Saturday, November 22, 2008

Three 3 and Under--Bringing Chaos With You

One of the hardest things about having Three 3 and Under is the chaos you bring with you wherever you go. Once you master going somewhere with the three, you realize it's not difficult to do, especially as your oldest becomes more and more obedient and helpful. However, you do notice that whenever you do end up going to events, you bring a lot of chaos/mess/destruction along! For example, the other day a friend invited us to a playdate at her home. It's a nice place, and the kids enjoyed all the exciting toys, both indoor and outdoor (since it's been very warm here) that they could play with. When it was time to go, it felt like I was trying to herd 50 cats! It literally took us an hour to leave. The baby was a bit fussy so I couldn't just put him down and I was standing-nursing him off and on throughout my attempt to get the kids to clean up. I was also trying to be-coat kiddoes who were not at all happy to leave and get them to clean up about a trillion toys that they had gotten out both outside, inside, and upstairs and downstairs in my friend's house.

This is the scenario that occurs everytime we go to my parents' home too. When it's time to go, the kids are usually tired because it's bedtime and it feels like a futile ordeal to get them to clean up, find coats, find shoes, get these things on, clean up toys, give hugs, etc. It seems like you get one ready to go only to find that the other one has taken their coat and shoes off again! Or you prod your oldest to clean up an area and when all the toys are picked up, you turn your back to gather your things and the 2-year old has emptied the toy basket again! Now, if my husband is with me, he helps round up the kids and my parents and brother help me too in getting them to the van and buckling them in, but I feel bad that I haven't been able to help with the dishes or meal clean-up and sometimes even the toy clean-up. Even with two of us working at it, we still leave an impact (used sippy cups, wet floors from cleaning up the kids' dinnertime spills, dirty high chair, crumbs, stuff re-arranged that the kids have picked up and moved, etc.) and proof that we have been there with a lot of little ones!

Church is the same way. If we attempt a conversation with anyone, our kids will run off with the other kids and usually do something they shouldn't, like drench their clothes at the water fountain, run along the balcony making horrific noise in the church, or Jeremiah will wander outside and stand behind vans backing up in the parking lot (parental heart attack!). So, we have to resign ourselves to physically holding the kids while quickly visiting, or trying to get out of the church quickly so no one tries to talk to us. Sometimes one of the older kids at church will take our kids to the playground outside and that is wonderful! I'm also thinking about putting Jeremiah on my back in the Ergo after church so that I can keep both of my little boys with me and safe. Jer is at that age I can only describe as "I'm discovering as many ways as I possibly can to hurt or almost kill myself without!"

I really don't have any good answers for how to avoid bringing chaos with you wherever you go. I do know that staying home all the time is about the best answer, but that's impossible and stifling for both the mom and the kids. With 3 kids I'm staying home a lot more because it's just not worth it to go out much when I have to chase a 2-year old, discipline a 3-year old, and nurse a baby 24/7. I shop on Thursday nights with Justus after the other kids go to bed and am cutting back on thrift store runs and have cut way back on Walgreens runs (boo-hoo). I know that it will get better when they are out of this really small stage where there are lots of messes and lots of tears and the need for continual training and watching. At this point though, I feel like taking the kids with us to someone's house is more stressful than not going at all, unless I leave them with a sitter or go by myself when Daddy's with them.

Here are some ideas that may help in controlling the levels of chaos you have with several little ones:

*Short playdates at friends' homes

*Only shopping or running errands during times of the day when kids are energetic and happy

*Playdates in places designed for kids to get exercise (swimming pool, parks, play gyms)

*Not taking kids to places where it is too stressful to watch them or keep them from destroying things.

*Being prepared (have kids eat and go potty before running errands or going somewhere)

*Have a game plan (discuss with your spouse who will watch which kid(s) after church and be sure your kids know the rules and the consequences for behavior at church. An area we need to work on!

*Immobilizing the kids (bring a portable high chair to strap them in or a stroller or an Ergo)

*Consistent discipline at all times at home which will eventually bear some fruit (though you may not always see it!)

*Power snacks--healthy snacks with lots of protein throughout the day to keep kids blood sugar levels even and help prevent meltdowns

*Adjust expectations--We crave friendships with other women and a chance to talk with them but we have to realize that our friendships and our conversations with other adults will be majorly stifled when there are little ones with us. More on this in a future post on this topic.

I would love to hear from experienced moms on this issue. What is your exit strategy when it comes to leaving someone's home or visiting with folks at church? Please help those of us moms dealing with these endless demands of motherhood!


Thia said...

Yesterday someone in the family turned 100. I stayed home with the kids b/c I couldn't face taking all three of them to a nursing home. Dh would have been there to help, but I still couldn't work up the gumption. So he went alone.
So far, the imobilizing seems to work best, but that only lasts for so long. I don't think you mentioned getting them involved if possible. Like shopping, I try to let them help out. But it's hard when they're tired and cranky or when I am tired and cranky.
And yes, very isolating. That particularly has been difficult the last few days...

Kristin said...

I really don't have any profound advice, because honestly, even with just 2 kids I feel like it's a huge chore getting them ready to go somewhere. But I do have a story that relates to this post that just happened yesterday.

You mentioned being prepared - having them go potty before we run errands, etc. Well yesterday I had to make a quick run to the post office to mail a package out. That was all I was going to do and I knew there were no bathrooms there, so I had Madison go potty before we left. I didn't bring anything else (diaper bag, toys, sippy cups) with because that was the only place we were going to go to.

We were nearly to our exit when Madison yells from the backseat "I have to go potty!" I couldn't believe it. I told her she just went before we left. How did she have to go again so soon? "I have to go poop!"

I didn't want to make her wait until we got back home, so I tried to think of where we could stop. There is a gas station right by the exit, so I pulled in there. Noah is at the stage where he is fighting getting into his carseat so I knew this was not going to be the quick and easy errand I was hoping for. We went in, Madison went potty, I fought with Noah to get him back into his carseat, we went to the post office, did my stuff there, fought with Noah again to get him back into the carseat, got Madison buckled in, and saw that somewhere Noah had lost a shoe. Both kids were all buckled in and ready to go and I did NOT want to take them out again. Even though I hated doing it, I locked the car doors, ran into the post office very quickly, saw his shoe on the floor, grabbed it, and ran back out to the car. The whole thing took about 10 seconds so they weren't alone in the car for very long. But still, I hate doing things like that!

So my "quick" trip into town wasn't so quick and easy. Even though I tried to be prepared!

Sorry this was so long! :-)

The Three 22nds said...

Here is what I do:

1. We don't clean up toys at other people's houses. I know that sounds terrible, but most of your friends, if they have kids or had kids will understand. My mom, dad and sister say: "just get them ready and go. It is much easier and more efficient for us to do after you are gone." So I swallow the super mom urge and just leave. I encourage my friends just to leave my house without cleaning up a thing and they in turn do the same for me. So make a pact with your friends. (obviously, as my kids get older I will encourage cleaning up more and more, but now it is just too chaotic.)

2. We don't do much visiting at church. This kills my husband because he likes to stand around and visit. But the kids are tired, hungry and it is simply asking too much for them to all stand quietly next to you.

3. Ask for help! A lot of my friends that I hang out with don't have a small one like I do. If we are at play group,or the park and I have to discipline another child or take them to the bathroom, I ask them to keep an eye/hold the little one. Sometimes us as moms feel like we are insinuating that the other mom is not doing a good job if we offer to help. So I ask. And they are glad to do it.

4. Shopping: sometimes, when I have to run errands I call my mom or my sister or a kidless friend and ask them If I can pick them up. We visit in the car and when I run into the places they stay in the car with the kids. In exchange we have a chance to talk and I offer to mail their packages, pick up stuff they need etc. I also delegate little jobs to my husband. He can run the little "in and out" errands on his lunch hour. I don't do it all the time, but he knows that it is much easier for him to do it solo then for me to do it with 3 kids, so he is always glad to help.

Innocent Observer said...

The 22nds had it right on. I was going to suggest some of the same things. Have an agreement with your friends to NOT have the kids do the clean up. You can still tell the kids it's time to go and put away a toy or two, but don't stress the whole thing.

If you let the kids into the kitchen you are not actually having them "cook", even if they proudly say that they did. It's the same with clean up. Let them do a little bit and feel proud, rather than trying to have them do it all and have it end with everyone upset.

Personally, I think that young mothers try to require too much from young children. Asking them to have a play date, behave during it, then when completely exhausted clean up? It's too much.

Set your sights a bit lower. Even your oldest is still a baby. It doesn't seem like it now, but when you look back you'll understand.

At church, maybe you could say, "I would love to chat with you. Would you walk over to the playground with us for a few minutes?" It's hard to expect the children to be still for church and then wait again. They need to burn off some energy.

Even better, you could invite people back to your house after church for some pre baked or purchased coffee cake so the kids can be supervised while you visit.

Don't think that the other mothers have it together. They don't. Please believe me. Also, don't think that your children have the ability to behave and understand the consequences all the time. They don't. Even adults cannot be obedient all the time. That's what makes us human.

I have 5 children (and had two foster children) the oldest of whom is 13. When they were little I felt that their behavior was reflective of me and of my parenting. As we have all aged, I now KNOW that this is false. I can be a good person and a good parent and still have ill behaved children.

Hang in there and enjoy this time. When I look back I remember it as my favorite parenting time, but I also remember thinking at the time that it was hell and I was not going to survive it. Funny how that is.

Mrs. Jo said...

I love all of your ideas!!! Thank you so much!

I'm glad to know I'm not alone in this dilemma.

I am going to talk to my closest friends about a no-pick-up rule when we are at each other's homes. Then, when I say it's time to go, we will try to get one or two toys per kid picked up and then just leave! Then I won't feel guilty about it when I don't help clean up each and every time.

Poor Kristin!

Thanks for sharing Innocent Observer. I know that I often expect too much. I have this feeling that I will look back and think these days were some of the best and yet when you are going through it day (and night) it can be overwhelming some days!

One other idea I had for church was to ask an older kid to be Jeremiah's specific buddy after church for that week. If no one wants to, then I could just take him to the nursery to play with toys and invite someone I need to visit with to go in there with me.

Nicole said...

I think everyone had good tips! I've really learned just to give up some of the control and order I'd like to have and go with the flow!

The biggest things for me are making sure the kids aren't tired or hungry. If I meet their needs first they're much more compliant. I try hard not to get irritated when my expectations of them aren't met and just realize that someday I will be able to go out without all the chaos! But for now, I just have to deal with it!

A friend of mine just lost her dd a few months ago to a tragic accident in their home and my husband's cousin's daughter was killed in a car accident less than 2 weeks ago. It's these things that put everything into perspective for me. My kids can be loud, messy, etc. but that's just what kids are! I try to just be thankful I have my kids because I'm frequently reminded of those that have lost a child who would give anything to hear one last scream, clean up one last mess, etc.

Hang in there! It gets easier!

S. and Company said...

I've enjoyed reading all of the comments. I think there are lots of good ideas there. Many of them we implement already, and now I have a few new ones too. Personally, after experiencing a bought of depression after a year of having a live-wire two year old and a demanding infant, I have come to a conclusion. I do not need to be a mommy martyr. I have realized that I don't have to try to please everyone around me. My husband is a youth pastor and I think being committed to a body of believers is VERY important. That being said....I have come to the point of occasionally not going to church. In my situation, church is mostly on my shoulders because of my husband's job. Last year I dragged Seth and Haddie and I to church even with slight colds, even when we had gotten home late the night before, ect. Now, since July I think I have kept the kids home from chuch 4 or 5 times. I know it seems like a lot, but it is helping me keep my sanity (and honestly, on those bad days last year, none of us were able to give or receive much anyway. And attendance is still important to us. But... there it is - one way I am learning to get through these toddler years - being ok with not showing up for EVERYTHING!.)

R Dvorak said...

WOW! There are a lot of good thoughts here. I would add a few things I try to maintain too. For instance, I always try to have something for the kids to do and I try to have something in each bag that I carry. My purse has a sandwich size ziploc bag with a few things like: a little car and airplane, a memory card game, a set of 10 charade cards, an harmonica, a few crayons and a small pad of paper, a few stickers (or even a roll of scotch tape) and a toddler set of legos from a subway kids meal. My purse also has little treats for rewards and to help keep the kids awake, or deal with bad breath as needed too, LOL. So I have life saver mints and starburst. The diaper bag has other items along similar themes. I try to always have another option to occupy hands and sometimes mouths. And I try to change the items every now and then, so there is something new to play with. I also try to have purposeful momments of wiggle time and loud time. So in the car on the way to someplace when the kids will need to be quiet (like church) then I say "Okay it is loud time, everybody try to be as loud as you can as long as you can" They scream and yell, make a huge ruckus and I join it. Then as we park and unbuckle, I say, "Okay now it is quiet time. Everybody practice what do we do in quiet time?" And it becomes a game. Also, when I'm in the bathroom with the kids before service, we have wiggle time, I remind them to wiggle and point out areas of their body that still has a wiggle inside. Then when we are leaving the stall I say, "Okay, now we got out all the wiggles so we will sit still and quiet in service." Then if they start to wiggle in service, I remind them, "we already got out that wiggle." I also try to involve them when we go places, we look for shapes, colors, specific seasonal things, etc. Lately when we go to the store we play the game, "Who will find the first snowman?" And if one child is always getting the answer, then I specify, Jalinda is looking for a christmas tree and Janema is looking for a santa face. We avoid places with breakables everywhere. But we sometimes go to a section where they can touch things, like which fabric feels soft? or Does this feel furry? etc. I have become very good at two cart shopping, one hold the kids and coats while the other holds the purchases. And most people see me coming and just let us pass with a smile or nod. I save my serious adult conversation for childcare times like women's Bible study or a coffee date. I have a group of lady friends that are all moms and we try to have a girltime date every now and then to reconnect without kids. Oh my, this is getting long. I hope this has been helpful. I enjoy so much about being a mom and I'm thrilled my kids are growing up together. However . . . there are momments when . . . ! Well, I love hearing about others tricks and techniques. Thanks for this post.

R Dvorak said...

Oh, I almost forgot, another item I carry that is very effective is leftover bubbles from weddings and birthday parties. The containers are usually small enough to carry around. And they not only entertain, but they can draw a croud of kid that all want to play. Sometimes one of the teenage girls will blow bubbles after church and it can help a lot of parents have their conversations. It also really helps in the waiting room at clinics. And I found a pack of 24 bottles for 3 dollars at walmart about a year ago and they have lasted wonderfully.

Anonymous said...

What a great topic! I am a mom of three, with #4 on the way, though mine are now 8,5,2, and "baking." :)

Like others, with my close friends we have a basic "no clean up rule" -- you don't clean at my house, and I don't clean at yours! Ha! However, we generally try to stay WITH the children while chatting and avoid major destruction. I also limit which rooms are available for play, as do my girlfriends. For example, my kids rooms are off limits, but the rest of the house (basement playroom, living room, kitchen, outdoors) are all open for play. I simply explain this way-- toys in the bedrooms are not childproofed :) and are not all safe for littles. This way, some area of the home stays reasonably clean and we avoid thousands of things moving from level to level.

Another idea...when it is time to go, have a fun idea for what happens next (home for movie time, etc.), coats and shoes lined up, and do a countdown-- "let's see who can be ready before I count to 20!" Kids love countdowns! Also, some Love and Logic strategies typically have worked with my kiddos-- ex. "would you like to wear your coat or carry your coat?" "would you like fish snacks or fruit snacks in the car?" "Would you like to hug your friend or shake her hand?" The idea is to make all the choices something YOU can live with. Don't be afraid to be silly...should we wear our shoes on the right feet or the wrong feet? I find that the kids who have the most trouble with transitions also have the moms who are least likely to make things fun. It doesn't ALL have to be fun, of course, but a little creativity can make a dreaded thing bearable. Just like kids, I like choices. :)

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