more proactive. Our days once again have more laughter than yelling, more joy than frustration, and more peace than chaos.
And those daydreams I had as a girl about my beautiful and happy large family?
I’m living them.
Alice Davis is an Army wife, mother of five, and probably the last person on earth who doesn’t have a blog. She loves to talk about unschooling, attachment parenting, and mothering multiples. In her copious amounts of free time, Alice sells handmade baby hats and tutus in her Etsy shop, Alice’s Handmade Crafts.