Parenting: Doing What We Do

playing together

Every once in a while, somebody asks how I do what I do with three young children. Here’s an attempt to explain what parenting and daily life looks like in my house:

  • You don’t see what I don’t do. I rarely cook meals that get more than one pan dirty (we eat lots of soups and casseroles), my house is never spotless, and I don’t do many academic activities with my children. I very rarely go to a store of any sort more than once a week.
  • I’m a pretty mellow mom. Not a personality trait I would have given myself before children.
  • I was raised by an very mellow mother, and she is the single largest influence on me when it comes to deciding how to parent my children.
  • My mother once told me that, in her experience, if she spent a couple hours with her young children in the morning focusing on them, she got some time when she could do what she wanted in the afternoon with few interruptions because the children would play together cheerfully. Best advice I’ve ever received.
  • I have more than one child. They play together for hours without expecting me to entertain them.
  • My children play together really well. This is in large part due to their personalities and the fact that they are close in age, but I also refuse to tolerate fighting. Toys that get fought over get given away to children who want toys enough to not fight over them. Same goes for toys that don’t get picked up. Each child does get a few toys that are “their” toys that they are not expected to share unless they want to.
  • We have tile floors everywhere in the house except for the bedrooms and playroom/family room. This makes crafty messes easy to clean up.
  • I find that my children are less likely to start dumping out toys just for the sake of dumping out toys if they have spent some time doing something creative earlier in the day.
  • I rarely turn on the TV to entertain my children, although there are times when I am very grateful for its existence. This means that I need to find other ways to engage them so I can get stuff done. Craft activities work very well.
  • I like crafts and my kids do too. Both Emma and Johnny are happily entertained by a few sheets of paper and markers/crayons/pens.
  • Emma never draws on things she isn’t supposed to – except for herself (and sometimes Johnny). Johnny only does when he’s in a particularly bad mood.
  • I don’t worry about making “pretty” crafts with my kids. For young children like mine, I feel like it’s all about the experience of making something, not the end result.
  • I don’t schedule crafts or activities. I’ve tried that, and in our house it doesn’t work very well. Instead, I keep an ongoing list of ideas of things I want to try or make and then pick one based on our collective household mood on a given day.
  • I’m a pragmatist, not a perfectionist.
  • I stay away from crafts that require a lot of prep, and work the cleanup factor into the equation when I’m deciding whether or not to try an activity. I don’t mind uncooked rice because it’s easy to clean up, but you won’t find glitter in my house because it sticks. To everything. Maybe when the kids are a little older…
  • We save the messiest activities for when Daddy is out of town, because I tend to clean those up completely only after the kids are in bed for the night.
  • I have a HUGE support network: the best husband ever, nine siblings, two parents, all four grandparents, my husband’s three surviving grandparents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, and some fantastic friends. Since these people are spread across several time zones, there’s always someone I can call, and all are sources of inspiration. Plus, I have blogland, where people come up with fantastic ideas of things to make and do and comments brighten gloomy days.

What are your tips and tricks for doing what you do?

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

20 thoughts on “Parenting: Doing What We Do”

  1. My biggest tips and tricks are pretty similar to yours. Be ready to go with the flow and don’t worry if your house is messy. Wait, that makes it sound like I don’t clean ever. I do, but if I skip vacuuming one day I’m OK with that. Especially if it means I had a chance to spend more time with my daughters.

  2. Fantastic post, MaryAnne!
    So fun to read what makes your family tick. Alas, we go out far too often – on errands etc. Daddy doesn’t enjoy grocery shopping much, so we’re the ones that hit the supermarkets (and fabric stores etc). But yes, having more than one child is probably what helps us in our house, too – especially for things like taking morning showers and preparing meals. Our kids don’t often fight over toys, too, except when they are nap-deprived. Then they are crabby about everything. We try to share but when (not if) that fails, especially with a treasured toy, the child is allowed to hide out in one of the rooms with the door shut to play by herself for a while – not as a time-out, but as a hideaway. The kids did this with the felt board when Kate was at her Felt Is Food For Small Mouths stage. I love your mum’s advice on creative stuff in the mornings resulting in saner afternoons. We don’t often get to do morning things because Emily has preschool at 12 (!!!!) three days a week and there is a lot of rushing those mornings just to get all three fed and out the door on time. But on the weekends and other days, it is nice to look forward to a random (we don’t schedule ours either!) craft. We don’t have a huge physical-present support network, although the husband is awesome just on his own. There are often days when I wish I had someone to just watch the kids on short notice for half an hour while I rush out to pick E up from school or drive someone to the doctor, instead of packing everyone, bleary from forced awake from naps, in the car. But you know – our lives are already blessed in so many ways, and as my mum says, it does get easier as the kids get older and more independent.

  3. This is an awesome post. My tips are somewhat similar to yours where crafting is involved. I only have one, but I also work full time. My main tip – outsourcing some of the stuff I don’t want or don’t have time to do. That’s why we have now a cleaning lady and a gardener that come bi-weekly and keep our house in decent shape.

  4. This month, I’m not really sure what makes us tick! My son has actually chosen (???!!!) a couple of times to sit down and color without me asking.
    We definitely don’t have a solution to the fighting over toys problem. I like yours… maybe when Abby’s a little older.
    I don’t worry about a spotless house, and I try to go with the flow of the kids as much as I can. Our best days are the days when we sit at the breakfast table with an open day ahead of us and see where the mood takes us (Lincoln Logs, Children’s Museum, books, whatever). Saying yes to the kids’ ideas makes them happy! ;)

  5. I love your list, MaryAnne! We only go shopping on one day too, and I make sure to plan at least one day at home (other days are play dates, or fun activities for M) when we can get the cleaning done and just hang out. I totally agree that spending some time with M early on means he is more content to do something on his own later in the day and that means a little “me” time. I’ve just recently realized that I spend a good portion of my time stressing out about what needs to be done and it’s robbing me of appreciation for what’s right in front of me. Today I made an effort to just be M’s mom and we did a lot together and enjoyed each other a lot more than when I’m always trying for some reason to get away from him and “get something done” (not proud of this). I’m learning… I do wish I had more than one so they could entertain each other a bit. It may not be possible for us, so I have to learn to deal with the way things are! I love your philosophy about sharing and cleaning up toys!!!

  6. I enjoyed reading your list.
    We have tile too. What a blessing! Except when they are learning to crawl, then I imagine poor little sore knees, but we were in a different house with carpet when Bear learned to crawl. Don’t know what I’ll do for J-jo.
    I too have found that if I am very focused on Bear in the morning, she is happier to play alone in the early afternoon.
    I like your idea of keeping a running list of craft/art ideas. I kind of do that too, but I do tend to try to set up supplies the night before when I can, or if it is going to be a more mommy-directed art activity. (We hardly do crafts here.) I fly by the seat of my pants most of the time. Like today, saw something on Artful parent and decided, oh, we can do that now. Anyway, I love posts like these that tell what goes on behind the scenes!

  7. I really loved this post. Whenever I read about kids playing well together (or, even better, sleeping in the same room together), it makes me want to go and have another. I can’t imagine what I can add to your list, since I just have the one child, and am hardly a picture of perfect parenting with that one. ;) We get out of the house often – multiple times a day sometimes. Walking with him in the stroller gives me peace. Whenever I think I don’t want to make the effort to go to playgroup or another similar event, I’m ALWAYS glad I went later, when he naps beautifully from the excitement and I feel my spirit renewed from being around other moms. Otherwise, my biggest advice for moms is the oft-stated “trust your instincts” (or maybe I will start to amend that to something like “trust your instincts, follow your child’s cues, and google like crazy). ;) There is no single correct answer to any question in the parenting realm, so you can’t get it entirely right, but you can’t get it all wrong either. A mom friend of mine says that one benefit you gain from having an older child along with the younger is that you KNOW that everything is a stage and will pass, and that makes issues like sleep problems not seem so bad (and also the whole experience more cherished/fleeting I’d imagine).

  8. Valerie @ Frugal Family Fun Blog

    I am loving this list. How practical and down-to-Earth! We also stay away from glitter. Mark calls it the herpes of craft supplies for the same reasons you mention.

    I also particularly love your mom’s advice. It is so true!!! A little time spent doing something creative with the kids can go a loooooong way.

  9. Thank you for this list – I found it extremely helpful and encouraging!

    The ongoing list of potential crafts is a great idea – I am non-crafty, but with inspiration from your site and others I have found crafts I could do that sound fun to me. Having a list ready would be a great way to actually do them (without me having to go to the computer to find one and then get distracted).

    Also, I have always thought “craft time” would mean mama-hands-on-helping time, so it is wonderful to think that it could become a time when I could get other stuff done. Probably have to work up to that, but at least there is hope!

    It is also encouraging to know that even you, a crafty person, shy away from things that require a lot of prep or cleanup most of the time.

    As for what I do…

    If one of my children takes an item from another, the taker doesn’t get to play with it the rest of the day (so if it’s a Duplo brick, she doesn’t get to play with any of the Duplo the rest of the day – though I do let her help pick them up LOL). This has helped quite a bit in the development of self-control and the ability to ask nicely for what we would like rather than take! If a toy is dumped out/scattered due to ill temper, that toy disappears for a while.

    If a certain toy was causing a lot of issues, I would do the same as you and get rid of it (I do get rid of toys but they usually go unnoticed because they weren’t earning the space they were using). We don’t have a problem with toy pickup because they don’t get their next meal or they don’t get to go on an outing until all the toys are picked up (so the house is picked up before we go anywhere or before we eat). Sounds really harsh, but they’ve only missed one lunch one time to see if I meant business. This works with kiddos who love eating and love going places!

    I used to have help with cleaning, but we moved to a smaller place (yea!) so I’m hoping to do it myself. Maybe while my kids are crafting rather than at 10pm? I can dream… :)

    Thanks again for this post!!

  10. Great post and comments, some real sanity savers! I agree that being a mellow person by nature is a plus. I always have a space at our table set up for art where he can color anytime. I have some homemade toddler games where he can see them to ask for them. When meltdowns seem on the horizon I make sure his basic needs have been met (food, sleep, diaper), if he had been playing alone I try and do something together for balance and sometimes I just change the scenery (different room, go outside, different activity). I also try to recognize when my alter ego ‘irrational mommy’ is coming out. We don’t use TO in our home yet, but I did put a toy on time out once! lol

  11. @Keeling – I’ll be honest; sometimes bedtime feels like a three-ring circus. It actually works best when Mike is out of town. I feed them dinner by candlelight (makes them feel sleepy) and then sit on the floor between Emma and Johnny’s beds with the lights out listening to a music CD. They stay in their beds because they know if they get up I’ll leave the room.

    It’s harder to put them to bed when Mike’s around, because he gets home right around bedtime and then they are too excited to see him to fall asleep. But we divide and conquer; there’s just a higher probability of tears being involved…

  12. This is a great post! I think I’m similar to you in a number of ways, particularly when it comes to using crafts as a way to keep my kids busy. I love that my kids can get busy with a craft project for hours. I appreciate your tip (from your mom) of giving kids attention for a couple of hours in the morning. That idea has been floating around my subconscious, and reading it here has helped me realize I really just need to do that consistently every day. I find that if we can fill our time in fun ways until lunchtime, the rest of the day seems to take care of itself.

  13. Love it! We have similar parenting styles and I think what we say is invaluable. Since when I am at home all day with the kids, I also need to get work done for our business, it is a balancing act in terms of time spent with them and time on the computer getting work done, but I always find that if I make sure I have focused/committed time for them (like you said, especially in the mornings), they will play independently for me, which helps me get work done. I also have to remember that when they really seem to need my attention, even if I feel I want to get a work project done, often taking just 5-10 minutes to sit and play with them, start a craft project with them, read a book or even just snuggle for a little while, is always worth it and goes a long way in getting them back on track (and usually I have enjoyed it too!)

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