Being an adult is hard. Raising small kids who will one day be adults seems even harder. It’s a physically exhausting and emotionally draining, thankless, endless task.
This mom’s Facebook post that went viral proves even just a morning getting kids ready for school is a tough gig. After waking, feeding, and transporting her four kids to school, all before jetting to work by 9 a.m., Liz Petrone writes, “[M]y Fitbit says I have walked 2.5 miles. All just to get us ready and out of the house. And if walking 2.5 miles and not actually making it anywhere at all ain’t exactly what this stage of life looks like I don’t what is.”
While some aspects of parenting are going to just be hard—like raising kids with mental or physical illnesses, or even navigating the hormone-crazed teen years—they don’t all have to be. I also have four children, and every day when I pick up the same toy and wipe up the same spills and correct the same math problems, I wonder if there isn’t a Child Illuminati conspiring to wipe every single ounce of energy from my body.
Indeed, there is another way. Between my own crash-and-burn efforts and the advice of more successful, calmer mamas than me, behold: Four ways to parent so you enjoy the chaos of raising your kids while hating the amount of work it takes to do so.
1. Teach Your Kids to Take Responsibility at Home
Petrone lists a plethora of things she does with or for her kids that sound an awful lot like chores: She made beds, dismantled forts, cleaned their breakfast out of her car, fed and watered the dog, drove kids to school then back to give them things they forgot.
While some of this can’t be avoided, like driving, it’s helpful if parents delegate age-appropriate tasks to children as soon as they are capable. Regardless of whether both parents or one works, the logic behind this is simple yet compelling: It helps parents and teaches children fundamental facts about life.
Regardless of what vocation the child chooses, humans will always need to take care of themselves and their property. Even four- and five-year-olds can make their beds. By seven or eight, most kids can do basic but important chores like emptying the dishwasher, bringing dirty clothes to the laundry room (and even starting a load), and certainly taking care of the family pet.
Not only are chores good for kids to learn responsibility, but they can help relieve mom of both the task and the resentment that builds when she must constantly do things for her kids that they can do themselves.
As psychologist Jordan Peterson has said about mothering, “Carve out your own space so you don’t come to resent your own children. You need to be there when the kids need you, but you shouldn’t be there any more than is necessary…Don’t let your children do anything that makes you dislike them…You actually have a tremendous amount of control about the quality of the relationship you have with your children. If you’re willing to think it through and be clear, you can be in charge of your household.”
2. Do What You Do Well and Outsource the Rest
Christians are fond of citing the so-called Proverbs 31 woman. A chapter in the Bible is dedicated to an exemplary woman who is both a hard worker and a woman of character. She is a businesswoman, philanthropist, adoring wife, and devoted mother.
But she also had handmaidens. In today’s age, we might call that anyone from a mother’s helper, to an au pair, nanny, grandma—heck, even a housekeeper or dry cleaner. Some women like to revel, perhaps even drown in their own busyness. They enjoy the label of SuperMom even as they are up to their eyeballs in work, parenting, housework, groceries, and the like. If that’s your jam, jam on.
But for the other parents who need downtime and sanity: Identify what you do well and outsource the rest if possible. For example: I love to write and bake cookies with my kids, but I hate, loathe, despise cleaning. While the kids help me with basic chores, it’s hard to get to deep cleaning. I’d rather write an article that pays for someone to help clean my house than actually deep cleaning myself.
Figure out what you’re good at doing, what you enjoy about parenting, and do those more. If it’s not financially possible to hire a cleaner or babysitter, enlist the help of friends and family or swap with another family.
3. Have More Fun as a Family
A few years ago, New York Magazine epitomized the American parenting dilemma with an article titled “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.” While it’s true that parenting is work, the hard parts can be mitigated if parents have more fun. This is hard for me, for sure. I’m a task-oriented person and it’s hard for me to cut loose and laugh.
But I’ve learned that to balance the chores, work, cleaning, and school, my kids need to have fun and they need to see me have fun. This doesn’t have to be an expensive trip to Atlantis, although I’m sure that’s a blast. Sometimes it means taking a whole day to enjoy an educational field trip; other times it’s as simple as a surprise trip out for ice cream (my weakness).
Both of my parents squeezed in fun times during the most mundane outings while I was growing up. With my mom, a trip to the mall might include frozen yogurt, and my dad loved to go for a quick bike ride immediately after he got home from work and just before eating dinner. Neither of these things were trips to Disney, but they were consistent and fun for parents and kids.
I realize now as a parent some of the fun things I did as a kid were probably just as fun for my parents, and they did them with me so their own memories were fond as well. Recently after a stressful day, after dinner I told the kids to get in their jammies. I made brownies and declared a surprise movie night. They were thrilled. A little laughter to break up the monotony or busyness always helps.
4. Shift Your Perspective
Of course raising children is difficult and exhausting and draining and just so darn repetitive. And surely getting multiple children off to school by 9 a.m. and heading into work for a full day there before racing back home to complete the night’s dinner, sports practices, homework, and nighttime routine is as demanding as it is tiring.
But we still live in a golden era of parenting—nay, life. Women have been raising babies without two cups of coffee and hot showers for millennia. Men have been doing their share of hard work—waking before dawn, breaking their backs, warding off danger, etc.—as well. This is nothing new. What has changed is societal advancements that inevitably make some of the tasks we must perform faster and easier.
I spoke to my grandparents recently about their childhood in a farming community in North Dakota. My grandma has fond memories of riding her horse to school. Just two generations later—three, if you include my kids—Elon Musk has practically figured out how to get from here to Japan in 30 minutes on a spaceship. (“Murica!”)
You know what my grandparents remember about life back then? “It was just a lot of work,” my grandpa said. Every day, just surviving encompassed a severe amount of manual labor. They raised and cooked much of their own food, made their own repairs, and still went to the bathroom in an outhouse next to their farm.
Here I am waking to the sound of a smartphone and the news of the world at my fingertips, inside a warm, cozy home heated by natural gas. We microwave breakfast and drive our car to get to all the school outings and play dates and sports practices and every other absurd American commodity you must do now to be an all-American kid with a chance—all in a country more free than any other country on the planet.
Plus, we figured out cars and Google and Facebook and Keurig. I get to raise my kids with all these larger-than-life conveniences, which should technically allow me to hug them longer, kiss them more often, tell them “I love you,” and embarrass them more in front of their friends.
As moms we just should know by now: Parenting is hard work. Do we want a cookie or something? (A large cup of Caribou Coffee, please; thanks.) It’s okay to vent and complain sometimes. I read Petrone’s post with equal parts awe and empathy. But then we need to be thankful we get to write blurbs on the Internet, fueled by electricity and hot coffee, and go hug our kids.
It’s not going to get easier, but we will wish we’d done things differently. Let’s at least live so that our lack of perspective or gratitude isn’t one of those things.