When you wake up bright and early
In your roasty toasty
With your covers wrapped around you
And your pillows on your head
And you peek out at the morning
That's a cozy kind of way
To begin the cozy doings
Of a very cozy day. ...
Sniff the air for cozy smells;
Smell of flowers, fire, food
Wood that's burning
Bread that's baking
They smell good! ...
Nooks and crannies
Halfway up or down the stair
Underneath a chair or table
Tucked behind a screen or curtain.
--from The Cozy Book by Mary Ann Hoberman
This is one of my favorite books to read to children. I love how it makes me feel and it helps to remind me of what I want my children to experience. While this post can be stretched to apply to grade school age children as well, homemaking with this age doesn't feel as challenging as it can with babies and toddlers.
When we are in a season of caring for little ones, I find it is helpful to keep before me an image of what I am working for. Since a pristine home is really not compatible with having babies and toddlers, it is best to try to erase that image in our minds and replace it with another, more manageable vision. Adjusting our expectations is probably the single best thing a person can do when living with these little, adorable, demanding, mess-making people. They can't change who they are or what they are (or are not) capable of, so we need to learn to make the most of life in this stage.
The first thing to remember is that this is a season of life that won't be here forever. Sometimes that thought can make a mother burst into tears and at other times it can make her long for that day to arrive sooner. And often these diverse reactions can happen all in the same day... or hour. The adage is true that the years are short, but the days are long and sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we won't always be nursing or getting up in the middle or the night or changing diapers forever. I know it can annoy mothers of young children to hear us older mothers say to enjoy everything because it goes by too fast, but it really is true. I know it is also hard to remind yourself of that when your young child has just screamed no at you and is now throwing everything off the table as you try desperately to calm that child without losing your temper as your grasp on that control grows ever thinner... Oh, hi there. I'm back. See? Since that just happened around here last night I really do understand. Just trust me when I say that the child pushing you over the edge will be looking for her own apartment in just a day or two. Remind yourself to appreciate everything... even the frustrating, yucky parts. You don't get them back.
Now that you are in the right mindset, we can move onto the next item. Since this is a season, when you are living with this age you need to think about what they need and how that is going to balance with what you want to do in the homemaking department. Home life with a newborn means expectations that reflect that child's level of need. Clean underwear and something for everyone to eat was always my minimal expectation. Did everyone get fed? Did they have clean underwear? Did I spend time feeding and caring for the baby? If I answered yes, than that was a successful day. If you add in a slightly older child to the baby mix, then I added one more requirement of time spent with that child. Now, notice, I did not say time spent alone with that child. I can spend time with my child... reading, talking, snuggling... while nursing the baby. A lot can happen while nursing a baby.
Thankfully, the newborn stage really does not last forever, and life with a more settled baby is a bit easier. Now is the time to go back and start to dig out from the newborn chaos a bit at a time, but be careful how much and how fast you add things back in. Take it slowly and give yourself permission to not have a perfect house. Any person who has lived with a baby knows that amount of time it takes and understands an imperfect house. (If they don't, then since they are not dealing with reality, I give you permission to not worry about their opinion.) Some babies are easier and you can add more routine house keeping tasks in sooner, some babies are not and you can't. The child is always more important than the dust.
And then the baby does a remarkable thing. The baby starts to crawl... and then to walk... and then to run. Why, oh why, are parents so anxious for these steps to happen? I've never understood it. Life becomes so much more challenging when those darling babies become mobile. Keeping a house relatively clean and life relatively organized becomes so much more important and so much more difficult at this point.
So now let's remember what is important in our home making (and why I quoted The Cozy Book). We want our homes to be comfortable, to the adults as well as the children who live in them. We want to promote an atmosphere of warmth and love. We want to feel able to offer hospitality without embarrassment, but remembering that our homes don't have to be perfect. We also want our homes to be functional so that we can do the business of living in them without working harder than we need to.
I find it helps to keep these things in mind as I prioritize what I need to do on any given day. So for living with toddlers, I work towards an environment that they can have some freedom in. Yet, I also want to keep some places where I don't feel as though I'm living in a preschool. For us, baby gates were the solution. I hate living with baby gates, but they made the rest of life simpler and they were worth the trade-off. Or in the kitchen, moving non-breakable things to bottom drawers. Every toddler I have ever met loves to empty drawers, so if I moved the plastic storage to the drawers I knew they would open, they could empty to their heart's content and I didn't need to worry about. While there is a time and place for teaching children to be careful with things (we move them to glasses rather than cups at the dinner table fairly quickly), I certainly don't want to have to be supervising this sort of learning every minute.
The other thing I try to keep in mind as I create a home with little ones, is what will they like... what will give them joy? Is there a centerpiece that I know they will love? I try to use it. Did some little hands bring me a bouquet of dandelions? They join the table as well. Sometimes I will serve lunch on special plates or in special baskets... just because. Are there places for little people to curl up in and read books? Blankets to snuggle in? Toddlers love to help. Have I purchased tools that they can use to help around the house? Feather dusters are a favorite as well as hand brooms. They won't want to help forever and while their help isn't perfect, even a little less dust is helpful. Look at life from their view and see what you can do to help incorporate these little people into the life of the house.
A note about toys, they breed. That is the only explanation I can come up with for why I can get rid of bags of the things and the next time I turn around the floor is littered again. Children don't need extreme amounts of toys to play with. In fact, my experience tells me that the more toys that are in the environment, the less they are played with. We rotated toys in and out of service for years. Just a few things out allows for more creative play, is faster to pick up, and is far easier for adults to live with than a toy on every surface.
Living with babies and toddlers means making your life move at their speed while they are little. Less outside commitments, fewer expectations, and the ability to take time all result in a calmer family life and calmer children. I can always tell when life has become just a little too crazy. I don't have the time to spend on either the house or the children and they both start to fall apart as a result. Save busy for retirement and focus on what is important right now.