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!
- Aug 2017 – Does it really get harder? – 2017 edition. Day to day life was definitely easier. Adjusting to having an adult university attending (or not!) child in the house was challenging. My big learning from this year was that I had better coping strategies to get me through the harder parts like running, meditation and gratitude.
- May 2018 – Does it really get harder? – 2018 edition. 2018 felt like a smoother year than 2017. I had adjusted more to life with a uni student in the house and the younger kids increased in independence This did bring with it some sadness for me as the youngest started walking to school by himself. It is moments like this that make you really appreciate the small things and that there are so many opportunities for me to turn the mundane of every day life into memories.
- May 2019 – Does it really get harder? – 2019 edition. Overall family life was definitely easier than it was 10 years ago when we had 5 kids under 10. The fact that 10 years later I was finding things easier was no doubt a result of the work I have put in all those years ago to set up routines, plans and processes to help organise family life. It did take time and effort to have the kids able to get themselves ready for school, to do their homework and their household tasks, but the time and effort spent all those years ago really started paying dividends now!
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 2020 these are the ages and stages we are at:
- a fourth year uni student (21 y.o son)
- a first year uni student (19 y.o son)
- a year 11 student (16 y.o daughter)
- a year 8 student (14 y.o son)
- a year 6 student (11 y.o son)
The easier parts
As I wrote in my post last year, the key challenge areas I had when I first started writing these posts are really no longer challenges. I can easily run errands myself or even have the kids run them for me! I can shower in peace, sleep in, and if I ask the kids to give me some space for 30 minutes so I can eat my lunch in the sun and read a book – I can even get it!
Writing this post late April 2020, it is written in quite a different time. We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and have been under stay at home restrictions for well over a month. In the state of Victoria where we live there are currently only four reasons for which we should leave our homes:
- shopping for what we need – food and essential supplies
- medical, care or compassionate needs
- exercise in compliance with the public gathering requirements (not with more than one other person outside of your nuclear family)
- work and study if we can’t work or learn remotely
While I would never wish for a pandemic like this to occur, I am sincerely grateful that this has occurred when my kids are their current ages, not the ages they were when I started writing these posts 11 years ago. I genuinely feel for parents who have multiple young kids (10 and under) as their capacity to self organise, self regulate and entertain themselves is much less than those who are 10+. If you are attempting to work from home and manage home learning with young ones, I tip my hat to you – you are doing so well, it is not an easy task.
Below I have written some notes on how things compare from when the kids were young to now in key areas of family life that are easier for us now:
- School mornings – we only have three at school now, so mornings are even easier than they were last year as there is generally one less person up and about getting ready at this time. The new uni student chose to schedule his timetable so it didn’t involve any early starts! The school kids are very independent in getting themselves ready and it all happens without fuss (mostly!). I can even go for longer runs in the morning and come back later with no issues.
- Homework and after school activities – now this is only the domain of three kids, it really does feel so much easier. For the year 8 and year 11 students in terms of homework, I don’t do much at all but just keep an eye on things to make sure they are putting in the required amount of time as set by their schools. The year 6 child constantly impresses me with how he sorts this all out himself and gets it done.
- Night time routine – like the other key routines this is also easier even than last year. At times all three kids will look to push the boundaries of their bed times, but a simple reminder and they do what they know they need to do.
- Weekends – with only one child having compulsory weekend school sport, Saturday mornings are a dream compared to what they used to be! At its peak and when we only had one car, we would have to sketch out how our weekends would look to make sure we could get everyone to where they needed to be on time (see image below!). You can read more about how we managed our weekends at this peak time here – Managing weekend sport.
- Going out – pre COVID-19 times, going out was super easy for us and it will be again once we are allowed to go out. The only thing we need to do is make sure the older kids won’t all be out, so the youngest is left on his own.
The harder parts
Reading the above you could get the impression that our family life is perfect – let me dispel that for you – it certainly isn’t! There are still some harder parts and parts that cause me angst, frustration and worry. This is parenting though, so it isn’t a complaint, just a reflection on what is core territory of being a parent.
Here are the key things that are harder than when the kids were younger
- Kids trying to parent each other – when the kids were young there was only two parental voices in the house. The older three kids will often attempt to offer their valuable wisdom and parent each other or the younger kids. It never ends well and often ends up with being parents being drawn into the situation and at least one child will not like what I have to say and storm off.
- Space – before COVID-19 I would have said lack of space in our house was a significant issue that at times made life harder. It was actually my biggest worry going into stay at home restrictions. But space hasn’t been the issue I thought it would be. Possibly this is because the kids realise the uniqueness of the pandemic situation and realise there is little to be gained by carrying on about it. Prior to COVID-19 there would be almost weekly blow ups by someone wishing they had more space. I wonder if this will return post COVID-19?
- Night owls – I am an early riser and love to go to bed around 9pm. This is not at all what the older kids do. The two uni students do their own thing in terms of when they go to bed and when they get up, but I have had to set some ground rules, like not showering at 2am! The kids’ bathroom backs on to our ensuite, so if they shower at this time it tends to wake me up. They also need to do whatever it is they are doing after 10.30pm quietly so as not to wake up the other kids. This doesn’t always happen so can be the cause of tension in the house.
- Time with each child – again pre COVID-19 I would have said this was an issue. The older three kids have their studies, casual jobs and social lives so finding individual time with them has been super tricky. This has been one of the huge positives of COVID-19 – they are home so much more! I get times to talk with them one on one throughout the day and they have been joining in the after-dinner games when they are not working. I am so hoping I can hang on to some of this post COVD-19.
- Late-night worries – once kids start going out at night, it brings with it late-night worries. I can control what time the school kids come home but obviously I cannot do this with the uni students. One of the first things I do when I get up for my early morning weekend runs is check that both older boys are home. Majority of the time they are, but there are times when one isn’t and I find that super stressful. They are supposed to just send me a message if they are going to stay out but this doesn’t always happen, so it does cause me significant worry.
Currently, family life is definitely easier now than it was 10 years ago when we had 5 kids under 10. This doesn’t mean that this stage of family life doesn’t have its challenges because it does. Overall the challenges, however, are less, I have more time to myself and I definitely get more sleep!
I think part of the way I see family life is affected by having experienced how fast time does really go and how fast the kids do grow up and need you less. Having two kids out of school and one in the last couple of years of her schooling has started signaling to me that our family is beginning its move into a different stage. I am sure doing things for the youngest seems much less of a chore now than if I was doing them 10 years ago for our eldest because I have to do it for only him now as the others are independent.
If I was to offer one piece of advice it would be to invest time to help your kids become independent so life can become easier as they get older. Think about the things you are currently doing for the kids now but would like them to be doing for themselves by the time they are teenagers and start working with them to achieve it. I promise you, your future self will thank you!