I had my first four babies at ages 24, 25, 27, and 28. I was young and full of energy and good intentions. My husband, who is 19 months younger than me, was even more energetic and optimistic. We really put our everything into parenting that group of little kids. We disciplined strongly, we hovered appropriately, we played and taught unceasingly.
We planned outings and adventures, we withheld junk food and sweet treats on a daily basis, we kept charts for behavior and were so involved. We had to be! They were all so little and needy! Overall, we really were the best parents we could be to those four babies. I'm not saying that to brag, we weren't doing anything extraordinary, just fulfilling our vocation's duties.
Then things changed. Those four babies grew up, and I started working outside of the home more. We sent our kids to school. Teachers were now in charge of their days, and they all thrived, but it meant we got used to spending less time with them. They didn't need as.much.of.us.all.the.time. We let go a little and it didn't backfire. They were growing up and becoming independent, and it was wonderful!
We had a 3.5 year break before another baby came along. By this point, I was working full-time. We sent that baby and the next one (three years later) to home day cares. While we love the amazing women who cared for our babies, it was somebody else doing the "dirty work" all day. We would get them home for all the good stuff - dinner, bath, a show, a snuggle, and bedtime. Weekends became so busy with sports and activities for the older kids, that we rarely have time for family outings like we used to.
It's as if we are raising two separate families.
The younger two boys are living such a different childhood from the older four. It's mostly been out of our control...life happens and we all have to adjust accordingly.
But, but, but, somewhere along the line, we also got older and more tired and more lazy.
While our younger two have the benefit of older siblings who can teach them all the cool things (they really are adored around here), they can also teach them all the bad things. While JP, Andrew, Eamon and Maggie were only allowed to watch Sesame Street or Veggie Tales at young ages, Alexander and Declan have seen the occasional Spongebob episode or The Thundermans. It's very hard to keep the house at a constant toddler rating when your oldest is almost a teenager.
These little ones have a built-in audience for their class-clown ways. It's difficult to get the older kids to NOT laugh at the misbehaving antics of the little ones, which only eggs them on. And most times I can't blame them, it IS funny, but unacceptable nonetheless.
It's also hard to literally get off my behind to discipline a naughty toddler when I am explaining the Pythagorean theory to a middle school student working on his science project. It is so much easier to just say "Stop it!" then to actually go and remove him from the bathroom and set the timer while he sits in time-out for teaching his baby brother how to throw cups of water out of the bathtub.
But just because something is hard doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.
So, we are trying to establish the rules we used to have back in the throes of raising babies and toddlers. The toddler will get time-outs. The baby will not get his pacifier unless he is sleeping or at Mass. The toddler will get a smiley face drawn on the calendar every time he comes home from school "without getting spoken to". Big kid shows will only be allowed on weekends after the littles are in bed. During the week, only PBS or Sprout or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or VeggieTales will be watched. More family outings will be planned, and even if we can't leave the house, there will be more of an effort for family play time. Etc, etc, etc.
I know this "second family" of mine will receive benefits from their position in the family (more independence, more street smarts, more playmates, more attention and love) but I can't use that to justify being a lazy parent anymore. Order will be restored, and with that hopefully peace and joy. Heaven help me.