I look forward to writing this post each year and just knowing I write it makes me think and notice things about this current stage of family life, that I am not sure I would otherwise do. This is one of the things I love about blogging. It will help me remember times, issues and situations in much more detail than my poor old memory could ever do on its own. Before I write this post, I always go back and read my previous posts, so I know what I am comparing our current family life to. You can read these 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.
- May 2014 – Family Life – Easier. 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.
Even if you don’t blog, I can highly recommend writing down some thoughts on what family life is like for you at this point in time, then come back to it at this time next year and see how things are going. In 2015 this is the ages and stages we are at:
- a year 11 boy (16 y.o)
- a year 8 boy (almost 14 y.o)
- a year 6 girl (11 y.o)
- a year 3 boy (almost 9 y.o)
- a year 1 boy (6 y.o)
To make it easier to compare year by year, I keep similar headings as to previous years and if a section is no longer that relevant I just keep my notes short. Other sections have required lots more writing!
With all the kids at school, I endeavour when I can to undertake most errands during school hours. If I have errands to run or appointments outside of school hours, it is still much easier to get them done, as I can leave the younger kids with the older boys if I need to.
Improved further from last year, where I estimated 90% of my shower/bathroom time was uninterrupted, I would estimate 95% of the time they are interruption free. In the school holidays for example, I find they need a reminder before I go to the shower along the lines of “Unless there is an emergency, everything can wait until I am out of the shower.”
On school days, it is easy to find quiet time to have a shower. The eldest three have left by around 7.35am and the house has a lovely calm about it with just me and the younger two. You can read more about our morning routine in this post here.
Extra curricular activities
This year we have two nights which are very full on, but the rest of the week is pretty smooth. Clashes on these two nights mean lots of running around and the younger two have to be dragged around until after 6.30pm. Not ideal at all. It means we don’t have dinner until 7pm and the younger kids are tired and sometimes resentful for having to be out and about for hours on end. This is the last year this should happen as commitments and abilities will change next year to rectify this situation. Until then though strategies for coping are:
- using audiobooks in the car
- having dinner prepared in advance to come home to
- having snacks for the kids to have on our travels
- making sure on other nights I don’t run errands that means they will have to come with me
Saturday mornings also pose a challenge for us with up to five activities occurring before lunch time. The older two boys are fantastic about using public transport as required. Some locations are not easy to get to by public transport though, so we do really work well as a team to make sure everyone gets to where they need to be on time. This means sometimes the older boys being dropped off earlier and being picked up after their game finishes. I don’t get to watch as many games as I would like, but each season I am to watch at least on game in full for each child.
It has been many years since the kids have been a source of sleep deprivation. I wake hours before the kids do most days. On weekends they sleep in or the early risers get up quietly, make themselves breakfast and occupy themselves until the rest of the house wakes. They know they are not allowed on technology and don’t attempt to (well at least the younger three don’t!). The thought of being able to sleep in with the kids at home seemed like it would never happen, but is actually a regular occurrence at our house now.
Lifting, carrying, chasing
As was the case last year, 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. The kids do however like me to run with them. This is generally late in the morning after I have already been running early. I don’t mind this at all and quite love taking the kids and dog for a run around the block. At this stage I can still manage to keep in front of the 14 year old on our block run, but I don’t think that will be the case this time next year!
The squabbling and fighting
This area of family life has definitely increased in intensity over the last 12 months. The eldest is a bit of a provoker and winds the younger ones up. Many discussions have been had with both parties about this. I tend to say the same things over and over and over again:
- You need to ignore him. He only keeps going to get a reaction. Don’t allow him to win, just ignore him.
- Your behaviour disrupts the harmony of the house. I want you to think about the impact your words and actions have on others.
More and more I have noticed that the squabbling and fighting occurs when a child is craving some personal space and alone time. In a family of seven this can be hard to find at times. If I can see this coming, I try to engineer it so the child in question has somewhere to be on their own. Sometimes my observations are too late and I hear one child screaming at another to “get out of my room” or “I was here first you go away”. Wanting space on their own is something that is only going to increase as they all get older.
Late last year we made a change to the bedroom set up, so the 16 year old has a room on his own without siblings, but it is shared with me as it is also my home office. I work mainly during the days when he is at school so it works out well for now. Our daughter shares with the six year old, but eventually this will need to change, so I see further space challenges arising for us.
Individual time with the kids
I think finding individual time with kids is tricky, but it is possible and having a goal focused around being a planned, present and patient mother to the kids has made me find ways to do this. It has given this activity priority so I have been achieving this much more this year by doing:
- regular 20 minute sessions with kids on the weekends and school holidays
- running with the kids
- making sure I watch their sports games and use the drive to and from to talk with them
- seeking them out and talking about what they are playing, watching, listening to
Family time together
Dinner time is still a great time for us to come together as family, even if Mr I misses most weekday meals. On weekends especially we will often sit chatting long after we have finished our meal and I love these moments.
While it is physically easier for us to all go out as a family for dinners etc, the 16 year old really baulks at doing “family activities”. He comes, but is often not happy about it on the way to where ever it is we are going. On most occasions, he forgets he doesn’t want to be there when he gets there, enjoys himself and is good company. There are occasions though when he makes it difficult for everyone. To minimise the impact he will have on everyone, I make sure:
- I give him plenty of notice about what we are doing.
- Let him know how long we will be out together for.
- Don’t make him come to every single thing we do. To gain greater cooperation from him, it helps if he thinks he has “got out of coming” occasionally. I can then use it as a point of reference when he complains about why he has to do family things ALL.THE.TIME!
Time on my own
My main source of time on my own is through my fitness training and I am happy for this to be the case. It means I still have to make choices about missing out on other social activities and the like, but I have to be realistic about how much time I can spend on me. A choice to spend time in one area is a choice not to spend it somewhere else. For now, I am happy with where I am spending my time.
Time with my husband
Sometimes my husband and I will sneak away to our room just to have a 5 minute conversation on our own. Just like the kids wanting space on their own, sometimes we crave some space to be together on our own at home.
I have been cutting back how much I work at night and on weekends and want to continue doing this further across this year. I want these times to be spent talking more when we are sitting down together, not just talking as we work our way through tasks around the house or me with a computer screen in front of me.
Weekends are quite different for us now too. If the eldest is home, we can decide last minute to head out somewhere for dinner and leave the kids for a couple of hours. Other weekends though however my husband and I will do scissor, paper, rock to see who has to stay up to go out and pick up the teenager from a party!
Just as finding time to spend with the kids has been easier with a change in focus, keeping up with the housework this year has also been easier. To be a planned parent, I need to have things in the home sorted, so I give it priority. This has worked really well in terms of keeping family harmony in check, so I have had positive reinforcement to keep going and stay focused on staying on top of the household workload.
You can see my weekly schedule here and you can an example of our family contribution schedule here. The fact that everyone contributes in someway to household tasks is also a key reason I have been able to stay on top of things.
This has been so much harder over the last year. Two teenagers, means twice the learning. I think the next few years as we enter a period with three teenagers will be much like a roller coaster. There will be those lovely downhill rides where it is all going well, the kids are independent, we have to do less for them, we have more freedom in leaving them at home for short periods, they make less mess (other than their rooms!) and contribute more to the household work.
But there will be those very hard hills we will need to make our way up. And then there is the utterly scary upside down parts and unlike a roller coaster there aren’t rails keeping us on track. I have started reading more books about parenting teenagers. I feel there is so much I don’t know and challenges come regularly. No sooner do I feel we have made it to the top of one hill, but I look up and there is an even bigger one for us to make our up.
Teenagers can be angry, mean and hurtful. Learning not to take it all personally is a challenge. Mitigating their influence on the younger kids is also a challenge. Remembering they are going through a significant period of change is important to remember, but not an excuse to tolerate unacceptable behaviour. I am using a similar strategy with the teenagers as I did with them as toddlers – choosing my battles. Working out what is really important and ensuring my boundaries on these issues are fixed, unwavering and that the boys know this. When they are raging against you and your boundaries it is so tempting to give in, but I know it only brings short term relief. Sometimes I think they continue pushing and pushing because they are just checking that they boundary will stay there.
Every time I come into contact with parents who have 16 year olds or older, I am asking them question after question to find out how they cope and to be honest, checking to see if what is happening in our house is “normal”. Even though from reading I am pretty sure it is, living with your first teenager is a wild and scary ride at times. While I know that each our of children will turn into a different teenager, I take some comfort from knowing that as it happened when they were babies, with each baby I became more confident as a parent. When it comes to parenting teenagers, at the moment I would say I am very much in the building confidence stage. Somedays I think I am doing well, other days I think I am completely stuffing it all up! Each day though, I realise I have a new start and I am tightening my seat belt, summoning my positive attitude and waiting to see where the ride will take me for the day.
The easier parts are really easy and the hard parts are really hard. So how does family life compare to five years ago when I started writing this series? While the hard parts are really hard, they don’t have the relentless frequency of the hard I had when the kids were younger. Our teenagers for all the angst they cause also bring me great happiness. They make me laugh, I have great conversations with them both and I can see they are growing into good men. The hard bits are the minority, a very hard minority.
I often reflect in my 5 minute journal that I am grateful for our independent kids. It is recently with all the kids in school, that I feel we are really reaping the benefit of working with the kids to create solid routines, teaching them independence skills and fostering contributions to the family and household. Their ability to be self sufficient in the general day to day stuff, frees up time for me to spend with them, not doing for them and the difference in the quality of the time we spend together is significantly better for it.