- Speak Softly and Carry Big Eyes. Day to day and moment to moment the temptation to yell plagues moms of all sorts, particularly those of us with many small (or not-so-small-but-experiencing-the-delights-of separation-and-rebellion) children. Conditions for volume-rich communication rises not only from the stress and frustration of child-rearing, but also from the need to compete with a decibel level that rivals any heard on an airport runway or in the monkey house at the zoo. We may encourage harmony, compassion, and our very sanity if we determinedly keep our voices low and calm. We may get a point across to the young ones by catching our children’s eyes, widening our own, while exaggerating our expressions and emphasizing our words. While owl-eyes and Kinny-garden tones might well (and perhaps not undeservedly) induce our teens to pour their cereal-bowl remains over our heads, modeling respectful communication even in the face of defiance from our older lovelies provides an invaluable example for darlings who will all-too-soon be out in the big bad world alone and cold, where bellowing and door-slamming just don’t get the job done.
- Let Your Children See Your Joy. There is much about motherhood that one would not qualify as joyous. My experiences potty-training triplet boys comes painfully, and freshly to mind. (Seriously, I’ll let you know if I ever succeed. It’s only been four or five months, after all.) Poop aside, the people for whom we engage in all the stinky parts of motherhood are an undeniable, and if we’re lucky, THE major source of joy in this life and the next. And yes, it is important for Jr. to realize that the earth does not rotate around his soccer games, the poles don’t orient themselves to her TV schedule. It is good for kids to discover that Mom and Dad had lives prior to their own advent. But along with the knowledge that the majority of planet earth’s populous cares not a fig about the comings and goings of mini-you, the absolute, down to the soul certainty that they are cherished, adored, and worth every bit of stink you have undertaken for their sakes is an irreplaceable gift. It is well that they realize we sacrifice for them, but also that they know serving them, knowing them, loving, living, and breathing them is an unqualified joy. To this end, and mirroring the soft voice, smile into their sweet faces when they or you enter the room. Let them see warmth in your eyes, owlish or not. However unpleasant the task, however strong and understandable the urge to snap Not now! Can’t you see I’m cleaning up the last mess you made? Take a deep breath and let the chore before you recede from the foreground for a moment, leaving in your field of vision only the child herself. Focus on her. Let her see that her presence on this earth draws a smile from the depth of your being every time you think of her.
- Take (or Make) The time For One-on-One Interactions. I love the tumble-jumble fun and craziness that comes with a big old mob of kids. But in spite of the advantages to having many siblings, at its core, rivalry between the same is born from an inherent need in each child to be seen, know, and appreciated by his parents for himself. This need is entirely self-centered, and darned near insatiable. While it is clearly not possible to give large chunks of time to each child every day, acknowledging and accommodating this need goes a long way toward reaffirming the value of every family member and avoiding serious resentments among siblings.
The problem of viewing and treating several children as a unit rather than individuals becomes very real when dealing with multiples, particularly the higher order variety (triplets or more). My husband and I found it important to schedule “dates” with each of our children on a rotating calendar. So, we have five kiddoes. Every Tuesday Mom takes one boy out, and every Thursday dad takes another. The result is that each child has one date with each parent every five week period. The rules of these outings are that they cannot be parent-errands that the children are dragged along to. Each must be at least an hour, providing real communication time and some activity the child enjoys. If it’s a movie, it has to include a significant amount of time before or after the show. To complicate things, every six months each child gets a mega weekend outing with each parent. This is a day trip to the fair or something similar. While it is not necessary to be as specific as this, I believe it is vital that one-on-one time be planned for to some degree, or like so many valuable activities it’ll get lost in the daily grind.
Beyond the formal scheduled time, there are opportunities every day for treating children as individuals, hearing and respecting their needs, wants, and thoughts. While this tack is not always obvious, and certainly not always convenient, it does tend to disperse a melee and is worth the time and patience required. I recently had cause to marvel at a dear friend (one of those bona fide hero types who are the subject of this article), as she cared for her five children and my own five, so I could flit hither and yon house-hunting in a new state. This formidable merged group comprised one eleven-year-old, one nine-year-old, two six-year-olds, four four-year-olds, one two-year-old, and one six-weeker. I watched in awe, during a particularly rowdy lunchtime, as she, speaking calmly, informed the children that she would focus on one at a time. (The baby got a reprieve and was permitted to yowl at will, but the two year-old got to wait his turn, by golly!) True to her word, she moved one by one through various sandwich requests, complaints of staring at, breathing on, and egregious poking suffered at the hands of sibling/friends, and general observations of the awesomeness of racecars.
Each child’s needs were filled, each eager little voice heard. Oh yes, lunchtime was drawn-out, noisy, and resulted in a spectacular spattering of ham and peanut butter. It also not only kept bellies satisfied for an hour or so after its completion, but as is the potential outcome of most parenting tasks, the experience of interacting with a loving adult, observing siblings, taking turns, being loved and learning to give love and respect in return was accomplished admirably. Miss Sandy could have slapped together a dozen sandwiches and tossed them at the horde (and at times this is a strategy I’d wholeheartedly endorse), but Supermoms realize that these menial tasks are not always what we rush through to get on with more important matters; these unending, seemingly thankless endeavors are the point. There really are no shortcuts when it comes to the lessons learned from the everyday.
These three tips are clearly child-oriented. There are many other policies and strategies that focus on enforcing the child’s responsibilities. I chose these three because children behaving well begins with their being treated well and seeing their grown-ups behaving. I failed to mention a critical fourth tip, however: When you make an oopsie and fail to adhere to the above rules, speak softly to yourself (always remembering owl-eyes), recall the joy your Father in Heaven takes in you, echoed in your own joy in your children, and take some one-on-one time with this Father of All. remember, sisters in Zion, fellow-seekers of “Supermommyhood,” we are all sojourners, all learning, and, until we find that magic land and snuggle up between Santa and June, time-outs, naps, and kisses for our boo-boos are things we are all entitled to!
May your mothering be soft like a doe, and your loving fierce like a lioness!