This is an annual post I write here on Planning With Kids. While I write on the blog to share ideas of what we do in our family, to hopefully help other families, it also provides a fantastic record of what is happening in our life.
As the kids grow older, I realise now how easy it is to forget what each stage is like. Not forget completely of course, but forgetting the little things that were at the time quite big for me. Like not being able to go to the toilet on my own! I hope to look back at these posts from time to time, read them and help them shape how I may interact with a family who have kids that age. What would be the most helpful thing I could do for them? What type of meet up might suit them best? That type of thing. You can see my previous posts here:
- Late 2009 – Does It Really Get Harder?????. I contemplate comments from other parents with older kids who suggest that it actually gets harder as the kids get older! Our youngest was 10 months old at this time.
- April 2011 – Easier……for the moment!. Not every individual part was easier, but overall I did feel family life was a little easier. Our youngest was 2 at the time.
- April 2012 – Family Life – New Challenges. While the last year had brought new challenges for me, it was certainly easier in many ways than the last couple of years.
- April 2013 – Family Life – Mostly Easier. Many elements of daily life were much easier as the kids grow in independence, but parenting a teenager posed some new challenges for me.
This year is a landmark year – our beautiful last child went to school. So now we have:
- a year 10 boy (15 y.o)
- a year 7 boy (13 y.o)
- a year 5 girl (10 y.o)
- a year 2 boy (8 y.o)
- a prep boy (5 y.o)
While navigating the teen years is challenging, everyday life is the easiest it has been since…..well since I can remember! Here is how things are comparing in the different parts of family life that were important when I first started writing this series five years ago.
With the youngest now at school, I try to schedule errands around school pick up time and on the after school activities run to make the best use of my time. If the younger kids have to come with me, it is still fine as they are at an age where I can explain what I am doing and why and they on the whole co-operate very well. I can also comfortably leave the younger kids home with the older boys if I need to duck out for a local errand. This gives me great flexibility and means I can reduce the running around by the kids.
Last year I estimated 50% of my showers were interruption free. It would now be about 90% interruption free! Quite often before I go the shower I will remind the kids that unless it is an emergency, what ever happens over the next 10 minutes, it can wait until I have finished my shower. On the whole they respect this and it only the younger two who might forget and come to tell me or show me something.
Extra curricular activities
Week nights this year I have managed to schedule all of the activities that I need to do running around for into three evenings and one of those evenings I only have to do pick up. The older boys are home by then, so the little ones don’t have to come on the long drive for pick up, which is good as it is on a Friday and they are generally pretty tired and looking to just relax.
It does mean I have two very full nights, but this is working better for everyone, as they have a number of nights across the week where they can just play and have unstructured time. You can read more about how we manage after school activities in this post here.
Saturdays though are completely organised chaos! All five kids have sporting activities before lunch, Mr I plays local footy and the older boys run water/boundary umpire at his games. The high level of activity is pushing the limits of our one car policy too! We have already borrowed my sister’s car to get us through a morning which had us all over Melbourne.
These days are harder on the little ones as it means they are out of the house from 7.30am for many hours. This means Friday nights have become a night of preparation and early to bed for me too. If I am to get a run in before the activity begins, it is early to rise for me.
While it is a bit chaotic and quite often we have to draw a diagram to work out how we can manage it, I do like that they are all playing and enjoying a team sport. The eldest is great at using public transport when he can to help us out and the others know sometimes they have to be dropped off earlier or just on time to make it all work. In many ways it is a great example to the kids about how it isn’t just about them but the whole family and how we all need to work to make sure everyone gets to where they need to be on time.
The kids are never the source of sleep deprivation any more. If I am sleep deprived, it is generally my own fault! I have taken too much on or tried to fit too much in which sees me working late in the evening. I am improving in this area and next year I hope to be able to write that there is no sleep deprivation at all!
Lifting, carrying, chasing
There really is no physical workload caused by the kids. They are all capable of walking on their own, they are no longer carried anywhere and I don’t have to chase them down. In some ways I miss the physical touch, so have found myself giving out a lot more hugs and squeezes lately.
The squabbling and fighting
While attending the same school for the first time in a number of years, this has drawn the older boys closer in many ways. My daughter now often catches the same train home as her older brothers, so they have some new connection points as well.
However the squabbling and fighting is most pronounced amongst the older three kids which has been a change. The eldest is very good at winding up both his brother and sister. I constantly repeat the phrase “Ignore him, he is just trying to get a reaction out of you.” often to no avail.
The temperaments of our eldest two boys are chalk and cheese. One is incredibly laid back and the other is a worrier. I do speak to both of them individually about being more understanding of each other and while this may work for a short time, they can get on each other’s nerves very quickly as well.
The level of physical fighting has increased too between the older boys. It is a classic example of “Starts in fun, ends in tears.” As the 15 year old has had a growth spurt recently he is now physically much bigger and stronger than his younger brother. This does not however prevent his sibling from trying to take him on and it rarely ends well.
I find this aspect of parenting pretty tiring and frustrating. My calm and logical suggestions to move rooms and leave each other alone are not listened to very often and then someone gets hurt (and angry!). I do spend more time than I would like guiding and disciplining the kids in this area. I hope that this is something that subsides over the year.
Also as the kids get older I have to really watch myself so I don’t squabble with them. I need to remember I am the adult! It is easy to fall into the trap and respond to their every comment, but most of the time they are just trying to have the last word. I just need to let them have it.
Individual time with the kids
The challenge of finding individual time is harder again this year as all of them are at school. On the weekend I try my best on at least one of the days to sit with each child and do an activity with them of their choice for 20-30 minutes. It is generally Sunday morning and I find it is really a lovely way to start the day.
On days when I spend this time with the kids I find that they get along with each other better for the rest of the day too. The eldest is not that keen on spending time with me, but I have found going for a short run together and chatting as I drop off and pick him up from parties works well for engaging in meaningful conversation with him.
Family time together
Weeknights I still sit with the kids and have dinner each evening. Mr I is usually not able to join us during the week unfortunately. The evening meal time though is one of my favourite times of the day. We share stories of our days, talk about current issues and have a laugh.
Of course it isn’t always perfect and if there has been arguing before, sometimes there are cross and angry faces at the table who don’t want to talk. But thankfully this is in the minority of cases.
It is however much harder to have us all together on weekends for family outings. Not only is there sporting commitments to work around, by the eldest is really not keen to always be a part of what we are doing. I am still navigating this territory around what he has to do with us and what he can opt out of.
Last school holidays he was very unhappy about coming away to visit my family in the country for nine days. He felt it was too long and he would have no one his age to interact with. To paraphrase him “I was ruining his life!”. We agreed that next time we can have some negotiation on how long he comes for when we visit my family. I feel like I am a steep learning curve with this.
Time on my own
I do have enough time on my own to fit in things I love to do, but it is all about choices. My fitness routine still revolves around early mornings which I enjoy and am very supported by my husband so I can do this. I do get out on the evening when I want to catch up with friends, however my early morning starts mean I now look for other times to catch up with friends so I don’t end up with the aforementioned sleep deprivation.
Time with my husband
With my training and Mr I’s training quite often the thought of going out on a Saturday night is the last thing that we feel like doing. But when we do it is is so worth the effort. This is something we need to do a little more of.
In the evening now the 15 year old is up until after 10pm, so it is harder to find time when we are completely on our own. We will often scurry away to a corner of the house somewhere to have a quiet chat on our own.
I have found the house work easier to stay on top of this year (so far!). I have worked into my daily routine the key household tasks so I can pretty much work on auto pilot.
We have also recently reconfigured the contributions to the household work for the kids. You can read about it in full here, but they are doing much more substantial work around the house that eases my workload like:
- cleaning a toilet
- cleaning windows
- tidying the bookshelves
This area is certainly harder. We now have two teenagers who have very different personalities and require different parenting approaches. I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how to approach particular issues with both of the boys. How should we approach online time? How much should I say about homework? What time should the 15 year old be able to stay out to? What conversations should we be having about sex, drugs and alcohol?
Letting go of some of the smaller things has been in important for my sanity. There are a number of basic rules they need to follow, but I let some other smaller things go. This often takes a good deal of restraint on my behalf though.
Overall family life is definitely easier than when I first started writing this series in 2009 when our youngest was still a baby. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have challenging parts. It does. But it is wonderful to see the kids growing up, developing their own opinions, styles and preferences.
We have always encouraged the kids to think for themselves and that means they do this when the relate to us too. The older kids will challenge what we say and this is okay as long as they do it in an appropriate tone and with polite language. Sometimes this gets tiring, but I do like that we can talk things through in a reasonable manner.
I love the on the good days, the relationship the five of them have with each other. I love that we are big happy crew on our own and can easily have a laugh together.
I do see more challenges coming. The boys are rapidly growing, along with their need for space and privacy. We will soon need to reorganise the bedrooms and study areas again and work to create spaces for everyone as they need them. But this is an integral part of family life and I feel very fortunate to have our wonderful kids, even if sometimes I think they are going to make my head explode!
How about you? Are things easier or harder for you than a year ago?