This article was originally published in 2016, when my twins were toddlers.
I have been asked many times in casual conversations how I get everything done with three small kids underfoot all day long. I recently had a long email asking me to address this topic on my blog.
I admit that I do get a lot done on a typical day. I have blogged about how I get stuff done such as this posting: http://livingjoydaily.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=3631&action=edit. That posting explains how I get things done. This current blog posting is how I keep my kids busy so I can get stuff done, as most days I do have my kids home with me. During the school year I have them in preschool from 9-2 on Tuesdays and Thursdays which is beneficial to all of us. However, Thursdays I co-lead a bible study, so no extra time to get things done without kids. Tuesdays I use for scheduling my appointments and errands. The rest of the week I get things done by having organized chaos. Why would I say that? Well, if you were to stop by my home, you may think it’s chaos because it’s loud with lots of activity going on, but the activities are deliberate and planned. My days with the kids are filled with lots of routines, activities, and my to do lists. We manage to get it all done together everyday….some days better than others of course.
- I Don’t Entertain My Kids All Day: It is not easy getting stuff done with kids if you feel that up you must entertain them all day long. Please know that they don’t need you all the time, it’s good for them (and you) to let them play, create, and imagine on their own. It makes them more independent. It also allows them time and space to BE creative because they have to think and do it on their own, without parental instruction. I am not my kids playmate all day. They know this. They are to play with one another and get along. If they don’t get along or fight over a toy there are consequences, so they typically play well enough together that I can get stuff done nearby. If I do spend time playing with them it is for specific activities that I think my involvement helps them in their learning process whether it is emotional, spiritual, or physical. For example, we read books often. That is time well spent and it is high quality time. Another example: I sit on the floor to do puzzles that are really challenging for them to do alone. A third example: I will help build a blanket fort with them in the guest room and once it is built they can go ahead and play in it. Those are just a few examples, the activities for me to do with them could be endless, so I space it out with several activities I will do with them each day, throughout the day, to keep things interesting for all of us. For their regular play, I let them entertain themselves with their toys and they play together. We have a guest room that adjoins our kitchen/living room main area. That is where they play, as we have a train table in there and a full toy box. They also spend a great deal of time outside. I will sit on our covered patio with my phone and laptop, making appointments, doing work for my Moms of Multiples Club, etc and they can play in the yard. We have a swing set, trampoline, ride on toys, chalk, lots of balls, and some other outdoor toys for them to play with outside. There is plenty there for them to be creative, imaginative, and active together as siblings. Our yard is completely fenced in and safe. The same with the guest room and main area of the house- completely toddler proofed and gated for their safety.
- They Don’t Get Full Rein of the House: if I had to chase my kids all day and see what they are getting into I would not be able to get anything done. When we are upstairs in the playroom, they play there, not the entire upstairs. Downstairs, we have the kitchen and adjoining family room gated off from the rest of the house. That way they don’t have access to the rest of the house on their own- not the master bedroom areas, not the formal dining room, not the formal living room, not the stairs, and not any area upstairs. I can see them from wherever I am working in the kitchen and living room areas. They tend to play in the guest room off of the kitchen, so they are nearby, within visual and hearing reach. Not allowing them in the entire house also prevents me from having to pick up EVERY SINGLE ROOM of the house. The areas that they do have access to are toddler proofed. Yes, I do have a LOT of baby gates in my house, but it works for us right now!
- They Help: I believe in giving chores and duties at a young age. Often if kids are acting out it is because they are bored or are in need of some direction/purpose. My kids are responsible for picking up their toys and putting them in the toy box. If they spill something I hand them a towel and they wipe it up. Even my two-year-old twins are helpful at putting piles of laundry in the washer or moving laundry from the washer to the dryer. They especially like pushing the buttons, which they get to do after they help. Brielle has some specific chores such as opening all the shades in the main area of the house every morning and putting dirty clothes in the laundry room, I started teaching them to contribute and help at an early age. Habits are hard to break, so help them develop good habits as young and as early as possible.
- They Have Activities to Keep them Busy: This is my practical and organizational side coming out on this one. I like to think of my time home with a four-year-old and twin two-year-olds as a less structured preschool environment. What does this mean? Well, it means we have planned age appropriate activities and they do them for less than a half hour each. Small children have very short attention spans. I can’t expect my two-years-olds to sit and do coloring at the table for an hour. Realistically, 20-30 minutes tops is normal. We have bins of activities. I have most in our playroom, but I also keep one kitchen cabinet filled with activities. These are the things they can do at the kitchen table while I fold laundry, do the dishes, make meals, ect. I can pull out the Playdoh bin, coloring bin, or puzzle bin and I know that they will be busy for 20-30 minutes once I get them set up. I only bring out one activity at a time and all three kids do the same activity. There is no arguing about this, as this is the routine we have established. Our kitchen cabinet with some of their activities I keep handy.Charlie playing with Playdoh from our Playdoh bin this morning.
Some of Our playroom bins- we only take one out at a time. Once they are done, they put it all back in the bin, and then they can have another. They still have an entire toy box of random toys and whatnot that they can play with all day long, so their creativity and options and not stifled or limited.
- We Keep a Routine: My kids may wake up at 6:00 or 6:30, but nobody comes downstairs until 7:00 am (Daddy sometimes breaks this rule, but I don’t because I am not a morning person). Brielle uses a “Tot Clock”. She knows that it isn’t officially morning until the Tot Clock changes colors at 7am. She can get out of bed, but she must play in her room quietly until the clock changes colors and the music goes off at 7 am letting her know it is morning. We have lunch routines, bedtime routines, toy pick up before bed routines. These routines make good behaviors a habit.
My Husband Helps: Justin is a wonderful Dad. He travels for his job often, but when he is home he helps. He helps with meals, he helps with clean up, he helps with bedtime, and so much more. He also helps by spending time playing with the kids and entertaining them. He is a fun Dad and loves to play with them. I do take advantage of that time so I can get things done. Sometimes I play with them too. I am thankful I have a husband who helps with the load. Now granted, 9-5 everyday is his work time, whether he is working from home or not. We give him his space and quiet (we try) so he can do his work. He is the bread winner, so I respect his need to work longer hours, travel, or skip out on activities as his work schedules dictates. I don’t DEPEND on him for work to get done, as he has a big “real job” that requires lots of time and energy. Which makes me even more grateful for his help around the house when he does help out during the week.
Dr. E. Magdalena Battles has a PhD in Academic and Clinical Psychology, a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Child Psychology. Her specialties include children, domestic violence, and sexual assault.