Surviving and Thriving – it only took me 5 years!

posted by Andrea | 05/10/2016
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mothers day

Exactly 5 years ago today, Dave and I shared our surprise baby news with our parents (it was Mother’s Day).

At the time, thinking about becoming a first-time parent was exciting, happy, scary, and nerve-racking all at the same time. And over the next couple of years, dealing with a very fussy newborn, infant, and toddler, I started to wonder if I was really cut out for this whole Motherhood gig.

I just couldn’t get over how difficult, overwhelming, exhausting, and humbling it was to be a parent of ONE small person — and we hoped to have more!

Now, a couple years and a couple babies later, I feel like I’m FINALLY finding my groove — you might even say we’re THRIVING instead of merely SURVIVING! 

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, motherhood has never been, and will never be, “easy” for anyone. But over time, I do feel like it has gotten “easier” for me as I gain experience, wisdom, confidence, strength, and perspective as a mother.

Over the last few months, I have even surprised myself with how adventurous, spontaneous, and relaxed I have been as I tote my miniature tribe of small people around town.

  • I have gotten out of the house with all 3 kids several times each week for various outings at the library, at Nora’s school, in our community, or just running errands.
  • We make it to both the morning and evening services at church — with Nora happily attending the Children and Worship program and Simon + James playing nicely in nursery.
  • I’ve gone for several walks and bike rides with all 3 kids on my own — even pulling all 3 kids to the library and back on my bike (and crossing a very busy road)!
  • We have invited several new neighbors and area friends over to play, over for lunch, even over for breakfast — and we enjoy visiting many of our friends and neighbors at their houses too.
  • We have visited the local parks (and even had a picnic lunch).
  • We have eaten outside on the deck and the front porch for lunch and dinner because the kids request this nearly every day.
  • We have successfully completed a full meal at Culver’s without a tantrum or meltdown, without throwing or spilling food, without tears, without a diaper blowout or potty emergency, and without too much stress for Dave or me.
  • Also, I stopped by Target AND the mall with all 3 munchkins!

I know how ridiculous some of this might sound to those of you who are more extroverted than me, more “go with the flow” than I am, have children spaced out a little further than mine, have older children than mine, etc. etc. but this is BIG STUFF for me, my friends!

Having 3 kids in 3.5 years was a lot for me mentally and physically – but I’m doing it!

3 babies

You might not believe it, but over the past month, THREE different people have said some version of: “You’re such a relaxed mom, I wish I could be more like you”.

Each time, I caught myself turning around to see if they were talking to someone behind me… then I had the urge to laugh in their faces!

Me… relaxed?

Maybe you CAN teach old dogs new tricks 🙂

We are almost 10 months into parenting 3 children and it really is starting to feel so much easier.

  • We have a great bedtime routine and all 3 kids are usually sleeping by 7:30 pm.
  • Simon almost always sleeps through the night and Nora goes right back to sleep if she does wake up.
  • James is sleeping better and goes right back to sleep after eating.
  • Nora and Simon play SO well together and entertain each other for extended periods of time.
  • Nora and Simon can both easily feed themselves.
  • Nora is very self-sufficient and can get dressed on her own, go to the bathroom on her own, brush her teeth, wash her hands, get a drink, get ready for bed, and even do her own hair!
  • Simon is stubborn, but also such a good listener, and he is so good at following the rules.
  • Nora is more confident on her bike which means we can go for longer walks again with me pushing the boys in the double stroller (this is huge for me because we are used to walking to so many places).
  • Nora and Simon can get their own shoes and coats on, they can get into the van and into their carseats on their own, and Nora can even fully buckle herself in. They can also get out of their carseats on their own and push the door button to open the door once the car is parked.
  • Simon and James have been consistently napping at the same time, which means I am “child-free” for a few hours each week when Nora is at school!

I know these are all really small things in the scheme of life, but when you’re used to doing EVERYTHING for 3 children all day long, even the smallest acts of independence really do offer so much freedom for me.

Of course, I still need to do a lot for all 3 of them, but not as much as I had to do just a few months ago!

One more “thriving” story…

Last week, I had to actually go into the grocery store to get groceries because we were almost out of fruit, milk, and eggs, people were coming over for dinner, and curbside pickup didn’t have any openings when I tried to place my order earlier in the week.

I didn’t want to use the time when Dave was home to go by myself because we had quite a bit of yard work to do, so I decided to take all 3 kids with me in the morning. I was hesitantly optimistic as to how it would go, and I really didn’t know what to expect because it’s been ages since they all came with me to the store.

When we got there, we realized they no longer had the big carts for 3 kids… that meant Nora and Simon would both need to walk with me through the entire shopping trip.

I prepared for the worst, told them both to hold hands and stay right by the cart, and 30 minutes later… we were checking out with a cart full of groceries, 2 hand-holding kids munching on their free cookie, a happy baby, and a super impressed mom.

After a horse ride and a few waves to the old ladies waiting for their bus to pick them up, we tromped through the parking lot to our car, Nora and Simon climbed up in their seats and waited for me to load James and the groceries. They happily sang and laughed on the drive home and played nicely outside while I put the groceries away and made lunch.

As I sat at the table with Nora and Simon, both eagerly scarfing down their lunches and requiring little assistance from me, I felt such a huge sense of accomplishment — not for making it through the grocery store with 3 kids (although that is an accomplishment) — but because for the entire morning, I truly felt like we were “thriving” and not just “surviving”.

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I felt like I was thriving 5 years ago before we had kids — working outside the home, running my business, renovating our home, speaking for women’s events all across the state, actively participating in a multitude of church and community functions, enjoying my own hobbies, spending time with friends, traveling with Dave, etc.

Then I had Nora. I felt like motherhood “threw me under the bus” and left me there for a few years.

Thriving was not a word I would have used to described my life… until the past few months.

Of course, there are still many of those difficult “survival mode” days (maybe even weeks and months) around here, but more and more, I’m starting to realize that we are “thriving” — and boy does it feel good.

We have a general routine and structure to our days, my children are growing more and more independent and self-sufficient every day, and (most importantly) I have FINALLY allowed myself to let go of almost everything I did before having children and fully own my role as “Mother”.

There will still be time for growing a business, speaking for women’s groups, volunteering for church and community functions, visiting antique stores and flea markets, picking up new hobbies, traveling, and more, once our kids are a bit older… and honestly, I’m really excited to get back to those activities.

But for now, my goal is to thrive in my vocation as a mother.

This is NOT to say I will completely give up all other areas of my life to devote 100% of my energy and attention to my children. Rather, it means I will no longer be satisfied to simply “survive” motherhood. I am better than that and I can do better than that.

simon picking flowers

 

If you are smack in the middle of a survival mode period of life, I honestly don’t have many words of wisdom for you — I don’t want to throw out a cliche phrase like “it will get better” or “there’s a season for everything” or “this too shall pass” because I know that won’t help.

I will commiserate with you though (because I know it stinks) and I’ll offer 3 tips that seem to help me.

  1. SIMPLIFY your life as much as possible — remove stuff, things, activities, events, and maybe even people from your life if you think it will help you to lighten your load, de-stress your days, and simplify your life.
  2. Do ONE small thing really well (preferably something you enjoy) and allow yourself to cut back on (or completely quit) things you don’t enjoy — even if it means being the bad guy or letting others down.
  3. Take a break (if you can!) If there is any way you can get even a small break from whatever is forcing you into survival mode, DO IT! Even if it’s just for an hour or two, I know you will feel more refreshed and less stressed if you can just get away and take your mind off that situation. I realize this might not be possible, depending on  your situation (and I know how frustrating that can be too) but it’s worth a try!

Living in survival mode is often necessary for periods of life — and although it’s not ideal, it IS doable. However, if the survival mode period seems to linger indefinitely, it might be time to take a step back and evaluate your life as a whole.

You might not be able to magically “fix” the situation right now, but you can slowly start moving away from “surviving” and towards “thriving”.

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38 comments

  1. Tina McLarty

    05/16/2016

    Great post! Just as I felt I was starting to thrive and find my groove as a mother of two(4.5 and 2), I found out I was pregnant! So I know that come November, I will revert back to survival mode for a while. Your post gives me encouragement, thank you! Oh, and that picture of Nora and Simon reading with his little foot on her leg? Be still, my heart. 🙂

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  2. The Weekender: Vol. 16 | Happy Heart and Home

    05/14/2016

    […] Thriving as a mom instead of just surviving How one mama has gone from survival mode with one child to thriving with three. […]

  3. Jennifer

    05/11/2016

    I worked full-time the first two years of my son’s life and also tried to be super-mom and super-wife. I was super-tired and super-frustrated every day. When we were in a better position financially, and I could stay home with my son, I was shocked by how quickly I was overwhelmed. He was constantly in need of attention all day long, and I mean at my knees saying “Mom, Mom, Mom” any second I wasn’t playing with him. I envisioned nice days at home playing with my son, doing some pre-school activities, running around outside, and working on some home and hobby projects while he played close by. My friend was staying home with her daughter and telling me all about her sewing projects and crafts she was selling on etsy, and I couldn’t even sew a button on a blouse. I had no idea that he would be so needy and would make it so impossible for me to do anything at all for or by myself. And I didn’t know that I would hate playing with cars on the floor every day soooo much! I didn’t feel like I had a right to complain because I chose to be home with him, and oh, the guilt from those who would simply say, “They’re only little once, enjoy this precious time.” I would hold back tears racing little hot wheels around the room for 30 minutes three or four times a day. I became resentful because I had to spend the little time he slept, and that I could stay awake, doing chores instead of anything that I truly wanted to do. Since his vocabulary and understanding increased it became easier. We take turns now choosing what to do for play; he understands that if you want to be with someone you have to let them have choices, too. I worked on teaching him sports, instruments, and card games, things that I enjoy more for our playtime, and still let him choose some car time on the floor. He fought this, still following me around with a little car I was supposed to play with, but ahhhh, he finally gets it, and our days are so much better. He helps me with quite a few chores now. When he is begging me to put his clothes or shoes on even though he is perfectly capable, I believe he really just wants attention, so I squeeze him tight, tell him I love him and I know he can do it and do something close by. Some times I make it a game while I put my clothes on, too. That helps so much. His little personality is just so attention seeking, and he has two very independent parents, so it has been a challenge for all of us. Realizing his personality and how to meet his needs while keeping my sanity has been a struggle, but I finally feel good about our relationship and our days together at home. I have always felt blessed to have him in my life, but now I feel blessed to get to spend my days with him.

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  4. Julia K

    05/11/2016

    What a lovely positive post Andrea ! I’m sure it will be inspirational to many other mothers out there in survival mode. It is good to read such motivational words.

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  5. Brandette W.

    05/11/2016

    Ahh, I can very much relate to that feeling of just surviving, and they all of the sudden THRIVING kicks in and you don’t even realize it at first.

    Our son just started Kindy this year. Even though I am a SAHM, I feel like it took me all this time to finally have a good grasp on things. We finally have a set schedule, attitudes are definitely better, actively listening is happening more often, and Mom is actually getting things ticked off the to-do list.

    I never realized how much I was in survival mode, and I actually can’t even pin point exactly why that was other than I had a little one at home and under foot all day every day. I feel like I have finally found the schedule that works for us. Now if I could only teach myself to enjoy some of the down time while he is away at school for a few hours.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I was just thinking about what I’d do when all my children are in school full time. Of course, this is MANY years away for me — but I can’t even imagine how much time I might have to do so many other things! Enjoy your time now!

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  6. Emily

    05/11/2016

    You go, Mama! Your grocery store scenario sounds like a great reminder that life is good! When I first had my son I went into survival mode. It took me a good year to start thriving. I even wrote a post about it several months ago and titled it Surviving to Thriving, so I can definitely relate to this post. 🙂 I guess, we moms all go through it! Starting simple routines and just worrying less made all the difference in my life.

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  7. Martha Lawson

    05/11/2016

    What a great post!! I really enjoying reading your posts and watching the kiddos growing and your beautiful home and yard.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Marth!

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  8. JoDi

    05/10/2016

    Wow, sounds like it’s time for #4! Haha! JUST KIDDING!!!

    Seriously though, this was such a nice post to read, and I love Louise’s comment. I was thinking the same thing as I was reading this. You have put in a lot of hard work and developed routines that work for your family, and now the fruitage is showing. You also help your children to be independent and self-sufficient by letting them help you and allowing them to do things for themselves as they are able. It’s so nice to hear that you can feel and see that all of you thriving as a family. I’ve been in that place where it feels like you’ve been thrown under the bus and you’re just trying to survive, and it feels SO good to make it through to the other side.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yeah, I’m sure there will be ups and downs as they continue to get older — but it’s nice to finally feel like I can “come up for air” for a bit!

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  9. Leslie

    05/10/2016

    Good for you for your commitment to thrive in your vocation as a mother! You won’t regret it. There is no do-over for this time in your children’s lives. You are right to focus on the unrepeatable, and most valuable task!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for your encouragement Leslie!

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  10. Stacy

    05/10/2016

    Thank you. I also had a period of just surviving when my kids were little. I finally felt like my old self about two years ago when they were 9 and 5. It can be very overwhelming and I did try to keep doing it all for a long time, I wish I had your advice on simplifying back then! I finally felt like we are doing this and excited about seeing my kids grow and be independent and then I found out #3 is on the way. I’m terrified of losing myself again for many years but I’m hoping with experience I’ll be ok. Your kids are adorable and I always love your blog!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — congrats on baby #3! That’s exciting!

    As for the survival mode — a couple things to think about is that your older children will most likely be very helpful, or at the very least, quite self-sufficient. They will not require as much of your care as young toddlers, and you might be surprised how helpful they will be with the new baby.

    Plus, the fact that you’ve done this twice before will also help. I think (and hope) you will bounce back quickly this time!

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  11. MamaToo

    05/10/2016

    This is encouraging to read, especially having followed your blog since before Nora was born and seeing how much she upset your world originally. I love it that you have deliberately worked to get yourself and your family to this point of thriving, rather than lying down and being overwhelmed by the sensory issues and the sleep issues and the 3 kids in a short time.

    It is also encouraging for me because I’m still in the trying to survive stage. We jumped from childless for five years to three children through foster care in two months. Since then, the number of children in our family has varied over the past four years. We had two permanently when I got pregnant last fall . . . and unexpectedly added two more through foster care midway through the pregnancy. Now we’re looking at the arrival of our fifth child in just a couple weeks, with no idea how much longer the two foster placements will stay, but probably months and maybe always. The trick is that the youngest four will all be 2 1/2 years old and younger.

    A very simple schedule, written down and hanging on the wall, has helped so much. All the routines we can form have helped as well.

    And then I ask God for grace, and it comes, in many forms, every single day.

    But I’m still looking forward to the day when I finally feel like we’re all thriving.

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    Andrea Reply:

    WOW — every time you mention the ages of your children I feel my blood pressure rise 🙂
    It might be a couple more years before you get out of survival mode — but it is coming!

    Congrats on the new baby too!

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    MamaToo Reply:

    Don’t feel too sorry for me–my husband is also a Christian school teacher, and now he’s HOME for the summer! Even with some part-time work, he’s still around so much, and we feel spoiled.

    Besides, Jesus asks some people to be missionaries in primitive countries. I’m so glad all He’s asking us to do is take care of two children in the comfort of our own home.

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    Andrea Reply:

    No, I don’t want you to think I’m feeling sorry for you — I just know how much work 3 under 3.5 years was and you’ll have FOUR under 2.5 years!

    Also, I was just talking with my neighbor friend about how fortunate and lucky I feel to have Dave home all summer. Teachers might not make as much as other professions (especially Chr. school teachers) but the summer schedule makes it all worth it!

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  12. Debbie

    05/10/2016

    Awww….so glad you are in the thriving stage of motherhood now! It’s refreshing to hear that the kids are almost self-sufficient and I’m tickled to hear about the grocery story. I almost jumped up and cheered at the end of it. It’s also refreshing to hear that you do look forward to being able to get back to things you did before but at the same time enjoying what you’re doing now. Contentment and joy are words I hear all throughout this post. I can’t believe you’re doing morning and evening church with the kids as well! Kudos to you and Dave! I have fond memories of going to morning and evening church with my family growing up even though once I hit my teenage years I DID NOT like having to do evening church too. Most churches where we are no longer offer evening services and I’m okay with that, but it’s good to know that it’s still going in some parts of the country and your family participates. Your children will benefit from it.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Debbie — that grocery store did feel like a big victory for me 🙂

    Also, our church does really interesting evening services — one Sunday a month we have a supper service and all bring food, one Sunday is a combined service with several of the area churches, one Sunday is a teaching service that is really casual and more like a Bible Study, and then one Sunday is a regular church service with just our congregation. The attendance is definitely less than in the morning, but we really like the evening services at our church!

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  13. Chris

    05/10/2016

    Andrea,
    I have a big hug for you! Your children are so fortunate and will always remember that you were able and chose to stay home with them.

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  14. MOlson

    05/10/2016

    I find this post very inspiring. I have a 22 month old and I’m pregnant with our second child (and I work full-time out of the home). The first year and a half of my daughter’s life – I would say to myself, “I survived another day” when my daughter went to bed. I felt like a failure for thinking that and had a hard time sharing my feelings with anyone. But when she turned a year and half I started feeling less stressed – not quite thriving but less survival mode. I now feel I can approach my second child more realistically knowing it’s really hard but it does get better. I, too, can’t wait to get to my own time again yet I know this is short-lived and I’m sure I will catch myself saying, “I miss when my kids were little!” I think that’s why I enjoyed your blog originally – I felt I could relate to your struggles. I would say more recently you don’t seem to be struggling and I found myself feeling less connected to your blog because of it. This post makes a lot of sense and gives me hope!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Molson,
    Isn’t it great how all of a sudden, you realize you’re not struggling as much as you were (like after your daughter was 18 months old). It just sort of happens and you think “this is better”! I’m sure you’ll have another adjustment period when the next baby arrives (congrats, by the way!) but if you’re anything like me, that adjustment period will be shorter and shorter with each additional child because you know more of what to expect and you have some general systems and routines in place for the other child / children already.

    Oh, and if it makes you feel any better, I still often think “whew, I made it through another day” when my children are all sleeping for the night 🙂

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  15. Amy

    05/10/2016

    I love the statement “But for now, my goal is to thrive in my vocation as a mother.” That is where I am in my life right now. It always has been my top priority, even when I worked full time, however, in those few years, I never felt like we were “thriving” as a family. We WERE merely surviving! I DO NOT miss those days at all! It’s true that it takes years find your groove, longer when there are so many changes in schedules along the way. It’s never too late to do what you feel is best for your family. You just have to take those years of “surviving rather than “thriving” as a learning experience to really know what works……and what doesn’t. I would not trade my “mom life” for anything! I’m exactly where I (and my husband and daughter!) want to be!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Amy — I made that phrase large and bold for a reason! I also agree that the years of “surviving” were also years of intense learning. I wouldn’t be ale to thrive today if I hadn’t plowed through the survival mode days and learned everything I did.

    Glad you have made it through your survival mode days as well!

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  16. linda

    05/10/2016

    I love your blog! I’m 61 years old but still enjoy reading it and seeing your beautiful children. Wish I would have had this information when my boys where small. I now have my neighbor reading your blog and she says she’s enjoying it too and she has two small children. You are an inspiration to all of us! May God continue to bless you and your family.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks you Linda! So glad you (and your neighbor) are enjoying my blog!

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  17. Tracey

    05/10/2016

    Andrea, this is awesome!!!

    So happy that things are going so well, mama!!! As I read through your list of things you’ve done lately, I was so inspired! I’m an introverted mom of a 13 and 15 year old, and I still struggle with juggling things, like getting out for errands without stressing so much (not that kids are even part of the concern anymore, since they’re so much older now), but especially with having people over and feeling relaxed about it. For you to be in that groove with three children so young is just so wonderful and yes, so very inspiring!!

    Sending virtual high-fives for your extra-good news and extra-great post!!!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Tracey 🙂

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  18. Amber Woods

    05/10/2016

    Great post today! I too finally feel like we now at least have days where we are thriving. I agree with Louise about the routines. I think routines give the kids a sense of security and also an avenue to feel successful by doing what is expected of them. I just wanted to say that your yard work is paying major dividends. It is beautiful!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Amber! The yard IS looking really great already this spring — I’m so excited to see how big things get over the next few years! We are finished with all our major landscaping projects — now we’ll focus on things like expanding our vegetable garden, getting a new mailbox, planting annuals and bulbs, and (maybe) getting a pool!!

    Also, yes, routines are ALWAYS a good thing!

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  19. Kristen @ Joyfully Thriving

    05/10/2016

    Well said, and yay, Andrea! I think it does take time to settle into thriving motherhood mood. The early days (and weeks and months) are exhausting. Learning how to care for children of different ages and stages, day in and day out, takes a lot of energy. I’m so thankful that you are thriving. Emma’s 7 weeks old and I feel like we’re getting settled into our new routines. Thriving is my goal as well!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Good for you for finding your routine again after only a few weeks. Of course, as you know, your routine will most likely continue to change a lot over the next year — but any routine is a good routine in my book!!

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  20. louise

    05/10/2016

    I have been reading your blog for quite awhile. I am not sure why I read it as I am a 68 year old mother of 4 and a grandmother of 4. I was a teacher until we started home schooling our four girls which we did for for 19 years. I love organization and never got it all together but I knew when I , the mother, was organized things went more smoothly. It was my responsibility. I had no right to get frustrated with my girls if I didn’t have my act together.
    .
    The reason things are coming together for you is that you have systems in place. You and your family know what is going to happen in the morning, bedtime etc. and how to function in restaurants and stores. They know what is expected of them. This makes children secure, self confident and happy.! They don’t need to be stressed out because mother is disorganized. Even if one’s house is not yet decluttered one can put morning, bedtime etc. routines in place. It will bring a rhythm to the day that encourages one to get other things organized. Of course there will be moments or days that go awry but you can fall back into the routines after the crisis. Once you have these routines going you don’t even have to think about getting them done…….they are called habits.

    Keep writing Andrea. You have wisdom beyond your years.

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    Michelle Reply:

    I love this post and this comment. You reminded me why things I find challenging this time around weren’t as challenging before. Time to get back to some better routines and systems. Thank you both! You wrote this beautifully Andrea.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Michelle — good luck as you find your routines and systems again!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Well, hopefully age doesn’t really matter when it comes to reading my blog 🙂 I realize I do share lots of tips for younger families, but a lot of my posts should resonate with all ages (at least that’s my intent).

    Either way, i’m thrilled you are still reading and gleaning useful tips from what you read. And also, thank you for this very wise comment. I think you are exactly right — now that our children are old enough to have developed certain habits and routines, life is SO much easier. Yes, there are still hard days and moments, but our systems and structure is set in place and even after a really bad day, this structure makes it a lot easier to ‘get back on track’.

    Thanks again for your loyal readership and for this comment.

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