All last year I had three children under five. And no help. I must have been mad.
This year I have three children under six. And none of them in school. I should probably be certified.
Emily e-mailed me and asked me how I coped with three children under five. Emily, if you still plan on having that third child, LOOK AWAY NOW. It could get nasty.
Coping with three children under five is very hard work, I won’t kid you. But I’m also not the only mother to, rather foolishly, get pregnant so many times so quickly. So, you know, most of the time I just get on with it. That’s the trouble with three under five: there’s not really time to sit down and reflect on the foolishness of my actions. From dawn you are up with the baby, even though you haven’t really been asleep, at all, through the night. His nappy has probably leaked – if you’re lucky it’s just wee and you can just whip all the wet clothes off the miserably cold baby and redress (hopefully ignoring the fact that there are no clean clothes because you didn’t have time to do the laundry yesterday because you were busy changing him ten times), if you’re unlucky it’s the other and the whole baby-and-clothes ensemble requires washing (if pressed for time, I’ve been known to do this under the running bath tap) – the toddler needs dressing because he is too tired to do it himself, even though he has been asleep for the last twelve hours (and the thought of twelve hours sleep makes you giddy with longing), the preschooler is on strike because the clothes you have put out are ‘not cool enough’ and thus the day begins.
Preschool mornings are always fun because there’s the added joy of having to get everyone dressed, fed, into the car, and going somewhere by a set time. My rule is this: I never, ever, go out without make-up (the only day since Ben was born that I have been out without make-up was the day after my dog died and that’s only because no amount of slap would have made me look any better with all that crying). This only happens without fail every day because of the Three Under Five Rule which states that at least once every single morning in my house, all three children will be crying simultaneously, which in turn means I can ignore them all so as not to show any favouritism, and instead I can make myself look presentable. Some days I only get as far as deoderant, hairbrushing and lipstick but it always counts as a victory. Who said mothers had to aim low?
To cope with three small children I have learnt to perfect the art of slacker-parenting. This has been hard given my Type-A tendencies but it was either that or lose my mind a bit more than I already had. Although hardly worthy of parent hacks, here nevertheless are my top ten tips (and I use the word ‘tip’ very loosely):
1) use clean dishes from the dishwasher during the day until it is nearly empty then there is less to unload before restacking it. If, like me, you can’t bear the thought of all those dirty dishes on the side all day, pretend they are a statement about your lack of interest in domestic issues in favour of superior parenting skills.
2) I do three loads of laundry everyday. I would willingly pay someone to do this full time for me. If I haven’t got time to put the children’s clean clothes away I put them on top of their dresser and use them from there. I tumble dry everything I can, which doesn’t sit well with my environmental principles but, you know, the sanity and everything. When my washing machine broke down for three weeks after the baby was born, I realised how much washing I could get away without doing. The children’s clothes always look dirty once breakfast is over anyway.
3) small children do not need a bath everyday. If I thought it would help, I might not actually bath them for an entire week but it so happens that bathtime is one of the few times each day when they are happy, contained and not fighting so I haven’t implemented the only-one-bath-a-week-is-necessary rule yet. In the summer when there is more skin contact with mud and sand, I get the children to clean off in the paddling pool before supper and then I use a baby wipe on dirty feet at bedtime.
4) at least once every week we get a clear plastic bag (snip small holes in the bottom because inevitably one child will put it over their head) and go out on a nature walk. We put things we find (obviously I’m thinking twigs, leaves and moss rather than litter or used condoms) in the bags, bring them back an hour or two later and spend another hour or two sticking them in books, coloring them, painting them, photographing them or ripping them to tiny pieces all over the kitchen floor. My children love this and they never seem to get bored of it. With any luck the baby will sleep the entire way. And hopefully everyone will sleep the entire night with exhaustion.
5) leftovers, batches of frozen food, slow-cooker recipes and a breadmaker all make life easier. My worst nightmare involves a cranky baby at five o’clock and no idea what to cook for supper. Macaroni cheese, spaghetti bolognese, baby curry, fish fingers, good quality organic chicken nuggets and frozen veg are always in my freezer for days when proper cooking is beyond me. Fresh fruit, yoghurts, good quality vanilla custard or ice cream, fromage frais, frozen berries, tinned fruit and brioche are instant puddings.
6) my three concessions to having small children are employing a cleaner two hours a week to clean the visible parts of the house (dusting, vacuuming, bathrooms), tumble drying all my laundry and having my groceries delivered. I figure these are cheaper than paying for childcare. And definitely cheaper than therapy.
7) half an hour before suppertime the children get ‘golden time’ or ‘special play time’. They can do whatever they want which generally means watch a DVD, play on the computer or play playstation – things they are not normally allowed to do during the day. Before they get to do it though they have to tidy up all their toys. So by suppertime I have a tidy house and two quiet, occupied children while I cook. If they behave well during the day they can gain five minutes of playtime. If they do something naughty (hitting, kicking and so on) they lose five minutes of playtime.
eight) create a supper club. Take turns to entertain as many children for supper as you can – you’re cooking anyway, right? You get a night off when it is not your turn. And with any luck your host will crack open a bottle of wine and you won’t care about the ear-splitting noise from so many children in one house at the witching hour.
9) have a night-time survival kit. In each child’s room have a drink, a sick bowl, a box of tissues, nappies, wipes, and a clean set of pyjamas and sheets. When they were a bit younger my children had two sets of sheets including waterproof undersheets on their beds and a spare duvet in their dresser to save everyone stumbling about semi-conscious in the dark if sheets needed changing.
10) invest in a visible alarm clock. We have this Bunny Alarm Clock (edited: not available at this link anymore. We now have this equally good Gro-Clock Sleep Trainer). Bribe or threaten your preschooler to stay in bed until the bunny is awake. Nothing worse than getting the baby back to sleep after being awake half the night and then being woken twenty minutes later by your bright, bouncing three or four year old. This worked well for us until a few months ago but nothing seems to keep my older two in bed these days, possibly because they are sharing a room and there is too much incentive to wake up when your partner in crime is sleeping in the next bed.
And my final top tip? Blog or surf the internet while you feed the baby. I suggest you come here and read about my lack of domestic and parenting skills and you will feel instantly like you are coping better than me.