guilt and time, too much of one and not enough of the other

Hi Chris,

I feel really weird emailing, because a) I don’t usually comment on blogs that I read or email or contact those people who create them and b) the irony of what I’m writing to you about and the fact that I’m sitting here emailing you while I should be doing something else, is not lost on me. My problem: Guilt and lack of time.

For a starters I have three children,ages 4 and under, and am pregnant with number 4, who is also the lucky last.

I suddenly feel I don’t have enough time. I mean before, I didn’t have enough time to go to the park for an hour or so. Or, to make an extravagant dinner, or to sit down and have a coffee and relax with a book etc etc. Now - I feel like I don’t have time to do the simple things - like spend 5 mins reading a book, or playing trains, or colouring.

I can’t do all that and make dinner, pay bills, clean the house etc. I can’t do any of that, it seems anymore and now and then I am struck by the thought “Good God, what have I done?” Why, would I make my children suffer further by having another child? I have become impatient and controlling and I can almost hear the clock ticking in my head throughout the day. It’s not like this everyday but today has been a bad day and when there is a bad day, the guilt is kind of choking.

My questions (finally): How do you deal with time management? How do you find that 5 mins in the day for each of them? How do you stop saying “I’ll help you in a minute?/ I’ll be there in a minute/ I’d love to play Snakes and Ladders… in a minute” Do you get it all done in a day? Do I sound like a bad parent? Because sometimes I wonder.

Thanks for making me feel human. Your blog really does make it feel like you can parent a whole bunch of kids with a smile on your face. I just don’t know where mine went.

The Non-smiling mother

First off, you do not sound like a bad mother. You sound like a normal mother, having a bad day. Pregnancy can do that to you. It can string the bad days end upon end, punctuated with periods of fatigue, nausea, and did I mention the fatigue?

People always ask me how I manage with 7 children, but truthfully it was much more challenging physically when they were all young. Too young to do anything for themselves and they all relied on me for everything. I think that is one of the things people don’t realize before they have children of their own is how exhausting it can be taking care of little people.

They need to eat meals (several in a day!), and have snacks, and be entertained, diapers changed, baths drawn… then multiply it by several young ones and you have a recipe for feeling overwhelmed.

The simple answer is PLANNING! PLANNING! PLANNING! Did I mention planning? And probably lowering some of your expectations.

It is easy to say, but always more diffcult to implement. I’ll focus on two of the things that you mention: setting time aside for your children, and meal preparation.

I make doing something wih my children a priority on my list. Yes, I usually write a list, particularly when I am feeling overwhelmed. To me feeling overwhelmed hampers my ability to prioritize and make good decisions. So I will write on the top of my list, before the chores and such, “Go outside and jump rope with the children,” or whatever it is that they have been wanting me to do. Sometimes it is play a board game which makes me want to gouge my eyeballs out with a blunt butter knife, but they enjoy it so. The game playing, not eyeball gouging.

I’ll give today as an example. Right now it is 9:30 in the morning. I have been up since 7:00. Most of that time I have been writing on my computer, pausing to throw some laundry in, tell children to get dressed, and getting breakfast ready (cold cereal today, easy for everyone). I notice the bathroom needs to be cleaned, but it wasn’t a priority on my list today so I stick it on the bottom of the list. If I get to it, I get to it… if not it’ll wait.

I have written 10-12:00 as outside time. The kids want me to go outsode with them while they show me their new jump rope tricks, which I can only hope doesn’t involve lassoing and hog tying anyone. So at 10:00, I will turn my computer off and go out with them. Even if it kills me.

I used to write on paper, but now I have a nice journal that I write in. I make lists, jot down blog ideas, write funny things that the children say. Sometimes I am forced to write in crayon because I can’t find a pen or pencil, but overall it works for me. I keep it near me all day. So far I haven’t lost it and the children seem to respect it more than random sheets of paper because it is book-like.

Yes, I write down spending time with my children on a list like it is a chore to be accomplished. because, c’mon let’s be honest how many of us really want to play another game of Candy Land in our lives? Yeah, I thought so.

I have found that if I spend some time upfront with my children they are more accepting of giving me some space so I can do work later on uninterrupted. It’s like charging up their neediness batteries. After spending some quality time with me they are charged up and ready to play independently for a while. If they know that they will have their fun time with me at some point they are also willing to be somewhat accomodating if I have to say not now.

On to meal preparation. If you have read my other blog you know that cooking is not one of my strong points. In fact I doubt that there is a household chore I like less. So my goal is to prepare nutritous meals, which also taste good to small people, that require the least amount of my time.

The crockpot is my friend. And so is my bread maker, I actually have two of these. You set it all up first thing in the morning and you will not believe what a load is off of your mind for the rest of the day. Dinner done and cooking by 9:00 am is the BEST feeling ever.

I bring my meat home from the store break it up into freezer bags in portions sized for our family, pour in a marinde, and stick it in the freezer. Defrost it in the refrigerator, or if you are like me, the counter, and it is ready to cook. Add a couple of sides or use your bread maker, and you are done. The times I don’t do this and just toss the meat in the freezer in it’s store packaging, I regret it.

I would encourage you to set aside 4 half hour blocks of time during the day. In fact it is a challenge I have for you. A half hour for each child and one for you. Pick a time and an activity for each of you that can be contained within an half an hour. When it is your turn do whatever it takes to get your time. Put on a video and give them some baggies of dried cereal. Do not do any chores during your time. Try not to even think about them. Do something that will rejuvenate you.

Then anything else you can manage will be gravy. It will feel as if you are really accomplishing spending time doing something with your children, you will be able to prioritize your chores and get rid of some of that guilt.

Good luck. Remember the mama mantra: This too shall pass. And it will.

33 Responses to “guilt and time, too much of one and not enough of the other”

  1. Jodi Says:

    I am sitting at my desk crying, relieved that I am not the only “Non Smiling Mother” this morning. The phrase “in a minute” is always coming out of my mouth! I will definitely heed your advice, Chris. I too am a list maker, but actually putting the children on the list? Seems so obvious now. Why didn’t I think of that???

  2. Sonya Says:

    I have wandered over here from DYM & I have already fallen in love with your style…thanks for the basics & the happy reminder that bad days come (& thankfully, GO)…
    I’ll be back!
    ~mom of 3 with 2 adopted kids on the way

  3. T in HD Says:

    I “only” have three and am in no way an expert on large families (my sister, on the other hand, is!) but one thing I did want to mention is that it isn’t always purely numbers that can be difficult to manage. More people does take more planning finesse but, to the mom with three (soon to be four) under age four…wow. That’s a lot of *little* kids. And these little critters really do get easier to care for (if not manage, LOL!) as they grow into slightly bigger and more self-sufficient critters. I guess I just wanted to say, take heart and don’t panic about “what you’ve done” to yourself/kids. This is a phase, a difficult one to be sure, but still a phase of your parenthood and it will pass. The kids will get older and things won’t feel so intense.

    And Chris, a thousand apologies if I’ve stepped on your toes. I am in no way any sort of authority on parenting and don’t mean to give advice on your blog!! I just wanted to put in my less-than-two-cents-worth. And for what it’s worth, I’m really having one of those bad mommy days today and trying to remind myself that this too shall pass. The kids are driving me **insane** right now. As the toddler sits next to me kicking me with her feet while I type, number four feels further and further off…..

  4. JustLinda Says:

    May I be so bold as to post a link? Last October, I wrote a post on my blog titled “How does she do it?” and I thought it might be appropriate to share it here. If not, feel free to delete…

    Congrats on the new blog! Looks great, and I’ve got you bookmarked!

  5. JustLinda Says:

    Oh, for the cooking thing… here’s what I did. I created a spreadsheet of about 15 or 20 EASY meals that are still rather healthful (at least compared to fast food drive through). Each week, I pick 5-7 of these and shop for what I need. Each evening, I look at the list and make what it says to make.

    I’ve been a mom for 23 years and I’ve JUST started doing this, which goes to prove that I’m not that bright. I mean, I used to think that the extra work of making a menu and a shopping list and using it wasn’t worth it.

    BUT? Oh my god - it’s SOOOO easy to come home from work and not have to think about dinner. I just look at the list and make the darn spaghetti and meatballs and toss a salad (or whatever). Simple, pre-decided. NO BRAINER. I’ll never turn back… this has been such a great change for me.

  6. Nicole Says:

    I loved what you said about recharging kids neediness batteries. I think that is really true.

  7. the womom Says:

    “After spending some quality time with me they are charged up and ready to play independently for a while. If they know that they will have their fun time with me at some point they are also willing to be somewhat accomodating if I have to say not now.”

    I’ve also found this to be true.

  8. april Says:

    I love the put the kids on the list, duh seems so obvious and I never thought of that!

    When I was “in the thick of it” with little ones I did the once a month cooking with a friend and it kept me sane. One day a month or about every 6 weeks we would meet at my house and prepare dinners for a month, it was fun and exhausting, but oh the rewards! I would pull out a casserole pop it in the oven and wa-lah dinner was done!

  9. Sasha Says:

    Thanks for the advice. I just inherited 5 children ages: 10,7,6,5 and 4 a little over a month ago and I have no children of my own. I’ve been scrambling around trying to figure out how to make ends meet, discipline and how to stretch my time considering I am also the main caregiver for my Quadriplegic husband. These tips are great. A friend sent me the link to your blog and I haven’t had time to read any of the archives yet so I don’t know if there are more posts like these but I would hope that you continue to add posts like these in the future. They are much appreciated.

  10. Angie Says:

    Chris, I love your old site, and this one is great, too!

    I just wanted to add that the time you as a mother spends teaching your children how to play with each other will be paid back to you in spades later on! My husband, bless his heart, spent several weeks teaching my two young daughters, now 4 and 6 (they were probably 1 and 3 at the time) how to play together, and how to be each others’ best friend, and that has bought me SO MUCH time alone! I can’t emphasize it enough!

  11. Ken Says:

    Often spending time with your kids is “work”. It can also be amazing. The questions they ask often let you know that they are good thinkers even at a young age. My wife worked at the bank in the old days when they stayed open till 6 on Fridays. I would pick up our 4 year old and spend time with her until mommy got home. One Friday when my wife was pregnant my daughter started asking questions about how babies could eat when they were inside “mommy’s stomach”. I explained the best I could about how that worked. Then she wanted to know if the baby was burned when mommy drank hot coffee. Finally she wanted to know “If the baby can not chew food because she didn’t have teeth, then how did she eat when she came out?”. I explained about breasts and breast milk. She said okay and went off to play. Five minutes later she came back and asked, “The milk only comes out when the baby wants it, right daddy? She must have pictured her mommy as a walking fountain. This is one of many amazing moments in my mental quick reference library. Now I’m collecting them from our five grandchildren. Love your blog!

  12. halloweenlover Says:

    What a fabulous post, Chris! I’m going to remember this for when I have just the one!

  13. allysha Says:

    I’m so glad I am not the only parent who feels that way about Candy Land! Hee. Your ideas are great. Thanks.

  14. kit Says:

    Goodness and you don’t think you’re organised? I just had a peek at your closet post too and am thinking shamefacedly of our lack of organisation. Sounds like you do great and I agree it does get easier as they get older. My eight year old can now get himself ready for school on time, so my job is to get the younger girls sorted in time for him not to be late for school…he gets so frustrated when they are making wardrobe changes two minutes before we need to go…! I like your new blog and your first one too!

  15. debby Says:

    For the food preparation, add a rice steamer to the list for the days when bread won’t do. Having dinner cooked before breakfast? Priceless!!!

  16. peepnroosmom Says:

    Chris, Thanks for the post. I wish I had read it at the beginning of the summer. I will try this today!

  17. carrien Says:

    I am so glad you are writing this new blog too. I love step by step hints and intructions, and I’m so glad that you have gone before and made some sense out of this whole mommy gig, because I am one of those who looks at my disaster house, and my children and my day, and wonder how on earth other mom’s manage it all. THank-you. I especially love the half an hour a day for each of them, and one for me.

  18. Missi Says:

    Good post. Thank you. With 5 I still haven’t managed to find any me time. Well, that isn’t exactly true, I get me time when I am at the grocery store alone on a Saturday or a Sunday. Since my husband is away most of the week, there isn’t much help. I think you are right, when they are older, it will get better. My older ones, except when they continuously argue, are easier to handle. The younger ones due demand much attention.

    I love my crock pot, but I do need to find more recipes for it. I think the crock pot is the best invention ever created! LOL

  19. kristenlg Says:

    I just discovered your “old” website recently and just love your wit and writing style. This new website is great–and today’s post was just what I needed to read! Great ideas! Keep ‘em coming, please!

  20. Kristie Says:

    Well, like someone above already wrote, I also only have three so am by no means a large-family expert. But, when I had the third, the others were one and two years old, so I also have to agree that for me, a SAHM, the “younger” years were much more hands-on and trying. And exhausting. Yep, between breastfeeding, having three in diapers, playdates, meals, chores, trantrums, potty training, bathing, etc …. exhausting is definitely the best description.

    I constantly felt like I wasn’t do a good enough job for everyone, with everyone, and to everyone. Then, a girlfriend gave me the best piece of advice ever: Lower the bar. As long as when your husband comes home from work each evening no one is hungry, or bleeding, consider it a successful day. Those fake families who are constantly laughing and playing and doing arts and crafts together twenty-four-seven-three-sixty-five???? They’re FAKE!!! :)

    Worked for me, and let me off the hook on the days that we weren’t role models for Family Fun magazine. Most days, I even managed to do better than my “hungry or bleeding” criterion.

    Chris, I feel a little like a stalker because I keep following you from site to site ….. but I enjoy your writing so much!


  21. Chris Says:

    Great post! This summer I have been feeling overwhelmed with it all. I think I will try making a daily list.

  22. Mary Tsao Says:

    Great post, Chris. This is great advice that I will try tomorrow and hey, I only have two kids and I often feel whelmed. To the original question asker — you are amazing!

    Thanks for the reminder that it’s these early years that are the toughest. I’ll probably cry with job (and maybe a little sadness), the day my kids can get their own juice and cereal.

  23. Rae Says:

    I am a practical girl and I love your new blog! I love getting to hear your secrets, the way you do it all, and I’m so glad that you decided to do this on your own. You are inspiring and this was an amazing post, especially for those of us who are a little overwhelmed and winging it and need to hear that it can be done. Thanks.

  24. cheeriobutt Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this! I hate cooking and loved these ideas. Also I like how you put the importance of spending time with your kids! Sometimes I forget and it’s good to hear that again! Also I am coming out of the non-smiling Mom phase, which you come to realize is just a phase after you witness them geting older and are able to relax a little and enjoy non-babyness around. I didn’t know this was a phase until after my fifth because I had all of my others very close together so we always had babyness around. It’s a hard phase. Anyways. thanks again!

  25. Kari Says:

    Great job - as usual! I am a fairly new mom (9 months) and I am already feeling overwhelmed at the things that need to be done with baby care and around the house. Right after the baby was born, I thought - I could do this again soon! Now, I am sure that we will need to wait a little while - at least until I get more organized. And Mom guilt? Already have lots of that and I only have the one child… Thank you for sharing your secrets!

  26. stephanie Says:

    I am also a mom with 3 kids, 4 and under, with one on the way. I was very much the non-smiling mom last week. Something that helped me become a smiling mom this week was advice from another site: It is the same idea of “scheduling time” with the kids, but is geared towards “Little Hands”. I know how hard it is when your oldest isn’t old enough to help out a whole lot. You aren’t alone. God bless you!

  27. Kris Says:

    Wow, I so relate to that letter, and I’m grateful that you’re writing this site, Chris. Thanks.

  28. Patty Says:

    Putting the kids on the list is a GREAT idea! :-)
    One tip I wanted to share with making dinner is to use the microwave whenever you can. I have a set of glass bowls just for this. I use them to make spagetti or rice as well as other items, like frozen veggies. Just make sure you have enough water in the bowl and it is hot before adding whatever you are going to cook in it. Also, add a little salt to the water to help it boil and oil to keep noodles from sticking.

  29. Brigitte Says:

    Non-smiling mother, you are amazing! I have just one toddler, I’m home with her and NOT pregnant, and I feel just as overwhelmed, pathetic, unorganized, etc. and the house is a mess. I don’t even feel like I have time to make lists (especially if she catches me anywhere near a pen and paper she starts shrieking “drawings! Drawings! DRAWINGS!”). All of you moms with more than one, who manage a house and/or an outside job on top of that, amaze me!

  30. Notes from the Trenches » The few, the proud, the disparaged Says:

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  31. Izzy Says:

    Chris…you are my hero! Seriously, i was wondering about you and how you do it with so many kids and then I found this other blog of yours. I have two and I’m drowning in chaos. I was actually thinking of blogging about it in hopes of getting some suggestions. Thanks for sharing your secrets :)

  32. Melissa Says:

    Ah! I just discovered your blog today, and this post really hit home. I’m a homeschooling mom of 4 kids (ages 7, 5, 3, and 2) and have had many non-smiling days in the past. It’s nice to hear that I’m not alone. LOL Thanks for sharing how you do it all. I’m going to go read a bit more now. :)

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