Monday, November 17, 2008

How do you do it?

Since 5 is the new 7, people frequently ask me, "How do you do it?" Some out of morbid curiosity (subtext: “Why do you do it?). Some with a manic tinge of desperation. And I've never really come up with a great answer. The first thing that always comes to my mind is, “Go fast” and “Work all day.” Those aren’t very inspirational or encouraging, are they?

Last night my Brother Mark asked. And then--because our family is all about constructive criticism—he coached me on improving my answer. According to him, my answer should always begin with this:

Don't think of it as having more children; think of it as creating playmates.

One morning a week, for two hours, everyone is gone to school except Jesse. This is not necessarily my most productive time, however. Jesse is befuddled, and grumpy: "Where is everyone?" Instead of toddling off to join whatever madness the moment brings, he follows me around.

My siblings and I have almost no memories of our mother sitting down to play with us. She did many, many, many great things, and we all felt loved and attended to. But playing was what our siblings were for. We would never have dreamed of asking Mom to build a Lego fort with us. In fact, I remember her sitting down to play Lincoln Logs with Logan—her grandson—and not knowing how they work. This is a woman who had had Lincoln Logs in her home for twenty years.

I'm always a bit annoyed by parents who seem to accept responsibility to meet their child's every need for entertainment and play and emotional regulation. Of course children need lots of supervision and coaching, and of course extreme independence can veer into neglect. But one of the many ways I believe a largish family is healthy for children is that it generally gives children room to learn how to take responsibility for themselves.


  1. Hmmmm. I was totally with you until the last paragraph where I think you veered slightly off from my opinion. But, maybe that will change when I have as many kids as you. I guess I don't technically disagree with your last paragraph - but it is one of my goals as a mother to let all my children have memories of me playing with them. To never say "no" (sometimes "in a minute") when someone asks me to read them a book. When Naomi was my only child I planned an hour into each day where I could sit on the floor with her and do whatever she wanted - but I guess you're right there that she needed some playmates. I still try to do that with all three kids now, although it's usually not for an entire hour. But I do try to do it daily. I plan to never stop sitting on the floor with my kids (maybe we'll graduate to the table when they're bigger).
    But really, you're the expert! Who am I to disagree? (no hard feelings here - just expressing opinion)

    And I do really hate those comments from people about "are those all yours" or some joke about birth control or whatever. I like Mark's suggested response.

  2. I think actually we probably agree, nanc. I'm all for quality time with the kids (as well as low-quality quantity time). But you're not one of those parents who lets the child totally dictate the day. You don't feel you have to fill every request.

    For example, I have a friend who comes to visit, and she'll be talking to me, and her child totally interrupts, and she stops talking to me to immediately do what her child wants--instead of saying, "Just a minute honey I'm talking to Angela right now." She can't let her child play a game with another child; she has to play the game--not sometimes, every time.

    Or I've seen parents who, if their child cries, both parents stop everything to give 100% attention to the child's sadness and do everything possible to fix it. When sometimes the kids are sad because the world doesn't revolve around them and that's the way it should be.

  3. I love reading your blog Angela! It is so fun because you are a great writer and you are not afraid to let people see that you are not perfect, none of us are! And that adds to the enjoyment of living and learning together. With that said, I want to tell you what I recently learned that works wonders for Hunter when his four big brothers are at school. After breakfast I put three or four activities on the table that might interest him. He will spend an hour or two at a time doing things at the table now, with short breaks to follow me, or eat or whine. OK it doesn't work 100% of the time! These activities could be paper or coloring book and crayons, simple puzzles, playdough, scrap paper with scissors, a snack such as pretzels, letter magnets, picture books, building toys, or whatever sparks his interest. Hope that's helpful! Love you lots Angela!

  4. See, this is a post I've had brewing in my mind and you went ahead and wrote it better than I would have. Maybe I'll still take a stab at it. My main point is (or was going to be, or still may be) what you say in your comment, about parents who drop everything to attend to their child's sadness--those kids end up miserable and in constant need of "fixing" later in life. If your child is cries (the whiny cry), your first reaction should be nothing...if they come to you then validate their feeling ("that sounds frustrating") and say "what are you going to do about that?" Otherwise you teach them that they are helpless.

  5. I like your revised answer: playmates! brilliant.

    But I do think some people are mentally able to handle lots of chaos in the form of kids. "go fast" and "work all day" sounds more than a bit overwhelming to me. I really don't think I am one of those people. So I see you and I am amazed.