Watching my daughter gathering her things (Duplos, Lincoln Logs, piles of dried grass, crumpled paper, tiny dishes and most of her clothes) into a basket which will soon be dumped onto the living room rug I begin to feel a familiar tension rising in me.
I love that I get to be home with my daughter, but sometimes I am exhausted trying to keep her engaged while keeping our house and family functioning. I have always wanted a large family but at moments like these I wonder if perhaps God knew I would absolutely loose it if I had to manage more than one kid at a time.
I’ve been comforted by the words of several friends who have 4 or 5.
“Sometimes having just one is the hardest, they keep you busy because they want all your attention, with multiples they entertain each other.”
I can’t even describe how affirming those comments have been.
So right now in our reading group we are reading The Hidden Art of Homemaking. In it Schaeffer reminds us that our homes are places to express ourselves and to be creative. They are places for family and guests to connect and grow. And while being home all day alone with a three year old can bring anyone to the verge of insanity it is also an opportunity to create special moments together and to take tiny steps towards raising her to live life in its fullest now and as she grows.
Now I recognize that there are many who have years of experience on me as a parent, and honestly I have no room to give advice. But at the same time the thing about an only child is you only get one chance, you either have just one, or you end up with more kids and the dynamic changes. So no one really can be much of an expert here. Take it or leave it, here are a few pieces of wisdom that I have learned in these three short years.
Six Tips for Raising an Only Child and Staying Sane
1. Bring them into your world. This has been key for us. We noticed while working in Mexico that children were quieter and more respectful around adults. Of course the Mexican families we knew loved their kids, but their children weren’t the center of their world. Their children had an important place in their home but the home did not revolve around them.
So this has been our approach.
I aim to bring my daughter into what I’m doing. I’m always willing to let her help me cook or clean or garden (of course what she has to offer isn’t always “helpful” but I still let her participate, the mess I think is worth it). If I have to do sit down work like writing a letter or paying a bill I let her color or write, do stamps or play dough at the table with me.
I don’t spend a lot of time “playing” with her. But when I do, I make it count. I usually stop a couple times a day for 10 minutes or so to sit down and play whatever game she wants. When I do, I give her all my attention, my phone is put away (for the most part I leave my computer put away unless she is napping or unless I am like 10 minutes from being done with a blog post when she wakes up) and we don’t have TV. So I play with enthusiasm and I have a blast. Something that I just couldn’t do if our play time had no end in sight.
It may sound a bit harsh but having once been swept into an hour long game of My Little Ponies I learned my lesson.
2. Be creative. Find things that you actually enjoy doing together. Sometimes I let her pick out a project like making a new diaper for her doll. Or I’ll see a recipe for homemade play dough and want to try it out. For us this looks like a lot of arts and crafts as well as some nature hikes but for you it might be sports or manicures or collecting rocks or woodworking or taking care of animals or whatever you are into. If you work at it you can almost always find a way to do something enjoyable, and even productive, together.
3. Get a routine. I’m not naturally organized but since having a kid I’ve realized that establishing a weekly and daily routine is a game changer for us. I found that my daughter functions better and has more fun when she knows what to expect.
A weekly routine my be as simple as: Monday we go to the grocery store, Tuesday we do laundry, Wednesday we have a play date, Thursday we go the park and Friday we do family music night. You probably already have one. Make a point to explain it to your kid and help them feel a part of what is going on.
You probably have a daily routine too. Ours goes something like: get up have tea and prayer time, then get dressed, have breakfast and do some reading over the table, then we either go out or start on some project in the house. Lunch is at 12:00, rest time at 1. We have dinner at 6 then bath and bed. Of course it changes if we have company are out of the house. But keeping the structure of things the same keeps us all on the same page.
4. Know when to break the routine. Sometimes a rough day needs an extra trip to the park or a “let’s drop everything and go get an ice cream cone”.
5. Don’t be afraid of a little boredom. There will be moments when you have to make a call or wait in line and your kid will start to complain. Don’t feel like you need to whip out an iPhone or DVD player (do people still use those?). Boredom stimulates imagination and observation. Your job isn’t to keep your kid entertained don’t feel guilty about it.
4. Take a rest time. Even if your child refuses to sleep keep the rest time in your schedule. Even without napping we all have a better day if we have an hour alone to wind down and re-collect. I’ve recently begun letting my daughter listen to music because she hardly ever naps anymore. I put on a CD that is at least one hour long. She has to stay in her room until it is over, if she falls asleep great, if not, at least we both had a relaxing hour to ourselves.
5. Get out of the house. I’m a homebody. But my daughter has energy to burn. While we do end up spending one day a week entirely at home, I try to at least add in a walk to the mailbox or an outdoor activity. Most other days we run an errand and usually stop by a play ground or the library. Even a 10 minute stop off at the swings can feel exciting to a 3 year old. Better yet is a play date, even better is a regular play date or something like library story time. Try to fit a couple activities into your weekly routine that gets you out and that gives you both a social outlet.
6. Give yourself a break. Sometimes, especially for me, as a mom of one who had expected to be a mom of a larger family, I feel the need to relish the time with my daughter. I always imagined I’d have a decade or so with a pre-schooler around, but time is flying by and I don’t want to miss a moment with my one and only precious kid.
But that time is just as precious for her and her dad or other family. And it is important for her to make friends of her own. And sometimes I really need along time, or my husband and I need time together. I need to keep reminding myself that it is good for my daughter to have parents with friends and interests and it is good for her to have other people in her life who she knows and trusts.
Parenting is hard.
But no one cares more about parenting our kids than we do, hard or not, we are the best people to guide and shape our little ones through life.
Now to clean up that pile on the living room rug.
This post is part of a series referencing The Hidden Art of Homemaking. We would love to have you read along with us. Click here to learn more about what Liturgy of Life is all about and feel free to comment here or join our facebook group for more in-depth discussion.
You may also enjoy:
Swim Lessons and Gratitude and How Our Iphones Interfere with Both.
Tips and Tricks for Road Tripping with a Pre-schooler
Parenting by Example, My Bad Attitude and St. Benedict