About Me,  Family Life,  motherhood,  Parenting,  reality check

Life in the HOV lane

(Thanks a million for the outpouring of kindness yesterday. Undeserved and overwhelming.)

Since my vehicle is almost always highly occupied, I enjoy the perk of the far left lane when cruising some of Denver’s increasingly congested major highways, a privilege I can thank my numerous children for.

This morning found me boldly venturing to the nearby splash pad with zero snacks or sunscreen (which I applied before we left the house and will be patting myself on the back for all day long), the full crew clad only in swimsuits and sandals and no thought for the return trip home because I live on the edge, where I proceeded to only mildly helicopter from a bench perch while the splashing commenced. I had some time to reflect on how different mothering a larger family looks and how much more sustainable, if only based on sheer exhaustion, this version of me is. I made a mental note of this as I changed a filthy diaper in eyeshot of the woman sharing my picnic table perch who beat a hasty retreat to an adjoining bench, realizing that perhaps my standards, in some categories, have slipped too far.

Here are things I no longer do as a mom.

I don’t worry about structured play time/crafts/activities. I was never super into this to begin with, but there were definitely a few ill fated Pinterest crafting sessions when my older boys were toddlers that ended in glittery tears. I don’t even buy art supplies any more, save for the requisite twice yearly crayon and marker restocking. Maybe this makes me a monster. Maybe it makes me a genius. But when my kids want to get artistic, they have to make do with paper and crayola and that’s about it. It’s amazing the things my especially artful 5 year old has crafted from scotch tape, tin foil, and ziplock bags. Life finds a way.

I also don’t really do activities yet. Library story time, sports, lessons, etc. It’s just not the right time for us yet, and nobody is clamoring for it, so why rock the boat? We’ve had a couple rounds of swimming lessons so some people are approaching water competency, but apart from that I can’t think of a compelling reason to further complicate our schedule until it’s necessary.

Cook real meals. Sort of. 80% of the time it’s some chicken/veggie/starch encore or breakfast for dinner. Lunch is turkey, hummus, pb&j and carrot sticks. Breakfast is oatmeal or bacon and eggs. Nobody’s hair is falling out yet.

I realized a couple years into motherhood and marriage that I actually don’t enjoy cooking, and even less so when half the crew is rejecting the entree night after night. So I perfected a dozen menus that I can cook from memory and with zero motivation (chili, soup, curry, chicken parm, burgers, korean beef, fajitas, etc.) and I just…make those. Over and over again. I honestly prefer laundry to cooking and would rather be folding clothes than working on a new recipe, so I figured until I get an aspiring Julia Childs coming to me wanting to test their wings, our cuisine will be simple and our evenings will be more peaceful.

Let my kids play with screens. I have more street cred here (and they have definitely noticed) with my dumbed down smart phone, and they know there’s nothing interesting on there but maps and the camera. We don’t have a tablet and we have a strict no video game policy until further notice. Our 6.5 year old would happily play 4 hours of Minecraft a day, he has let me know in no uncertain terms, but not in my house, buddy. I don’t care if I’m socially hamstringing them (fairly confident I’m doing the exact opposite) or if it’s just delaying the inevitable addiction that humanity is now all but doomed to (but at least their brains will develop for a few years first), or if every other kid on the block has their own iPad.

They get an hour or so of tv most days, but they’re limited to PBS kids or maybe something on Netflix if mommy is willing to lend the laptop. It’s been a good transition to scheduled programming via PBS where they have one choice during any given time slot, because if it’s not a show they like, they just don’t watch it. The grownups in the house only watch tv/movies once or twice a week, so it’s easier to enforce behavior we’re already modeling. It’s not that we’re particularly virtuous is this area, it’s just that without Downton Abbey or Madam Secretary to look forward to on Sunday nights, we don’t actually find anything worth watching. Football season is another story, however.

Care about what other people think.ย My tolerance to this was already pretty high when we moved back from Rome, because after navigating the city bus system with two toddlers I felt like I could pretty much handle anything. And since I’m home most of the day by myself, if I cared what a circus parade we look like when we’re out and about, I’d basically be a hermit. But I don’t care. And when Dave is home at night or I get to go out by myself, the last thing I want to do is grocery shop. Let all of Costco stare, I don’t care. I’m too distracted by the hunt for where they moved the La Croix to this week to notice if anyone is looking at us anyway. And when the “you’ve got your hands full” comments start coming, I just respond blandly and mildly with “yep.” or “Sure do.” and maybe since it’s Denver and there are plenty of free spirited weirdos around, nobody really seems all that gobsmacked honestly. Or maybe I’ve reached the magical number of no comment.

Feel bad about making siblings share/play together/serve each other.ย As an oldest child I am mindful of not wanting to burden my firstborn overly much, but as he is a sanguine boy and not an overachieving choleric female, I think we’re in safer territory. We frequently ask the kids to do things for us to help serve a younger sibling, whether it’s running for a diaper, reading a book to someone, or pointedly including your sister in your game because you can’t say “no girls allowed” when she’s the only girl, punk.ย But nice try.

They also share rooms and toys and clothes (gender permitting) and have few truly personal possessions. There are a coterie of stuffed lovies which are true private property and thus sacrosanct, but otherwise, the booty is communal, and must be respected as such. When birthdays or Christmas roll around, the new gift is given with a 48 hour grace period before sharing will commence. Usually they void the 48 hours on their own accord and freely offer their new treasure to their siblings to experience as well, because (I tell myself) they like to share. Or they’re at least very used to it.

I can think of a handful of other less virtuous achievements, mostly involving not requiring people to get fully dressed most days (ahem, Luke) and cleaning lots of things using diaper wipes, but I think you get the idea. More kids is more work, but it’s also more streamlined. There is less stress (most days), more joy, and there are much, much dirtier floors.

What standards have you found “adjusting” as you’ve grown into your motherhood gig? Does anyone else let their one year old eat cold hot dogs straight from the fridge? Asking for a friend.


  • Michele

    I have been following your blog for quite sometime. I am single who is still slightly mourning her departure of a Carmelite monastery (2 yrs ago). I am unsure what God wills for me, but i want you to know how much of an inspiration you are and how comforting (really!!) your blogs have been. Your vulnerability and seemingly chaotic moments give me strength and courage. I thank you. Know God is cherishing your every moment and is smiling. — in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

  • Karyn

    I think I would have been very much a helicopter parent who would be pushing her kids to do every activity and overachieve in every area – I think having a large family made it too hard for me to do that, lol. I’m also very much a worrier but I feel like I have less time to perseverate on every little worry for each child. When I start obsessing about something, someone usually grabs my attention.

    Between homeschooling and having a large family, I’ve had to really relax my standards for housekeeping and I actually struggle with this. I’m probably on the minimalist scale and would have even less stuff but I do struggle with how things never feel fully clean and how many things are just plain trashed :/

  • MARY jO

    Jenny –

    I am enjoying your blog and your thoughts on raising your beautiful four children and #5 on the way.
    God Bless you as you embark on your faith filled life with your beautiful family.
    Mom of 5
    Gramma of 7

  • Andi

    I loved this article! As a mom of 4 little guys I parent soooo differently than my friends and the locals with just 1. I was just telling my husband that at open gym (at the gymnastics center),y 3 younger kids were running around while I kept an eye on them and created my own workout and every other parent was hovering over their little one. And I seriously mean hovering, no more than 3 feet ever separated them. I looked like such a “bad” parent but hey, I got a work out and they got tired. Same thing generally happens at the parks around here. My 3 and 7 year olds are insane climbers and I have never felt the need to go on the play ground with them, even when they were toddlers despite lots of parents coming up to me to tell me that they were up high or going down a steep slide. I still struggle with the housekeeping and tidyness, but yeah, all 4 of ours have to share a room at the moment and it works fine.

    • Mel

      Yes. My 16 month old scales everything and comes down the big slides at the park solo and all my kids have been that way. I stand close enough just in case he’s close to an open edge but I mostly let him do it :/ none of my kids have ever taken a flying leap or fallen off of anything at the playground ๐Ÿคž

  • Laura

    I really enjoy your blog, although I am past the child rearing, it brings back a lot of memories! I was going to ask you if you had written about your year in Rome….then I found your archives. I will have to get caught up! God Bless, and hope you have a new home soon!

  • Mia

    Splash pads are seriously God’s gift to moms with young kids. The one near our house is fenced in (thank you Jesus.) I go with all four kids a few times a week and it is actually for me. Because I sit back and read or listen to a podcast while I watch my kids run and play for hours. I also sit and watch all the other moms play in the water with their kids (what? Why?) I hear all the time “you are so Brave bringing all those kids”– I look at them puzzled.. It’s a lot easier than staying inside watching all four terrorize my home. Like you, I put sunscreen on my kids before leaving the house. I do bring snacks, because we usually go at lunchtime, one less meal to clean up at home. ๐Ÿ™‚ Love this post!

  • Amy

    Great topic, really made me think, I may have to do my own blog post about what parenting my many kids looks like now that they’re older. One thing we do now is rotate big birthday parties. Many of our kids birthdays are close together, so we do two bigger parties a year and the other ones have smaller family parties. Of course they all get to go to all the parties. But it saves our friends on the number of gifts and parties they attend for our crew and saves our family money on doing the bigger gatherings.

  • Terri Silva

    I love your blog! I am long past babies but you make me chuckle and long for those days! Your children are blessed!

  • Ashley

    First if all, I love your writing. I am a Christian ( but Anglican) mom of six, and your life and your approach to handling your brood sounds exactly like mine! I could relate to every single sentence. Your love for the Lord, written in beautiful transparency, is so encouraging. My thoughts on this brilliant blog post: No crafty stuff here, presents are bought with the group in mind ( with yes, 48 hours of gift hoarding), and having lots of responsibility for siblings is the norm. By the way, our oldest kids are 16 and almost 14, and they are happy, are school athletes and socially vibrant– and all without having ever attended a ridiculous ” mommy and me” gym or music class. Actually, my observation is that kids who are immersed in classes and surrounded by hover-craft parents at age 3 or 4 are usually a wee bit more “high maintenance.”

  • Kathleen

    This is one of my favorite topics for blog posts. I will read about it aaalll day long. I only have two kids but pretty sure I reached this level a long time ago, although I’m still working on the screen time thing. The kids are definitely better behaved without it, so we’ve been cutting back lately. I will add to your list: we do weekly baths (if that). Hopefully once they can shower themselves this will increase, but until then I’m not gonna force it.

  • Ashley Anderson

    Here’s mine. I don’t do play dates at my house. I used to do them tons when I switched to SAHM. My mind is mushy (read:anxiety/depression stuff) when my husband travels and the energy required to get hostess ready and then also serve friends food (I know no other way) and discipline my kids while talking to an adult and much much needing that adult interaction since said husband is away, but kids are interrupting like it is their sole duty in life….DEATH. UGH. Horrible. I’ve cried before (on more than 1 occasion) after saying goodbye to friends and closing the door because I was utterly exhausted, frustrated, and upset by hating the whole interaction.

    I’ve been tremendously happy just totally wiping that off my plate as even an option to consider. It is so freeing getting older and being totally ok with just not going along with what everyone else *seems* to be doing.

    • Bley

      Amen, Sister! Play dates are not the relaxing Mom-friend-time you think they will be. My kids always behave atrociously when I have company:)

  • Evelyn

    Isn’t it such a relief! I was reflecting on this not too long ago.. to be freed from the pseudo-demands of mothering children. Only one I’d add is how I look, or how I present myself during the day with the kids. I usually forget to double check my hair/face/teeth/shirt before running out and if we’re in the car and I happen to look in the rearview mirror – oh well – we left the house happily because I didn’t need to spend 20 minutes in the bathroom while the kids smeared oatmeal on the couch and a corresponding time out. And if we’re in the stroller – so be it if i’m that messy mommy mule!

  • Allison

    What have I let go of? Brushing and flossing every tooth of every kid every night. Not eating snacks in the car. Not eating messy snacks in the car. Not eating soft serve in the car. Class birthday parties. Organizing their desks. Grocery shopping (I actually just got a call to be on the Instacart customer panel next week to speak to their company … #loyal). Free time. Prompt thank-you notes. Traveling to Europe. Superglue and sharpies. And my ego, pride, vanity … you know what they say about those who give up their lives.

  • Ellen

    I could read posts like this all the time. We do baths every night, sometimes twice a day, because the girls love water, and can play for 30 minutes in there, and I can sit with them and read. Once I saw it as play time, I stopped worrying about how much water we use. I like your splash pad idea.

    • Diana

      Yes!! That’s exactly why our son gets a bath every night. Plus, summer and he’s a busy boy outside and needs it, but even in the winter. Gives me some reading time!

  • Bley

    This might be a bad relaxation of standards, but I have let go of trying to get everyone to look perfect on Sundays. Once they reach an age where they can be fully responsible for their proper attire and hygiene, we will revisit, but for now, getting 5 kids 8 and under to church just feels like an accomplishment in and of itself.

    I now feel no obligation to take my kids to every birthday party they are invited to. There have been many tears over this one. But our family’s schedule and sanity trumps the birthday celebration of an acquaintance.

    And….I don’t fight it when they start to give up their naps. Better to just accept and deal:)

  • Diana

    I LOVE this. I’ve decided I don’t care much for cooking either so we mostly rotate through the same things, more grilling in the summer (which I can delegate to my husband) and more crockpot stuff in the winter. I don’t do crafts with my kid other than the occasional card or something. We live 1/2 block from the library and have yet to do storytime (it somehow always seems to fall on the one morning I work). We do NO scheduled activities other than VBS (3 mornings last week) and that’s literally the first thing we’ve ever done like that. I hate being on other’s schedules. And I’m fine with that! Life will be crazy soon enough when he starts school!

  • Sarah

    Yes – why do they keep moving the La Croix? I usually realize it’s the last thing on my list and by that point I’m near the shampoo and feel like my bladder might burst (thanks baby #2) and I head to check-out rather than circling back.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *