Parenting Multiple Kids, The Ups And Downs

Parenting Multiple Kids, The Ups And Downs

Baby milk, book bags and teenage dramas. Parenting four kids on five hours sleep.

Today’s The Day

I am huge. I am scared. Today’s the day we welcome baby number four into the world. I am grateful my mum is here. She helps me keep myself together. Even at my age I don’t want my mum to think my parenting skills are on the floor and I’m flaky.  Hubby is already in the car and the engine is running. He’s the calm type so I know he’ll not start beeping the horn or shouting for me to hurry up. I take advantage and take my time. I am fussing over my 16-month-old, making sure Mum has all the instructions and my 14-year-old son is sorted. The date has been in my diary for weeks, but I am still not ready. I cluck, and cluck around them all some more. Kisses and hugs are done and so, almost reluctantly, I heave my massive body into the passenger seat.

Parenting Multiple Kids Means Your Head Is Always Busy

Hubby drives slowly and deliberately. There’s nothing new in that, he always drives slowly and it usually sends me potty although it doesn’t today. My mind is preoccupied, not with the scary prospect of birthing a baby, but with my girl. My beautiful, 15-year-old who is currently aboard a flight to Sri-Lanka. Why today of all days? Will she be ok and how will I know if she lands safely? Did she remember to pack her charger? Is she sat next to someone nice? It is always like this.

My mind is constantly thinking of one of them and adding another into the mix will soon make my head an even busier place to hang out. This is the absolute essence of being a mum of four. A perpetual, underlying anxiousness about each child without the possibility to be everything to each one of them at the same time. Parenting teens is hard. Parenting toddlers is also hard. I reason that I can’t do anything about the flight and it would be stupid to call Mum and check she has gotten the hang of the milk prep machine. Worrying doesn’t help, that’s what ‘they’ say isn’t it? So, I resolve to focus on the new baby.

About to Deliver And All I Can Think About How The Other Kids Are

I waddle, like a duck, along the long corridors with their coloured stripes navigating the sick and the infirm to where they need to be. Not that I am either. It’s a good 5 minutes until we reach the labour ward and the familiar smell and the bright lights hit me hard. Butterflies invade me immediately. I might be an ‘old hat’ at this baby business, but I’ve not had a planned birth before and I am nervous. We get checked into Hotel Hospital and I wonder if the boy caught the bus on time and ate his breakfast before leaving, or if he decided to grab crisps and chocolate from Tesco’s on the high street, which he knows I’d hate?

Parenting Multiple Kids Means Multiple Responsibilities And Worries 

We know we are having a boy and we have chosen his name. We didn’t find out with the others but something about being pregnant six months after the birth of the last one drove the need to be practical rather than romantic. Thirty-nine weeks later and he is here. He is beautiful and I feel like it is the first time I have done this. I am overwhelmed by love and although I can’t hold him, Hubby places him close to my face and I nuzzle him. I am in love with this perfect little thing. He has red hair, just like his big sister. My mind immediately wanders. Has she landed yet? Parenting responsibilities and worries never leave us.

Juggling Is A Mandatory Art When You Are Parenting Multiple Kids

With a blink of an eye, we are back to reality and I am knee deep in everyone talking at me at once. I often think of my mummy job as being like a sign-post. 24/7 trouble-shooting and looking for solutions to teen and toddler problems. Why weren’t they born with a parenting guide? An additional baby doesn’t make that much difference at this stage. I carry him everywhere whilst wiping pureed foods off the walls, signing permission slips, looking for lost school planners, playing with brightly coloured plastic toys that make way too much noise, listening to teenage dramas and making copious amounts of coffee, my drug of choice to get me through the madness.

A Balance Can Be Found For The New Reality

In the last three years there has never been a time where all four children were swimming harmoniously along the river of life at the same time. There’s always one that needs more of me than another. Learning to prioritise is the only way to keep the ship afloat, and sometimes I am just relieved that we got through the day. Matching socks are a thing of the past along with ironed clothes and clean floors. I have replaced them with a house full of love, the ability to rock and roll on 5 hours sleep and have ‘winging’ it down to a fine art.

Raising and parenting four humans is a tough gig and messing up is inevitable; but there is no better reward than seeing your kids happy with themselves, with you and with each other. Worry you will, but the joy will always be worth it.

Parenting Style, All Parents Have One. Do You Know Yours?

Parenting Style, All Parents Have One. Do You Know Yours?

Knowing your parenting style is a bit like knowing your blood group. We all know we have one, but we don’t actually know what it is. Is it positive or negative?

Who You Are As A Person Will Define Your Parenting Style?

I never really thought about what my parenting style would be when I was pregnant with my first and didn’t even look into it until she was at least four. During my first two pregnancies (1999 and 2001) I was really only preoccupied with week-by-week fetal development and shopping for everything everyone said we needed. I was massively apprehensive about looking after (and frankly just keeping alive) a tiny, totally dependent human and I never projected into future life with a small walking, talking person let alone a bigger child or teenager.

Are You One Or More Parenting Styles?

  1. Authoritarian Parenting – Where children follow a series of strict rules and are expected to adhere to them. Failure to do so results in punishment. The parents are dictatorial and uncompromising and often expect their kids to be high achievers.
  2. Authoritative Parenting – Clear boundaries are set and enforced democratically. Authoritative parents are nurturing but do expect guidelines to be followed. The majority of parents demonstrate some form of authoritative parenting.
  3. Permissive Parenting – No set boundaries, allowing the child to self-regulate (e.g. go to bed when they want to). Permissive parents are nurturing, nontraditional and very easy-going.
  4. Instinctive Parenting – Parents raise their kids based on cues from their child, mixed in with influences from how they themselves were parented. Again, the majority of parents demonstrate some form of instinctive parenting.
  5. Attachment Parenting – Attention is focused on the bond between the parent and their child with minimal separation (in the early years). Think baby-wearing, co-sleeping and extended breast-feeding.

My Parenting Style Can Be Confusing To Some

The first three on the list were coined by parenting style psychology expert Diana Baumrind in the 1960s, with the last two being added as parenting has evolved. When I reflect on the above definitions, I realise that I am mostly an instinctive parent although I am also authoritative and have thrown in some attachment parenting just to confuse everyone. My parenting style is definitely a reflection of who I am, and I am not at all permissive nor authoritarian.

We Still Have Our 5 Year Old With Us In Bed

I remember the day clearly. My third baby and I were at the doctors. He had a bad cold, was 9-months-old, and had been in bed with me for the two weeks prior. I had been sleeping sitting up with him, so he could breathe properly. “You need to put him back in his cot, or he’ll be in there until he is five” the Doctor said. I came away smiling at such a ridiculous response…we celebrate his 5th birthday in less than a month and, yes, he’s still in our bed. My mother’s “you’re making a rod for your own back” still rings in my ears.

The amazing thing is, Hubby and I don’t mind. We have enjoyed being close to him and I feel that we have all benefited. This is a classic example of attachment parenting; yet it is the only part of that school of thought that we have embraced.

Thank God The Era Of Corporal Punishment Is Over

Trusting your instincts and carving out your own style, based on what your child needs, is instinctive parenting. It is said that it is established by how we, as children, were parented. Now, as a child of the 70s, I can say that I have adopted many of the loving practices my parents bestowed upon me, yet I have not attempted to smack my kids with a wooden spoon! My parents were definitely authoritative but the punishments many of my generation received (including in school) were fairly authoritarian. I recall having the board rubber (in the days when interactive whiteboards were not even a figment of someone’s imagination) thrown at me by one teacher and being lifted by my ears and placed in the classroom bin by another. These are punishments that simply would not occur in any school today and came from authoritarian parenting principles.

Time For A Change Perhaps

When the terrible twos are in full force, the food is flying and the melt-down is real most parents will follow their gut instincts based on their personality and upbringing. This is, in essence, their parenting style. I was never able to leave my child to ‘cry it out’, hence I have a 5-year-old in my bed. One of my friends could, and did, and sleeps much better than I do. There is no right or wrong but after many years of research, it has been concluded by child development experts that authoritative parenting produces the best ‘outcomes’ in children who tend to be confident and happy.

I believe it is time to kit out a soon-to-be 5-year-old’s bedroom!

Baby Weaning, Do You Need A Plan?

Baby Weaning, Do You Need A Plan?

Happy babies, full tummies and food in your hair. The highs and lows of weaning your baby.

The Competition Between First Time Mums

I didn’t even know what a butternut squash was but because Annabel Karmel told me I should get one, cook it and serve it to my 5-month-old, I did and she loved it. It was the year 2000 and back-in-the-day when we started weaning at 16-20 weeks; and no-one had heard of baby-led weaning.

In my new circle of friends, all of us being first-time mummies, we talked endlessly about the boiling or steaming of carrots, the virtues of mashing up bananas with avocados and why none of the babies seemed to like broccoli. The competition was always there under the surface. Which baby was the best eater and whose little darling “absolutely devoured” exotic fruit? There was never any mention of baby food jars. Heaven forbid one of us should actually open a jar, stick in a spoon and feed its contents to our child!

All That Matters Is The End Result

Back in the day when I tried so hard to do it perfectly and felt so imperfect because all my child wanted was Ready-Brek, I soon learned that having a satisfied child was more important to me (it’s amazing what fruit and veggies you can hide in a big bowl of Ready-Brek). Fast forward 19 years and 4 babies later and I have resorted to many a baby food jar, many a microwaveable meal and have yet to purchase a vegetable or baby food steamer. I have silently stuck my fingers up to the Nigella’s of the kitchen. I mean, who has the time? Most of us work or are running around after other children and have loads of commitments and never-ending to-do lists. As long as your child is fed nutritious baby food, does it really matter how you get there?

I was always grateful to have a stack of supplies in the cupboard for the day when the top of the food-mixer lid blew off or I forgot to defrost the 3-5 ice cubes of lovingly prepared red pepper purée. Or, importantly, for that day when my screaming child threw my beautiful apple compote on the floor and refused my (non-steamed) carrots. I was always a little miffed, although honestly relieved, when the jar of baby Bolognese went down smoothly with no fuss what-so-ever. My very loose baby weaning plan all worked out in the end as child number one is now a healthy 19-year-old who eats all world foods, still loves Ready-Brek and berates me because I don’t like falafel!

What Is Baby Led Weaning Anyways?

I had a baby of weaning age in 2015 and I didn’t even know about baby-led weaning. I discovered it for the first time at the crèche, where I saw a child with mashed-up food and chunky bits spread all over the high chair tray. She was eating with her hands, was happy and smiling and… to me it looked like utter carnage. I remember feeling quite ancient and old-fashioned because I knew nothing of this new-fangled baby weaning system, although I did know not to try and shove baby rice in a 16-week-old as we now were advised to wait until they were 6-months-old. The childcare worker told me to “try it out” and that “everyone’s doing it.”

Whats All The Hype About?

I tried it out. I talked about it with my latest set of mummy friends. Everyone was, indeed ‘doing it’ and everyone did, indeed, love it. The dolloping of mixed veg, chicken and sauce all over my child’s high chair tray was enough to give me sweaty palms and a few extra grey hairs. Watching him handle chunky bits and not puréed food made me nervous and my baby, floor, clothes and sanity all took a hammering. I watched him sit in that high chair for ages, terrified he was going to choke (which he never did). I desperately wanted to follow what everyone else was doing, but it made me anxious.

It didn’t take more than three or four more baby-led weaning attempts for me to revert back to my year 2000 comfort zone. I did modernise, though, by giving him lots of finger foods in-between me spoon feeding him puréed and semi-puréed baby food. It was cleaner, less stressful and he still learnt to eat by himself. Now, aged 4, he’s a whizz with a knife and fork and is willing to try anything at least once.

In The Words Of Frank Sinatra, ‘I Did It My Way’

I followed my semi-modern method with my fourth baby.  It was a good experience and at least there was a lot less mess to clear up. To boot, I was not spending each mealtime clutching a fistful of baby wipes and manically cleaning every little splash in sight like some possessed woman. By making meal times as pleasurable and stress free as I could, I believe that my kids have all gone on to take real pleasure in food.

I’ll have them all eating falafel before you know it.

Toddler Meltdown. When It All Gets Too Much

Toddler Meltdown. When It All Gets Too Much

When toddler temper tantrums are out of control, they may just need a little bit of doing absolutely nothing at all.

Toddler Meltdown Meant Bunnies Thrown And Leg Bashings

There seemed no logical reason to hurl the bunny across the floor. It wasn’t a real bunny but still, the poor thing didn’t deserve to be thrown, full pelt, across the bed and head first into the wall. It landed face down on the floor, next to the previously thrown bear and pillow. The quilt was next in line. Except, given its size and awkwardness for throwing, it received a leg bashing instead. Two, tiny three-year-old legs were raining blows down on the quilt with as much force as my little man could muster. His face was getting redder, the bed was getting messier and the tears were starting to stream down his face. This was a major toddler meltdown.

Fireman Sam Caused The Fire?

The cause? Fireman Sam. Or rather, lack of. I had made the mistake of giving an iPad to my toddler, before bed. It was just for a short time, whilst I ran around getting school uniforms ready for the next day, picking dirty washing up off the floor and doing a whole host of other mundane mummy jobs that no-one likes doing but that have to be done regardless. I was over-worked and just needed to get everything done. He was already tired and ready for sleep and I had just given him electronic, visual and auditory stimulation that he didn’t need. When it came to switching off the never-ending fires, that seem to occur on a daily basis in Pontypandy town, the boy flipped. Usually, he settled well. We had our little routine and I was often back downstairs in 10 or 15 minutes.

Not tonight.

OK, So It Was Me And Not Fireman Sam

I’m sure that I am not the first to have an overstimulated toddler that won’t sleep. The overstimulation signs were obvious, and it was my fault. Classic signs of being unable to cope washed over him and it took me 40 minutes to rock him to sleep. I sang Old MacDonald softly to him the entire time. At first, he cried and struggled but then, as he calmed down, he started joining in with suggestions of ‘cat’, ‘fish’ and ‘crocodile.’ Finally, he fell asleep in my arms, which was a relief because I was rapidly running out of animals.

Easier Said Than Done When It Comes to Toddler Tantrums

I’ve seen the effects of toddler overstimulation before, so I knew exactly what I had done. Too many back-to-back activities (swimming, ballet, mini-football) or simply a big dose of sensory overload (noisy party, Christmas, family gathering) can cause a toddler to feel totally overwhelmed. The result is toddler temper tantrums. They become unable to communicate and use tears instead to demonstrate their feelings. They refuse to carry out simple instructions and can become aggressive. The best way to deal with this is to change the environment or remove the stimulation, calm things down and reduce the exposure to visuals, sounds and maybe people. Helping the child to feel safe and calm will always work. Anyone who has experienced toddler tantrums in public know that this is sometimes easier said than done.

Downtime and Individual Play Time Are Key

It is difficult to know how much we should and shouldn’t expose our kids to. It is said that the human brain develops more, and at a faster rate, in the first 5 years of life than at any other time and thus exposure to stimulating environments is an important pre-cursor for learning and development. That said, every child needs to be able to experience downtime and individual play time. There is nothing wrong with scheduling nothing at all and letting children use their imagination to stimulate them. In fact, it is an important part of their development.

All children are different, and every parent will come to know how much activity and stimulation their child needs. Of course, we all make mistakes (like I did) because this parenting job is a really tough gig and we all get some things wrong some of the times.

Our Plan To Prevent Toddler Meltdown Now Works For Us 

In our house, one after-school/nursery activity per week seems to be enough. Weekends are spent going to birthday parties, swimming and day trips out exploring but nothing is set in stone. If we feel the kids are tired, we just stay at home. It’s flexible and I like it that way. We all have jobs and probably other kids to juggle, so it’s not easy to get the balance right. At least we know that the kids will tell us, in their own toddler meltdown style, if we are getting it wrong.

We try so hard, as parents, to get it right. We strive to do the best we can because we all want happy, healthy children who are developing skills and talents. If we are lonely, or raising small people alone, it can be especially tough. In these instances, or just when life gets too much, Fireman Sam can, indeed, ‘save the day’ because sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. At other times, it’s amazing how much time an empty box and a toddler’s imagination can buy you.

Support Your Child’s Physical Development

Support Your Child’s Physical Development

Learn how to support your child’s physical development, including both moving and handling and health and self-care.

Two Parts to Supporting Your Physical Child’s Development

Welcome to the last in this series of four blog posts. I hope you’re having as much fun reading them as I’m having writing them! This post is specifically about physical development. Physical development is one of the three prime areas of learning in the Early Years and is split into two parts:

  • Moving and Handling
  • Health and Self-care

I think this is the area that parents probably feel the most pressure in, as it involves things such as, ‘My child walked first!’ and ‘My child was potty trained first!’ You know exactly what I mean, and like I’ve said in the previous blog posts, most of the time the parents that say these things are stretching the truth or overcompensating for something else. It really doesn’t matter who did what first, as long as your child is happy, healthy and developing at their own pace.

It’s Hard Not To Compare Your Child’s Physical Development With Another

I know it’s hard not to compare yourself to your neighbour, with the nanny, who works in some hoity toity job and somehow manages to fit Pilates in 5 times a week and their child, somehow, manages to hit every milestone first! But remember, things are not always as they seem!

First, I want to touch on the key milestones for physical development, so that you can see roughly what to expect and when to expect it.

Check out this link for a summary of these milestones: Milestones Summary.

But what I really want you to get out of this blog is ideas for things to do to encourage your child’s physical development. I’ve split this into the two different areas, to make this easier for you (handy right?!).

Health and Self-CareBirth to 11 Months: Stroke my cheeks or pat my back as you speak to me.8-20 Months: Let me use my fingers to eat. Let me try to use spoons (this can get messy, I know!)16-26 Months: Let me wash my hands and face. Allow me to try to put my own shoes on.22-36 Months: Let me help make lunch eg try cutting bananas.30-50 Months: Make sure I brush my teeth twice a day and tell me why I need to do this.40-60 Months: Dance with me!Parent’s GuideMoving and HandlingBirth to 11 Months: Put me on my belly and let me kick my legs. Try covering my legs with a light blanket and let me kick it off. Put some toys near me so that I can reach out and touch them.8-20 Months: Allow me to splash in the bath. Give me a pram or trundle bike to walk with. Put my toys further away so that I have to crawl to get to them. Use lift the flap books and let me lift them. Play dough! Sing finger rhymes with me.16-26 Months: Let me carry a little shopping bag. Give me a bucket to experiment putting things in when I’m digging. Play dough! Using rolling pins and cutters, this is possibly the best thing to help your child with their fine motor skills.22-36 Months: Play ball games. Let me use ribbons to wave around me. Let me try to dress dolls or teddies using clothing with different fastenings.30-50 Months: Let me use children’s scissors to cut different things (anything you can think of). Make obstacle courses.40-60 Months: More ball games, try increasing the difficulty by using smaller balls or making the rules more difficult. Do threading activities eg shoelaces through bobbins.

Letting Them Learn At Their Own Pace Is The Key

I know physical development can be a challenging thing and once your child starts crawling, you’ll feel like you won’t ever have a minute of peace again! But just keep up the good work. Encourage them to try different things but let them learn at their own pace. This is particularly important for things such as potty training, which would need a whole other blog post all of its own! Take your time and let your child explore the world around them! It can be great fun.

Thank you for reading this series of four blog posts. They have been based around the prime areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage, meaning that the topics talked about in this series often form the basis of your child learning and development. Concentrate on their social and emotional development, language develop and physical development and everything else will, more than likely, fall into place.

Read the other blogs in this series:

  • How Do I Help My Child Develop Social Skills? – Here.
  • Language-Rich Environments – Here.
  • How do I encourage my child? – Here.