Being a mom requires the balancing skills of a trapeze artist. One minute, you’re being pulled in the direction of a spilled glass of wine (anything that leaves a stain is a red alert), and the next, a boiling pot of water on the stove that your toddler is taking far too much of an interest in (code ultraviolet?). It’s difficult to prioritize, a challenge to mark off everything on your to-do list and virtually impossible to keep your sanity while grocery shopping with children grasping at your knees and boxes of cereal.
Even the most organized and zen of moms could use some help — and we’ve got it, in the form of 15 priceless tips and advice from moms who are raising three or more children. The moms we surveyed range in age from their 20s to their 50s. Some are stay-at-home moms, others work as teachers, writers, executives and small business entrepreneurs, but all have one thing in common: They’ve found, through trial and error, parenting tips that work for their big, busy households.
1. Order EVERYTHING you can online
If you spot a mom with more than one or two children attempting to do the weekly grocery shopping with kids in tow, consider it your civic duty to pull her over and whisper two of the sweetest words in a parent’s mental glossary: Fresh Direct. Ordering groceries, diapers, cleaning supplies and even clothing online isn’t just a luxury when you have children: It’s a sanity-saving necessity that also helps you keep better track of how much you’re spending on various items. Nearly all of the moms I spoke with use Amazon Prime, Fresh Direct, Diapers.com, Out of Milk or Peapod to avoid dragging their children around town on their many errands.
2. Hire out as much help as you can afford
There’s no shame in admitting you can’t do it all and paying for a babysitter, nanny, mother’s helper or cleaning crew to help you keep your family’s life in order. Several moms raved about how a weekly or biweekly cleaning person freed up their time so they could focus more on their kids, work and giving themselves the “me time” they know they deserve. A site like Care.com can connect you with everyone from an occasional babysitter or mother’s helper to a live-in au pair.
3. Use your hired help wisely
If you are dedicating a chunk of your budget to pay for a nanny or mother’s helper, it’s up to you to feel comfortable enough to delegate responsibility and be clear about your expectations so that you don’t lose your marbles when you come home from work and find your sitter lounging on the couch. “There’s no shame in having a cleaning lady or babysitter who does laundry and cooks,” says Amalia A. “And schedule Fresh Direct or Amazon Prime when your sitter is at your house — they’ll put everything away.”
4. Don’t feel guilty if your career has to take a backseat for a while
Think of parenting small children as a beautiful chapter in your life, not as a brick wall you’re hitting and can’t scale, and you might feel better if you’ve accepted fewer job opportunities, found yourself in a position where you’ve had to ask your boss if you can work from home or had to quit your job altogether. If staying at home with children all day long makes you long to be out there bringing home the bacon, but it’s financially wiser for your family not to pay day care costs, consider applying for Work at Home positions that will satisfy your hunger to work and give your resume a boost during these years.
5. Get your children to pitch in
The least stressed-out moms were the ones who assigned tasks to every member of their household — including their children. Whether they’re teaching their 10-year-old daughter or son to cook or simply asking them to separate colored and white laundry, they make it a point of modeling for their kids that it takes a village to keep a village running smoothly. “I had a little stool in front of the sink for them to do dishes from the time they were 5,” says Linda T. “Tim was dusting baseboards when he was 2 or 3 and the older kids helped dust furniture. I also taught them the difference between weeds and flowers — lost a few flowers in the process. Catherine and Michael are also old enough to run a Swiffer on the floor and pick up toys. It won’t be the same way you would do it, but you are investing in their future and yours. Make it an honor and a privilege for them to be allowed to help with the cleaning — and praise them to high heaven, even if you have to redo it when they are in bed.”
6. Ask your partner for help
In a perfect world, our partners would read our minds and know that if they don’t offer to start dinner tonight and let us unwind for five minutes, we’ll blow our tops. And, yes, some partners need no such prompting: “I have a ton of help from my husband,” says Joanna P. “It’s really a true partnership: he cleans, I cook. He does some laundry, I do the rest. He helps at bath time, too.”
But there are times when we have to be vocal and ask for what we need — and then stick to our guns if it doesn’t get done. “My husband gets home before me so he prepares the kids’ food,” says Enrica S. “Laundry became a lot easier because everyone folds their own, including my kids. So what happens if someone doesn’t pitch in? Don’t lose it! Hubby didn’t prepare food; it’s takeout for the kids. Kids don’t fold laundry; they get allowance taken away. If my husband doesn’t fold his, it sits in a pile in a hamper and he has to dig through it every day. I don’t stress out. Prioritize what needs to be done daily and be realistic and also flexible.”
7. Make time for your children
The goal in parenthood is, of course, to raise happy, healthy children who know they are loved and who acquire the skills they need to take on the world. But when you’re bringing up more than one child, it can become increasingly difficult to spread yourself around and focus your attention on their individual needs. Brianne P, a military wife, has a genius solution: “I have three children ages 7, 5 and 14 months, and they are my world,” she says. “What my husband and I have been doing, which has been working out very well: We have dates with one child every other Saturday, so that they each have their special time with one of us.”
8. Don’t neglect date nights
Think of your relationship with your partner as the cement ground floor for your family — without it, everything becomes shaky. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re both inundated with household responsibilities, work and, of course, the kids! The simplest solution: Call a sitter and pencil in regular date nights the way you would any other duty. “We do a date night at least once a week and we do an annual five days away together each year in our favorite place on the Cape,” says Sasha B.W. “Once you have more than two kids, I think it is really easy to lose sight of the foundation of the family (the marriage) and no one will be happy if you do that!”
9. Make time for yourself
While you’re making plans to spend time with all of the people in your world whom you love most, don’t forget to pencil yourself in for a manicure, facial, dinner out with friends, CrossFit or whatever else you do that helps you reconnect with yourself. Your children will be happiest when they have a relaxed and intellectually stimulated mom. No guilt allowed!
10. Buy a pressure cooker
Are you still running home from work to stare at the shelves in your fridge, check your Pinterest recipes, pore over the contents in your pantry, and then, ultimately, throw up your hands in defeat and order out (again)? Stop the insanity, buy a pressure cooker, bookmark some easy slow cooker recipes and give yourself one less thing to do in the evenings.
11. Don’t compare yourself to your mother
For most of us, our first parental role models in life were our own moms. While it’s great to take from them those qualities we associate with loving moms — the way they tucked us in tight at night or encouraged us to figure out a problem on our own — we need to remember that we are not our moms, and that we are raising our kids in a very different time. “My mom was a stay-at-home mom but there was also a lot less pressure on women,” says Joanna P. “There were no cell phones to stay connected 24/7, no second car payment, no after-school travel sports to make us run around like chickens without a head — it’s cliché, but life was simpler. Remember: If the grass looks greener on the other side, it usually means it’s fake!”
12. Trust others with your children
You can try to be the sole provider of affection, care and attention for your children, but if you find yourself about to burn out, it’s time to give up control and learn to trust others around you with the task of helping you raise healthy kids who must also learn to trust people outside of your immediate family. “One kid, two kids, five kids, all require patience,” says Kim T., mom of three. “The difference with more kids is the running around with drop-offs and pickups and activities, so trusting others to help out is the most important thing for me these days.”
13. Use technology — and don’t feel bad about it
If you think you’re the only mom relying on Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger to get anything done during the day, banish that thought from your brain. There isn’t a mom I spoke with who doesn’t allow their kids to watch television or play games on an iPad so that they can clean, work or step into the other room for a much-needed break from the day. Use technology to your advantage, and don’t waste a precious moment feeling guilty about doing so.
14. Drink coffee
Or tea. Or a Starbucks Frappuccino. Or three. Parenting young children takes the sleep out of you and the majority of moms rely on their daily caffeine fix to power through the day. If caffeine and your body don’t mix, find a fruit and veggie smoothie that never fails to give you a spring in your step. Set your alarm for 15 minutes before the first early riser in your house and enjoy the beverage of your choice in quiet solitude before the crazy kicks in.
15. Stop and count your blessings
Blink your eyes and your children will no longer be young and dependent on you. Childhood is a mere blip on the radar of life, but it doesn’t always seem that way to a mom working through teething, sleepless nights, toddler tantrums and fifth grade math homework — sometimes all in the same week. Whether you find solace in meditation, prayer or simply calling a friend on the phone to chat about your kids and crazy lives, take a moment each day to feel and express your gratitude for these little people, who love you more than life itself. In 50 years’ time, memories of store tantrums will make you laugh and you’ll be the one imparting parenting wisdom on your own children. Own your stress, admit to yourself that this chapter isn’t the easiest, but then do your best to enjoy every step along the way.