Then reality strikes: we have added five kids to our family in five years. My husband has an unpredictable job schedule. I followed God's call into Seminary. We do not have family living close by. My mom died. My dad became widowed. No sooner was one child up and walking that another arrived. No sooner was he toddling that two more arrived. Our original oldest was displaced, our youngest was crunched into the middle child role by a child probably only six months (if that) younger. The new youngest screamed her brains out for months any time I put her down due to fear of being abandoned and just plain fear. Our new oldest didn't speak English and was completely immersed in a culture and country completely foreign to him. And if that wasn't enough, we felt that God had one more child planned for our family, so we added Big Sister and will plan to repeat the past sixteen months of adapting ALL. OVER. AGAIN.
If I were given the chance to do the past few years over again, I would hope to have the humility to not be so stubborn and independent and to just ASK FOR HELP. If I had any common sense (which my five-year-old claims there is no such thing) I would do things differently. Here is what I would do:
- Get help immediately! Raising children is meant to do me done in community and since a lot of us do not have the immediate support of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. it is important to create one's own community or village. I stumbled through this one, but finally accepted that I either need to grow a few more eyes and limbs, or have a mother's helper come in. I chose the latter and feel so much better on the days when she is here with me.
- Get consistent rest. I know this is challenging when infants/toddlers/scared children need our comfort in the middle of the night. Getting rest, in my opinion, is the most critical and most often neglected part of being a well-functioning mama. We are not superhuman...somehow our society propelled into an overly-caffeinated, sleep-deprived culture where rest is considered a weakness. I disagree. We need more sleep, not more caffeine. I don't know about you, but caffeine adds to my anxiety. If you need help figured out how to get rest, see point one.
- Create margin. I heard a wonderful sermon series on this a few months ago and the point really stuck. Margin is the extra time, energy, or resources used to pad your lifestyle so that there is something left over to do nothing with. Make sense? For me, a good example of margin is making sure that all chores are done and all kids are in their bedrooms and not talking to me by 9:00 p.m. every night. (The littles are in bed earlier.) Then, my husband and I are able to have some consistent, quality time together without being interrupted by the gremlins. When this does not happen, stress levels rise and subsequently carry-over to the next day. I need margin...we all need margin.
- Schedule date nights out or in. Set some grounds rules about this time. For example, no talking about the kids (this is VERY hard to do), visit restaurants or places that were enjoyable before having kids. Make sure both spouses have the same expectations about how this time will be used. This requires communication and brings me to point five.
- Communicate! I discovered something recently that is both humorous and extremely frustrating. I communicate using words and my husband....does NOT! I need words to communicate a point or message and oftentimes he has already used up his daily allotment of words by the time he arrives home. We realized that our communication methods were so different that we were not meeting each other's expectations. Therefore, we are making a consistent effort to hear and by heard. Sometimes this may require getting professional help, which brings me to my final point.
- Get Professional Help. There is no shame in seeking out help for your family. With lots of moving parts and rapid changes taking place, it often helps to have a trusted mediator take an objective look at one's family unit. This could be a pastor, minister, counselor, or psychologist. I read a ton of books, most written by the 'go to' experts in the field of adoption, attachment, grief, loss, etc. I also read a lot of marriage, parenting, and relationship books. However, my husband does not share my interest or passion in devouring this material from cover to cover. Therefore, I do think grief and loss counseling and/or family counseling may benefit our entire family unit.
To sum this up, the most important piece of advice that I would pass on to a family growing at a rapid pace or simply growing in general is to GET HELP. This could be in the form of a preschool, babysitter, mother's helper, neighbor, friend, counselor, relative, or any combination of the above. Whatever the choice, reach out, establish a plan, and DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. I repeat, do not feel guilty. You are a good mom. I am a good mom. And we all want the best for our children and families. Parenting is hard work. Parenting multiple children is even harder. I am turning in my superhero cape and having a few more slices of humble pie. I need help and look forward to a FUN summer with my children and mother's helper now that I have swallowed my pride and reached out. More eyes, more hands, more feet = more fun and less stress for everyone.
Happy Summer Everyone!
What piece of advice would you pass along to families in the building process? What has benefited you? What have you found to be a waste of time and energy?