It sounds easy enough on paper, but our day to day life is not conducive to bed rest. My husband is on submarines and we have 4 boys: a 7-year old, 5-year old twins, and a 1.5-year old. Managing our house (with minimal assistance) and 4 young children while being on modified bed rest has been challenging. So here are my tips on surviving bed rest with 4 children:
1. Limit errands
I'm about to have to totally hand the Costco run over to my husband, but so far it has been my one time of the week that I get out of the house. Obviously he is pushing the cart and managing our boys there, but I do enjoy walking around and picking things out for the next week. It is also nice doing something "fun" out of the house as a family (we absolutely love getting berry sundaes in their food court). For everything else, I shop online. Amazon, online grocery shopping, free shipping... I watch for it and I utilize it! I wrote a blog post on utilizing online shopping and cutting down errands.
2. Cut back the schedule
When I first started taking it easy, I limited social engagements. I took the kids to places that I could manage them easily, like open parks without much walking to and from the vehicle. Then slowly, I had to start declining all social engagements. In the end, I was involved in one club, our preschool co-op, our 5-year olds' preschool, and our oldest in 1st grade. Even then, I had to back out of the club and the preschool co-op until the only things left on our calendar was school drop off and pick up for our older 3 boys (1st grader and preschoolers). It was too hard finding help/childcare when I was exhausted and running around all day with things I didn't have to be doing (and not taking it as easy as I needed to). At the end of the day, the only things I can't back out of are: feed the kids, take them to school, and survive the bedtime routine. I have to have energy to get through these tasks and it makes for a happier house when I'm not stressed over all of the extras.
3. Find help
This one is really hard. I've thankfully managed to find some baby-sitters to help out on evenings that I just can't make it through (busy day for me or busy evening for the boys). It is so nice to have the children bathed and put to bed while I rest. But for most of our tasks... it all falls on my shoulders. We've had to really adjust how we do things, like scheduling our Costco trips during times my husband is actually home (which sometimes means we have to wait a week or make a mad dash on his one day off). Sometimes help is really good delivery food and sometimes it is saying yes when your friend offers to drop off a pizza for dinner. Help can be letting the kids do things in ways you normally would have a little more participation in--like unloading the dishwasher or sweeping the floors or putting away their own toys. We had to reorganize certain areas to make them more kid friendly, like the toy closet and our preschooler and toddler's closets. We wanted them to be able to access things without adult supervision and, more importantly, put things away entirely on their own. Having moved to this area less than a year ago, it has been slow going at times finding help from brand new friends, having 4 children and being pregnant with my 5th (plus it being a complicated pregnancy from the beginning). Thankfully I've been able to work out a couple childcare swaps with friends for OB appointments during the 2nd half of this pregnancy because it was very difficult going to all my appointments with 3-4 children in tow during the 1st half. Since I have to take it easy, when swapping childcare days, I keep all the kids on the first floor of our house and turn on a kids' movie. I also plan an easy snack that they can all eat at the table. I do have to get up and down a bit more than if it were just my kids at home, but, for the most part, it isn't much more work than taking care of my own 3-4 kids (depending if my oldest is at school or home). Now at 34 weeks and having to spend so much of my day lying down, this isn't as feasible as the past couple weeks, but it has been worth participating in for childcare during my OB appointments.
*I want to add under this category: finding help can also be moving things around in the house so your day is easier. My husband majorly baby-proofed our house to make it easier being at home with a toddler. I have door locks, drawer locks, baby gates... etc. Anything to help keep him contained so I can actually (or possibly...?) put my feet up for a minute. This also applies to finding your comfortable spot and moving things to within reach there. I have a spot I like on the couch and we made sure I have easy access to outlets (using an extension cord) and a good spot to put my water.
4. Easy meals
Why do children need to eat everyday? And it isn't even just everyday. It is 3-5 times a day everyday. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner... and one more snack, Momma? Throw in sippy cups and spilled drinks and our life revolves around the kitchen. I had to reorganize the pantry to make it a bit more kid-friendly-- easy snacks within reach and supplies for our oldest to pack his own lunch. On top of their snack needs, the pregnancy has affected how I eat meals. One day I'm eating at every meal; one day I'm snacking all day. I love Costco for all their healthy easy snack and meal options. We buy a pack (or two) of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese every time we go. They have freezer meals. They have packaged snacks: granola bars, fruit snacks, dried fruit, apple sauce pouches... They have cheese sticks, Go-Gurt, Cuties... Costco. I love you. But all this easy food at home means kids being able to easily feed myself and my family. One of our current favorite lunches is cooking a pound of pasta and throwing on some of Costco's basil pesto sprinkled with Parmesan. If we are feeling fancy, I cut up some fresh tomatoes to go with it. The other important factor for meal times is knowing where to grab or order a quick and easy meal. The other night we ordered in Dominoes, though we also have a list of places my hubby can run into for fresher, healthier options (um, grocery store pizza definitely qualifies as fresher and healthier than Dominoes). Are you ready for a true confession? I keep hard boiled eggs and Ramen handy at all times for super easy meals.
5. Stick to one floor
When I am home with our little kids, we are either upstairs or downstairs. I can't run upstairs because our preschoolers are fighting or our toddler is causing mayhem. So I plan our day around what floor we are on. I move laundry in the morning before coming downstairs and then finish it in the long stretch of the afternoon when the boys want to come back up to play in our loft space. For most of the day, we are downstairs. I have our oldest help carry my things downstairs for me in the morning and I set up camp on the couch. That way I have a place to rest and easy access to all the downstairs amenities (kitchen, backyard, art, television, etc). The other nice thing about this floor arrangement when on modified bed rest is that each of the floors are "new" to the kids at some point during the day. When they are downstairs, they can whine about how they want to be upstairs... and vice versa. It keeps them entertained and keeps me from doing the stairs 12,000 times a day. Another tip: employ the children on stair trips. If I run out of diapers downstairs, I can send even the toddler up to grab another one. Our 7-year old is clearly far more capable at following complicated instructions ("In the drawer next to my bed, I need you to grab my chapstick..."), but even saving one stair trip is nice because, inevitably with 4 kids, it feels like I go up and down and up and down those stairs all day.
6. Household chores
This could probably be combined with finding help. A huge saving grace has been having a housekeeper throughout this pregnancy. I have no idea what I would do without her. Through the majority of the pregnancy, the boys and I would pack up on housekeeper days and go get breakfast out and then do a park trip. Now, while she cleans the master bedroom, we hang out in the living room and then lock ourselves in the master while she does the rest of the house. One of the best things about having a housekeeper is that she does all our deep cleaning, so I can have our boys be fully responsible for all the maintenance cleaning in between housekeeper visits. They sweep. They vacuum. They wipe down counters. It saves me a lot of effort not following after them to get everything "just so." They are learning how to clean bathrooms and the like and I am not having to do it-- nor would I able to keep up with it all right now anyways, even if I wanted to. The biggest thing that I have to keep on top of them about is cleaning up their messes at the time they make them. We try to do this anyways, but now on bedrest it is crucial. I cannot have them dump out every toy bin and then expect me to help them sort out what goes where. Big messes are very overwhelming for 5-year olds and under (even our 7-year old) and it just isn't something that I can undertake right now. I make sure that before they move on to a new activity, they clean up the old activity. It does make me feel like that I'm often nagging them from the couch, but they are actually getting into the swing of it and I've caught them more than once cleaning up messes without me asking-- behavior that I greatly rewarded.
7. Indoor entertainment
Wrestling. Why does it always have to be wrestling?! I spend so much time telling our children to stop wrestling. We sit down to watch a movie or play a game or do anything and one nudge leads to a punch leads to a head lock leads to at least one bleeding child. I feel like wrestling and wild play are two things that will drive me crazy before the end of this pregnancy (that and children asking repetitive questions). Here are the indoor activities that we have been using to pass the time while I take it easy:
- Movies. Thankfully, several of my children do like movies. Of course they never can agree on the movie and some of them only watch movies in the right mood, but peer pressure is strong and so they tend to cluster if the majority is in favor of watching movies. One of my favorite tips is Netflix Streaming. It is so great to be able to change the movie without having to get up and pop in a new DVD.
- Art. Our 5-year olds are very in to art. They could spend hours doing art. Our oldest will occasionally sit down and do art and our youngest will often spend a lot of time at the table where art is to eat the crayons, but even entertaining 2 of the 4 is nice. It is especially useful when our oldest is at school and our youngest is napping. I make sure that all of their art supplies are not only easily accessible to them, but easy for them to put away as well. This is a huge step in letting them do art while on bedrest. Otherwise, what would I do when the toddler gets up and finds scissors, glue, and markers everywhere? I'd be chasing him down to take supplies away... or cleaning the walls like we had to do a couple weeks ago.
- Accessible toys. Accessibility is key. Whether your kids like playing with play sets or cars or costumes or whatever, if they need your help getting everything down, you will either be dealing with a lot of whining when you say no or a lot of getting up and down and up and down. The next biggest part is it has to be easy for them to clean or you will have the same problem. Our toddler has one big bin for toys in his room. Our older boys have bins for Lego Duplos, playsets (Playmobile/Imaginex/etc), costumes, stuffed animals, and cars in our loft space. I have everything else out of reach, meaning the small "real" Legos, K'Nex, puzzles, and board games. These are things that they cannot easily clean up and that, frankly, I don't want to deal with right now. Sometimes when we are doing upstairs time, I will pull out puzzles and the like for the boys to play with and that is always a fun treat. I can get a lot of laundry folded with our two 5-year olds busily doing "big boy" puzzles in the loft space and our toddler sitting on the floor next to me doing toddler puzzles.
- Imaginative play. A fun thing that I have started the past couple weeks isn't totally new in our house, but the frequency of the games is. I pull out various things for them to play imaginatively with, such as flat sheets to make tents or large plastic bins to use as boats or lots of little cups to sort things in... the list goes on and on and sometimes the location of the activity is what makes it so fun. For instance, I never let them play in my master bedroom, but while the housekeeper cleans the house I let them build forts with the sheets and that was a treat. Or when I put a whole bunch of bowls and wooden spoons in the family room for them to make music with-- whoa! Sometimes having house rules and designated areas for certain activities automatically lends itself to childhood magic when you intentionally break the rules. "What, Momma?! We can have snacks on the couch?!" Another fun activity lately is using baby #5's real baby equipment for their baby dolls, like the bouncy seat and bassinet. Obviously I supervise this with 2 5-year olds who would be quite pleased climbing in those things themselves as they pretend to be the baby, though it has actually lead to long periods of happy cooperative imaginative play.
- Cooking. This one, sadly, isn't something that we can do everyday. If I had a long or hard day, I am not up to being on my feet to cook dinner with the kids. However, we do try to cook breakfast and lunch together when we can. They love being given tasks. It makes them feel like such big kids when they prep and prepare their own meals. I also shamelessly have had our 7-year old make boxed macaroni and cheese for us all on really tough nights. The benefits of us cooking together are abundant: quality time, hands on learning, enforcing math skills, foundation for reading, building confidence, pride in their meal... on and on. The drawbacks are that sometimes it is exhausting and too trying on my patience. There are days when the boys have short tempers and I don't feel well and I just don't want to deal with it. There are other days when I have every intention of cooking together, but I'm having too many contractions. So we play this one by ear.
- Reading. You would think this one would be a given. Ah, I love reading with our kids-- normally. Now, it is a major chore. My lap isn't big enough for 2 5-year olds and a wiggly toddler. It hurts to get elbowed and bumped and jostled. I'm majorly uncomfortable with contractions and my hips and I don't want everyone piled on me at any given moment. This we also play by ear. I have been able to employ our 1st grader more and more lately. He really has an interest in the topics that our 5-year olds enjoy (Batman... Batman... Batman...) and so has much more patience for the, "Who is that guy?" comments on every page of the book ("Oh, that is Penguin"). We do read and I have sat and read for 2 hours straight. I just tell them no a lot more lately than usual, depending on how I'm feeling when they ask.
This has been absolutely clutch to my sanity. My husband built a gravel pit (instead of a sandbox) for our boys to play in in our backyard. Our toddler loves it. He goes out there and will scoop and pour gravel for almost an hour with no interruptions. Our 5-year olds go outside and do who knows what... sticks, bubbles, chalk, yard balls, gravel pit... Our 7-year old loves "relaxing" outdoors after school, usually by himself; I feel like that is his time to decompress. Having a safe, enclosed space for them has really helped me get some time with my feet up or an opportunity to complete a downstairs task without "helpers" underfoot. I open our windows and backdoor when they are in the backyard and that way I can see them and hear them. A good tip, especially with the toddler, is that sometimes outdoor time can be too much of a good thing. If they spend too much time outside-- just like inside-- they get irritable and short with each other. The hard thing about outdoor play though is that I have a lot more work bringing them inside than when they are bickering indoors. With that in mind, I have them come in when I sense they are getting "done." I also will tell them if I really need a minute to get some rest, "You guys can go play outside for a little bit, but if I have to keep getting up and down, I'm going to have to call you in." Rotating outside time throughout our day also keeps the day feeling a little "fresher." Sometimes I will have them go out for a bit after breakfast or before lunch and then again later in the afternoon or while I'm making dinner. It adds a little variety.
9. Fighting boredom
Even with rotating floors and activities, the kids get restless. We have days where they are whiny and bickering and days where I am in a horrible mood from a sleepless night (or for no reason). We all are ready to get out of the house, see friends, be somewhere else, hit up our favorite local places... I can't wait to take the kids to get donuts and then walk to the park. Really, I can't wait to just walk anywhere. I want to get back into the swing of life. Sometimes on those days the best solution is separation. I send the kids to their rooms to play quietly for awhile, keeping the toddler with me downstairs on the couch. Often times when the 5-year olds are in that foul of a mood, they fall asleep with a little enforced quiet time. When I am the one needing the break, I will sometimes move us all upstairs and close my bedroom door, letting the boys know I need them to quietly play while Mommy rests. This usually lasts for all of 5 minutes before someone is knocking at my door tattling or bleeding or the wild play is so loud I'm getting more stressed than relaxed, but there is that one time where they actually play kindly to the toddler and keep their voices down. Other times, instead of separation, I feel like the boys need some face time and attention. I judge what it is they need. Face time? We read stories or I turn off electronics and we chat. I ask them about they've been drawing. I have them draw me things or show me things or ask them questions. Quality time? We pick a movie and I have them all pile on top of me or we just sit and snuggle for awhile as I read and eventually they all doze off in my arms. It is hard. I can't cheer them with my countdown, "Only 6 more weeks until your sister is born!" 6 weeks doesn't mean anything to them and-- if it did-- I highly doubt a month and half more of this schedule would be very encouraging to a 1st grader and preschoolers. I try to take advantage of spicing things up whenever I can. If my husband is actually home early or has a day off, I make sure they are dressed and ready for some good out front play where they can ride bikes and shoot hoops and run up and down our street. We buy treats when we are out, like ice cream at Costco, or a ginormous box of Otter Pops for the afternoons when they need a pick me up in the backyard. We get new release movies and make a big deal of a "movie night," like pulling out bags of candy or blowing up the air mattress to make nests in the family room. Those little things are fun and keep things a little bit more interesting around here, though the days are long, long, long.
10. Staying positive
I've re-written this part of the post a lot of times an so I feel what gets me down through all of this comes down to 2 main points for me. The first being guilt. I feel like that if I known how hard this pregnancy would be, I would have had my surgery for my complications after baby #4, which makes me feel like, "Why did I bring this on myself?" Do not misunderstand me: I want this baby so bad-- boy or girl. (I am so, so, so glad we are finally having a girl, but we were going for this one last baby regardless.) I will be so glad to hold her. I just feel like, should we have pursued other options? What is this doing to my body? What am I doing to my family? All of that. The second part of this piggy backs of the first: no matter how you slice it, bedrest with lots of kids is hard. The only other time I've been on modified bed rest is carrying our identical twins and we only had 1 toddler then. It has been a far different experience this time with school drop off and pick ups and homework and meals and needs for 4 children... it is hard and tiring. I sometimes feel like I only have the energy to do the basics and that a lot of the other stuff-- some even essential stuff-- I am dropping the ball on. The other day one of our boys fell down really hard. It was a struggle getting to him and, afterwards, I couldn't pick him up or do much for him except force him to limp over to somewhere I could sit to check out his owie. I know what a burden I'm putting on my husband. He has been working crazy hours (if you've ever had a spouse on a submarine in shipyard, you know what I'm talking about) and he comes home to do all the dishes, take out all the trashes, do anything he can to help with the kids, and on and on... On top of that, his only days off are used up doing errands and chores, often all day long (literally until after the kids go to bed). It hasn't been easy.
With that said, staying positive can be hard, especially fighting contractions and thinking negative thoughts or wondering how I will get things done. Being tired (both myself and my husband) has taken its toll on our moods and communication. When I find myself spiraling I follow these steps:
- Is what is bothering me an actual "big deal" or a small nuisance/minor setback?
Whoever said, "Don't cry over spilled milk," obviously never attempted bedrest with 4 children. Children are messy. I don't know how many times a day I hear "uh-oh" only to find that phrase to be a vast understatement (an entire Costco bag of chips dumped upside down on the ground!). These little messes are big deals for me-- the repeated and extended crouching down to pick them up-- and they aren't even part of my bare bones daily obligations! It is hard not to lose my cool during those times. "Why are you touching this?" "Why are you in this room?" "Why are you doing this to me?" But they aren't. They are children. They get curious and disobedient and attention-seeking and bored and life happens. Those are the times I take a deep breath and ask them to help me pick it up. It may not be cleaned up perfectly (I currently have the streakiest floor in America), but it is no longer sticky or being dragged all over the house.
- Focusing on one day at a time... one hour at a time... one minute at a time...
I don't have any idea what the next weeks will look like, when baby girl will actually get here or how my complications will affect my recovery post-partum. What I do know is that I can put one foot in front of the other-- right now. Narrowing my focus when I am exhausted before lunchtime helps take the panic out of the, "Oh, my gosh, how will I survive this entire day?" thought. I get through the morning hustle and bustle and through lunchtime and through school pick and suddenly it is evening and I'm winding the kids down and slowly getting through bedtime routine. And then another day has passed. I breathe in, I breathe out. I fill another water cup, make another snack plate, clean up another mess... slowly, slowly, slowly...
- Making goals.
This one is personal and ever changing. One day my goal is take a shower before bedtime. Another day my goal is to sit outside with the boys while they play. Another day (after a hard couple days) is to spend as much time lying down as possible. When I am really tired from contractions and kids and life, my goal is to make it one more day without going into labor-- to make rest a competitive sport that day. The goals may be small, but it does feel nice at the end of the day to at least accomplish something I set out to do.
- Vent and complain and wallow.
Well, this is actually horrible advice. But every once in awhile I have needed to just let go of "keeping it together" and have a bad day. A day where I cry and a day where I'm stressed and a day where I text my best friend way too much about the most mundane of complaints. Having that support is so nice. Even if it is a friend that texts you back or has been there or just has a great listening ear. Of course we want this baby and of course we love this baby and of course we think this will be worth it, but, it is hard.
What are your tips for surviving bed rest with older children at home?