I live this weird and wonderful sort of life. I am the mother of an almost adult and an almost toddler, with a whole bunch of kiddos in between. I didn’t raise my two kids, 2 years apart, to the end. I’m going on 18 years of what most people call a “season.”
my oldest and my youngest
About the time my oldest son turned 16, I realized just how different it was raising older children alongside smaller children as opposed to only having older children or only having smaller children. And shortly after that realization came another realization…that I hadn’t a clue how to do this thing properly.
Little kids are physically taxing, but big kids are mentally taxing. I may run around all day long chasing littles, but that is child’s play compared to the long-into-the-night conversations and problems that big kids need to have discussed and solved. No one told me I was going to need to know how to balance chemical equations while changing diapers, and dry hormonal teenage tears while kissing skinned knees. I live the wonderful craziness of being a mom who constantly shifts gears between managing a zoo and moderating an intellectual forum. I can go from baby babble to genius in 60 seconds.
Raising big kids and little kids at the same time is humbling. When I only had small children, I had the audacity to think I would raise them exactly the same way until they were 18 or so. I also assumed any subsequent children would simply be parented the same way I parented my first couple of children. AND, to prove my point, I was very vocal about what this sort of parenting was going to look like.
Oh how wrong I was!
(And just so you know how incredibly wrong I was, when I only had small children I actually told another large family mother with older children that I would never let my children do what her children were doing…I’ve since eaten crow and apologized for my naiveté and arrogance.)
There are many, many things that caught me off guard about raising such a large age range of children all together. The parenting books don’t address sibling issues when the siblings span 10, 12, or even 18 years between. In fact, it wasn’t until I had a conversation with a friend of mine who has 12 children herself that I realized I was not the only one with such crazy parenting problems and naive expectations.
I have had to have discussions about bedtimes, electronics, movies, and a host of other things I NEVER thought I would have to discuss with small children simply because there are big children in the home exposing them to things I was able to keep out when the big children were little.
My little kids have bedtimes that would have been unheard of when my olders were little because the littles can hear that there are still people up and they want to be up too. (It also takes longer to get kids to bed because there are more of them!)
I find myself spending a goodly amount of time taking electronic devices out of the hands of the 2-6 year old crowd. (And you better believe they know how to use said devices!) My older kids can manage their own computer time, but not a chance am I going to let my littles have that kind of free reign.
My little kids often know about and like things that are “older” – music, videos, games – they are used to looking over their older siblings’ shoulders and laughing along with them about things that are often way over their heads. Some of their conversations shock me simply because they aren’t what I would expect from a “little kid.”
I’ve had to adjust my expectations of what “good” parenting looks like to fit the ebb and flow of my family. I would be a crazy woman if I had tried to enforce the parenting plan I had back when I only had littles. It’s not easy raising all these different ages, and sometimes it is just flat out CRAZY, but…
There are some pretty amazing, wonderful moments that go along with it!
I’ve watched special bonds between bigs and littles blossom, and it is beautiful! Of course, everyone loves the baby, but I’ve seen how the little boys look up to their older brother and want to be just like him (even making airsoft videos on my phone and trying to sound all big boy-ish!). I’ve watched one of the older kids teach one of the younger ones something new, and how the toddler will pull his chair up alongside his sister as she makes cookies so he can “help.” And I’ve felt my heart swoon.
My older kids are able to offer input. We have a pretty open-communication relationship with our children, so they don’t mind offering their $.02 about our parenting tactics and what did and did not work with them (and what they think is and is not working with their younger siblings). While this might be off-putting to some people, for me, it is a fabulous resource! It’s also an opportunity to explain and clarify why parents do the things parents do – something not every child gets to see before they are parents themselves.
I can have my cake and eat it too! There is something deeply satisfying about playing blocks and blowing raspberries and then moving to an in-depth political conversation all before lunch is served. My reprieve from the physical drain of toddlers comes in the form of a stimulating conversation with my 17 year old, and my reprieve from the mental drain of teenagers comes in the form of the dimpled cheeks and silly songs of my 5 year old. How rich it is!
So, while this wide range of ages has presented wild parenting problems I never expected, it has created parenting joys beyond my wildest expectations. Blessed would be an understatement.
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Large Family Homeschooling!
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