Day two of the seven day Problogger challenge has arrived, and the theme is answering a frequently asked question. Now, because I’m such a random and inconsistent blogger, I haven’t got a large group of followers, comments, and certainly no frequently asked questions. So I’ve decided for today’s challenge, I’ll answer the question I get asked most often in real life. It’s phrased many different ways, but essentially comes down to: how do you do it?
How do I manage to juggle 4 children, including one kid that is autistic, and a set of twins? How do I manage to study full-time, train for long distance running events, and work around a shift-working partner who also runs long distances, and remain calm and optimistic. How do I manage extracurricular activities, and still get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour?
To preface, I’m not currently studying, but I am job hunting. Up until last month, I was studying full-time, and had been since the beginning of 2012 (except for 10 months in 2013/14 when I took a break due to the twins being born). I’m going to answer the question based on how I managed life while I was studying.
The older two kids are at school, and the twins are in day care full-time, so it’s not like I’m trying to do everything with young children under my feet. I’m hoping to be employed in the very near future, so the boys are staying in day care so that they don’t lose their spots when I do start working. Also, running our family is a family affair, everyone helps out in keeping things ticking over, even the almost three-year olds.
The key to managing my family’s life and commitments essentially boils down to planning, organisation and communication.
At the start of each semester, I would program in my study time – which units I would study on each day, and at what times, assignment writing, and contact hours. I would book my gym/running into this schedule as well, and include travel time and showering. I managed to largely stick to this schedule, although at exam time, study time increased and fitness time took a dive.
I menu plan. Every Sunday, I plan our meals for the upcoming week. I factor in the kids’ sports, or any other activities we may have that week. I write a shopping list, and do my shopping on Monday mornings after my gym session, and after all the kids have been dropped off. If I have an appointment on Monday morning’s, I’ll order my groceries on-line, and choose the ‘click and collect’ option. I start preparing and cooking dinner at the same time each day (unless it’s a slow cooker meal), and the big kids do their homework during this time, before we head off to pick up the littlest boys.
While having twins is hard work – the caring required is much more than with a singleton – the boys are at an age where they generally play really well together, and with their older siblings. I can generally rely on all four kids to play with, and look after each other while I hang washing, or finish off dinner.
Extracurricular activities are either on weekend mornings, or if they are after school, they don’t finish later than 5.30pm. At the moment, we have football (soccer) training on a weekday from 4.30-5.30pm. I drop Master 9 at training, spend 20 minutes doing homework with Miss 7 in the car, collect the twins from day care, pick up Master 9, and then we either have take away for dinner, a slow cooker meal, leftovers, or something that is super quick and easy to prepare like cheesy pasta and baked beans. The kids skip their baths and showers this night so that they are all in bed by 7.30/8pm.
For both my husband and I, our weekend long runs are scheduled around Saturday morning dancing, and Sunday morning football games. On Saturdays, I take the big kids to dancing, my husband takes the twins to his parents (who then take them to the library for story time), and he goes for a long run. Or he will wait until the boys are back home and having their nap before running. On Sundays, one of us will usually get up early and go for a run, we’ll all then go to Master 9’s football game, and then the other parent will go for a run once we are back home.
We pretty much stick to the same routine week-in, week-out. Autism means that routine change without decent preparation causes meltdowns and struggling to get to where we need to be. Any change needs as much warning as possible, as much information as possible, and lots of discussion. Autism has been part of our parenting life for so long, that having a routine and being organised is second nature.
Household chores are equally divided up between my husband and I, depending on who is home. We don’t have set jobs, whatever needs to be done just gets done. The non-essential stuff gets done when we have the time and motivation. With 6 of us, our washing machine is pretty much always on during the day. I have to admit, I much prefer washing and hanging out to folding. I’d be lying if I said I did most of the washing folding in our house.
The final thing that is essential to keeping out little (big) family running smoothly, and me not losing my cool on the regular, is coffee. Hot, bulletproof, with double cream and butter, and lots of it. The day doesn’t go anywhere if I haven’t had a large cup of joe.