When my twins were three months old, I got pregnant with Child Number 6. He was born almost within the same year as his twin sisters. So, at one point in time, I had three toddlers in the house while I was trying to school their three older siblings who were 5, 9, and 13.
I would be lying if I told you I remembered those days. They were a sleep-deprived blur. They were days of crunchy things underfoot, endless nursing, laundry never being done, dishes almost never done, and my husband gone 16 hours a day because he was building a business to support us. We were ships passing in the night, and when he did crawl into bed, we almost always had a kid or two sleeping between us and our touching feet became the most comforting of hugs. We were in the thick of building our family, and he needed to know that I was holding the fort down while he was out there slaying dragons for us.
Through all of this, and despite all of it, those older three were homeschooled. Not only were they homeschooled, but they became excellent students who learned Latin, and Logic and are pretty well-read.
I have NO idea how I did it. None. I remember fighting over The Scarlet Letter. I remember fighting over Traditional Logic. The younger one even learned to eventually read and do basic math in those years. And I did it in a 1000 square foot house.
Much more, I remember buying chickens and how much fun my children had learning about them and caring for them, and then how we learned to butcher them together because we were trying hard to be farmers. They remember eating all of the peas out of garden before I got to harvest one. We remember a baby squirrel jumping on one of the twins and her giving a blood curdling scream that sent me racing into the yard to find her, and then putting that squirrel in a cage and learning how to feed it. They remember fishing, and learning to ride bikes, and life being very home-centered because that was all I could manage. We remember lots of days at the park.
What am I trying to tell you? That it will be OK. The children will learn, and just “sticking to the basics” is fine. The house will recover. Believe it or not, your marriage will be strengthened, because you trust your team member even more and take pride in what you’ve built together.
So, I’ve some ideas to help you do something with those toddlers while you ignore the laundry, and the dishes, and the crunchy things underfoot.
Create a flow. Call it a habit, call it a loose schedule. Whatever you do, don’t let it dictate to you what must be done. It’s only there to establish a routine to your day. Now is when we eat. This is when we rest. Now is when we learn. This is when we read aloud.
Get a baby yard. They will not die if confined. Do we? No, with confinement we learn creativity. Boundaries are safe things. Even use baby gates to fence off one safe room for them.
Minimize the toys that you put in the play yard/room. Can you imagine what your house would look like if you allowed three toddlers to keep every toy anyone ever gave them? Pack some up and rotate them every week or two.
Make yourself a busy board or two. Think of what fun this could be to make together! They are wonderful things that help fine motor skills, encourage problem solving, and are very Montessori. Make them smaller and switch them out if you can. Make tactile books for them with different surfaces. Get them a broom and dustpan and show them how to sweep.
Bring them into your schooling when you can, for the read-alouds (let them be busy in the room while you read aloud), and for art and especially for singalongs and nursery rhymes. Pull up their high chairs to the table and give them some paper and some watercolors. Make sorting games. Have your older children help you make these! What fun they will have helping and screwing things onto the busy board. This is a wonderful lesson in parenting, too, and for appropriate expectations for children.
Don’t forget to have fun days and school on the floor or in blanket forts! Let the older ones have some time schooling independently where they can, but always remember to check their work! I always had mine bring me their work them they were done.
Adjust your expectations. Stop comparing your season of life to a mother who has older children. Give yourself grace: this is a hard thing you are doing, and instead of criticizing yourself more, how about you pat yourself on the back more?
Find God amidst the pots and pans. St Teresa of Avila told her nuns, “Don’t think that if you had a great deal of time you would spend more of it in prayer. Get rid of that idea! God gives more in a moment than in a long period of time, for His actions are not measured by time at all. Know that even when you are in the kitchen, Our Lord is moving among the pots and pans.”
Know that this is your vocation and that this hard time will only be like this for a short time in the scheme of things. All of my children were out of the house for a weekend recently, and let me tell you I was bored and lonely. I know that those days seem far off to you, but they are right around the corner. My youngest is only 8. I remember back when they were small thinking that if I was alone in a room for a day I would have done nothing but stared at a wall in silence and been content to do just that. This too shall pass.
Remember to bend when a child asks you for something. Your day is made up of a hundred small requests and demands on your time. God as our parent is always barraged with questions and requests from us, and is always patient and long-suffering.
This is a high calling, to be a mother. Don’t let it pass without letting it change us into the people we want to become.
Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.