Life in General

Don’t follow someone else’s ideas!

One of my kids once asked me, “Why do we hardly have any sleepovers? Can we go on a sleepover?

I looked at my 8 year old and I said, “We are so lucky, our whole life is one big sleepover!”

And that’s the truth. Being the mother of 9 boys and 2 girls ka“h, my children have stretched my limits in ways that I never imagined, including living the life of one big sleepover! They’ve taught me that my job as a mother is not to make them into who I want them to be but rather to embrace who they are, as they are, the way Hashem created them. They are not my report card and it’s not about me; they each have their own talents and strengths, my job is to help them use it to succeed.

I never imagined I’d be the mother of a baseball team or nearly a minyan. But what I’ve learned on the job has made me who I am. Granted, boys don’t whine. But there’s plenty of other stuff they do that’s not for the faint of heart. I love pink, bows, dolls and dollhouses. After the fourth dollhouse was once again used as a stool and parking garage and dolls were missing too many limbs too many times, I came to terms with the fact that I had to learn their game. And really that’s how it all is; to be there for each of them is to learn their game. To try to understand life through their eyes and value  their strengths, so that I can help each child succeed. 

The term “big family” is all relative.

After I gave birth to my sixth child, one of the nurses in the delivery room asked me the routine, albeit rude and poor timed question; So, are you having more?

I said, “Well it’s up to G-d, but I sure would like to!”

And she looked at me incredulously. ”But why?!”

“Because I want a big family!”

“But you already have one!”

Big is all relative and there’s no measurement on big. Having children is about shifting your focus from self oriented to others oriented. Having children is not only about the here and now, about the stresses of today; it’s an investment forever.

Granted, a house full of kids is hectic. Very hectic. But life is always hectic. How blessed to be busy with the best type of hectic; the type that helps you grow into a better human while you grow little humans into a world of their own.

People often ask me – how do you do it? How do you keep track of everyone and everything?! 

Sometimes I laugh and say, y‘know I wonder that too! Because really I do. It’s not a mathematical equation that lines up. It’s definitely a koach that comes straight from Hashem that enables parents to raise a family. Even raising just one child requires a magical capability.

On a technical level, for me it comes down to planning, systems and more planning, no different than running a corporation. A strong team is the foundation of success. My husband and I are the executive management  team, we need to work together to keep this corporation thriving. Sometimes we tag team, sometimes we divide and conquer. Communication is the basis of it all.

Together with that, or perhaps even more importantly, is knowing where and when to let go.

I find that we subconsciously create a standard that we struggle to keep to; we need to take time to reflect and think: is it helping me or making my life harder?! If I’m the writer of the rules, then I have the luxury of making them so that the rules work for me, not against me. Because kids thrive when the parents are thriving.

Before I share some practical tips that work for me, I’d like to share one overall principle of motherhood (and life in general):

Don’t follow someone else’s ideas or systems! Take people’s ideas and make it your own. Never try to follow it exactly like someone else; you have to own it and make it natural. Trying to do what someone else did successfully will leave you frustrated; if it worked for them, why didn’t it work for me. It’s simple; we are different people with different needs and different kids. It’s not like a recipe that can be shared and implemented. Ideas have to be tailored to fit.

Having said that, I’ll share some ideas that work for me and before you try any, modify it to suit your needs! 

  1. Plan. Pen and paper. Phone. Post it notes. Whatever works. Lists are your friend. Your best friend. Before a Yom Tov I make a grid with all the kids names, and a checklist of pants, shirts, shoes etc When I place an order for white shirts in 7 sizes and multiple of each, all at the same time, I’m sure the store suspects I’m opening my own business. Know your kids and their ability to keep clean. Don’t create unnecessary stress; only buy things that won’t get you upset when they get dirty. To me, white shirts are disposable. They have a magnetic attraction to grape juice and guacamole; and my kids have a magnetic attraction to dirt. I make purchases with that in mind.
  2. No one does it all. For real, absolutely no one. And if you’re thinking that actually yes, you do know someone who does it all, I guarantee you that the only reason you think that is because you don’t know them well enough. Instagram might tell you otherwise, but it’s not possible. And the good news is, it’s also OK. No one can do it all and no one is supposed to do it all. But the other good news is, you get to choose. You get to choose what will be priority and what won’t, what could handle some neglect and what can’t. Some balls we juggle are glass and some of the balls are rubber. Knowing which ones are which helps make the decision easier.
  3. Look for shortcuts. Instacart, Amazon and Target pickup are my other best friends. I love to go to stores and browse, but there’s a time and place for everything. Prioritize where to put your energy. And outsource what you can. Sometimes we create a psychological requirement that we mothers have to do EVERYTHING (see #2!) We don’t. We are everything to our kids; we don’t have to do everything. Know the difference and know when to accept help and when to let it go. Let Go. This is the hardest but will change your life. It’s a mindset; there’s a wisdom in knowing what’s ok to ignore and where to put your energy. And you learn on the job. 
  4. Make a meal plan and stick to it. Don’t ask for new recipes before a Yom Tov if it’ll bring more stress. It’s ok if everyone is serving foods you don’t know how to pronounce and your kids love potato knishes so that’s what it’ll be.
  5. Pause and reflect. Systems work until they don’t. And when they don’t, reassess and keep moving. Things change and stop working when you’re holding a newborn all day or running after a toddler or doing both; allow yourself to change with them. I once came across a great system of putting dots on the clothing so my housekeeper could fold the laundry seamlessly. It was fantastic; my oldest son had one dot. Second boy had two. And even better, if their clothes survived to be passed down one to the next, I could just add a dot. My third son got three dots and my fourth son got four. But then I had a problem I hadn’t anticipated…there simply wasn’t enough room on the tags for dots numbers 5,6,7,8 and 9! And that’s when I realized it was no longer a system for me anymore. And so I revamped and created a new one. I put stickers on their shelves with sizes. It works.
  6. Stock up if you can; this is very much dependent on your space. If space is limited, think which items you go through the quickest and buy in bulk; it saves time and money.
  7. Certain words stress me out; like. “Bedtime Routines”. Something about it gives me a huge pressure that I’m failing if our routine is pajamas, brush teeth, neggel vasser. Like, is that good enough? Will the “Bedtime Routine” police come after me if I don’t read 65 books to them? Forget fancy words and terms, all they do is add more stress to mothers and make us once again feel that we fall short. Have a bedtime and requirements for bedtimes. And keep to it most of the time.
  8. Take care of yourself. Self care sounds like a destination you visit every now and then; taking care of yourself is a constant state of being. Not only is it good for you, but it’s a Torah requirement. Always. Be kind to your body, make time to do things you enjoy, go to your doctors appointments and splurge on yourself. There’s no money value or quantity that is required; it’s the quality. The greatest gift you can give your family is a mother who takes care of herself. 
  9. Make time for your marriage. Don’t just wait for moments together to happen – make it a priority! Time together doesn’t have to mean going away for a week to an exotic island. Who wouldn’t want to do that?! Reality is that it’s unrealistic for most of us most of the time. Date night can be as fancy as sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. It’s dedicated time together and that’s what’s important. But it won’t happen by itself. Plan it each week or the week will be over before you blink.
  10. Make time for your kids, individually. The thought can definitely sound overwhelming; there’s barely enough time in the day to juggle the regular things, how can you possibly squeeze this in too? And the bigger the family, how can you possibly find time for each kid separately? Time alone with each child is not every day or for many hours; it’s not about taking each kid out to lunch once a month or going to paint pottery. There may be times over the years that that actually works, and that’s great – but that’s not the ideal. Making it a priority makes all the difference. I find it’s the quality over the quantity that’s most important; it doesn’t have to be fancy. Whether it’s you or your husband taking one child on a shopping run, going on a walk together, or just sitting together on the couch for five minutes chatting; come up with an idea that fits your schedule and works for you. And don’t start asking others what they do, it will just make you feel pressured, overwhelmed and falling short. I used to be able to sit with every kid before bedtime; as our family grew, we got more bunk beds and it became less practical to sit on their bed and to get to everyone if I wanted them asleep before midnight.  At another time when all my kids were younger, one child would get to stay up late Thursday night to make dessert for Shabbos. That worked until it didn’t. For me, bringing one child to school an hour late twice a year works right now, but last year it didn’t.Regardless of how it’s done, the concept is the same: find a time to spend with each kid by themselves. And it doesn’t have to be a DMC. Just spending time together, no expectations, no pressure. Give the child the experience of having your full attention, for whatever the amount of time it is. Keep in mind that  there’s no rule on it; make it work to fit your schedule and leave no space for guilt because you know your friend spends an hour with each child every night. You and your husband are the best parents for your child. Hashem chose you, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. Do the best you can with what you have.

Notice the order above; yourself, your marriage, your children. In that order. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself and your marriage first; it’s the greatest gift you can give to your children.

Originally written for EmBRace Magazine

2 thoughts on “Don’t follow someone else’s ideas!”

  1. Oh my gosh I love this! Thank you for writing this for me to read and really take in today. I have young adults but it still all applies. Blessings to you as yours!

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