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Family Matters

What You Can Learn From a Mom of Seven

Hint: “Me time” probably isn’t about getting a manicure

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As an only child, I never expected to have seven kids. But with three sets of twins plus one more, a big family has become my reality. In the early days of parenting multiple sets of multiples, I sometimes wasn’t sure how we’d all make it through in one piece. Thankfully, now that my kids range from 6 to 18-years-old, life has gotten easier and I've learned some hard lessons—which I’m sharing below.

Those parenting decisions you obsess over? Don't bother! When my kids were born, I wanted to be the absolute best mother I could be. I agonized over everything from diapers to which car seat to buy to whether to make my own baby food. But here's the truth: No matter what you do, your kids will be at least a little unpleasant when they hit their teen years. No one can pick out which of my kids were breastfed or formula fed, and the more time goes by, the less any of it seems to matter. Kids need their parents to be relaxed and sane—not stressing over every little detail.

There's such a thing as too organized. When my dining room wall was covered in whiteboards for grocery lists, chores, and calendars, I realized that I had to-do lists for my to-do lists. All that organizing had taken on a life of its own and was taking up precious time. My recommendation? If you keep some sort of calendar, a to-do list, and have a few rules of your own, you’ll be fine. One of my rules is that I keep clutter to a minimum by taking a ruthless attitude to memorabilia and artwork. Okay, and I also stopped worrying about what my kids wore to school or even whether they got out of their pajamas.

Friendship is about connection, not parenting styles. As the first among my friends to start having kids, I thought I should find “mom friends” with the same parenting styles. But as the years have gone by, parenting styles have come and gone. Real friendship is built on a foundation of trust and respect that has nothing to do with how you feed or diaper your kids. Some of my best friends don't have kids and others have completely different parenting styles. Regardless of which style we chose, all of our kids turned out just fine—and so did our friendships.

There is such a thing as too many kids. Before I had my last set of twins, I wasn't enthusiastic about the idea of having more kids. But it was important to my husband, so I chose to believe that it wouldn't be that hard to go from five to six (or seven!) kids. It turns out that the answer to "How much harder could it be to have more?" is “A lot!” We all have our limits and need to be honest about what they are. There's no magic eight ball to tell you the perfect number of kids to have, so trust your gut. You probably know what's right for you, deep down.

It's okay to have needs, too. As new parents, it's easy to always put ourselves last. Our babies need us to do everything for them and it can feel frivolous to carve out space for our own needs. And this doesn’t mean necessarily going for a manicure for “me time.” I’m talking about choosing to sleep train, switch to formula, get a babysitter, take breaks, or do whatever you need to do to recharge your battery. Self-care looks different for everyone. Sometimes, it can be as simple as putting yourself behind a closed bathroom door in the midst of a toddler tantrum!

There's always a new challenge. When my oldest kids hit school age, I thought I had reached the promised land. And it's true that life got easier for at least a year or two. But every age and stage comes with its own challenges, and it's good to remind yourself of that so you're not caught off-guard when the next crisis hits. Enjoy the ups while you can, but remember not to panic when there’s another dip in the ride.

Trust your instincts, not your Facebook feed. Even when my oldest son was born 18 years ago, parenting seemed so much less complicated. The Internet existed, of course, but it didn't influence every parenting decision and I didn’t have a Facebook feed full of friends ready to offer their opinions at every turn. As I had more kids, I learned the perils and pitfalls of crowdsourcing motherhood. These days, I know better than to look for parenting advice on the Internet. No one knows your kids (or you) like you do.

It's completely worth it. Even though parenting sometimes feels impossible, it's the best thing I've ever done. I can't imagine my life any other way, and I'm so grateful I get the chance to be a mother. Parenting isn't always easy, but it's definitely TKTK.