21 tips for survival mode

July 16, 2013 | 105 comments

A few years ago I made a passing comment about being in “bare minimum mode”ย because we had four kids under age five. I was surprised when I opened up email the next morning to have a flood of questions asking me for more details about this concept. Ever since then, any time I bring up the topic I get a great response from others who find themselves in seasons of life when things are too crazy to do anything other than just get by. I find myself in a survival season once again since I now have six kids under age nine, so I thought I’d throw together a few things I’ve learned from my last few times around this block.


1. The idea that watching TV is bad for kids is an urban legend started by an evildoing madman who hates mothers. Don’t worry about how much TV your kids watch. At all.

2. Think about whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, and chill accordingly. Extroverts tend to need to get out of the house in order to recharge their batteries, whereas we introverts would love nothing more than to lock ourselves in a closet with a book. Don’t waste your rare moments of free time on activities that might be relaxing to other people but are not relaxing to you.

3. Your whole family is living in a pressure cooker, so think very, very carefully before saying anything negative. Little wisecracks that would otherwise be blown off can trigger major arguments when everyone is stretched thin.

4. It’s hard when you feel like your life is made of fail. Setting a small goal and getting it done can give you a much-needed sense of accomplishment, even if it’s as simple as touching up your toenail polish.

5. Admit that what you’re doing is hard. Yes, we live in the age of modern medicine and amazing technology, but we also live in an age of great isolation. You’re not a wimp because you feel like your life is tough.

I once created a Family Fun shelf. And then,  in a deeply symbolic turn of events,  it collapsed.

I once created a Family Fun shelf. In a deeply symbolic turn of events, it collapsed.

6. Don’t think about your problems when you’re tired. It’ll take you about five minutes to decide that the world is a horrible place, your life is an irreparable mess, and the best option is to give up and yearn for death.

7. Do what you can to strengthen your relationship with God — you’re going to need as much grace as you can get to make it through this phase. That said, don’t let your spiritual life become a source of stress. God knows that you’re having a tough time and is pleased with even your most feeble efforts at prayer.

8. It’s important to be consistent when you discipline the kids. But if you don’t have the energy for that, Shock and Awe parenting works too: make empty threats most of the time, but on the rare occasions when you actually follow through, make your punishments creative and memorable. The last time my big kids got rowdy and woke up the toddler, they had to sit and watch an hour of Barney with her. They haven’t woken her up again.

9. Don’t go too crazy with the junk food. Yeah, it feels good while that half-bag of sea salt and vinegar chips is going into your mouth, but bad eating habits can ruin your life (trust the expert on this one). You’ll be happier and have more energy if you keep it healthy.

A list of VERY EASY meals for the week,  posted on the fridge so I can't lose it.

A list of VERY EASY meals for the week, posted on the fridge so I can’t lose it.

10. Don’t be a perfectionist about exercise. If you don’t have the time or the money to get a full gym membership, just take a walk around the block in the evening. Anything that makes you move and gets your blood pumping will help you feel better.

11. Find the right balance of activities. Too many commitments will make you crazy, but a couple of classes or sports for you or the kids can provide some much-needed structure and entertainment.

12. Drink wine.

13. But don’t drink too much wine, because OH MY WORD there is nothing worse than a wine hangover on a survival day (so I hear).

14. You won’t be able to keep the house as clean as you (or the Health Department) would like, so set cleaning priorities together with your spouse. Maybe you could make sure the kitchen’s clean each day but fold the laundry when you can get to it? Sweep daily but vacuum weekly? Approaching housework in an intentional way will help you use your limited time and energy to keep the house in a condition that both you and your husband can live with.

15. Make good sleep a priority…but do so in light of your sleep personality. (Read: if it always takes you 45 minutes to fall asleep, you are setting yourself up for a very painful failure if you try to catch a catnap during the day.)

16. If you have a baby, make sure you are following a sleep training philosophy that works for your family, even if it’s not what all the other moms are doing. (See my forthcoming post called, “How co-sleeping saved my friend’s life and ruined mine.”)

I can't keep up with clothes for my kids. Keeping up with clothes for dolls? No. Way.

I can’t keep up with clothes for my kids. Keeping up with clothes for dolls? No. Way.

17. You’ll need your spouse’s help in order to make sure your basic needs for sleep, exercise, down time, etc. are being met, but your husband is probably feeling like he has little left to give. Schedule some time to talk when you won’t be interrupted, communicate your needs in a solution-oriented way, and ask your husband how you can help him, too.

18. You weren’t meant to do this alone, so think hard about whether there’s any way to get help. Could you join a childcare co-op? Hire a laundry service? Get a neighbor girl to babysit? Get once-a-month housekeepers? Too often we have a knee-jerk reaction of saying that there’s no help available to us, when the reality is that we’re just overwhelmed by the prospect of finding it.

19. Put on a fresh coat of lipstick in the afternoon. When you see your reflection in the mirror it’ll trick you into thinking that you might actually survive the rest of the day.

20. Occasionally ask yourself if it’s time to start trying to thrive again. It’s surprisingly easy to get stuck in survival mode.

21. Kick people in the shins who tell you it’ll “go by so fast.” It won’t stop them from saying it, but it’ll feel soooooo good.

(I wrote this post while a toddler was trying to sit on my head.)


  1. Cam

    This post is exactly what I needed to read this morning. DH is in his third year of law school and I think we’ve been in survival mode for two years now with the third on its way. And I need to have #3 tattooed across my arm so I look at it every five minutes because nobody really appreciates otherwise funny jokes about how stressful things are when you’re in survival mode (and I just can’t seem to get that through my head!).

    • LPatter

      Pharmacy school for my hubs – I feel ya! Beginning Year 4 – rotations only, so no more crazy studying/exams (save boards, to match your bar!), but full time work that WE pay for rather than the reverse. I work to support us but have basically tried to be both a working AND stay at home mom for the last 3 and its crazy. We’ve definitely had phases of survival mode, espcially during stomach bugs and an awesome little class called Pharmacokinetics. Hang in there – graduation is going to feel SO AMAZING!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Bill

      It’s hard to feel for someone who’s husband is in law school. You have a financially blessed future. If only the rest of us could have such problems.

      • Bridget

        I have a husband starting his third year in medical school. We have a 3 year old and a 14 month old and am pregnant with our third.

        Say what you will about a blessed future, that blessed future is costing us plenty NOW and we wll be using his future earnings to pay off those loans. In the mean time, he is working more than full time hours, plus studying for exams/boards, and we are PAYING for him to do so.

        What many people overlook about the pay of doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and the like, is that they are missing out of 7 (or so) years of pay and during that time taking out loans to survive. That is why they make what they do…to compensate for those lost earnings and pay off those loans. Meanwhile, we (their spouses) are acting largely as single parents or missing out on significant time with our spouse. LPatter and Cam…I feel your pain!

      • Amyann

        Bill, hey try some compassion, why don’t you?!
        I hear ya, Bridget, LPatter and Cam. Husband just completed his first year of Residency. Almost 1/2 million in debt thanks to med school tuition and the interest that comes with it. It will take AT LEAST another 5 years AFTER residency to pay of those student loans-so long as we are living like paupers like we are now (are you reading this, Bill?!) So we have/are definitely paying the price for our so-called “financially blessed future”.
        I have two jobs and have two kids. We are blessed enough that I can work from home so I don’t have to put the kids in a daycare, and yet we are still barely making ends meet!
        I feel like I am drowning in housework, kids, and work sometimes and of course husband is not around to help since he basically lives at the hospital. I play the part of a single mother often and I feel like we’ve been in “survival mode” for the past 5 years! Thanks for this article-I can see it’s perfectly normal to feel like you’re going crazy and (sometimes) hating life, haha!

      • JoAnna

        A law degree is no guarantee of a “financially blessed future.” Ask all the new rookie lawyers currently job-hunting. Or working for peanuts as a public defender.

      • Jeanmarie

        There is no guarantee that a law degree will mean a financially blessed future. There is a glut of law school graduates right now, but the student loans still have to be paid off. I don’t envy anyone in that position.

        Besides that, most lawyers seem to hate their job, according to every poll, formal or informal, of lawyers I’ve ever seen.

      • Hillery

        My husband just began acupuncture school. It is four years long, organized like med school, but Chinese instead. We have four kids, two in school and two toddlers. My husband is out of town to go to school for one week a month and then home for three weeks. In those three weeks he works two jobs and does his homework. I am alone with the kids 95% of the time. And when he is home he is tired and can’t handle a lot of noise. We are just beginning this journey of grad school, student loans, etc. Glad to know there are other moms out there who have done it! And education is never a guarantee of a good financial future.

  2. Tania @ Larger Family Life

    Oh, do I know about survival mode. I’ve been in the midst of it for 20 years. Now ten are under ten, and six of them are under six. Survival mode is just another word for ‘life’ for me.

  3. Amelia

    Thanks for this. We are definitely in survival mode right now…my husband just graduated from law school, we have 4 children, homeschool, are living with my parents who are selling their house and moving 4 states away as soon as we move to we don’t know where yet, so the house is on the market and we have to deal with showings. My husband still doesn’t have a job and has to take the bar in two weeks so he is crazy busy and stressed. Yeah..survival mode..so please pray for us.

    You need to add #22 . Don’t be afraid to beg for prayers.

    I find that for us, just finding a routine and sticking to it is essential…We all really need the routine and comfort of a schedule/routine to survive the craziness.

  4. Kara

    We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of #5 and my oldest is six. This post was like a map with a big red arrow that says “you are here”. Thanks for reminding me that this is normal!

  5. mary

    So, I really needed this! I have a 2 year old, 1 year old and 32 weeks pregnant with our third. The special gift of this pregnancy is VERY little sleep and lots of insomnia. After getting two hours of sleep, throwing up and being so freaking tired I don’t know how I am going to survive, I thought to myself this morning, ‘I don’t know how I am going to survive!’. And then, whilst eating a cold waffle and having the wiggles entertain my children…I read this blog! Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ruth

      Mary, My kids are slightly older than yours. Youngest is 4. If you need to turn the dvd on and set to stun, you do that! Lack of sleep, feeling sick, etc. made me feel like a horrible mother. But as horrible as pregnancy was for me. I always loved the doodle on the inside, and the ones outside. So do what you can to survive.
      PS. Your house will get cleaner later. Just cope as best you can now, and know that it is good enough!
      PPS. It gets easier! No, mine aren’t teens yet, but there is a beautiful respite right now, and I’m saying this during summer vacation with them all at home all day with me. –And we had a messy nose bleed this morning, it’s nothing compared to when they were all so much younger. Hang in there!

    • Daleen Clark

      Oh Mary, have you heard of or tried “Livaplex” supplement from Standard Process Labs? Its over the counter and my midwife gave me some to try (I am a power puker). She said my liver was too taxed with all the preg hormones so I needed something to help my liver handle all that. And WONDER of Wonders…. no more puking. Thought I’d share…. blessings, Daleen

  6. Mary

    Love the last one. Also kick the people with older kids who tell you, “it only gets harder” about parenting. Not helpful!

    • od


      • Anne McD

        And amen again!!

    • elle

      I usually tell moms with younger kids, it isn’t easier or harder when they get older, just different.

      • Theresa

        I always say (and mean it) that every stage, every year, every Day gets better and better. I love my twins more every day. So you could now say that I now love them 18 years More today than I did yesterday.. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Rosie

    I would just like to add that, in the inevitable event of wine headache, caffeine and ibuprofen + television work wonders ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Sarah Scherrer

    So true! I wish I had read this 18 years ago, but hey that’s okay. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. RosiePosie

    I echo the other mothers here, THANK YOU for posting this. I often wonder if I’m in-line w/other SAHM mom’s out there ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m constantly putting myself under the microscope critiquing myself throughout the day always thinking I could do more, do better, be like that 1950’s Leave it to Beaver type mom (I know I’m crazy, LOL). I hope I’m not the only one who sometimes gets caught up in house work & life during the day and then around 4-5pm hurry up and get out of my pjs/brush my teeth/brush my hair/perfume/earrings/lipstick RIGHT before hubby gets home from work (LOL…not all time but it happens!). Although I only have a 2-1/2yr old and now expecting our second 12/31/13 and will be 41yrs old when born (God has finally naturally opened my womb after many years of infertility, also thanks to novena to PJPII!). I’m going to print this out and hang it on my fridge ๐Ÿ™‚ God Bless your ministry for us moms! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Sarah B.

    We are expecting twins in December, and will have 3 under 3 (at least for a month or so till the oldest turns 3). I will be returning to this!

  11. Kelly @ Love Well

    You are my favorite.

    And this is brilliant. My kids are finally getting older (Time! It moves! Who knew?) so my youngest is now 3 and my oldest is almost 12. Which means it’s possible I can sleep at least six hours now without interruption, and I can usually go to the bathroom by myself. But my husband travels for work, and solo parenting four kids without family nearby is its own kind of survival mode. So yes. Yes to all of it.

    (P.S. I hope the toddler isn’t sitting on your head anymore.)

  12. Ani

    In regards to #21: I keep telling myself not to forget what these years have been like…always remember how hard it was.

    I am so thankful for the mom of seven, her youngest the same age as my oldest, who after Mass one Sunday (a Sunday when my kids were actually behaving!)turned to me and said, “Don’t worry. Two at these ages is way harder than all of my seven right now. It will get easier.”

    When my kids are older and we get past this, I want to be that mom. Not the one getting kicked in the shins for telling younger moms to cherish each sleep-deprived moment of dealing with temper tantrums while covered in snot and drool and smelling permanently of spit-up because just goes by so fast…

  13. Marilyn

    Dear Moms: as a mother of triplets plus one, I know where you are. That was many long and stressful years ago for me now. We all survived and the triplets are now 27, the youngest 23. They all thank me often for their wonderful childhood. I remember their childhood somewhat differently. Despite my best efforts, they turned out good people. So I think Item number one is that the work you do is hard and sometimes desperate and always desperately important. You have given yourselves to a high and noble purpose.

    Also, my chicks have flown, my husband has died, I have moved to kinder country and would love to have be able to provide some respite for hard working moms. How do I do this? How can devout Catholic grannies and moms get connected? Thanks for your devotion and your suggestions.

    • priest's wife (@byzcathwife)

      get involved in your parish! and then offer to take a younger mom to coffee…make friendships and playing with young ones will come- my parents are 1000 miles away and my in-laws are 10000 miles away…close-by grandparents would be a dream

      • Jessica

        Marilyn, may our dear Lord rest your husband’s soul.

        I agree with priest’s wife – introduce yourself to the young mamas in your parish! When my husband and I were newly married, an older couple came up to us out of nowhere after Mass. They welcomed us and said that once we had settled into our new life and new home, they wanted to invite us to dinner. We were so moved by their greeting and their kindness.

        Seven years later, they are two of our dearest friends. My husband and I have two young children now, and “Auntie Jane” often comes over to play with the kids while I am cleaning – or even just so I can crash on the couch for twenty minutes! I often look to her as a Godly older woman who gives me loving advice and guidance in the spirit of Titus 2. She and her husband are such blessings in our lives and I thank God for their love and good example. I pray that you can do the same for a young family. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Andrea


      I echo what the other replies to your comment have noted. God bless you for wanting to help young moms.

      I don’t know if there are any homeschoolers in your area, but I know from one example of a wonderful lady like you in our parish who volunteered to teach a once a month Spanish class one year for our homeschool co-op and several friendships, including with our family, blossomed from that. I know that she also helps out with the Vacation Bible School and stuff like that around the parish where young moms are. From there she has sort of taken under her wing a few of the homeschooling families, especially those with special needs or far away grandparents and helps out with babysitting for doctor’s appointments, etc. If there is a homeschool group or young moms group at your parish you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding moms who would LOVE to have someone like you, not just for help, but for wisdom and encouragement. Also if your parish has a meals ministry to new moms you can probably make some connections that way.

      Pray and God will bring the right moms your way!

    • Laura

      Find a Catholic Mom! She wants to find you. ๐Ÿ™‚ My friend Sue is my “mama” to me here and “Miss Sue the beloved” to my kids. She’s even offered to do child care so that I can start up a Catholic Mom’s group here at my parish. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

    • SallyJune

      Marilyn, I will pray that the Holy Spirit leads you where you are needed. Thank you for your beautiful witness.

    • CJ

      Amen to what the others said! We live far away from family, and I would love nothing for than a surrogate “grandma” for my 3 ranging 2 to 7 (with disabilities in the mix).

  14. Marisa

    It’s so funny that you wrote this post; just last week, I wrote a blog post about our own survival mode and actually referenced your original bare minimum post! I have a toddler and a 3-month old, and my husband is out of town for an entire month due to Army training, and I was sinking fast. Between the toddler temper tantrums, lack of sleep and unbearable Louisiana summer heat, it ain’t pretty around here. I’m in awe of you for being able to make it through each day with six children!!

  15. Amy

    This is wonderful. I especially need to remember #8. I am not good at getting creative with discipline. And I love #16. People can get so judge-y about sleep training stuff! Thanks for the smiles this morning.

  16. Catherine

    We are definitely in survival mode during hubby’s residency program, and it will reach a new level when Baby #4 arrives in a month (or less!). Thanks for “keeping it real,” and allowing us moms to give ourselves the permission to survive survival mode in the way that will work for our crew. Please keep your encouraging and inspiring ministry of writing coming!

  17. Jamie Jo

    Oh, this was funny and so very true at the same time. I just got through a survivor mode year, with pumping breast milk exclusively for my baby and going through 4 surgeries for him. The year where just one more thing was too much for this mama. (like going anywhere) The other kids suffered, I call it suffering, but it was as you’ve written here. It only took like a month or 2 to catch up and get back to a “normal”.

    Thanks for the laugh, and most of all the understanding!

  18. Sarah

    I cannot wait to read the co-sleeping post. #6 is 2.5months and I can’t imagine surviving any other way than with co-sleeping. As one if my IG friends described herself, I am merely a “boobie bar” right now. Survival mode it is. And I like the #22 mentioned in one of the above comments – beg for prayers!

  19. Sandy K.

    I love this! I have 2 kids under 4, and I can relate. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Grace

    I don’t have a home of my own, but I did grow up in a family of 8; these tips would have been real helpful when I was small. At least when your kids get older they can babysit each other!

  21. Emily B

    Thanks for the list!
    Just wanted to add that we all have different thresholds for survival mode and we shouldn’t worry about whether it is one kid or ten as long as we recognize it and move into the mode.

  22. priest's wife (@byzcathwife)

    I’m not really in survival mode…except I homeschool 4 kids and teach college part-time and I am a low-energy extreme introvert….I love the tip on using any leisure time available with my personality type in mind…I’ve got to change the way I try to relax!

  23. Elizabeth W

    Thank you!! I cannot hear enough on the theme of “you weren’t meant to do this alone.” I recently reread all the Anne of Green Gables books (it had been a looooong time) and was completely fascinated and enchanted with the fact that every family with children had a hired girl or a live-in housekeeper who was basically part of the family. Also heard from a family friend recently that, in his experiences in Third World countries, it is normal for even the poorest families to have some kind of arrangement where they have a helper. What have we gotten ourselves into in the West?

    • mary in mn

      You know my Mom lives with us, has her own MIL apt. That we built when we remodeled our home. It has been the best thing ever! I can go to the store by myself, run errands, etc. She gets the simulation of living in a big family LOL, etc. I honestly couldn’t imagine it any other way now :).

  24. Julie O.

    (I wrote this post while a toddler was trying to sit on my head.)
    LOL…my 2 year old does this all the time! I sooooo live this post; it’s just nice to see it in writing ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Topaz

    Great advice! I love reading your articles, and your conversion from atheist to Catholic is very inspiring!

  26. Christine

    This is exactly what I needed to read this morning. Your fridge picture could’ve been mine and I laughed out loud at the collapsed “family fun shelf”.

  27. Topaz

    Sorry! I messed up and din’t know how to use the “recent blog post” feature. Is it OK to post my comment again??

    “Great advice! I love reading your articles, and your conversion from atheist to Catholic is very inspiring!”

  28. Christy

    So awesome and right on Jen! As usual I agree with everything 100%. Especially the wine. I once said that the person who doesn’t appreciate wine has never had a toddler.

  29. Adam

    #2: Yay for the good introvert advice!

  30. Denise

    Jenn, These are all too true! Esp #6 for me. Trying to plan my return to work (including making a proposed schedule for the entire school year, even though I don’t even exact dates of school activities, shorts,RE, etc.), at 11pm, pending a baby feeding within the next hour and NO rest was NOT a good idea last night!! 6 under 9 is rough…I’m right there with you! Now,taking all of the kids on my own to IW at the mall last Friday, after i had just let our 3rd sitter in 6weeks go,THAT was an accomplishment!! Leo is 7 weeks and Diego will be 9 in three weeks…will it magically get better when i officially have 6 under 10?? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Miss ya!

  31. Laura @ Mothering Spirit

    A wise friend once told me that there are years that you thrive and years that you just survive. I think is also true month-to-month, week-to-week, even day-to-day! Somehow we get seduced into thinking that thriving is an all-the-time possibility, which it’s not. How much of God’s work is maintenance, too – it’s not all creation! Thanks for a great breath of fresh air this morning.

  32. elizabethe

    Thanks Jen.

    A slightly different perspective on bare minimum mode esp. on number 14. I’ve started to recognize that me not prioritizing house keeping leads (at least for us) to bare minimum mode. It’s like that post you did a long time ago about what should you do if you don’t have enough time for prayer — the answer was to pray more! The house falling apart is the canary in a coal mine, if you don’t have time to clean the house, you need to let go of other things and clean the house more. The best way to regain a sense of peace and order is to focus exclusively on putting the house in order, especially the laundry.

    In fact, I think that keeping the house orderly is a form of prayer and devotion. The home is the domestic church. Can you even imagine a messy church? Even part of the Mass is preparing and cleaning up the altar — that’s right in there in the service! They don’t put it off until later. They don’t rush past or skip the part where they lay out the cloths and set the altar just right so they can get to the important part!

    I find that now, when I can’t do anything, I just focus on keeping the house orderly and that seems to be enough.

    I also want to say that it helped me to have a really honest conversation with my husband — having the house in visual disarray REALLY REALLY stressed him out beyond his ability to communicate it and that was contributing a LOT to the stress of the entire household. Once I prioritized cleaning, he relaxed more and is able to help out more with evening child care and other stuff he simply was too stressed to focus on when the house was messy. I think more men than will admit it are affected this way by a messy house because it’s very anti-feminist to suggest your wife maybe should prioritize housecleaning over some other thing. It took my husband seven years to finally realize and articulate this to me in a way I really got. A clean house is a non-negotiable for his mental health.

    I just wanted to put that put there b/c i ALWAYS see that advice: in times of stress, let the laundry go, let the housecleaning slide, and in my actual experience its the WORST thing to let go. Putting the laundry away or the putting the dishes away is now always what I do first when I’m stressed and overwhelmed.

    • Pam

      Elizabethe – I love your perspective on keeping the domestic church clean – and how when it is not, you need to let go of other things and make the home the focus! I ma pregnant with #4 and find myself preoccupied with getting our house in order – organized and cleaned before his arrival.

      Jen – this post is spot on! I love #8! I can just imagine the look of horror on the faces of my older 2 if subjected to such creative punishment. This tip has been filed away to be used as needed!

    • Madeleine


      I agree with you completely. Keeping a clean and well -ordered home adds a sense of peace when all other things get out of control. Working in the home is our prayer. I try to keep “a little Nazareth.”

  33. Kelly M.

    I question how this can be “survival mode” when pizza is not listed on the menu twice…or is TBD code for take out?
    Great article, though #20; how do you know when you’re just wallowing and it’s actually time to get out of survival mode? Once the kids are in college? It is easy to keep going at the bare minimum. Maybe 21 clues it’s time to “snap out of it”; #1 Hoarders has arrived to start filming….
    Thanks for the laugh. I’m always reassured to see other people’s homes are also overrun with naked Barbies.

  34. Becky Castle Miller

    The last line is my favorite. Made me laugh out loud.

  35. Julie

    Great Post!
    I am very intrigued by, “A list of VERY EASY meals for the week, posted on the fridge so I canโ€™t lose it.”
    Where did you find this tidy system?
    Love it!

  36. Laurie Parks

    Thank you for this! I’m only starting survival mode with 2 under 2, but getting into it has been quite difficult.

  37. David Rudmin

    No TV may be a luxury, but it’s a VALUABLE one. The benefits: Outdoing other kids in (1) Innocence, (2) Naturalness, (3) Creativity, (4) appreciation of other things like music and quiet activities such as drawing, (5) Much more outdoor exercise.

    • Madeleine


      I agree with you. It does matter how much TV our children are watching. Not watching TV has sparked a love of reading, art, music and play in our kids. As one who grew up watching a lot of TV, I can attest to the difference that I see in our six children. They don’t get bored easily and know how to entertain themselves and each other. Our family is closer for it. It also leaves time for the family rosary.

  38. Stephanie

    Oh this makes me laugh. The pictures add so much …

    Can I add one more? It’s okay not to enjoy the season you’re in. It does not devalue your life or your children to admit that some moms love infancy, some love older kids. I personally do not love early baby days. During three infancies I felt utterly overwhelmed, and then I felt guilty that I wasn’t enjoying the season more. When the fourth baby was born I started saying freely, “This is not my season. I am just getting through it right now, but don’t worry baby, we’re going to have a lot of fun in a little while.” It helped so much. And now that he is a little older (9 mos) I am starting to enjoy my time with him so much more.

  39. Kristin

    This is sooo true. I’m trying to claw my way out of survival mode right now. My daughter will be 2 this week, I’m 23 weeks pregnant with another little girl, and suffering from a returning bout of depression (had PPD after my daughter was born – I expected it to come back after this one is born, but I was way surprised it came back while I’m still pregnant… don’t know why). I’ve had to learn to let go of a lot, and accept a LOT of help. For instance, my husband is out of town for a few days — so I accepted when he offered to stay home yesterday because I kept crying in the morning. I also hired a mother’s helper for 2 hours in the afternoons, a couple of times a week, starting today!!! It was sooooo nice and so helpful. She’s coming back the next two days while Daddy is out of town! We totally can’t do this all on our own, and it’s so refreshing to hear people actually admit it!

  40. Sam

    This is awesome I have 3 kids under 6 at the age of 25, The older two are my step kids, but I’ve been raising them since they were very young, it gets crazy hard, and just insayne around here most days, and now I’m the smart one who decides to go back to work FT lol, but all and all this post is great I’ll reference it more then once everyday. Glad to know I’m not the only on in survival mode!

  41. Laura

    Can you please do a post (or a book??? jk) about living with your parents? The hubs and I are contemplating going down that road for a couple of months and we could use all the wisdom you have.
    Also: I’m sorry for the loss of your Family Fun Shelf.

  42. TheReluctantWidow

    I spent the first 9 months of the last 12 months trying to be a perfect mother, trying to do all I could for my kids, and trying to keep life “normal.” Only problem? It wasn’t normal. I didn’t have a spouse any more to share the load of home and child rearing. Three months ago I thought my world would actually end, I had nothing left and I was wishing death on myself. I wasn’t suicidal, just thinking how lucky my husband was to be gone from this life and living the “good life” in Heaven (even Purgatory forever sounded better than this life to me). It was then that I got some really sensible and much needed therapy. I re-worked my idea of motherhood. No longer did I strive to be perfect but I strove instead to be a “good enough” mother. I hired more help figuring the short term drain on finances would be more than made up by a happy and healthy mother. I created lot’s of time in each day for my healing, again figuring in the short term my kids would survive and in the long term I would be a better, more present mother for them. My “survival mode” has had a lot of similarities to yours even though I am trying to survive single parenting four kids, and you are wading through the early months of parenting after the birth of your sixth child. It’s all tough, we all have our challenges, though unique to us. But these tips are helpful for any mother in a difficult time of her life. Thanks!

  43. Jennifer Fitz

    Do people really vacuum once a week? I had no idea. That’s a lot of vacuuming.

  44. Shannon

    Thanks! Really, just what I needed right now… It’s been a rough year…

  45. Erika

    #8 rocks.
    And I’m glad I’m not the only crazy blogger whose kids do everything in their power to help me not blog.

  46. pls

    You are right on with the sense of humor. Humor is also a survival tool. Survival mode is something I know well and I have learned is survivable. Some things I’ve learned that were very big helps are…
    1. I once heard a Reverend Mother of a convent (on EWTN? don’t remember for sure) who said that when things get extra crazy or chaotic in their mother house she tells them all they must go slower, not faster. That they must approach everything and everyone from a more peaceful, calmer manner in order to get through it and accomplish their goals better. It sounds counter-intuitive but when I tried to apply this concept it was indeed an answer for me and my family. Who knew things could get crazy in a convent??

    2. Perspective is everything. When I am too tired to have good perspective, I recognize that, let go of trying too hard. I also find a time to have a cry and seek God’s help.

    3. I try to call to mind something St. Theresa of Avila said: when you embrace your cross, it ceases to be a cross. My experience is that the cross is still there, but it does become lighter and at times the sweetness comes through when I appreciate the beauty in the mess. It’s one of those God things.

    4. In tune with the comment above about keeping your home environment as pleasant and tidy as possible, it is true that it helps everyone immensely. It’s really not a luxury, but a necessity for sanity and peace. I didn’t have the option of getting outside help for this, but if you do, I would not hesitate. What I did do, was each morning I began with prayer to the Holy Spirit, then I told myself I was on patrol for the day as the kids began getting up and around. And literally, I patrolled the house all day from kitchen, to living, to hallway, to bathrooms, bedrooms on assigned days, and back again making sure things were getting put back after use, messes cleaned up or avoided when possible, and coaching the kids through this little job and that job so they would learn to help out better. It is constant puttering, picking up here and there, wiping this, folding that, making the meals, etc. It has worked, barring the normal wear and tear of family life that just can’t be avoided. The kids are getting better at helping I’m noticing. I don’t get to sit down much except during our reading/resting time, during lunch and dinner with them, and when they are settled in their bedrooms at 8 pm. The older kids don’t necessarily sleep at this time but the younger ones do. The older ones know this is quiet time throughout the house and they can read, draw, journal or even do a hobby for an hour or so but that it is time they stay in their room quietly for the night. I take an entire hour from 7 to 8 to settle them in, pray with them, and generally get them to calm down, and tuck in the little toddlers/kids. It kind of has become a cherished time for all of us. 8.5 nights out of 10 they do well with this. I am a single mom so this has been imperative to have this sanity. I think it helps the kids as much as myself.

    5. Holy water has been a help to me also when depression takes me down a path of defeat and lethargy. Again, I can’t explain the way it helps except to acknowledge it is supernatural.

    6. Plan your week with at least two days where the (huge) effort is made to get out of the house. We go to the pool 2 or 3 days of the week in the summer. The kids have to help me with their siblings. We eat at their grandparents home one evening a week, etc. Cabin fever is awful without that activity.

    sorry this is so long (and preachy I’m realizing). Take it with a grain of salt ๐Ÿ™‚ and realize it was only meant in a spirit of offering to share what has helped me.

    My last thought is that right now, in this time we live in, every good and worthwhile endeavor is caught up in battle and I believe very, very difficult to accomplish, so we can’t be too hard on ourselves but we do have help from God to get it done.

    • mary in mn

      Thank you pls, this is some of the best advice I’ve ever read and I’m the mom of six kids under the age of 14 ๐Ÿ™‚

  47. pls

    sorry – one more thing: you are exactly right when you say to find what most comforts and rests your own particular personality. I love my music, books, chats with sisters and mom, the beauty of the outdoors, and little bits of good chocolate all throughout the day.

  48. Liz

    I am so disturbed by your number one comment. T.V. is VERY damaging especially to young children. You can read Marie Winn’s The Plug-In Drug if you want studies etc. I am not saying children will be damaged if they watch a small amount, but it really bothers me that you say not to worry about how much t.v. they watch. I have 10 kids and I understand that it’s not easy, but if they aren’t dependent on t.v. then they learn to play and function without it. My kids spent hours in play, and I think that is so lost with the present generation always plugged into the latest gadget. I think most parents feel unease with large amounts of t.v. watching for a good reason.

    • Madeleine


  49. Stephanie

    Thank you for this. I’ll pass it on to some friends who also need it…made me laugh out loud a few times, which surely is also therapeutic?! Glad to have discovered you.

  50. Abigail Benjamin

    I think this is a “Jen Classic”. I’m totally stealing all 21 ideas today! Thank you!

  51. Meagan

    I needed this so badly yesterday. Often when I’m feeling like an utter failure I read through all my inspiring blogs with beautiful homes, and happy, well educated children. Yesterday it didn’t help. Instead I sat on the couch feeling guilty for watching HGTV and having a glass of wine at 4pm. Thank you for making me feel normal. Thank you for reminding me that the TV can change to other stations than PBS before sundown. And I don’t feel guilty for bipassing lunch for caramel milkshakes to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel.

  52. Barbara Edwards


    I want to add: early bedtimes for the kiddies helps a LOT. Even if they are older, they can still go to bed early and read until a later time. Then you and your husband can have a glass of wine and a conversation before you fall asleep.

    Also, I would revise the TV watching to very limited times. When they don’t watch TV much it works better (at keeping them quiet and in one place) than it does when they have OD’d on it. Not to mention the filth and disturbing worldview that comes from a lot on TV, even kids programs. Limited TV also works as a carrot for getting kids to do their chores, homework and stop hitting their siblings.

  53. the other Becky

    Your emphasis on “do what works for you, not what you hear that others are doing” is very helpful. For me, the “put on lipstick in the afternoon” would be counterhelpful since I haven’t worn lipstick in about 40 years, but I am sure I could think of something that would have the same benefit. I think, brushing the dog.

    About the tv: I think it might actually be sort of like the junk food: it feels good at the time, but the aftereffect is not beneficial. Think of all the times in the past when you ate junk food, not yet making the connection between your snack and an afternoon crash. I think that different kinds of brains react differently, but some kids just become so addicted that they are not able to learn or enjoy other things in a normal way. I really wish I had not been allowed to watch tv when I was a kid. I am sure that it contributed to my high distractibility in later years. And the networks have gotten much, MUCH more effective at capturing and holding a child’s attention since I was a kid.

  54. Jeni

    LOL 21 yes! Can I blame you for it after though?

    I love your tone in this by the way. I need some more silly semi-serious life advice. Book #2??? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    “365 Days of Survival Wisdom” by Jennifer Fulwiler, Day #185: If you have 6 kids under 9 and your days are made of fail, uncork the wine because scorpions.

  55. Kari

    This was just the post I needed! Our children are grown and married or living on their own. However, I am the sole caregiver for my husband and my mother. The last few months have been “survival mode.” You’d think with two adults, even with health problems, it’d be easier. Not so. I’ve spent much of the last month dealing with my mother acting like an overgrown toddler. And beiieve me,an adult can think of far more trouble to initiate than my children ever did! An emergency visit to her family doctor revealed some nasty drug interactions that may have been causing her behavior. We’ll know within the next three weeks…although her behavior has markedly improved with the elimination of one of her medications. My life may be in survival mode, but I wouldn’t trade it…often.

  56. Susan

    Refreshingly REAL. It has been many years since I’ve had small children in the house (and I never had this many) but I can recall the feelings. Thank you for sharing.

  57. iwannadie

    Thanks for this timely post. I needed this today. I have three kids, one just diagnosed with some kind of parasitic worm. The medicine my doctor prescribed is no longer made anymore, and I am FREAKING OUT. So, now, we are on a crazy cleaning schedule to keep the infestation at bay, took the over the counter medicine (because apparently that’s all there is), hoping to God it will actually work, laundering the bed linens and a new towel after one use for 5 freaking people everyday, two of which are 4 years old, one with a runny nose, one who’s constantly grabbing his privates, and the toilet’s been overflowing and I’m at my wit’s end (yes that’s a run-on sentence). I have to bathe everybody twice a day, and I simply can’t get everything done. I’m having anxiety attacks I’ve never had before because the thought of this parasite is making me sick to my stomach, and the doctor didn’t say how I’m supposed to know it’s gone. When I try to call him, I can’t get through, and I hate everything.


    Anyway, somebody please pray for me!! ack.

  58. Gina

    Watching an hour of Barney = BEST PUNISHMENT EVER. Seriously, that is genius.

  59. Jenn

    I soooo needed this today. Thank you!

  60. Kate

    I liked your list, but I must admit number 1 seriously disturbed me! I do hope it was in jest. TV is pretty horrible. I mean, forget all the studies out there, just look at a person (child or adult) in front of the TV. Totally zonked out gaze, you can practically see the brain leaking out! Also, in my experience, children are MUCH better behaved without TV or very limited TV than if they watch it any time they want. There is a withdraw period, but after that, it is SO much better. TV is not the answer.
    I totally understand survival mode – my mode involves no cooking, paper plates, and paper towels. When my 5th was born, we were in this mode for a YEAR. We still had healthy meals – it’s just that I wasn’t making them (delivery service). The other thing I do, especially in summer, is set up a backyard oasis of fun (water play, tents, beach balls, etc.) and I leave this out – rain or shine. I don’t clean it up all summer. I sit back on my lounge chair and just … lounge while the kids go wild. If you get those mister fans (I’m also in the deep south), it’s really not that bad.

  61. Tricia

    Loved this, Jen! We added #4 4 months ago and there are days that I should read and re-read this! ๐Ÿ™‚

  62. Mary-andering Creatively

    I laughed a lot. I also featured this post on my Friday blog. I thank you for the laughter and warm fuzzies.

  63. Natalie

    FINALLY a mom who truly gets it!!! I needed this thank you!!!

  64. Sarah

    Bill – law school does not = wealth or even financial security, especially these days. Lawyers are unemployed in droves and have high levels of student debt to boot. There is a saturation of lawyers in the market, and a lot of bitter, poor law grads. Try to be a little more charitable. (And regardless of socioeconomic status, having tiny children is a big job for any patent).

    Great post. I needed to read this!

  65. Kathleen Basi

    I cannot tell you how much better this post makes me feel! How about if I use some completely un-professional-writerly multiple exclamation points to thank you?


  66. Laura

    I have been in survival mode for several years, and had to just make peace with the fact that life was teetering on the edge of chaos for those years. My youngest is 4 now, and the last year and half have gotten waaay easier. So the hardest part of my current pregnancy, at age 44, with #7, is that I know I’m heading back into the chaos of survival mode again. I know it won’t be forever, but still, it felt good to have full nights of sleep and almost everyone able to wipe their own bottoms!

  67. Kim Barger

    Jennifer, I needed this this morning! (or is it noon yet?) Thank you for the laugh & the affirmation. God Bless You!


  68. Jen

    Yes and amen to every single one of these

  69. newbuffalomom

    4 kids in 6 years, time will pass. I got off the parenting competition circuit when I realized there was no prize. Instead I did the best I could for my kids with what worked for us. They are now 20, 19, 15, and 14. #2 is heading off to college in August leaving me with only two at home. Parenting is hard, but it does change. And so do you.

  70. Sarah M

    I know I am way late reading this in the blogoverse terms, but I haven’t laughed this hard in way too long! I only have three (oldest just turned 5), but every time I think I’ve finally gotten out of survival mode things go cattywampus again. I’m on the verge of struggling out again … I think… Thanks for the sanity check!

  71. Leah

    I really needed to read this today. I’m thankful for the friend who shared this blog entry on facebook and even more so, I’m blessed that you shared it with us all! Thank you for writing it and being so open. I’m adding this to my journal and I hope to come back and utilize some of these tips.
    A frazzled mom of 4 and soon to be 5 all 8yrs and under

  72. Leila

    So funny but oh so true! And I can relate to the “toddler sitting on my head” part as well! Currently I have a 5 year old, a 2 year old, and am 37 weeks pregnant with my 3rd. My husband is Army so I am frequently a DIY mother. This definitely involves creative solutions! My 2 year old can’t seem to grasp the concept that food can only be consumed via mouth. She’ll squish it on top of her head, then howl and scream when I have to wash her hair out in the bath. My husband and I found an easily washable hat that we now place on her head during mealtimes. At least this way the hat can be washed and her hair will remain untouched. My 5 year old likes to sit at the dinner table, food untouched, until everyone is done and it is bedtime. Interesting how suddenly THEN he is hungry and must eat immediately – but slowly! (Stalling bedtime for SURE!) We finally figured out we needed to set a timer at dinner. So we’ll set it for 20 minutes (maximum). If he doesn’t eat his food by then, too late! Although he still pushes the boundaries, he’s starting to realize we aren’t fooling around. Haha.

  73. Candice McGarvey

    Thank you for the hilarious perspective. I have often referred to my own period of being stretched too thin as “survival mode.” What a gift it is to see I’m not alone! I especially like number 6 from a practical perspective, and number 12 (with 13!) as a daily “chill” ritual.

  74. Mia @ mossyjojo

    This is hilarious! ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks for the post … I actually found you through crosswalk.com. As a mom of 2, a wife of 1 and a biz owner, it’s definitely really challenging. But time and time again I try to remind myself that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! xo

  75. Rommel

    Your tips are very helpful and they are realistic because it seems they’re from your personal experience. It is easier to cope with your tips because they’re derived from personal experiences that are usual to see in a home. Thank you for taking these all together in your post. It’s great to read your post.

  76. King Komfort

    This is survival mode with kids.

    Lots of TV for them, a comfort book for the grownups, and one-dish meals on paper plates for everybody.

  77. Angela

    Survival mode: has been a way of life since my husband left his “secure” job almost two years ago in the name of faith and principle. We were so hopeful that because we took such a leap of faith we’d be blessed immensely. Yes, we’ve been provided for, but the road has been harder than I could have imagined. I can’t even think about being a fun mom for my kids because of the stress of “where is our next job going to come?” “What can I do to help pay the bills?”
    Even when we have the promise of a project (my husband does motion graphics/videography), it takes weeks to months to ever see it start much less finished for pay.
    And people don’t understand you can’t come visit because you simply can’t afford the gas to get there. I never did till now.
    It’s isolating, hard to not despair, and hard to praise God when it seems everything you try fails and things will always be this way. God is good and knows what He’s doing…I just hope I can hang onto my sanity long enough to see the blessed future.

  78. K

    Just found your blog (via a friend with young twins) and really enjoying it. I love the doll one picture on here – when we hit about 5 my mother would just give us a pile of worn out socks and a sewing needle and we would play “poverty barbie”. Sewing skills plus free silence!

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