Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Three 3 and Under--Letter to an Expectant Mom

The other day I was thinking about a cousin who asks me for advice in having 3 Three and Under. I was having an especially hard day and analyzing why my day was particularly difficult. I was wondering how I could help prepare other expectant moms who are looking forward to having their 3rd child. I always enjoyed getting advice and tips from moms of 3 when I was pregnant with Justus. So, here's my current best tip, and I'm sure you'll find that this post applies to you no matter how many children you have.

You are your own worst enemy.

Dear ________,
I know you are looking forward to holding that little bundle soon and are wondering how you'll make it with three little beings needing you day in and day out.
Recently, upon analyzing myself on my hardest days, I have come to this conclusion. You are your own worst enemy when it comes to trying to juggle life with three. What do I mean by this?
Well, I'll give you an example from my own life. I tend to be the typical firstborn: chained to a sense of duty, responsible, motivated, independant, and energetic. Throw in the fact that my parents are both "beavers" and tough as nails and have been known to tell me to "cowgirl up*" and you have a recipe for someone who is always trying to take on too much and is frustrated that there aren't more hours in the day or that I can't do better.
Because I'm pretty energetic I didn't feel the squeeze as much with only two kids. I could still stay up until all hours of the night and could still accomplish so much. I still managed to clean my parents' house for pay and do all kinds of things I had done with only one child. I had no lack of passion for my husband and fixed my hair nicely every day. But three is kicking my behind some days! Maybe you are the type that got kicked after only one kid or maybe you are the opposite personality as me and prefer to be less active and are more passive and un-motivated. Whether you are like me or not, you will find that YOU are the person that is probably going to make things the hardest with a third child.
We all have different thresholds of endurance. We also have different gifts. Whether you are the type who accomplishes a lot or the type who struggles with laziness, you will find yourself overwhelmed with three at times, and like me, you'll discover that it's often your own fault, whether from trying to do too much or not getting enough done due to lack of organization and discipline. Dave Ramsey is always talking about how you won't get ahold of your money problems and fix them until you deal with the man in the mirror. In order to get out of debt and start saving you have to deal with your own issues and stop spending money to fulfill a need in yourself. This is true of being a mom as well. If you can't learn to put aside yourself, you will be frustrated and angry all the time because 3 little ones demand so much of you, around the clock, 7 days a week, for years on end.
Yes, there are times when you are just tired from getting no sleep and times when the kids are sick or when everything seems to go wrong. Yes, there are times when our husbands place demands upon us or we have obligations to fulfill at church or with our children's schools/homeschooling, etc.
But often, on days you find yourself extremely irrited and irrational it will be because you volunteered to take supper to someone in need, you invited two sets of company over in two days, you can't ignore the mess, you freak out about germs or sticky hands, you can't tell a friend no, you agreed to a babysitting job, you felt obligated to throw a party for someone, you want to accomplish this lesson in homeschooling, you have a burning desire to get a craft project done, you feel the need to have a perfect home, or you signed up to make treats.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think it's wonderful to serve others and to celebrate and to create beautiful things with our hands. I do think it's nice to make our homes a haven and seek for them to be clean and restful. I think we need to show hospitality and experience good fellowship. On a great day we might even be able to accomplish a lot.

But when you have 3 very small ones, planning to do something other than keeping them fed, dry, and alive each day can push you over the edge. And biting off more than you can chew can make you not only physically weary, but also soul weary. Especially if you make this your pattern in life.
So, in order to survive having three, you have to confront your own worst enemy, yourself.
Here are some ideas, my friend, that I am using in my own life to combat the gal in the mirror:

*Remembering my priorities. Am I having time in the Word? Am I teaching my kids from the Word? Reading the Bible in a year plan has been so good for me and for my kids!

*Giving up my craving for lots of "unwinding time" and forcing myself to go to bed earlier. It's absolutely necessary when you have 3 kids, one of whom never naps, because it's your only chance for sleep each day. Justus has been sleeping very long stretches for a month now and therefore if I'm a zombie in the morning it's MY fault because I always stay up reading too late!

*Saying "no." I've posted on this before but it's something we need to be continually reminded of. This doesn't mean I say no to everything. I often babysit a friend's toddler for a couple of hours and my mom pays me to make dinner for her once a week (she picks it up), but this does mean I say "Absolutely not" when my brother asks me if I'll help cater his wedding or my mom asks me if I'll help do the Groom's Dinner.

*Lowered expectations--It absolutely KILLS me when my house is a disaster and someone comes by, especially if it's one of "those people" who you feel the need to impress, (your landlord, someone who said you were crazy to have 3 kids, your mom-in-law if she lives close by) and yet it absolutely KILLS you to try to keep it perfectly clean too! If you want to survive having 3 tiny ones without being a miserable, irritable, catty, angry woman you have to accept that often the floors will be sticky and the sink will be full of dishes. You can do your best to pick up and teach your kids to be neat, but you just won't have the time to do it all, every day, in addition to keeping your kids fed and happy. A lot of days it will be time with the kids or a clean house, either/or.

*Cutting back on time with friends and/or time spent on hobbies. This is not to say I can never enjoy a Ladies' night or make a craft. I still attend a weekly woman's Bible Study which I thoroughly enjoy. I still make time to blog as I find it very beneficial in my life. This is to say that I have about half as much time to do friend/hobby things so I have to choose more carefully whom I will spend time with or how I will spend my free time. As Elizabeth Prentiss said in Stepping Heavenward, "I may see less of friends, but I have gained one dearer than them all. Yes, my precious baby, you are welcome to your mother's heart, welcome to her time, her strength, her health, to her most tender cares, to her life-long prayers! "

*Simplifying my schedule and possesions. I've posted recently on our pioneer-living experiments. In addition to trying to simplify "stuff clutter", I have simplified my schedule since having 3 as well. Don't think this is easy because people will continue to ask you to just as many events as they always did even if you have 3 now. And if your child is in preschool or an activity you will automatically have lots of events to attend as well as picking them up. Since having 3, I no longer take the kids grocery shopping but go when Daddy watches the kids for an hour or two. In fact, this almost feels like too much because I still feel like I'm working when I'm getting out and away from the kids. I'm trying to get it down to shopping every two weeks and buying more in bulk. I also don't take the kids swimming as much and we don't hit the thrift store much at all. I hit Walgreens only once a month, if that. We usually do 1-2 outings (to library time or a friends' house) per week now. I am so thankful to live in our current home with a big backyard and more privacy because the main reason we went out every day at our old place was just for sanity's sake!

*Fighting for Couple Time. There once was a time when you could spend hours gazing at one another with adoring eyes. A time when you cuddled and played games and went out on the town. With each kid it gets harder to find time, energy, and motivation to have special time together. You have to fight for it by planning for it, preparing for it, and putting aside the thousands of things you have to do on your to-do list.

I hope this post doesn't make you those of you with one or two feel scared to have a third! I wouldn't trade having 3 for ANYTHING!!! I love them so much and am so glad I had 3, and I'm even glad I had them all 21 months apart! Each baby has caused me to grow more and more in character and discipline, and has forced me to give up more of my own selfishness. So, embrace the joy of having 3 by putting yourself in the Lord's hands and allowing Him to strip away the things you cling to during this demanding stage of parenting. When you start to feel absolutely overwhelmed by it all, remember that it's probably because you planned too much, expected too much, overcommitted, or haven't been organized or disciplined and talk with God and your husband about how you can change things.


The Three 22nds said...

Good post. Noah and I have been talking about a lot of this too. I am very driven and goal oriented. Noah is not. I always have projects, commitments and expectations that are too hard for me to meet. It is helpful to have each other because I motivate him to acoomplish some things and he convinces me to lighten up.

I have been planning a post on this soon, because I have been trialing a "new plan" (I am full of plans) and it is working pretty well.

Nikki said...

Thank you for this post. I am a new reader, and I cannot quite remember how I found you. I have two children, a two and a half year old and a one year old. We figure it's time to add another one, so I, God willing, will have three children aged three and younger, so this post was especially meaningful to me.

I have found that my days are less hectic, and I actually get more done when I take the time to sit on the floor and PLAY with my children. We all enjoy the time, and then they are more willing to play by themselves while I get some things done.

Sarah said...

So true! Though I have never been accused of being driven or organized, I can relate to the "your own worst enemy" statement. My hugest problems with three little ones (4 and under, now) center around my selfishness, impatience and perfectionism. Like you, I noticed more of a problem with one, not much of a difference with two, but three was my threshold for so many things. Now something definitely *has* to give! (And there really isn't much left *to* give!)
I can relate to the shopping paragraph and the friend/activity paragraph *especially*. It is encouraging to read that someone else deals with the same struggles in a similar situation.
Thank you for articulating!

Sarah said...

Sorry to comment twice, but this post made my day. I've put a link to it on my blog. Thank you!

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