Encouragement for parents in the trenches?

January 6, 2010 | 69 comments

Yesterday I had this great idea: I was going to write a an encouraging post for my friend Katie Rose. As I mentioned once before, in the span of a year she and her husband Devin went from having zero to four children, the oldest only two years of age. Their gorgeous little twin sons came to them about a year ago through the foster-adopt program, then they found out they were expecting. Then, just a few weeks before the baby’s due date, they got a call asking if they would take in the boys’ two-year-old sister. Despite having only 24 hours to decide, they said yes. She arrived in November with a bit of a tough start, and then Katie gave birth to a beautiful baby boy last week. Whew!

I spoke to Katie recently, and she expressed many of the feelings she’s mentioned on her blog: trust in God, but exhaustion and trepidation about how she could do it all.

I had done a couple small things to help out in person, but then had another brilliant idea. “I know!” I thought. “I’ll write a post for Katie sharing some tips and wisdom!” I did just have four kids in five years, after all. Surely I have all sorts of parenting wisdom to shower down upon Katie and Devin! During nap/quiet time I was all ready to dash out a post dazzling, delighting and inspiring the Roses with my sagacious parenting tips.

But the youngest two children didn’t nap, and the oldest two confused “quiet time” with “bounce-off-the-walls time.” And my afternoon proceeded to spiral out of control in an epic way.

There was Play Doh mashed into the carpet, and multiple attempts to clean the kitchen during which the Fulwiler Three-to-Thirty Ratio (which states that if I turn my back for three seconds to clean something, thirty minutes’ worth of mess will be made) was in full effect. There were memories of my own voice chirping “Teach the children to help clean up!” as I took over the straightening of the living room because the end of my patience with supervising the kids’ Sisyphean efforts was drawing nigh. Dora the Explorer was watched (thrice), Goldfish were eaten, chicken nuggets were announced as the evening’s dinner. Sugary drinks flowed as freely as my litany of inner complaints. Backtalk was ignored because I’d lost my energy for anything resembling discipline sometime between cleaning up the grape juice spilled on the couch and chasing down the neighborhood cat who ran into the house, and cookies were handed out to settle arguments over toys. Three New Year’s resolutions were broken in one sentence. Million-piece game sets were dumped out, sharp pieces were stepped on, and battery-powered toys specifically calibrated to make noises that test the limits of parents’ sanity were played with vigorously. There were fragrant reminders that my children would seem to be exceptions to the potty training axiom that putting kids in regular underwear motivates them to use the potty, and oceans of Resolve were used to clean up after said reminders. The thought was had that nobody — and I mean not one person since Adam and Eve — is worse at potty training than I am.

In a final poetic moment, I looked over to see a picture of me with the kids. It was in a frame with the word FAMILY in big, multi-colored letters, but the sun was hitting it such that the yellow- and orange-hued M and Y weren’t visible, so it looked like it said FAIL. I started to laugh and cry at the same time, because it seemed so very true.

The inspirational parenting-wisdom-sharing post, needless to say, did not get written. You guys are going to have to do all the heavy lifting for me today:

If you have any words of encouragement for my friend Katie (or, you know, any other frazzled moms who might need it — I’ll have to see if I can think of any) please share! Stories from the trenches, wisdom, prayers, or any other kind of encouragement would be appreciated. My hope is that the comments here will be something that weary parents can go back to and re-read when they need something to make them smile.



  1. Carl

    As a father of seven, I can't offer much help, but my wife probably could. She pretty much saw it all, as your post describes today. I can say, however, that God truly loves you and what you are doing. Being a mom is just about the highest calling there is.

  2. TresAngelas

    "Three New Year's resolutions were broken in one sentence."

    Ha! That must've been one heck of a sentence.

    Woops, I'm not helping, am I?

  3. Jess

    Jennifer, I'm crying as I write this, because my soul aches for my three babies who were gathered into Paradise. Three years into marriage, and no children here with us . . . we never thought we'd be in this place.

    My only advice for any struggling mother is to remember that you have been called to a truly sacred role by He who is our only hope. Please know that He sees every moment of your effort, and that you will be rewarded for "training up your children in the way they should go." My husband and I will never, never be able to fully thank our own parents enough for their steadfast faith and examples of Christ's love, sacrifice, and mercy. One day, Lord willing, your little ones will feel the same way.

    His grace is sufficient for us all, no matter how frail we may feel – and no matter what cross He has given us to endure.

    With love in our Savior,

  4. Kris Livovich

    I don't have any good tips right at the moment. Reading this post made me laugh, cry and nod in agreement. Sometimes reading of someone else's struggles is just what an overwhelmed mom needs.
    Thanks! and many blessings on Katie Rose and her family.

  5. Christina

    Something my mom told me on occasion, "I'm not supposed to be your friend; you're supposed to hate me. There are people who make tons of money who can help you work through all the things I did wrong."

  6. LindsayRuns

    Wow, what a day. I cannot offer such sage advice as I don't have kids yet. But I think it's a good sign that I still want to one day after reading that. 🙂 Hope today is smooth and productive for you!

  7. Jamie

    To Katie and Devin, whom I have loosely followed since November, I sent them my gratitude and love for taking on the responsibility of bringing up another little life in this world. I am so thankful there are folks like you in this world willing to take on such tasks!

    To Jen, best wishes that today is better. I'm sure you have tried the M&M rewards for potty training, right? Also, have you tried setting a timer and making bathroom breaks a regular thing – every 30 or 45 minutes at first, then stretching to an hour? I'm sure you tried it all, the best thing to remember is that it will click at some point regardless of how hectic your schedules are and how crazy your home life is!

  8. Solveig

    I'm sorry, but I laughed all the way through this. I can do that because I'm now 70 and our children are 48,47,45 and 35. You aren't the worst potty-trainer ever–I am. Each child took longer than the one before! And failure–that was my daily food. I wasn't equipped for motherhood. Now I think that might have been good. I knew they'd never turn out because I was a good mother–that only God could create something good out of our home. Today they aren't perfect–and not all have the spiritual walk I'd like (yet)–but they're all wonderful people who pay their bills, treat others decently, and contribute in positive ways to society. And they love their own children. Believe me, it wasn't because I did anything right. They're a testimony to God's grace.

  9. My Chocolate Heart

    This post made me laugh out loud because I've been there… oh, how I've been there! Frequently! I'm actually a little glad to know that you have days like that. Hooray! Even the best moms like you have days where everything falls apart, just like me!

    It's all good. It's all holy. It's all important because it's the duties of our state in life, and it's all God asks of us today. Peace be with you!

    But for what it's worth, Play-doh has long been anathema in my house. Forbidden. Ain't worth the trouble it causes.
    And I'll take your bet on being the worst at potty-training. Bet I'd win.


  10. chandy


    I think your actually post offers wonderful advice:

    When things become completely overwhelming, step back and try to find the humor in the situation.

  11. Kim

    I have lots of little ones too (oldest now 11, so what a veteran I am) and I am chock-full of experience and wisdom, absolutely. In fact, I have so much, that each day I have a new and different solution to the question of how to parent with calm and grace. Ha!

    It can be so frustrating to think of our Blessed Mother as an example; after all, she was PERFECT, and she had, um, GOD as her child. But my wise spiritual director once suggested that I think of how Mary would have parented MY children, and that helps. Sometimes!

    My only other general suggestion is to wake up as early as possible, way before the kids. Once or twice a year, when I achieve this lofty goal, it really helps. But it does seem to get easier as they grow up and start sleeping later! It's now been about 4 months since anyone was nursing around here, which helps beyond belief.

    Hang in there! God is in the details–like Playdoh in the carpet!

  12. midwestmom3

    I am right in the trenches with you both. Having dealt with infertility, I try to remember the fervent prayers for this life on days like this. My oldest are in school now and the hours without them feel longer than the days I spent with them as preschoolers. Hang in there and May God Bless you with mercy and love.

  13. Wendy J

    I once heard a mom who had also been an ER nurse refer to "triage mothering." When chaos erupts, my first reaction is to be overwhelmed and shut down. But I've tried to learn to step back from the situation and take a "triage" evaluation- what is the first crisis I need to deal with, then move on from there. It helps me be a little more objective and calm, plus I snicker a bit at the kind of crises I'm dealing with, as opposed to an ER nurse (which I'm so glad I'm not!).

    It also helped me a ton to accept the fact that chaos will erupt, sometimes quite frequently, and that's NOT a sign that I am a failure as a mother. It's a sign that I have a bunch of little kids in the house. There is not some perfect system that I haven't found yet that will keep my home running like a well-oiled machine. It's not all on you- thank God!

    I think GK Chesterton once said something to the effect that joy is the fruit of gratitude. I think he's right. My heart aches for Jess who has lost three babies. Despite all the craziness, we have been very blessed!

  14. Shawna

    For Jenn and Katie,

    I am laughing and crying for you both! I had a barely 5 yr old, a 2.5 year old, a 2 month old and then adopted a newborn. I know the joys and challenges of having multiple babies and toddlers! Your play-by-play of the day was so acurate! Although, you forgot to mention how some toy inevitable gets used to scoop water from the toilet…

    My little brood are now 9, 7, 4 and 4, and life has changed considerably from those play-dough smashing days…although we still revert to chaos at times. I look back fondly on those memories, but at the time, I wondered how I would survive.

    A dear friend shared a cup of tea with me one day, while I was haggered, still in my sweats, no shower, the house a wreck. My friend was a wise, Godly momma of 6, and as I poured my heart out and cried over my "failures", she gently assured me that just because things were really hard didn't mean I was doing anything wrong. Following Christ IS hard! She encouraged me to surrender to it, to pick up this cross, such as it was, and stop being so bent on everything being just so. Having a messy house, pee on the floor, little sleep, less-than-ideal diet…these were the things God was calling me to bear in that season.

    Having lots of little ones is such a season of surrender! It will never be like it is in your homes again. Even if you have 10 more children, they will never again ALL be little at the same time. My best advice is to just be still. There will be another day to regain order, to wash the carpets, to make better meals. Make your priorities as simple as possible, and for goodness sake, don't utter the word "Fail" again! You are doing he most important thing, and are right in the center of God's will. No, you didn't know that his will would involve Dora and goldfish, and very dirty windows but it does. Surrender to it. Its OK.

    And, if someone ever asks if there is anything they can do to help…the answer is "yes there is! Thank you!" And then direct them to the laundry room, the sink of dishes, or the scary toilet. Just swallow your pride and allow them the blessing of being charitable. Your turn will come one day to serve in kind.

    Praying for you both today,

    Shawna in Northern CA.

  15. Amanda

    All I can say is, God gives you the grace. I have 4, ages 5 and under, two of whom are twin 1 1/2 year olds. Its tough, and things are often chaotic, but God really does help you to handle what he gives you. He gave it to Katie pretty quickly – in about one year, versus my 4 years to adjust. Trust in God, make sure you do a morning offering, and just enjoy your children while you adjust to this new precious baby boy!

    Oh, and find time to talk with your husband, even if while nursing the baby. You need to be partners and best friends now more than ever, or this can become a really stressful time for your marriage.

  16. nicole

    Your post is probably the best thing to offer. A glimpse into someone else's life that shows things fall apart for every family some of the time. The fact that you have survived each day with your sanity intact (regardless of how strongly intact) and your family around you full of love is the kind of encouragement that means the most. I know that knowing other moms struggle too makes me feel less alone and more able to push through the bad days.

    Finally, the effort it takes to be consistent on discipline is worth it. Not to say we don't all have lapses, but we are paying the piper now on letting too many things go with our toddler.

    Push on! You can do this!

  17. Susan L

    Bless you, you make me feel less alone with the potty training. My youngest will be 4 in February and still won't go potty. Many times I feel like an awful mother because all of my friends had their children potty trained at a much earlier age.

    My daughter is very independent (stubborn) and despite loving her Dora panties, still doesn't like the potty.

    Did I mention that I love my steam cleaner? 😉

  18. Roz

    I went right from your friend's story to the comment box, so I will have to go back and look at your funny stories.

    Most of my active parenting is in the past; my "three kids in four years" are in their late 20s now. But I'd say this to Katie:

    No one expects you to know what to do. Ask. Ask for advice. Ask for help. Ask for donations. People will be amazed, one way or the other, by your situation, and most of those would love to pitch in and help if they knew what was helpful. So spend a little time figuring out what you don't have to be the one to do and see if you can get help with those things.

    Figure out which friends you can call and dump on without getting advice, if that's what you need. My last informal advisory board (formed when I was considering remarrying after having been widowed for just a year) was titled "Don't let Roz do anything stupid". (It worked – I married him and it was far from stupid.) Find wise people and consult them, but after you talk to them, do what seems best to you and your husband.

    Protect your time together as a couple. You'll need the fill-up that time together and emotional closeness will give you.

    If you have any temptation to perfectionism, take it to a confessor or spiritual director right now. It's a luxury you can't afford. Make friends with the concept of "good enough". Keep looking at the things you think are important to make sure they really are.

    Know thyself. If you absolutely have to have time to yourself or one corner of the house that's yours and no one else's, make it happen even though there may be an inside voice telling you it's selfish, lazy or silly. You want to stay in this for the long haul, and that means doing what's prudent to prevent burnout.

    Trust God. He loves you and those little ones more than you do. He will look after the stuff you can't.

    God bless you. Hugely.

  19. Margaret Mary

    I'm pretty sure I'd win the worst potty trainer prize, but I would like to say that (1) all 5 of my children eventually figured it out, (2) we did not spend the rest of our lives in power struggles, and (3) they all have fond memories of my various (lame and ineffective) rewards.

  20. Linds

    The only advice I can offer is to throw out the books, trust your instinct and in the end, wing it! Each child is unique, and no set of rules fits them all. So be gentle with yourself (both of you!) and remember that you can't love too much.

  21. Shelly @ Life on the Wild Side

    You've already gotten such beautiful advice that I don't have much wisdom to add here. Except just hang on. Your life will look completely different in one year, two years, three years, and espcially four years when, for me, the light started shining at the end of the tunnel. Until then, just be good to yourself and to your kids and husband. You CAN do this.

    Carl's comment made me cry because, as the mom of two teenagers and one pre-teen (all daughters) I often wonder if I'm just wasting time waiting for them to come home from school. Thank you for reminding me that I'm not, Carl.

    I wrote about that feeling of failure this week in case you're interested: http://mylifeonthewildside.blogspot.com/2010/01/its-all-about-grace.html

    Finally, my older girls weren't potty trained until they were 3, so I could swipe that prize right away from you. Don't worry about it. They'll go when they're ready. I know this because my last one watched her older sisters and trained herself practically overnight when she was 2 telling me, "Mommy, I want to use the potty." And she did. Just like that.

  22. Kate Wicker @ Momopoly

    I've commented over at Danielle Bean's post as well as over at Betty Beguiles's corner, but here I am yammering away again.

    I love my Ergo. I'm always bragging about it, but it's the best carrier/sling I've ever tried (and I've used tons of them). I can carry a baby or a toddler and have my hands-free. It makes life much more simple for me.

    I've also learned just recently to ask for help and to accept it even when it doesn't live up to my perfectionist, control freak standards. This was a must after having baby number three.

    Jen, I love reading honest posts like this. One of my worst days in the trenches occurred when I discovered poopy footprints all down my hallway. I lost it – it as in my sanity, my patience, my faith. Thankfully, I rediscovered it all quickly when my sweet Poopenator crawled into my arms and gave me just the hug I needed. Funny how my kids are not only the source of stress, but are more often the answer to my desperate prayers.

    Katie and Devin, thank you for being such a powerful witness. Talk about being open to life. My prayers are with you. When you're weary, go to Him. He will give you rest – or the strength you need to get by with a lack of shuteye. 🙂

  23. Joy

    I'll let you know when I find that great Potty-Training Boarding School that simply MUST exist out there somewhere. If you find it first, please tell me. I have attempted potty-training twice in the last few months and each time threw in my Resolve-soaked towel after no more than 2 hours. He's just not interested, and I dread the years of smelling poop whenever I sort laundry because wiping or getting-to-the-toilet-on-time skills are so lacking.

  24. Sherry

    Nope, I'm the worst potty-trainer because after the second child, who used to go hide in the closet to do his thing because he didn't like the potty, I gave up. I have eight children. I never potty-trained another child after number two, just showed them the bathroom and how to use it. And I kept them in diapers until they did so reliably. My youngest is eight years old, and all eight of them use the potty now. If only I could get them to flush reliably!

  25. Kim

    Another thing I wish I'd realized from my kids' earliest years was how short each phase really is. This morning my 22-month-old WOULD. NOT. STOP unloading the dirty dishes from the half-filled, broken dishwasher. I started thinking how perhaps I should shop for a new dishwasher with some kind of child-guard locking door or something, then I realized that by next week, he'll probably be over it anyway.

    It's so hard to get used to the constant change of motherhood, especially coming on the heels of a much more structured professional life. I've found I just gotta stay loose! Especially because that toddler who sometimes makes me want to sequester myself alone in my dark closet will, of course, melt my heart the very next second.

    Thanks to the commenters who remind those of us in the trenches how precious these years are! I can never hear it enough.

  26. Deirdre

    Oh, Bless you for your honesty. I have had a terrible day with my three children, and your blog has cheered me up so much. I no longer feel like such a dreadful mother. I have (just) three children, 6, 4 and 2. The 2 year old has spent the day tormenting his brothers and hitting, pushing and grabbing toys. Today has felt like a thousand years. So, thank you for cheering me up today. Tomorrow, I resolve (again) to take each moment, one step at a time, holding God's hand. I will lean into His promise that he "will gently lead the mother sheep" (Is 40:11).

  27. ekbell

    My version of toilet training involves no diapers, discussing the use of the potty, Jelly Belly bean bribes (with the side effect of spoiling my children for the regular cheap jelly beans), sitting in front of the TV on the potty, periodic reminders , lots of use of Arm & Hammer 'Pet' Odour and Stain Remover and the acknowledgement that 'You can lead a child to the potty but you can't make them pee'.

    I've found that there are a lot of accidents and much frustration for a while (it seems forever at the time) and then there will come a time when I realize the child hasn't had an accident in weeks.

    I've also learned to expect further bouts of accidents as the child tests the limits of how long he or she can 'hold it' (and/or becomes better at concentrating on what they are doing to the determent of noticing their need to go potty).

    As for surviving miserable kids days,

    If I've managed tend my children's basic physical needs and have paid a bit of attention to each one of them I consider myself to have fulfiled minimum requirements.

    I have my survival rules on what housework gets done first on miserable days (enough dishes so that we can eat, enough landry so that there are clothes to wear and clothes to clean with, the main room of the house in a state which I can stand- my hubby will buy food and oft as not cook it for us).

  28. This Heavenly Life

    Hehe 🙂 While I hope your day eventually calmed down, I'm loving that 'Three New Year's Resolutions were broken in one sentence.' You make me feel more normal 🙂

    I'm going to peruse the comments for encouraging words now, because all I have to offer is this: they WILL grow up. Whatever phase you are in will pass before your eyes, and it's *so* beneficial to see the joy in each situation. But how to do that, I've not quite nailed down yet.

  29. antonina31

    Jen, I think you DID write a post to encourage her, if one has the right perspective. We have to accept that some of our days are going to be just as crazy as you describe and that's the way it's meant to be. Motherhood is definitely not about perfection.

    I can tell by your desire to encourage others that you know what you are doing is a worthy task with lofty goals. As long as we can get through a day like you did and still remember that we love being a mom (or at least accept that it is what God has asked of us), we'll survive.

    I believe motherhood is about dying to ourselves, our plans, and our expectations and loving others…no matter what. This is what gets us (and our children) to Heaven, and that's what matters. Thank you for sharing your day and your heart!

  30. Stephanie

    Last year, I was having an imaginary fight with my MIL in my head. We were approaching a trip to their house and I new some of my parenting decisions would be under fire (still nursing our then 11 month old who also had a pacifier).

    In the middle of this fight in my head, God gave me the greatest moment of peace. He reminded me that while I may not be the perfect parent to others, I was the perfect parent for my child. I was picked to be his mother for a reason. It might be another 18 or 38 or 58 years before it all makes sense, but we were picked for each other by someone who knows the whole story.

    God knew about the play dough and broken new years' resolutions. And, he still picked you to be their mom.

  31. Kathleen@so much to say, so little time

    WendyJ–I love that thought, and it resonates in my head, giving name to something I've had to do on occasion.

    Jen–what a phenomenal summation of what we all go through on occasion. Pithy, humorous, humble. Nicole is right–your post is the best thing you could do for anyone, just for making us all comrades in arms.

    At 11a.m. today, my husband called and said, "I have nothing to do at lunch. Got anything I can help you with?"

    "Sure, I said, "you can go bring Alex home from preschool."

    "Uh, no. I don't have enough time."

    "You can come home and help me feed the kids."

    "Nope, still not enough time."

    "Gee," I said sarcastically, "I would LOVE to have 'nothing to do'!!!"

    Someday, we'll all get a chance to go have a cup of coffee/cocoa/tea at a nice, quiet place, with NOTHING TO DO. But not while we have little ones. I keep telling myself "this too shall pass…" though sometimes I wonder if I'll survive till it does!

  32. Marian

    I could think of some sage advice if I had two brain cells to rub together at the moment, but I don't. Sometimes, though, the most encouraging thing to hear is that someone else's (make that, everyone else's!) life is messy and very far from perfect to varying degrees. The "shoulds" and comparisons, real or imagined, often keep us in a place of feeling like a failure and fighting against reality rather than embracing what is.

    Your "3 to 30" ratio reminds me of some of the "mathematical" formulas I've discovered…
    One of the most amazing, I've always thought, is the Toddler Multiplication of Matter principle, which explains the ability some have to turn 4 measly chocolate chips into a mess that covers surface area far surpassing the original volume of chocolatey material doled out…

  33. esther

    HA! This is funny stuff. So I'm not sure I can add much more to what has already been said but I will say this…Is that a microfiber couch with the pee on it? Because if it is then that is a great thing to have when you have small kids in the house. I was able to wipe ink pen off of my microfiber couch! Oh and potty training is no fun at all. Whoever said training girls was easier?

  34. Little M

    I'm so glad you posted this. I needed to hear it today!

  35. Elizabeth@Frabjous Days

    I loved your post — from the photo at the beginning to the 'FAIL' image at the end! I laughed out loud, but with empathy…

    I certainly haven't got it all worked out, but my two bits of advice would be to take things one day at a time, and to realise 'This too shall pass.'

  36. Jennifer G.

    You are absolutely hilarious! I am crying because I am laughing so hard! I get so excited when my Google reader tells me I have a new post to read. You make me laugh and you definitely inspire me! I don't have any pearls of wisdom to pass along…but I look forward to reading about your friend's journey.

  37. Sandy C.

    I can laugh, too, because I am almost 50 and my two children are 22 and 19. Still, I kept thinking while reading yours and your friend's stories that someday these seemingly impossible moments will be precious or hilarious family stories.

    Our friend John, a cradle Catholic, is one of seven siblings. His mother had one daughter when her first husband was killed in an accident. She married John's dad, an ex-seminarian, converted to Catholicism and had four boys in the next four years. (Two more daughters followed a few years later.) John was #3 of those boys. John's wife (mother of 4), laughs as she retells John's mother's story of Sunday morning after Sunday morning when she would get the five children dressed for church and one or two of the boys would wet his pants before they could even get to the car. John's mother died suddenly two years ago and her children love to retell and remember the stories of her daily strivings and sacrifices.

    It doesn't always help in the midst of it, but someday those of you with large families will look back and smile and your children will rise and call you blessed!

  38. JMB

    Don't be afraid to ask for help. If funds are tight, ask the inlaws or your parents if they can either help out by taking the children or help out by paying for a steady sitter. Don't think that you should or could do it all by yourself. Because sometimes, when you stop banging your head into the wall you realize that it doesn't hurt anymore. I had 5 kids in 7 years. They are older now (yahoo!) but it is still hard in different ways. It never does get "easy", but if you ask for help along the way, you just may enjoy it more because you won't be so darn tired.

  39. Blog O' Beth

    This inspired me to write my own blog post. I've got three weeks left of my third pregnancy and I've been thinking a lot about what I've learned about being a parent. check it.

  40. Mary Lyter

    Dear Kate / Jen,
    I just have to share that once, my son was very sick. He was having difficulty with both ends of the digestive track. At one point, he had vomited in the tray of his antique high chair – which thankfully had enough of a rim on the tray to contain the mess. While I was attempting to clean that up, there was somewhat of a diaper eruption.

    All of a sudden, I realized that there was poop coming out the end of his sleeves (he was wearing a long sleeved onesie – you know, the kind that buttons at the crotch). It was coming up over the front of the waistline of his diaper, it was running down his legs. I was so overwhelmed with the idea of how I was possibly going to remove the onesie without smearing fecal matter into every hair follicle and orifice that I didn't know where to start.

    It occurred to me then, my child's crap has just defied gravity. His diaper is refusing to obey the laws of nature. I can not compete with supernatural forces. I felt so much better. I still had to wrestle the onesie off and clean up him and everything he touched, but I felt much more serene while doing it.

    Sometimes when you feel the urge to give up, it's ok to submit to that urge! Self preservation is key!

    I also have to remind myself: my child's basic needs are often quite far removed from what I think I need to do to meet his every need and desire.
    Often while I am obsessing about how to stimulate, educate, model good behavior, feed a balanced meal at an actual meal time, emphasize correct speech, and pull his pants up, all he really NEEDS is to smash playdoh onto the floor. It's easy as a 20-30-40-50-etc.-year old to forget that smashing play doh into the carpet is a learning experience in itself.

    I think it's also easy to forget that the same skills that allow us to survive in the outside world are the skills that will help in the family/parenting world.
    We can ignore an annoying coworker, a messy neighbor, that stupid song on the radio, but for some reason we forget we can ignore that kid next door, that horrible toy-song on that toy whose batteries WON'T DIE, overlook the macaroni on the floor. Perhaps one of the reasons we forget is because it is so easy to be impatient and unforgiving of ourselves. It is OUR child in OUR house, why can't they do what WE say RIGHT NOW, CORRECTLY, and WITHOUT COMPLAINT. Then, the dissatisfaction from unrealistic expectations of our children grows to self-deprecation: if I was more attentive, if I disciplined better, if, if, if.

    Sometimes being awake, (somewhat) clothed, (somewhat) clean, and (partially) fed is as good as it's going to get. I just thank my lucky stars when the poop flows downhill.

  41. steadymom

    Due to the wonders of adoption, I have three kiddos who are developmentally at the same stage–very close to triplets.

    It is beautiful. And yes, chaotic at times. What I aim for is "managed chaos" and I consider that a success.

    I would also advise your friend to cut out any goals around the house except for laundry and dishes, and there will even be days when those things just cannot get done.

    A friend once told me to imagine my mothering job like that of an assembly line worker: My job is to do the same thing over and over, although I do not see the final "product" for a very long time. That image helped me.


  42. Love2Learn Mom

    I found this quote enormously helpful and balancing, especially when all of my children were small:

    You [should] think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things… I see many parents, particularly mothers with small children, often frustrated in their desire to accomplish a lot because all they seem to do is meet the needs of little children all day. Remember, frustration is a function of our expectations, and our expectations are often a reflection of the social mirror rather than our own values and priorities.
    (Stephen Covey The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

    I have some other related quotes here: Quotes to Ponder on Children and Education. If we have the snowstorm we're expecting here in Milwaukee tomorrow, I'll try to write up a full post on my blog with some other suggestions that are swirling around in my head right now.

  43. blissful_e

    I have 3 kids aged 3 and under.

    My parenting tips are all lazy ideas.

    We have our best potty training success with bare bottoms. And when the poop hits the floor, it is much easier to clean up as a solid entity than it is when smashed into underwear. We sing a song enthusiastically when any waste products go into the potty. I found the e-book Potty Training Power encouraging.

    I would throw out all the sugary drinks – they're not helping anyone, and they just leave more of a mess for you to clean up. My kids only drink water because I'm lazy like that.

    I use an online grocer who delivers.

    I also have a Clean Team apron which cost the same as just one visit from a cleaning lady and allows me to clean efficiently – not that my house is often clean, but when things get gross I can quickly do something about it.

    I am further helped by living in a very small house with wood floors. Even so, I ruthlessly block access to most of the house so I can keep an eye on developments.

    It's taken me an hour to write the above, due to the aforementioned "developments."

  44. Lana

    I haven't read all of the comments. Forgive me if this is a repeat.
    To Katie and Devin:
    Since your situation is unique, and one that you chose, you will probably face pressure once in awhile to show that you have it "all together" (in some sense or another). At the very least, you might not feel at liberty to do the usual crying, sighing, weeping every parent does when they become exhausted and overwhelmed.
    Personally, I feel that authenticity will win every time. If sometimes you want to laugh at your kids or yourself and not take life too seriously, just do it!
    If you want to retreat so you can think, rest, or pray, that's fine too. If you want to tell someone that it's fun and it is stretching you, and it's painful and hard, all wrapped up into one—but you're afraid they won't believe you because it sounds too cliche: who cares. Just say it. If you are being honest, it will show.

    Real growth requires authenticity.

    My two cents. 🙂

  45. Lana

    I just have to say… PP Mary Lyter is hilarious!!

  46. Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller

    Funny I came over to your blog today. I just finished washing the slipcovers for my couches due to my 3YO having "accidents" while napping there. The years go fast so pray for the grace to get through each day and try to get some joy out of it.

  47. W

    Idea for a colic-y baby… We have had several fussy newborns and we tried EVERYTHING.. Here is something that worked for us: Warm some towels or baby blankets in the dryer and swaddle the baby. The warmth seems to help calm a fussy baby. Once calm, we also would sometimes put the swaddled baby in a padded laundry basket on top of the dryer with it running. The humming sound and rocking movement seemed to help too. Like I said… we tried everything!

    Mylacon was my best friend; be careful not to overdo it; constipation might become an issue. (We had to deal with that too….)

    Keep smiling…it will get better.

  48. Anonymous

    I laughed more at this post than any of your other posts. This one even beat out the truck nutz post! I am the mother of 6 children born in the span of a little less than 8 1/2 years. My oldest is 13 and my youngest just turned 5 yesterday! I have had many, many, many days like the one you described (I still have them, although bodily fluids are not usually involved anymore) Oh, I'm still laughing. I love your posts like this. I probably should start my own blog where everyday I could just describe the most outrageous scene of my day. It would be very entertaining, like this post. God bless you! Keep your sense of humor, get help when you need it, and keep trying to bring order to your home with low expectations of that actually happening, of course. Amy

  49. Multiple Mom T

    As of mom of 8 year old triplets and an almost-7 year old the best advice and most encouraging thing I can say is: THEY WILL GROW OUT OF IT. Or, well, most of it.

    And believe me, one of my trips is special needs and isn't potty trained at all, one just got trained last spring and one is still not night trained. And they are EIGHT.

  50. Anonymous

    Reading your post, my winces because gigles, then chuckles turned into snorty-snorts. When I got to the FAIL part, I was roaring with laughter. God bless you, Jen, and may your gift of nimble wordcraft be as therapeutic to you as it is to others!

    "Oceans of resolve" are what we all need. 🙂


  51. Cathy Adamkiewicz


    I am an "experienced mother," which just means I've been failing at it for many years.

    I have two married adult daughters, and two grandchildren, but I still need to read posts like this one. Last night I thought, sincerely, "What was I thinking??? Why did I ever get married and have children? I am so bad at this!"
    My high energy seven year old did have a small part in this, but that's beside the point.
    Your comment about the picture frame gave me more hope than you can imagine.
    And you are not the worst potty-trainer in history, that's me. (I've moved on to failing at dog training.)
    God bless you!

  52. Susan M

    OK Jen, here's the deal on potty training. My daughter was 36 months when she was trained, making her the last child in her Sunday School class, the latest child in the church, the oldest child my mother had ever heard of and, as far as I know, the only child in the universe to take so long to use the toilet. She is now 15 and I promise you, the issue has not mattered in 12 years. So please hang in there, and know that we all love and respect you very much. In God's sight,your hands rinsing out another pair of panties (oh yes, I remember) are doing work just as holy as the priest anointing the sick.

  53. Karyn

    I think your post still gives Katie some wise advice – when all else fails, laugh. Thanks for the laugh, starting with that hilarious picture.

  54. Love2Learn Mom

    Snow is here and I actually managed to write a post: Sanity-Saving Ideas

  55. Devin Rose

    On behalf of my wife, Katie, thanks to all of you so much for your advice, encouragement, and commiseration!

  56. Colleen

    As another young mom of four children (Can I still be young at 30??) who are ages 6, 5, 3, and 2, my only advice is to remember that children are GIFTS from God. And unlike that ugly Christmas sweater you got…you can't regift them 😉

    Also, just knowing there are millions of other moms all over the world going through the same thing has really comforted me in the past.

    And they WILL grow up too fast (or at least I've been told) 😉

  57. All

    Colleen: They DO grow up too fast. Our boys now are 10 and 13. Readiking ng this post brought back a lot of great memories. I remember feeling overwhelmed and talking to the older woman across the street who raised eight children inI as many years and asking her how she did it.
    "I didn't have expectations" she said. I did. I wanted my house to look just so and it never did (still doesn't but I have learned to be at peace with that.) And yes, at 30 you are YOUNG!

  58. Tami

    I have 5b, 3b, 2g & 9 month old boy. The three and two year olds are potty training. When I read your post, I thought you were writing about my house (except for the Play-doh, that's banned at our house).

    Here's some things have helped me:

    – Remind myself to SLOW DOWN, enjoy my children and recognize (and seize) all those little teachable moments that are so often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of daily life. And I read your blog regularly, so I know that you already know this, as do I, but the advice is to REMIND yourself. I have really been trying to train myself as one of my bad day "reset" actions is to take a deep breath and remind myself to SLOW DOWN. It helps me.

    – Get some training pants with snaps on the sides. I use a cotton version of these (but I wish I had these, because the outside of the kind linked to is waterproof):
    For me, having the snaps (as opposed to pulling down pooped in underwear) makes all the difference in me being able to keep my cool and just roll with it.

    – I bought two Potty Watches. These watches have a 30, 60, or 90 minute timer, which plays a song to remind the kid (and parent) that it's time to try to potty. For me, worth every penny of $10 each.:

    – I put kids in separate rooms during nap/quiet time. The kids that share a room go to bed fine at night time, but just can't get it together for nap time, so for now, I've given up on that goal and I just make the 5 year old lay down with a book on a toddler bed I put in the "play room" (used to be our dining room). The baby sleeps either in our room or in a pack-in-play in the living room. I've also read of others using a pack-n-play in a walk in closet with a fan in the door for white noise as a napping option.

    – Practice Sit Time. It is what it sounds like. Everyone has to sit quietly for 15-30 minutes. Start with a small amount of time and work your way up. Practice sitting quietly at home so they will know how to when you go out, but it's also a sanity saver for mom, too.

    – Almost every toy in our house has a place in a shoe-box-size, see-through bin that has a snap-on lid, which anyone 3 or younger hasn't seemed to be able to figure out how to open. This results in having to ask mommy when they want to get something out. So, I'm trying to implement a system where each individual is allowed to get out one bin and that person is responsible for putting away that bin before getting out another and/or at a designated toy pick up time. Of course the system doesn't work perfectly as I imagine, but just getting all the toys into bins with snap-on lids has cut down on a lot of the dumping and toy craziness.

  59. Elaine

    I LOVE THIS POST! I think the advice to share with your friend is pretty much in line with what Solveig said: by God's grace do ANY of us turn out "right". Kids are remarkably resilient and, provided they aren't abused or neglected, can withstand many things that drive parents crazy: messy houses, poopy pants, spilled milk, crushed play-doh, seemingly endless squabbles and chaos.

    I laughed through the whole post because YOU NAILED IT! Anybody with one kid can claim to keep it all together; many with two can still do it, too. But three or more? If you want everyone to survive, you have to take a giant dose of humility and another one of humor. And maybe a grande latte.

    Best to all! Love your blog.

  60. Anonymous

    Jennifer, I so love your blog!! It truly makes me appreciate our beautiful Catholic faith and often brings me to tears – in many cases, tears of laughter!! I too have four children but they are in a span of 11 years instead of five. Things can get pretty chaotic with age ranges of three to 14 but I can also send the older ones off to help or just clear the room. 😉

    As for the potty training, I have to say that my four worked out ok for me. I'm not claiming expertise or bragging as each child had their different issues with it. I’ll offer a few tips of what worked in my family – maybe one or two will help with yours.

    1) Wait until they are truly ready. When is that, you ask? It depends on the child. My older two daughters were somewhere around 2 1/2 and younger two children were both over three. Three may seem late but starting at two and dealing with it for six months to a year would be worse. When I started potty training with at least two of them, I realized very quickly they were not ready. Wetting or dirtying their underpants did not faze them. In each of those situations, I put all potty training "accessories" away — completely away and went back to diapers. I did not let them use the big potty or training potty. Then, after talking about it to them for awhile, I’d try again in a few months and it seemed to make a big difference.

    2) As others have mentioned, I too used a reward system. I made a big sticker chart (1/2 or 1/4 poster board) and put their name on it and hung it on the fridge. Each time they successfully went in the toilet, even just a little, whether I initiated it or they did, they’d get to put a sticker on the chart. I bought stickers of any favorite character, animal or sport and these were ONLY for them. The other children were definitely not allowed to use these stickers (until much later after the potty training was complete) and I made a HUGE deal each time they got to pick one out and put it on the chart. If it was really a big deal (like first time they remembered on their own or first time they made a bowel movement) we’d put an extra sticker or two for the “extra effort”. As successes happened more often, sometimes we’d forget the sticker. Eventually, the chart would be forgotten and bathroom activities would become routine.

    3) I always used pull-ups at bedtime and when we left the house for errands or church during the early days of training. Middle-of-the-night sheet changing and accidents in the pew or their car seats just aren’t worth the hassle.

    4) During the first few days, I’d have them sit on the potty at least every hour and before any ‘event’ – ie. Lunch, favorite show, going outside to play, etc.

    I realize this was a very long comment but thought I’d share it all in the hopes that one or two of these ideas may be helpful for you. Hang in there and keep up the great work – in your blog and your family!! You are doing an amazing job and are truly an inspiriation! Take care and God Bless. Jenny

  61. Roxane B. Salonen

    What helped me is when I finally had an "aha" moment and realized that serving my family is serving God and it is a totally worthy endeavor, because we are doing His work here on earth through parenting. When I first started this parenting thing five kids ago, I think I'd hoped for roses every day, but that, of course, is not at ALL what parenting entails. That said, there are days of roses, and it's worth it to hold out for them, even if they are fleeting. In the meantime, I think of people like Mother Teresa who roamed the streets of Calcutta looking for rotting, dying people to love, treating them as jewels. Surely, if she could do this, we can do take on the very often unglamorous, unrewarding job of parenting our children with hope and fortitude. When I began seeing it more as service to God, this vocation, it did help. That's not to say there aren't moments of despair, but I am able to more easily pick up my cross and not feel victimized in my role of parent when seeing it in this "big picture" sort of way. I also see each act of parenting, no matter how mundane, as a holy act, even when it doesn't feel like it. And finally, suffering brings us closer to God. That doesn't mean God wishes suffering upon us, but it does humble us to see how much we need Him. Nothing has done this for me quite the way parenting has. Finally, I will offer up a prayer for you. Parenting can bring you to the brink, but it will not always be like this. Hold on…your reward is coming. In fact, it's already here, in part, you just can't see it clearly yet. God bless…Roxane (Peace Garden Mama).

    Also, to both you and Jennifer, if you haven't read "Fearless" by Max Lucado yet, I'd recommend it. I am really finding some lightness to my load in it…big-picture kind of stuff.

  62. Sarah - Kala

    Our philosophy has always been to "marinate our kids in love". It's not perfect, but what is (outside of God's love for us) . . . none the less, we must strive to love one another . . . and boy! the kids grow up FAST. I'm 40 and have three kids (15, 14, and 12) . . . those early, constant mess-inducers sure grew up quickly! They still make messes – just not the sticky and diaper kind. AS they get older, if you involve them in the clean up process, they'll be equipped to clean up well later. There's always something to be done for our children . . . so keep your humour on and love them love them love them right where you're both at.

  63. Viv

    I am a mother of six, my youngest three, are three and under, with my girls only 10 months apart. The only thing that I can say, is that parenthood gives you the ability to leap tall buildings with a single bound, though you might not feel like you did it the best way, so to speak, you got it done. And, THAT, is something to be proud of. You might have shed tears during the sixth, night feeding last night, but those babies ate, and were kissed and loved, and you feel better this morning.

  64. Jen Rouse

    I have no advice. Just laughter and nods of understanding. We've all been there.

  65. Meika

    Oh, this so resonates, though I only have two small ones!

    Regarding the pottying – do you have any family history of food allergies/intolerances/sensitivities? That can make a difference, especially for poop. (My highly-allergic one was *almost* trained for about ten long months and clearly very upset with herself about misses by the end. When an allergen hit her system, it was instant poop-city.) Oranges and orange juice are also a pee-trigger for a lot of kids, and my mom swears that apple juice did the same thing for us. It seems to make the pee-urge come up really quickly and powerfully. Caffeine can have that effect, as well.

    Beyond that, my real two cents is to try early, or any time they show any interest whatsoever. There have been some studies done that have shown that the only real indicator for when a kid would be done training was when they began – as in, began earlier, done earlier (statistically speaking only, of course; each kid is obviously different). I'd be interested to know when Yaya did her training, actually – it wasn't until the late sixties/early seventies that parents were advised to wait until their kids were eighteen months old to train! They're less contrary when they're younger, and quite capable. Anyway, kids tend to go through windows of receptivity to training, even when they're very young. But the windows of receptivity thing is why you hear things like, "they weren't ready," and "it worked like a charm when we waited six months." It wasn't that the kid needed to be older, exactly, but that they needed to be in a more receptive place developmentally. And two years nine months old seems to be one of those times for a lot of kids, and lots of us try for the first time around two and a half, so…

    With all that said… my now-thirteen-month-old, who I began pottying with yesterday, was almost completely poop-trained at three months old (Then I got lazy and quit taking her. Babies poop a lot). It was unbelievable. Her older sister was 90% reliable from months eight to twelve, then roughly months twenty to thirty, when the regressions pretty much disappeared. She's the one with multiple food allergies, which may have made a difference, but who knows. Any way you slice it, potty training is a lot of work. I think it'd be awesome if you'd train all your kids at the same time, but you know, I don't live in your house. 🙂 Good luck anyway. 🙂

  66. Robinsonpack

    I have two kids and one on the way and I have no words of wisdom. All has been said somewhere in some way before. All I will say is I have tears over the love and generosity in your friend's heart to take those three babies into her home and make them her own. I wish more people (including myself) could be that open and wiling to say "yes" to the Lord. I will pray for her and her family. God will bless her and give her the grace she needs. I hope she knows she is surrounded by love, even from those who don't know her.

  67. Carrie

    I found your blog through steadymom.com, and SO enjoyed your post Admitting That I Can't Do It All…Or Even Half of It – it is a treasure to be held next to my heart, because I SO related. (I have 3 kids 5 and under.) But I just have to tell you that I roared with laughter the entire way through this post. ROARED. With tears streaming. I just so have been there. Thanks for putting it all into words.

  68. Monica

    I can't give any advice, but am so, so grateful for this hilarious post, which warmed my heart, and for the 67 comments I just read all the way through, which have given me the courage to continue doing my best with my 5, ages 11, 9, 7, 5, and 3. Jen, you and your readers are sages. That was the best way I've spent 30 minutes without my kids in weeks. Thank you.

  69. Anonymous

    I just want to say the light at the end of the tunnel is closer than you think. Once you have older children, you will notice a gradual decrease in those crazy days. I am now expecting my 10th and think there are a few practical things that have helped (and still help) me during these trying times:

    1) Don't spoil your kids with toys, video games, videos and food treats. It is tempting to think that they need these things because they are bored, but actually they will only fight more and want more.

    2) (to go with #1) Save treats for clean up time only.

    3)Have a daily clean up time. Buy a large heavy duty plastic rake and rake the mess into a pile. Sit on the floor next to the pile with a bowl of M&M's or fishy crackers and say, "Whose beautiful shoes? Who knows where these books go? Where does this trash go?" and as kids volunteer answers, have them put the things where they go for the treat as a reward. (If the toddler interferes, buy her a rake of her own so she can imitate you.

    4) LIve simply. Get rid of excess toys, clothes, and use paper plates for awhile at least for lunchtime.
    My great aunt raised 14 kids and each child had 2 outfits, 1 for school and 1 for play. She only did 2 loads of laundry a day.

    5)When all else fails, go for a walk or a drive, crank YOUR favorite music and only bring water and apples to avoid fighting over food.

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