I have had many people over time ask me how I cope with 4 kids. Less now that they’re a bit older but certainly when I was carting around 4 children under 5, I did get often stopped to be told the old classic, “You’ve got your hands full” as well as the never underestimated, “Wow, how do you cope?”
The main answer is, you just do! I always knew that I would love to have 4 children but I didn’t like the idea of waiting for years in between each and then just as you came out of the baby phase, to have to go back in! So hubby and I decided to get them in sooner rather than later! We did struggle a bit with number 3 and it took us 10 mins to conceive so that left us with age gaps of 15months, 2yrs and 16months which al worked out perfectly in hindsight!
Because we had so many small little people at the same time, the elder ones never seemed that small. I laugh now thinking back to when my eldest was 4 with 3 younger siblings. She was so responsible! Whilst my youngest now who is 4, is definitely not! But it was often like having varying degrees of babies. One was just more useful or more needy than the other. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when your brain does have to activate enough to be able to prioritise the approach for certain things which is where I think my nursing and midwifery background helped significantly as I was constantly having to figure out which of the main problems needed fixing first, but then that slolwy became second nature. For instance, coming home with shopping and having to park not that close to the house, with two babies, one 18m and one 2 months in the car. Which do I get out first? I often chose to do the shopping first so I was able to bring that in whilst knowing the babies were safely strapped in, then I would bring the 2 month old in as they weren’t able to run off and break things and finally I would bring in the 18 month old. If I had brought her in first she would have easily run around or even off whilst I was sorting out her brother or the shopping so keeping the most mobile one safe was the priority at that point.
When It came to feeding, it was often a matter of making sure little one was on a good 4 hourly schedule so I knew when he would need feeding. That way I could prepare the eldest, either by having her in her high chair with some snacks too, or watching some TV (gasp, horror, but you do what you can) or maybe putting her in her cot ready for her sleep/nap. That would give me ample time to feed the little one whist knowing my eldest was safe. This was then timed by 3 when number 4 was a baby! Preparation was key! Often, when my eldest needed to go to school, my youngest’s feeds would be due at 3pm after having fed at 7am and 11am but that coincided with school pick up! What did I do? I would always drive early to school, arrive for about 2.30pm, give the other 2 their snacks in the car and then I would feed number 4 whilst listening to an audio story book! By the time the gates opened, we’d all be ready!
Sleep wasn’t that much harder. Again, I have to stress the importance of a schedule. Not even so much for us as adults (although it has been proven that we do better with regular wake up times and meal times so our bodies know what to expect or we can end up feeling sluggish and jet lagged) but for the babies. Understanding the first and foremost important thing about human sleep, which is that we all fight sleep, means that we have to actively put our babies down to sleep. We can’t just ‘wait until they’re tired” or they will only every crash out when they’re so sleep deprived that they can do nothing else and then their sleep quality is poor because they’re overtired and full of adrenaline and then they’re more likely to sleep worse because they sleep badly but then they sleep badly because they’re overtired…..Horribly common vicious cycle! Babies and toddlers need to still have a nap until they’re at least 3-4 years old and will often be removed due to nursery rather than because the child is ready to drop it. This meant that actually for many months/years I was still able to get my older children napping as well as the baby. Often baby would be in my room, with the elder two in two different bedrooms (even though they shared at night) because they would often wake each other up or just not let the other sleep so by separating them I made sure they all got the sleep they needed and I would have a dedicated 2hr break in the middle of the day. Much more tolerable than incessant screaming and guesswork!
With bedtimes, again, because they were all able to self settle pretty much from newborn, we would all get the kiss/cuddle/prayer first and then whoever was tired first would be put down. Regardless of age order. Small children have no concept of time but they do have different sleep needs. My 2nd always had high sleep needs and would often go to bed at the same time as his sister who was 2 yrs younger. That way no one had it ingrained that their bedtime was before or after someone else’s which can lead to arguments. Most often the youngest two go down first into their own rooms and then the big two will go in 20-30mins later once the younger two are asleep. That way they don’t wake them when going into their rooms (the girls share and the boys share). Trying to put children down at the same time means they will always keep each other awake so staggered bedtime for room sharing siblings is a must!
Of course it was still hard. Sleeping doesn’t remove all the tantrums and regressions and fighting but it meant that I was at least well rested enough to be able to deal with it and be the parent that my elder children deserved. When you only have one, you can sleep when they’re sleeping or cuddle up and forget the world or just live every day like a zombie as long as they’re fed and watered but once you have an elder child to look up to, that stops being the case. They need you to be present. They need you to have energy enough to parent them, play with them and love them and by having children who knew what to expect and when they were able to feel safe in their boundaries and I was able to be the best parent for all of them. And the benefit now of having 4 kids so close together is incredible. They have constant companions. They share toys, stories, ideas and clothes as well! It does need organisation, it does need understanding and patience but making sure we all sleep, we can all enjoy it as well!!