I’m not sure how anyone else feels about it, but this parenting thing is exhausting. Particularly at the young age that my kids are at, I need to help them with so many things. We have so many appointments and events it’s hard to keep track of them all. On top of just trying to keep my kids alive I’m also trying to teach them how to be respectful, caring human beings. I’m by no means perfect and some days it seems like I fail more than I succeed. After 3 years of being a stay at home dad I can share with you some of the ways I try to make my life easier, maintain my sanity and become a better parent.
GO HIGH TECH
Chances are you’ve got a device in your pocket or in your hand right now worth a couple hundred dollars that you carry around with you all the time. Use it! Today our smart phones allow us to have unprecedented access to information and to connect with each other in ways that were science fiction 30 years ago. Use your calendar and sync it with your spouse’s so you two can keep track of meetings, appointments, deadlines and other events going on in your busy lives. Download some apps that help you simplify meal planning, or budgeting, or those honey-do lists. I also set reminder alarms for everything from putting out the trash to picking my son up from the bus stop. Just this morning in fact I would have forgotten to send him to school with his library book if I didn’t have a reminder set for library day. With four kids we have a lot going on and I need all the advantages I can get. For more in-depth advice about apps read my Top Apps for Parents.
STAY LOW TECH
As much as I love my phone and rely on it, there is something that a dry erase board offers that a phone cannot. We have a large dry erase calendar above the desk with all the events for the month written down. It is nice to be able to look at a whole-shot of the month in one larger view. We also have another area where we write out a more detailed breakdown of the current week. This more detailed view might include things such as the meals for the day or errands that need to be run. If we aren’t properly organized we make life very difficult on ourselves.
GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED
Even at a very early age there are things your kids can do to help around the house. Give them age appropriate responsibilities. Have them help dust, pick up their toys or sort laundry. My older boys can help with vacuuming and putting out the silverware at the table. Not only does this take a few minor things off my plate, it helps to teach them responsibilities, gives them something to do so they aren’t driving me nuts and gives them opportunities to do something they can feel proud of. Obviously the key is to give them age appropriate tasks or you actually make your life more difficult.
This is a big one for me and I’m not sure why I don’t do it more often. When I review with the kids what I expect for them, they are significantly more apt to behave in an appropriate manner. A prime example of this was when I took all four of the kids to Cracker Barrel by myself for my son’s 5th birthday. When we got to the parking lot, I turned around in the car and had a long conversation with them about what I expected from them. We reviewed proper behaviors as well as discussed what the consequences would be if they could not act in an appropriate fashion. I got several looks walking to our seats from people who likely assumed their meal was about to be loudly disrupted. I wish a camera crew had been following me around that day because I looked like dad of the year. My kids have never been more polite, quiet and respectful as they were that day. I truly believe being reminded of what was expected moments earlier played a large part in the success of that day.
REQUIRE YOUR KIDS TO NAP
Nap time around here isn’t a suggestion; it’s a requirement. Not only do young children’s bodies and minds need sleep to help with development but I need some time to not strangle them. It’s crazy how much sleep a child should be getting. Depending on your child’s age it is recommended that kids get between 10 to 15 hours of sleep a day between night time and naps. Cutting out naps doesn’t just rob your child of precious sleep, it robs you of some downtime and “me” time.
USE THE TV
Now this sounds crazy but hear me out. Utilize your TV occasionally when it suits your needs. Our kids don’t get to watch a whole lot of TV, so when it’s on their eyes are glued to it. With 4 kids there are periodically times when I need them to be occupied and out of my hair for a little while and that’s when I turn to my one-eyed babysitter to help out. Maybe I need them out of the way for a minute while I frantically finish cooking dinner. Maybe the baby just threw up and I need take care of him for a little while. Maybe I need to make an important phone call. Whatever the reason is, the TV works because I don’t use it so often they are bored of it. They actually cheer when we let them watch TV.
Set up some sort of rewards system: a point system, sticker sheet, behavior chart, etc. I’ve never understood the power of stickers, but they hold some sort of magic. Or maybe the real power is in everyone’s desire to be proud of our accomplishments and to be able to display them for others. We have a Bump Chart. They start the day in the middle and can either “bump up” or “bump down” throughout the day based on their behaviors. This seemingly insignificant chart is immensely helpful in encouraging good behavior.
Whatever you and your spouse decided to do, stay consistent. Be consistent with each other; be consistent with yourself from yesterday. The moment you start being inconsistent the more challenging being a parent becomes. Make sure you are not making idle threats which you cannot keep as this will undermine your own authority faster than anything else. Establish consequences for behaviors and follow through. If you set up daily routines or chores for your kids then you have to be diligent to follow up on that. This is what separates good parents from great parents since this can be a lot of work depending on your child’s personality and how hard they try to test you. Your kids will test you often. It’s not always easy to give them the same answer but doing so will create a safe and healthy environment for them to thrive in.
Hang in there parents, I know the days can get crazy and feel long. I hope I have given you a few ideas that can help make your life a little simpler. I’ll leave you with a quote from the great blogger/philosopher, Sunshine Dad: “Parenting is the hardest job you’ll ever have: good parenting is even harder than that!”