Goals for 2015

GoalsIf you ever sit down with me to ask for advice on prioritizing areas of your life, I’ll tell you two things. One, simplify everything. Two, set no more than three goals to work toward at a time.

So for 2015 I thought I’d try something amazing, out of this world, life changing! I decided to actually try that out for myself.

I’m a prideful, impatient woman who believes I’m far more capable on my own than I actually am. I’m a project finisher who likes to get ‘er done, so any time I see a need for change, I reorganize my entire life by coming up with something like 30 things I’m going to change starting tomorrow. Perfect.

This time I started by listing all the roles I now have. I came up with 13 major roles and 57 sub-roles. Simplification is long overdue, can I get an amen!? So I got rid of as many roles as possible and took notes on what was left to see if patterns emerged. Three things popped out at me–I consistently rely on me instead of Jesus, I’m always distracted, and my house is NOT set up for the amount of people who live in it. Looky at that. No more than three things to work on.

As a result, my 2015 goals and sub-goals are as follows:

Gospel Centrality–I’ve lost this. I can talk the talk like nobody’s business, but my heart has forgotten truth. By God’s grace, I’m part of the most gospel-centered church I’ve ever known, which means my friends soak me with the good news of King Jesus. But in the times they aren’t in my face I easily lose my way and drift off into the horrible news of Queen Courtney. By the mercies of God, I want to immerse my mind and heart with Christ’s work, not mine. Most of the following sub-categories have all but disappeared in my life.

  • Regularly study scripture
  • Pray so I can more clearly see God at work
  • Memorize gospel-rich scripture
  • Read gospel-centered books (Bill’s helping me make a good list, and I’ll ask him to post it here in case the list would be beneficial to your soul)
  • Listen to gospel-centered sermons and music

Listen Well–My mind is busy, and I talk far too much. While I’ve tried to crucify my mouth and busyness on many crosses instead of resting in the grace that’s mine, my thoughts and tongue need a break. My ears, however, are flabby and need strength training.

  • One thing at a time when it matters–putting my phone down if the kids are talking to me, stopping school if a neighbor knocks on the door, or cheering with my man (and blessing the heck out of him!) for the Colts instead of knitting and half-watching–the point is to minimize multitasking to help my mind slow down and focus on what’s important
  • Ask questions followed by more questions in most conversations–in other words, be more interested in what others have to say than my own voice
  • Make time for intentional conversations–through both deliberate times (like a coffee date with a friend to just chat) and fun activities/events (like a craft or outing with my kids)

Set Up Home to Work Well for 10+ People–We have an OK size house, but there are many overhauls that need to happen to help it work well for a family our size. In addition to the ten of us, we plan to open our home to a young mom and her baby soon. Plus, we desire to adopt more children if the Lord wills.

  • Follow 52 Weeks to an Organized Home with my amazing friend, Lawana.
  • Use most of our “home improvement” budget on organization rather than beautification
  • Intentionally train the children to help more in this area

 

 

 

 

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Managing Several Small Children–Individual Time

When we started this series, a friend asked us to address how we get alone time with our kids. I would imagine this is difficult for any family with multiple kids, whether that be two or twenty. As Bill talked about on Monday, much of our time together requires the kids learning to love one another and a big part of that is teaching them to talk less and listen more. So when do we really get to hear them out and find out more deeply what’s going on in their little hearts? The Bells attempt to do this in two main ways listed below, and I’ve listed another idea I’ve heard about but don’t currently do.

Late nights–When the kids reach the age of three,* we let them stay up later than their siblings with Bill and me. This started at 30 minutes, but we recently extended the time to an hour. Though we’ll sometimes make suggestions, usually the child gets to choose what we do. This in and of itself helps us see what makes our kids tick. One of our children will almost definitely include puzzles in our time, one will include books, one games, and one art. One thing that’s off limits with very few exceptions is technology. We want this to be a time open for lots of talking, and usually they have plenty to say! Each child gets a late night every other week, and I find myself wishing they could last all night long.

Date nights–Once a month, each child gets a date night with either Bill or me. Bill gets the younger ones one month, and the next month we switch. We usually go out for a couple of hours and do something super simple and free or almost free. For instance, this month I took Liam to Toys R Us to simply look around and play with toys that are set out for that purpose. I’ll be repeating that date with Ariana next week.

Special Occasions: We haven’t done this yet, but I think it’s a great idea and one worth noting. I know of families who will set up babysitting so both parents take out one child for a special occasions like birthdays. Often they will stay gone all day. I think that would be super sweet event for both parents and child.

We usually don’t have a problem getting our kids to talk when we get them alone, but if you have a child who needs some probing, we love the book 201 Great Questions for Parents and Children.

*We find that trying to fit in much individual time with kids under three ends up being a bit of a waste. For one, they end up getting more individual attention naturally simply because they’re so dependent on us as the parents. Second, God designed them to simply discover during this time. More often than not, our tots are good if we’re simply in the room available but tend to get frustrated if we try to engage too much or too long with them. Though we talk to them, play with them, and read to them often, for the most part they want their freedom.

Managing Several Small Children–When We’re All Together

So far in this series, Courtney has covered working with our kids when her hands are tied, when training on different things/levels, and when they all go out somewhere.  I’ll be discussing today how we handle our whole family doing things together.

When we’re all together, I tend to be the one that herds the cats. This is partially how I see my role as a dad but also just a practical way to let Court take a little step back from what she does all day long. Our time together can be incredibly structured or incredibly free–we like to leave room for both.

Aiming toward the older kids. There are a couple of ways to approach a group of kids who are at different levels. One is the lowest common denominator where you aim for what everyone can do. But, as you might imagine, always going this way would be painfully laborious for the older kids, especially since some of our littles can’t even talk. Another approach is the middle ground approach where you aim for, well, the middle ground. While this is certainly better, it still doesn’t engage the older kids very well. Instead, we tend toward aiming at our oldest kids. This means we play games that work best for the older kids. We read books as a family that are on a higher reading level. It’s been our observation that even though our littles don’t catch everything and they struggle with some of it, they understand more than we expect them to and the effort to keep up is a good challenge for them.

That’s not at all to say that we don’t sometimes go for the low or middle ground. We have times where we all sit on the floor and roll a ball around (which any kid who sits can play) or play a preschool game that is overly simplistic for the olders. Most of the time, though, we’re aiming high. (And maybe sometime I’ll talk about how we put that to work in our church since we meet in a living room.)

Modifying to suit short attention spans. In line with the point above, just because we aim at the oldest certainly doesn’t mean that we literally expect the littles to do everything the olders are doing. We freely modify things for the littles to help them cope with what we’re doing. For instance, say we’re having a conversation with the olders about how Jesus is the Son of God, but also God (this came up the other night). That’s a long and tough conversation…for me. Not to mention any of my kids. So, while we’re trying to discuss this in a way that makes sense to our olders (if that’s even possible), we may allow the littles to get crayons and paper to draw pictures while we talk. On that note, I’ll frequently ask the littles to try to draw what they hear us talking about so they’re still involved. I’m not a fan of letting the littles totally check out–we just simplify.

Giving boundaries. This is probably the most “duh” item on the list, but I put it here for a reason. There’s no such thing as total “free” time in our home. Standard rules certainly always apply, even when we let loose.  That’s what makes games work. With several kids, the whole “let them loose” concept always–always–ends up leading to disaster, usually with someone crying and hurt. So though there are some very free times we have where craziness abounds, we still put up fences to help our kids do well.

At other times, the boundaries are very, very defined. Not only do I not trust kids (or adults) to make totally free and good decisions, I know my kids need to learn about authority and responsibility. There is always authority over them–us, bosses, the law, certainly God. And within that authority lies a responsibility to respect the laws/rules/boundaries around them. Putting these things in place when we’re all together gives us a chance as parents to observe how they do and correct as they go.

Asking guided questions. One of our traditions is talking together at supper, the only meal we pretty consistently have together. Since I’m usually gone throughout the course of the day, I like to use the time to find out how they’re doing.  This usually comes out like “Tell me about your day” or “What was cool about your day?” or “What did you learn about it school?” or “Who did you hit today?”  OK, kidding on the last one, though now that I think about it, that question could get answered almost every day. What’s pretty fun about this is that the kids now frequently compete with me to ask these kinds of questions of each other (and us!) before I get the chance to.  So, basically, the kids playfully fight over asking others about themselves, which is great because they’re learning to put others first.  Of course, that backfires when they actually fight over who gets to ask the question.

In this, I’ve carried over some of what I learned from leading small groups of Christians in opening up.  The questions don’t always have a positive slant to them.  Sometimes they’re “What was really hard about your day?” or “What made you sad today?” or the mixed “Tell me the best part and the worst part about your day.”  Sure, I’m running the risk of openly inviting the kids to complain, but I’m trying to teach them that we’re not a glossed-over family where we only talk about the good stuff. Because there’s sin throughout the world and in us, there will always be difficulties and trials to face. And we’re not going to act like they don’t exist. Instead, we want to face them directly and honestly, even when they’re really young. And then it gives us a chance to talk through those things as a family.

Raising hands. I’m not talking about in the 1 Tim 2:8 way (though we do that sometimes, too) but like the you’re in elementary school and you have a question for the teacher kind of way. Yeah. Not kidding. I was comforted the other day when we were invited over to eat with some friends who have seven kids. During the meal, one of the kids raised her hand to ask if she could be excused. We’re not alone! The thing is, there are a lot of little voices in our house and their volume level falls somewhere between loud and piercing. Not only that, but the size-smallness of our family lends itself toward a bunch of children who a) still like to talk a lot (no sullen teenagers here) and b) haven’t really mastered the social skills of asking questions and listening. So, literally, we raise hands if there’s a question or a comment that someone wants to make.

It’s probably worth noting that even then there are guidelines in our home. Interruptions should be minimal and they should relate to what’s going on. For instance, we even stop raised hand comments about dinosaurs when another child is in the middle of telling about the craft they made that day.

Teaching love for one another. Really, this is the overarching theme of all of what I’ve listed. While I can’t make or teach my kids to love one another, but we can certainly point them in the direction of understanding what loving others looks like. That means watching how the kids interact and instructing them how to handle the different scenarios that arise. “Child A, when Child B takes something from you, you don’t scream and yank it back. Instead, you politely ask them to give you the toy back.” In all of this, we’re trying to show the kids that we put others first all the time, because that’s how the kingdom of Jesus works. Sure, it’s an absolute farce sometimes. But we’re trying to lay the groundwork for palpably putting others before yourself. When we’re all together, there are plenty of opportunities to see this happen in playing games and conversations and sharing and the such. And in the midst of failures to love each other (which abound), we get to point them to Jesus who perfectly loved others–including us!–and showed that most by saving us from our selfishness.

Managing Several Small Children–Outings

Outings are peaceful for me when I have all the kids. I’m calm and don’t get stressed because I’ve got it all under control. My kids and I end up being shining examples to the rest of the families who observe us.

That’s the opening to a new fictional story I’ll be working on in my free time. Do you like it?

I don’t like to stay home, but it pretty much always seems like a better alternative to going out. Ever. For anything. No matter how necessary.

I ain’t gonna lie. It’s hard to go out with one kid, and adding more to that number does nothing but make it harder. I’m also not going to lie that anyone who claims you can predict how your kids are going to act in any situation is a liar and a thief. No exceptions. I am not a liar and a thief at this particular moment, so don’t think this post is going to be some fix-it to all outing problems. I stink at outings, and you probably do, too. But we can stink together and learn from each other. Here’s the deodorant I have to offer for both our problems.

  • At all costs, try to plan outings as close to waking time as possible but as far from sleeping time as possible. In other words, go out as soon as they wake up in the morning or from a nap. Stay home as it gets close to nap or bed time. You’re welcome.
  • Have food and drink ready, and then have more. Food keeps sugar levels up and keeps mouths busy doing something other than whining, crying, or talking loudly.
  • Do something a little active (but not too active) beforehand and in between if you’re running several errands. Kids get stir crazy when their movement is limited, so give them breaks; however, try to steer away from letting them play on a playground for an hour when it’s 90 outside, cause then you’re going to have hot, sweaty, tired, cranky kids who just want to go home.
  • Be flexible. If I can run to the grocery store by myself in thirty minutes, I plan two hours when I have the kids. This may seem insane to some of you, but I perpetually think it will take a shorter amount of time than it really will, and then I get snappy when we’re running behind. More often than not, I also end up dropping something I had planned to do while out or cut a trip short. The more OK you are with this, the calmer you’ll probably be.
  • Practice makes better. Sometimes. We do a lot of practice beforehand with the kids about what’s expected of them when we go out. Think about the situation and what you think will work best, then go through that over and over with your kids at home. For instance, our previous church’s building had narrow hallways and lots of older people. It didn’t take me long to realize my kids couldn’t run or walk side by side, so all my kids learned to follow in a single file line behind me. I frequently got picked on for having ducklings, but it worked. Some approaches we’ve taken for this:
    • For the above duckling approach, I start by having the kids follow me all over the house. Funny enough, I started calling them ducklings when I wanted them to do this so they understood what to do. I also got very specific in my instructions–hands by sides and not on a sibling or any other object, stay close enough that you can touch the person in front of you, line up by age (this keeps bickering to a minimum about who gets to stand where & keeps the smallest ones close to me), etc. Once we got comfortable around the house, we went to the church building when no one else was there (my husband was a pastor so he had a key), then we finally did the real thing.
    • For crossing streets, walking in parking lots, or going places with more room like the zoo, we usually use a hand-on-stroller approach. I train the little ones who walk around to always have a hand on the stroller since I don’t have a hand available for them to hold. The older kids walk behind me either in pairs or single file. We start by practicing at a secluded park so I don’t have to worry much about them running off, then we move to our sidewalks in our non-busy neighborhood, until we’re finally comfortable trying this out in public.
    • For sitting still like in doctor’s offices, I do a lot of practice at home. Every morning and evening, we train our children to sit still and look quietly at books. Again, we get specific here, telling them what we expect them to do with their legs, hands, and arms. My kids can usually sit for an hour or more around the age of two or three, making long office waits a bit more bearable.
  • Think ahead of time about logistics of the situation you’ll be in. For instance, when I take all the kids shopping at Kroger, I go in the entrance that has the kid car attached–two go in the car, one goes in the cart, the baby goes in the carrier I wear, and the olders walk in a pair behind me. If I only get two seats in a cart, I’ll also take the stroller in and have one of the older children push it behind me.
  • Busy bags! Though I’ve never attended one, I’ve heard busy bag swaps are awesome, so try to go if you can. I use them with our kids from ideas I get on the web, and usually they keep them occupied for long periods of time. Pack some up that will work well for your outing. To get some busy bag ideas, you can go to Play Create ExploreMonkey Butt Junction (she also links to busy bag ideas on other blogs), or this Pinterest board.
  • Play things like I Spy, Twenty Questions, or ABC games (finding objects that begin with each letter of the alphabet)

That’s all I got. One thing I want to emphasize here quickly. Even if you do everything perfectly and are totally prepared, remember that your children live in a fallen world in sinful flesh, and so do you. They will embarrass you, you’ll embarrass yourself, and much sinfulness will probably be displayed. For those who are in Christ, all screw-ups have been paid for on the cross, so don’t condemn yourself or your children. The goal of our parenting is never to produce well-behaved children but to point our children to the gospel at all times.

Managing Several Small Children–Working With Kids On Different Levels

I often say all our children come in size small. That’s certainly true, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ginormous difference between a 2nd grader and 17 month old, so what do I do when I’m trying to teach math to one while trying to train another to sit still? Basically, I cry a lot. Then I pull out a few more tricks I’ve learned for this very situation.

Bill will be addressing some ways we handle different ages when all our kids are together doing the same thing (listening to a book, talking at dinner, playing a game, etc.). This post is addressing what I typically do when my kids are working on different things at the same time, mainly in relation to keeping the little ones occupied.

  • You can pull anything from my post on occupying children when your hands are tied.
  • Use a timer. All day. My tots and preschoolers are more likely to keep at a project if they know the timer will go off in 10-15 minutes and they get to change to something else.
  • Do as much as you can with the olders when the littles are napping. For instance, though this breaks all homeschooling rules that say to give your kids harder subjects first thing in the morning when they’re fresh, we don’t start school with the older ones for the most part until the littles are down for naps. I’ve found with my kids that if they’re going to struggle in math, it doesn’t matter if it’s 8:00am or 3:00pm. They’ll struggle just as much, and this schedule just seems to work best for our family.
  • I have lots of different “times” planned for my littles throughout the day. These help them learn to stay still and keep them moving around from thing to thing. Here are my names for them with short descriptions:
    • Table Time–They sit at a table and do something artsy. This can be as simple as playing with play dough to a craft you get ready beforehand. You can also choose to have the preschoolers work on some educational worksheets. For toddlers, I start this by having them sit in something that keeps them confined, like a highchair.
    • Mat Time–Use a play mat, blanket, whatever. The point is to help them learn boundaries. They’re free to stand, walk, crawl, move all over that puppy, but not go off the blanket entirely. I’ll give them toys or activities special for this time, things they can’t use during free play. I’ve written a post to be published later that addresses how I train our toddlers to do this.
    • Room Time–If they’re small, I’ll put a gate in front in the doorway of their bedroom or playroom and let them play. Sometimes I give them toys to play with, sometimes I don’t. It’s like Almond Joys and Mounds. I don’t feel comfortable leaving my very small toddlers unsupervised in a room, so I’ll usually use their crib or a playpen for this.
    • Station Time–I’ll just set up different inviting stations around the room and let them roam freely. This might be blocks in a corner on the floor, a comfy chair with books in another corner, some stencils with colored pencils at a table, and some cars with paper towel rolls on a mat. They’re given a bit of freedom but still stay relatively quiet.
    • Technology Time–I know there are many mixed feelings about this one, but we personally don’t have a problem with putting on a short video for them to watch or letting them play a game on the tablet or computer.

For several ideas of what to do with the littles when working with the olders, check out the Resources tab at the top of the page or click here. We will be adding to it as we continue to find ideas. Feel free to browse them and give us suggestions of things we can add.

Managing Several Small Children–When My Hands Are Tied

In a perfect world, I would never be distracted from my children. I would probably also sing all the time, wear puffed sleeves, and be woken up by non-morning-breath true love’s kiss each day. But Eve ate the fruit, so none of that’s real.

In reality there are several times throughout the day that I can’t give all the kids my full attention. The baby has to be fed, a diaper has to be changed, the soup has to be stirred constantly until thickened, an important phone call has to be made, a friend unexpectedly shows up at your door crying. Those things are part of life and are good, but that doesn’t change the fact that all children are born with a MIDaR (Mommy Is Distracted Radar). Somehow they can hear the sound of me being busy from 15 miles away, and this inner switch goes off that says, “Ha ha! I am now free to tear down the great wall of China.”

Through my few parenting years, I keep learning new tricks to help occupy my children in these moments so tyranny doesn’t run rapid. These tricks are particularly geared toward times when you really can’t take many risks for them getting into anything because you pretty much can’t leave what you’re doing. We’ll deal with tricks for occupying kids when your hands are more freed up in the next post. Obviously, things can still happen, and none of these tips are perfect or work all the time, but often at least one of them helps diminish chaos.

  • Feel freedom to get things ready for the other children. A phone call, a weeping friend, and even a hungry baby can wait a few minutes while you get the other kids situated. You don’t go to jail if you don’t get caught.
  • Change any diapers and/or have potty trained children who still need assistance use the restroom just before you’re ready to start your task. Nothing quite says, “I’ve got it all together” like cleaning poo from clothes while talking to an AT&T associate.
  • If possible, spend some uninterrupted time, even 15 minutes, with the children once or twice a day. This can often help them feel less of a need to try to get your attention when you’re busy.
  • Have them do chores they can do completely independently. My kids haven’t realized they should hate chores yet, so this is awesome.
  • Use a sling or carrier to keep the baby soothed.
  • When doing things like stirring soup or feeding a baby, have the kids hold books for you so you can read to them.
  • Let them have some art time. We’re talking super simple here (crayons, play dough, cutting), something that doesn’t require your assistance or clean up.
  • Books! Each of our kids love to look at picture books. Added bonus–our two oldest know how to read, so I’ll have them read books to the younger ones. Win win.
  • Toys, games, and puzzles they love that will keep them busy for the time you need. I’ll talk more about some great resources I’ve found for this in the next post.
  • Let them watch a video. If you just can’t get yourself to feel OK in your conscience about that, make sure it’s an educational video. We like “Super Why,” “Blues Clues,” and “Dora the Explorer” for example. I have a clear conscience about it, so I also like to watch things like “Phineas and Ferb” with them, mainly because it makes me laugh. Hard. Then later the kids and I recall funny moments from the show and laugh again. See? Bonding.
  • Related to the above brain-diseasing idea, let them play a game on the computer, phone, Wii, tablet, whatever. Again, there are lots of educational games out there. We, though, never claim to be good parents, so we’re more an Angry Birds kind of family.
  • Have them practice piano or sports, work on an age appropriate workbook or printable, or do school work they can do individually. The point is to have them work on something that challenges the mind or body but that doesn’t require your assistance. Ah, redemption from the previous two bullet points.
  • If your task allows you to go with them (aka feeding a baby),let them play in the backyard. The change of scenery is often enough for them to leave me with a bit more peace, and your presence sometimes helps them stay away from the temptation to hit each other in the head with bats. Hypothetically.
  • Make sure everything is safe in their bedroom or playroom and put a gate up in the door. Let them play in there freely while you nurse. If they’re really small like my 17 month old, you can put them in a playpen with some toys.
  • Play games with them that you don’t have to move for. Some examples are “I Spy,” “Mother May I?”, “Telephone,” What Am I?”, name an animal for them to act like, or do storytelling where someone starts a story and then each person adds on to it bit by bit.
  • Some of this takes a small bit of prep work beforehand, but you can also set up a zoo with stuffed animals, a grocery store with play food, or a tea party; have a scavenger hunt ready for the kids around the house; do some word, color, or counting games; make a tent with blankets; or set up chairs and let the kids pretend they’re on a train/airplane/bus and role play a trip anywhere they want to go. Many times activities like these will keep them occupied for long periods of time, and they can be right in the room with you.
  • Have them eat! Anything goes here, but one of my favorites is whole apples or pears if they’re old enough. It’s yummy enough to keep them eating instead of talking, (which leads to all kinds of conundrums), but hard enough to eat that it takes them a while to finish.
  • Understand that most emergencies in your kids’ minds aren’t real emergencies. There may be some of you who disagree with what I’m going to say, but in my house bloody murder screaming has never equaled bloody murder (or murder of any kind for that matter). It often doesn’t even equals a boo boo I need to kiss. It usually simply equals feelings of injustice over a stolen toy or something similar. Use judgement here, weighing the importance of the task you’re doing to the problem behind the screams, but there are many times I will quickly scan the situation, place the child somewhere while I hurry to finish what I’m doing (depending on the situation that somewhere is often a room with a door that can be closed to muffle out the crying), and then tend to the horrific travesty of justice when my hands are freed up.

Managing Several Small Children

It’s really not surprising to anyone–managing a family with several small children presents a number of unique challenges.  And it’s pretty obvious most people are aware of this considering the unending comments we get about how many littles we have.  As with many things, there are overlapping layers of complexity that go into making our family of eight work like the well-oiled machine hobbling contraption held together by MacGyver’s duct tape that we are.

We’d like to take the next handful of posts to talk about some of the principles and tactics we manage our multiples.  This will run the gamut from handling the older kids while, say, nursing an infant (as you might imagine, Court will cover that one) to interacting with all the kids at the same time while they compete over who gets to talk next.

As we dig into this discussion, we invite your feedback and corrections.  We’d especially love to hear what you do with your families–we know we don’t have a monopoly on effective parenting techniques.  And please, you don’t have to have “greater than or equal to” the number of kids we have to make suggestions.  No matter the age or number of your kids, we want to hear from you.

Here are the four sections we have planned right now.  If there’s something y’all think of that we’re not covering, let us know and we’ll pull it onto this discussion.

  • Keeping kids occupied while hands are tied
  • Working with kids who are on different levels
  • Handling kids while on outings
  • Group activities