How I Juggle the Demands of Three Small Children


Often when I am out with my kids, I get comments from complete strangers that go along these lines:
“I don’t know how you do it all!”
“Wow, that’s a handful!”
“Do you ever sleep?”
“Do you ever stop?”
“I would go crazy if I were you!”

My oldest daughter was two years and five months old when the twins were born. I had a triple stroller because my very independent toddler became suddenly a small baby who couldn’t help herself to do anything. In a way, I almost felt I had triplets.

The beginnings were hard. All beginnings are hard, even if you add to your family a child, two or more.

Any change in family composition means a change of dynamics, routines, established roles, responsibilities, and coping methods.

1. Grace

My husband and I left the Middle East as newlyweds. Three years later we departed from Vietnam with a 1-year-old toddler. Two more years after that we were leaving Australia with 10-month-old twins and a 3-year-old. We are now in Panama with three children under 5. The one constant in our life was change. With each relocation, we learned how important it is to give ourselves and our family grace for the struggles that will unavoidably arise. It won’t last forever, it will not negatively impact the rest of my life, and it is not my fault that we are dealing with change.

But change is as hard as it is unavoidable. I learned to be gentle with myself until we re-establish a smooth flow that works for everybody.

This is not just for big life decisions, or moving continents. Even when trying to just implement a new bedtime routine or remove a habit (such as saying goodbye to a pacifier), giving myself grace and time is probably the strongest foundation I can build upon.

2. Ask for help and allow others to step in

In my 20s, my default modus operandi was “I can do it!”. I had things to prove, independence to justify and feminism to nurture. I could do it all. Until I got so much on my plate that it started spilling and the feeling of constant overwhelm quickly stepped in. I wasn’t patient; I wasn’t productive, I wasn’t happy. I was just trying too hard to keep spinning too many plates. And they were quickly falling and breaking. Close to my lowest point, I was feeling that I was failing at motherhood, failing at business and failing in my partnership. All because of feeling guilty, or unsuitable if I asked others to step in. Our kids will benefit from a rainbow of relationships and reactions to and from others. No, they won’t be as perfect as I want them to be. They might not clean the house as I do it. They might not talk to my kids the way I would have. They might not reply to emails with the same care and attention to detail. But I’ve got to find a way to accept it so I can do the things only I can do, fully and more relaxed.

3. Reshape your view of motherhood

If I were to take a long hard look at the idea of being a mom, what is it that I see? What is it that I do all day? Is it mostly cleaning, cooking, picking up toys and barking orders that nobody listens to? Am I mostly upset and losing my patience? Do I feel like a victim who ended up having a life she wasn’t prepared for? Is the best part of my day the one when the kids take a nap? Do I miss them so much only to be completely overwhelmed 5 minutes after they wake up? Many mothers feel the same. Even more, strongly believe that motherhood is supposed to be hard. They embrace it as the season they’re in. “My life sucks now that I have kids. I’m hoping it will get better in 12-16 years.”
It’s not supposed to be this hard! What is it that you are struggling with?
Housework? Delegate, ask for help, simplify, involve the kids.
Picking up too many toys? Throw some away. I bet your kids don’t play with them anyway.
Cooking? How about a meal plan, shopping only once a week and preparing 80% of your cooking one day a week?
Identify your main struggle and look for the simplest solutions. Almost always, there is a solution.

You are not stuck in this life!

4. Allow emotions

There are days where all three of my kids cry. Mostly in the same time. For various reasons out of my control.
If my kids cry even though they are fed, well hydrated and physically comfortable, their tears only represent a need to unload their emotions. What better gift can I give them other than not only allow these emotions to come out but also embrace them fully? I deeply believe they will have the headspace to see the truth or find solutions once their souls get unclogged. Tears? Bring them on babies! Mama can deal with that!
I welcome their cries with open arms, not offering them anything so they can stop crying or distract them from fully feeling their feelings.
And once the storm has passed, they are more agreeable; they can think better, share more openly, co-operate with all members of the family and overall be more pleasant.
Think of it as cleaning and maintaining the inner pipes.

5. Be grounded into the image of who you want to be

I spent the first foggy years of motherhood figuring out the mom I was supposed to be. I thought it was in me and it would come out naturally.
I was wrong. What came out was unconscious reactions, triggers of various kinds or intensities and massive overwhelm.
I figured that if there is an idea of motherhood that I want to embrace and make my own, I have to be very clear about that. What kind of a mom did I want to be?
I knew for sure that I wanted to be present, intentional and relaxed. I knew that the memories I wanted my kids to have included me around them, holding space for them to reach their full potential.
I simplified our lives to the maximum when it comes to how I spend my time.
I put firm boundaries in regards to my work and how much time will I spend doing it.
I asked for help. Out loud, sometimes crying.
I start my day with gratitude for the life and the kids that I have.
I do everything that I can so I can be the mother I WANT to be.

6. Avoid decision fatigue

As the mother, I am bombarded at every moment by small decisions I must make for myself, my children and our household.
What will we eat?
Mom, can we go for a bike ride?
What are we doing today?
Mom, can I play with this?
What am I wearing today?
Mom, can I have a snack?
What should I work on today?
Mom, can we read?

There is science showing that humans have limited brain capacity for making good decisions in one day. The moment we reach that threshold, we either make poor decisions, or we are overwhelmed by small things. I know it happens to every single one of us blankly standing in front of a full closet unable to find something to wear. Or standing in front of a full fridge unable to decide what to eat. It’s not your brain leaving the building. It’s just decision fatigue.
So I automated my decision making when I had the brain capacity to do so.
I have a meal plan with assorted shopping lists.
2 hours a week I spend food prepping. Boiling eggs, lentils, quinoa or rice, washing and chopping all veggies, partitioning and distributing everything in ziplock containers or bags.
I decide the night before what we are wearing.
My morning routine is sacred and centered on my self-care.
Our schedules are predictable.
I save my brain to make decisions only when big decision making is needed.

7. Go away

When shit hits then fan (and it always does), I give myself a time out. I go to the bathroom to breathe like a dragon, or just go out for a walk if I have somebody I can leave the kids with. Removing myself from the hot seat gives me the perspective to judge things from a different angle.
If I have the time, I will do a brain dump by writing down ever single thing that bothered me and how unfair that felt. I ask five consecutive WHYs. I try to understand why something bothered me to the point of losing it.

8. Practice self-forgiveness

I know that in the past five years since I became a mom, I made many mistakes. Some were unavoidable; others could have been prevented.

Regardless of what happened, every single time there was a negative occurrence, I was doing the absolute best I could do, with the resources I was having available.

My daughter fell face first on the tile floor when she was playing inside a bucket. I shouldn’t have let her play with the bucket, but I was so delighted to see her discovering something new and unusual. I was doing the best I could do.
My son dropped his entire cup of water and got so upset that he threw his dinner plate on the floor. I shouldn’t have let him use a cup and give him a sippy cup instead, but I had none clean, and I wanted to sit with them while eating instead of locating and washing sippy cups. I was doing the best I could.
But it’s too easy to say, “I should have known better.”
I repeat to myself every single day:

9. Trust

Looking back at my childhood, there were massive events that shaped part of my personality, my reactions, my fears and how I perceive life. Some of these experiences have been traumatic. Some of them have been unavoidable. I’m grateful for each one of them and the lesson it taught me, even though sometimes it took me more than 30 years to have the courage to unreel the story, understand and embrace it.
But when I had children of my own, I wanted more than anything to protect them from the smallest discomfort. I wanted them surrounded by people who had similar parenting standards as I did. I insisted on schools with progressive teaching methods and curiosity-based learning. I lectured members of my family on conscious existence and relation with the kids, allowing emotions and non-punitive methods of cooperation. I removed sadness from my children’s life with the dedication reserved to removing weeds from a garden. I felt responsible for their popularity, behavior, reactions and results.
But I was wrong.
It is my job to protect them from harm, helplessness, shaming or abuse. Absolutely! But I can’t shield them from everything.

I eventually understood that my biggest job as a mom is to be there when they come home disappointed or sad and allow them to JUST BE. Support them to find their own solutions. Let them be sad. Give them the tools to cope. Gentle. Suggest, don’t impose.

Don’t call the parents of the kid who didn’t want to sit next to them in the cafeteria, but let them feel the disappointment and find a way to get over it while trusting that it’s their journey and they will find a way.
It’s excruciating, but it’s so important!

Parenting is hard for all of us because it puts us face to face with shaping life, raising strong individuals and be the one responsible for shaping how the future generations think, love and act.

You’re doing the best you can, and I’m doing the best I can! Let’s hold that belief for each other!

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How to Juggle the Demands of Three Small Children

You are not stuck in this life!

Change is as hard as it is unavoidable. Be gentle until a smooth flow that works for everybody is re-established.

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