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.

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Filed under gentle parenting, guest posts, mindful parenting, parenting

12 Responses to Daydreams

  1. MC

    Wonderful post from one of the best moms I know! SO proud of you!! MaryC in KY

  2. I love the honesty of this post. Theories and ideals are well and good, but I think the most frustrating part of parenting is not coming up with ideas but the actually implementing them when you’re sleep-deprived. Being kind is always a choice, even if it’s a hard one. This post helps inspire me choose kindness even when it seems difficult 🙂

  3. Pamela

    I love the way you honestly address the challenges of your situation and show us how to creatively problem solve while staying true to your parenting beliefs. You show us not only that it can be done, but how to do it. Thanks!

  4. I love this, Alice!  Beautiful and brilliant.  This is my favorite part:  

    “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!” 

    I don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that meeting my daughter’s physical and emotional needs is more important than a clean house.  And I love that you apologize to your children when you fall short and give yourself a clean slate each new day–we should all be so wise!  That is what I intend to do, too.  I do not want to waste time regretting my mistakes.  Instead, I want to push forward with love and a clear sense of what really matters.  Thank you for sharing this today!

  5. Elizabeth

    This is a wonderful description of how we are all works in progess – we never have it all figured out.  Recognizing that and learning to be more flexible and creative in responding to the various challenges that my family throws my way have been really important for me as a mom, too.  I’m thrilled to be sharing this parenting journey with you. 

    Oh, and you win the whose-family-will-be-larger argument we always used to have…. 🙂

    • Alice

      Like-minded parents, the Internet, and blogs like Jen’s have been invaluable in figuring out the kind of mom I want to be. It is a journey, and it’s nice to have you around on the adventure.

      Sure you want to just let me win? 🙂

  6. Sheila

    Thanks for this.  I just had my second child, and hope to have lots more, and have been feeling so discouraged.  It just seems like parenting peacefully is for only children sometimes!    But I’m beginning to find my stride, and I see it can be done.  Still, we hear about it so rarely — how to fulfill everyone’s needs when everyone has so darn many, myself included.

  7. Angela

    I had a time where there was more yelling than kind words.  I too realized that I had to look at the big picture.  My house is often messy but my kids are happy and I am not yelling. 
    I really enjoyed this post, thank you!!

  8. Ainsley

    Fabulous!  Thank you!