Monday, January 28, 2013

through the wringer

Have you ever seen a wringer on an old-fashioned washing machine? Two rubber rollers, placed closely together, that when cranked by hand would pull the wet laundry through and wring the water out it? 

I feel like I've been through one.

Could it be the fact that the -30 Celsius temperatures we had last week forced teachers and parents to keep their children inside for five days straight? Or the full moon we had last night? Whatever the reason, our kids drove us crazy all weekend.
I feel like we're doing things as "right" as we can. We limit refined foods, spend time playing with our children every day, read lots, limit screen time, have consistent bedtime routines, and take the time to talk with them about the parenting path we've chosen. We encourage creativity and lots of time spent outside, go on outings, and have close bonds with our extended families. When the baby naps, as much as possible I do crafts or play games or read to them (even though I'd like to be scurrying around tidying up or just resting myself). 
Having a larger-than-average family means that you're constantly juggling the needs of children at various stages of development. One is growing a tooth as another is losing her first. Another wants to play with someone at all times, while another wants time alone. There is a need to constantly assess who needs what most at any given time, and no parenting book provides a one-size-fits-all prescription. Children are as unique as any adult, even when born of the same parents and raised in the same environment. 

A lot of the time, it feels pretty hit and miss. I'm beginning to suspect that "good parenting" is a mix of experience, preparation, and luck. The learning curve is steep, and this past weekend, it felt insurmountable.

Phew.

Harmony feels as arbitrary as chaos these days. Some days are really peaceful. Some days are not. Whether the dynamics change according to who is here (most days it's just me, on weekends my husband is here, too, and often my mother is here during the week), the phase of the moon, the weather, or how much sleep everyone got last night, I'm exhausted with the guessing and troubleshooting and the trying.
Jude wants more independence and control over his life. For him, this means more screen time and making decisions about how he spends his day. We can adapt to that. The older girls fight, bicker, and argue from the moment they wake up. This is more complicated to figure out...the older is competitive, the younger is clingy and needy these days. Oh, and the infant...well, her needs always come first, I'm afraid!
My big girls in a rare getting-along moment.

Oh my goodness.

Just in case everyone out there thinks my life is perfect, I just wanted to be clear here. Most of the time I don't have a clue what I'm doing. I run partly on gut feelings, partly on what my own parents did, and partly on what I've read about parenting. Throw in my husband's own (often differing) approaches and philosophies, and we've got a mixed bag of tricks and techniques. We're learning to present a united front even when we disagree, and we're learning to lean a bit more towards each other (I think he's too strict, he thinks I'm not strict enough) to meet in the middle.

It's hard not to feel that, in spite of your very real and determined efforts, you're still going to screw your kids up somehow. 

In the meantime, I've treated everyone homeopathically for: clinginess/neediness, sibling rivalry/competitiveness, and shock/fear. We remind ourselves that everyone is still feeling their way around this new family-of-six-ness, and that they're testing the boundaries of these new spread-a-little-thin parents. I try to give each child one-on-one time, lots of cuddles and kisses, and my undivided attention at some point each day. It still doesn't seem to be enough. 

The vision I have of our family, our children, and of ourselves as parents doesn't quite match up to the reality at the moment. But we just keep working towards what we envision, bumping along in our imperfect way, keeping the faith that even the most wrung out, limp, wrinkled thing can dry (in the right kind of breeze) into something beautiful.

24 comments:

  1. Hugs mama. I think you are right on track, "working towards what you envision". It is a journey toward that vision, it will be bumpy, go off course, but in the end you will get there.

    Hang on, the ride will be a blast :)

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  2. beautiful! I am about to embark on a whole new family, 3 is about to become six, as I marry my fiance and embrace his two children and he embraces mine and we become a family of 6...I can't wait...it worked well for the several months we have experienced of it so far, and yet many many learning curves to come and a whole box of tricks involving blending families and learning to love new children and oh, a multitude of paradigm shifts - I believe a lot of what you say here is true though for any family. thanks for your eloquence and honesty and generosity of spirit as always.

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    1. Ellen, please send me your email address; I have a book and a blog recommendation for you!

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    2. ah thanks so much Stephanie, my address is ellenaburns@gmail.com. I have been looking for books recently, saw Relate Guide to Step Families by Suzie Hayman, but haven't purchased it yet. We are moving to Chicago -closer to you! So blending families and moving continents, phew....xx

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  3. We have 6 children with an age range of 12 years. The youngest had hypoglycemic seizures as a result of congenital hyopititarism and is severely delayed and will always have to live with other adults.
    Although the two eldest are now out on their own it was very challenging to find activities we could do as a family that would work for everyone's interests and abilities. Okay, scratch that - IMPOSSIBLE.It was also very difficult to have a conversation about why you couldn't stay overnight at your boyfriends and turn around to step on legos and turn off Wiggles DVD's!! ( which we still have as the 13 year old is still in diapers and watching the wiggles!)I found it hard to parent both ends of the spectrum simultaneously.
    A very dear friend of mine has 7 children,and now two additional step children.Her youngest is just 18 months older than her first grandchild.
    She amazes me at just shy of 50 with her ability to have a vast range of ages living under her roof and how she adapts to it. It is a skill which our society with smaller families is loosing quickly .
    Don't worry , everyone will survive ( including you) and they will have wonderful memories of having playmates built in under their own roof growing up. I love big families!

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    1. We love our biggish brood too. It's a wild ride, and we love the noise and chaos around our table. It's fun to imagine them all as teenagers!

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  4. It feels so heavy, doesn't it, when the chaos takes over? It's as though you can't do anything right and that all of your parenting decisions are up in the air. It's so good to read this and remember that parenting is really part chaos, part calm, part luck, part crazy. I was speaking with a friend who works with the elderly, and she told me that every single time she asks someone what was the best time in their lives, they all answer: when my kids were young. The crazy is worth it.

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    1. I always remember some of the last words my 92 year old grandmother said in her last days: "I so loved my husband and I so enjoyed my children!"...what hope that gives me! Your words have stayed with me all week, Danielle!

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  5. "The vision I have of our family, our children, and of ourselves as parents doesn't quite match up to the reality at the moment. " I wonder if it ever does. My journey is not at all how I pictured. Maybe that is the lesson: surrendering the dream of what you thought it would and surrendering to the reality that it is. Yep. that is what I have had to do, sometimes kicking and screaming, but in the end, I wouldn't have it any other way. I do love our imperfect perfect family.

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  6. If it makes you feel any better, we had a very similar weekend - and little to no outside time due to weather here, as well (-10 to -20 F). By Saturday afternoon I was pretty sure I was going to lose my mind - it was hard to "keep calm and carry on".
    Thankfully, we had a good turn around yesterday and today has been far better. Hope you're having a good start to your week and warmer temperatures to get that much-needed outside time!

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  7. Ugh, we had the same weekend. My little one turned 4 in December and she has been a banshee woman ever since. She tells me that "4 is really hard" LOL. I am not sure how to even deal with her since she is all over the place and I always feel like my older (I only have two for crying out loud!!) always gets the shaft because he is so easy going. I just keep going and praying LOL.

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  8. Well, Stephanie, I really hope this adds a bright spot to your day. :) http://thiscosylifeblog.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-winner.html xoxo

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  9. I remember when we added baby number four to our family.....with a 10 year age difference from the first born. Now we had two 'middle' children. Our two boys in the middle had some rough times getting along. I had to implement the Bambi Rule. In the Disney classic, Bambi, there is a line that says, "if you can't say something nice....don't say anything at all". If one...or both were not talking kind to each other, I said "Bambi"....and they had to stop talking....And change their attitude. If they didn't listen, they were sent to separate rooms. It worked for us. Sometimes they just needed a break from each other...and sometimes they got lonely playing by themselves. It was sort of a 'time out' . To this day they still pull out the line, "If you can't say something nice...." ;) ( the boys are 22 and 25)

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  10. . . .and sometimes you need a steam iron and starch, it's all okay and good.

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  11. Oh you are doing such a good job because you are trying. I think a parent that is constantly trying to be the best they can be is a good one! Each year, month, day, hour is really such a new experience to figure out and with such a full home I can only believe you are doing just as well as you can. With only one baby and four animals to care for I can barely get a handle, with all you have to juggle I am impressed by your ability to even come here to share. :)

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  12. I agree with Sara above-you are doing well because you Care, you Learn new and Practice Awareness, you Try for success.... those matter most of all. YOu guys are doing such excellent work with your kids. Please believe in yourselves as we believe in you...

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  13. Thank you for this! As another larger family (family of 7) I, too, feel exactly this way. That there is never enough time to be with each child, that it seems as though our vision doesn't match reality. All of it! Spoke right to my heart. Perfect perspective and you pulled me right outta the gutter at a time when I'm feeling overwhelmed and that I'm lacking all the "right" tools! You're a gem and I'm so glad you're here :) Peace and blessings, Mama xo

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  14. I read your blog all the time and love it. It's comforting to see you guys are normal and things feel stressy and too much at times too. It makes me feel normal! I am a mama of four boys and have recently had the courage to clear out most of my parenting books (I had a large shelf full!) I figure that living in the moment and being fully honest and responsive to the moment is more authentic than following any set method, and that includes messy periods where things feel out of whack. Then we find our balance again! Yin and yang. Much love x

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  15. Try not to worry too much :) It's human nature for children to compete to be the favourite. What you're doing is amazing and your children are very lucky that you and your husband are so dedicated to them. Heck, I only have TWO kids (11 1/2 and 14) and it sounds like you're doing wayyyy better than we are!

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  16. I read this post early in the week and it has stayed with me in a rather unpleasant way nagging at the corners of my conscience while I am trying to fall asleep or when I am in the shower - you know those moments. I mean it's not like we know each other (I believe that blogging and other social media outlets like facebook makes for relationships that I call 'intimate strangers') but I feel compelled to say something, and I mean this in the most loving way an intimate stranger possibly can: Get off of the mommy guilt train! You drum, you craft, you create, and you most certainly love and you are pioneering. So I encourage you to remember and celebrate all that you do do, you are doing SO much! Besides, I was once told to measure a toddler's diet over the course of a week, certainly as a mother we can allow ourselves a little leeway to measure our mothering over a flexible timeframe too.

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    1. I'm sorry my post kept you up! I didn't mean it as a pity party, or an attempt to draw encouragement/compliments from others, and I certainly didn't feel guilty as I wrote it. I always appreciate reading blog posts that represent the salty as well as the sweet...and this was one of those posts that felt real at the moment. I felt drained by the intensity of the weekend. After four children, I allow myself lots of leeway, believe me! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  17. That supportive parental united front is so important. Aside from that, for what it's worth, as a mother of 5 with the two oldest now being teens, I too had times of going through the wringer. And you know what? The teens, THEY DON'T NEED THERAPY! They're a delight. All of the children are a delight. The big ones help out with the little ones (in a balanced, healthy way) and learn (and teach) fabulous life skills along the way. I am thankful to report that wringer moments are now rare. As you've observed, parenting is a process, dynamic by nature. The parent(s) take a strong, responsible, supportive lead of course, but near as I can tell, it takes a family to raise a family. And you are doing this beautifully.

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