Each year I write a post reflecting on the state of family life. The first post in this series was back in 2009 when our youngest son was still a baby. At the time we had five kids under 10 life was full – both with joy, challenges and hard work. At this time in my life when I remarked to other parents that I looked forward to things getting easier as the kids grew older, many parents said to me it actually becomes harder.
This was something I simply couldn’t fathom at the time, so thought I would document the pulse of family life once a year and share how I was finding it. You can read 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.
- 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.
- Apr 2015 – Family life – the roller coaster years. The easier parts are really easy and the hard parts are really hard. While the hard parts are really hard, they don’t have the relentless frequency of the hard I had when the kids were younger. Overall it is easier, a bit like a roller coaster though with high highs and low lows.
- Aug 2016 – Does it really get harder? – 2016 edition. My experience to date has shown me that how I feel about family life in terms of whether it is easier or harder, is very dependant upon my attitude and behaviour. Experience also helps. Handling a teenager second time around is definitely easier as I have made mistakes and learnt from them!
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 2017 these are the ages and stages we are at:
- a first year uni student (18 y.o son)
- a year 10 student (16 y.o son)
- a year 8 student (13 y.o daughter)
- a year 5 student (11 y.o son)
- a year 3 student (8 y.o son)
The easier parts
I think one of the reasons why parents say this stage of parenting life is harder, is because we have forgotten what it was like to have little kids. And I can say this because in the hard times of parenting life at the moment, I find myself thinking it was so much easier when they were little! But then I sit down to write this post and read my previous posts and I begin to remember things like:
With the new car seat laws, I have three children who need properly fitted car seats. Due to the set up of our car, all three car seats are in one row, meaning that even the one child that uses a seat belt, isn’t able to do it up themselves because it is too squishy. To run errands where I have to visit a couple of different places, requires placing 3 kids into 3 seats, fastening 3 restraints, then doing this over and over again until we have finished. I find this exhausting, especially when after the second or third time we do this and the baby starts to arch his back, in defiance abut having to go back into the car seat again!
Reading this reminds me that daily life really is so much easier. If I need to run errands, I can wait for the older kids to get home from school and then I can complete the errands quickly and peacefully on my own! Or if I do have the younger kids with me, they will happily run into the bakery and buy the bread for example, so having them with me can actually be very helpful.
There are moments when multiple children need you at the same time and it is impossible to please them all. Dealing with the emotional fall out of a preschooler who has to wait to play with me, while I test the spelling of his older brother or from being told that dad is reading bed time stories not mum, can become wearing at the end of a long day.
It is easier now as the kids are all at ages where they understand I cannot do everything at once. When it comes to home work etc, they know if they require a bigger chunk of my time they can plan it with me, so I can do it at a time that works for both of us. The older kids are also super helpful with the younger kids when it comes to homework assistance and study guidance. It is actually really beautiful to watch them help and learn from each other.
Finding ways for us to do things together as a family with kids aged 7 – 17 is a challenge. I think this will always depend on the personalities of the kids, but the eldest is really not keen on “family time” but my yearning for family time is even greater now as I know once he finishes school, it will be even harder to get.
This has changed slightly since the eldest has left school. While he certainly doesn’t want to hang out with us all the time, if I give him enough notice and it is something he likes, he comes along more often now. I think I have become better at choosing what activities to encourage him along too!
The struggle with after school activities is so much easier now. The older three pretty much sort these themselves the majority of the time. The younger two have soccer training and swimming once a week, which I can plan for easily earlier in the day. When the kids are at swimming lessons, I take along either my paper notebook or MacBook and work solidly for the 30 minutes they are in their lessons!
School mornings are now on the whole very calm and I have time to interact with the kids, often reading with them or playing a game. Sometimes they prefer to do their own thing, so I will put on a load of washing, wipe the bathroom down or start on the evening meal. This to me is the return from my investment over the years in teaching the kids to get themselves ready. So if you are struggling with kids to get them to have a routine in the morning, as hard as it can be some times, I really encourage you to stick with it. It really does pay dividends later on.
With the ages our kids are now, Phil and I can decide last minute to head out and get a bite to eat together, go for a drink or take a long training run together. This has been so refreshing and something which we both really enjoy. It has given us more freedom to spend some time together on the weekends.
As the kids have always had tasks to do around the house and we increase what they do as the get older, they are actually really helpful around the house. This reduced my workload which, means I actually have more time to spend with the kids, rather than cleaning or tidying the house – such a win!
The harder parts
There certainly are some harder parts at this stage of family life. Every few years, I go through what I have dubbed “learning years” and 2017 is one of them. 2013 was a big learning year for me, as out eldest was in Year 9 and was very much teaching me all about adolescent boys. I made lots of mistakes that year and the next, but those experiences helped me greatly when our second child was in year 9 last year and continues to help me this year too while he is in year 10.
So as I struggle adapting to being parent of an adult child who is undertaking first year uni, I remind myself that this is a learning year and I will make mistakes. I am reading more and have gone to a couple of parenting presentations to pick up tips for this stage. There are two key challenges for me:
- Finding the balance of being supportive, encouraging and nurturing while allowing him his independence he needs at this stage of his life.
- Ensuring that along with the new independence he has, he takes on the responsibilities that comes along with it.
I haven’t been winning the challenges in the first half of the year, but I am feeling more confident in how I should parent now and feel in this second half of the year I am making some progress!
Looking back to previous years, there are some other things I am finding harder too:
Thankfully once in bed for the night, my kids usually stay there, so by the time the eldest child heads off to bed at 8.30pm there is calm and peace across the house.
There are nights when I truly wish they were all off in bed by 8.30pm and Phil and I could sit down together and have a quiet conversation together. Sometimes we just go off to our room to find some space to have a conversation by ourselves! As I still arise early to exercise, I almost always in bed earlier than the older two boys.
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.
When the older three get along well all is great, but when it is off, it is really off and disruptive to the whole household. I have been making the mistake of stepping in to referee too much, so am really focusing on getting them to find solutions. Sometimes the only solution is to have some space from each other!
Is it easier or harder???? Day to day life is definitely easier. This year is definitely harder for me than it was last year. But when I go back and read my post from 2009 and I observe friends and family dealing with the challenges of the under 5s, I do think it is easier now but I will add a disclaimer to it.
As I noted last year, how I choose to think about family life and how I choose to respond to the challenges of family life makes a huge difference to how I perceive the “hardness” of family life. Developing practices in meditation and gratitude have given me a much better perspective of family life.
As I noted in 10 things my 40 year old self would tell my 30 year old self, I wish I had started these practices earlier:
When you are filling your life with “busy work” (see point 2) of course you think you don’t have time to meditate. I would tell my 30 year old self who thought with her busy mind, that she couldn’t possibly find the time to meditate and even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to quieten her mind – to stop what she was doing and meditate. I would tell her that she is exactly the type of person who will benefit most from meditating.
I have realised that family life at any stage is going to have challenges. What I am working on now is to make sure I have strategies in place to help me cope with these challenges as best as I can.
How is family life for you this year? Did you make any notes last year that you can compare to – I would love to hear!