Even more real

About to turn 40, I am happy with how this year is turning out and what I have learned. I finally feel like I have a grip on most things (in a good way!) and I know who I am, where I am going, and what I am doing. For now… In this season until it changes again. 

Not everyone feels like this at 40, and maybe it’s not connected with age. But I have spoken to 2 other friends recently who felt like this…they linked it with age, with 40 being a great age. For want of any better ideas, I’m linking it too. Instead of feeling scared of the number (I’ve learned not to be scared of numbers 😉 ) I am going to embrace it. 

I have never been a fan of pretence, and I don’t mind being the boy in the story who shouts “the Emperor has got no clothes on!”. Everyone else finally felt relieved (and far less stupid) when he was brave enough (or something!) to say what everyone else was even too afraid to think. 

I see so many things ready to trap us as new parents (and not so new ones) into joining with the crowd pretending they can see this amazing new suit… And inside wondering if they are the only one who can’t see it. 

Classic example: group of first time mothers ( or not so first time mothers) talking about their babies’ sleep. 

Another example: same group of mothers gathering in one of their homes and going away thinking they are the only one who can’t even manage to get dressed before 11 (or at all) let alone clear and clean up, and bake before having friends over. Pinterest makes all these things worse if we have to look ‘Pinny’ as well as parent pur children, keep house. Make amazing date nights for our husbands,  and on it goes.  

I’ve had to change my expectations of myself, a high achiever in most things, as my family has grown. I am sad when I hear of friends trying to do all those things they think they should be doing, but instead are drawing on reserves not easily replenished (there’s no magic iron infusion for this one) and ‘sleep when your baby sleeps’ is the biggest joke out. 

I am going to be thinking more about this ‘real’ and writing about it. There are a number of lies we believe in both directions: do it all / do nothing. There’s an honest, sanity saving middle ground I seem to have finally stumbled on. It’s the way I am walking this year.  

 

Advertisements

Making kids feel special

I was collecting large family articles on Pinterest the other day. I did a search and came up with a wide range of blog posts, and for some reason many on how to make kids feel special in large families. I didn’t pin any. I may eventually read one or two, just to find out what the suggestions are and maybe what the negatives are supposed to be, for children blessed with 3 or more siblings. (What is large anyway?!)

Just now as I have been thinking about this I realise something. It is possible for children in any size family to lack in personal relationship or connection with their parents. Sharing our love with Even More children does not diminish its quality or depth. It’s not watered down by the time it reaches our younger children. Actually I feel as though I have had much more opportunity to step back and value my relationships with all of my children as individuals and seeing their differences and similarities in this way helps me to keep all of those relationships growing, and individual children valued exactly for who they are. 

I am making this up as I go along. By that I mean I don’t have a manual, a formula or step by step guide to follow in raising my children. Our style and practice has grown and developed since day 1. If we don’t grow or change in that time as parents, either we are actually absolutely perfect or…

We have an overview. To parent the way we feel God our father parents us. With love, kindness, grace, peace, patience, wisdom… to teach gently. We are constantly striving to those aims. Within that overview we do what we can to ensure our children are assured of their identity in Christ, our heavenly Father’s love for them, and their safety and love within our family. 

Here are some ways we honour our children as individuals, encourage them, fill their cup and enrich their relationships with us as well as build self worth: 

  1. Looking all the while for opportunities to love them in all 5 ‘love languages’: time, touch, words of affirmation, acts of service and gifts. Gary Chapman’s book on this subject is worth reading for all kinds of reasons. 
  2. Special time with names on it! We have always called things special names. If you call it a thing kids love it. So ‘special mummy and Ben time’ ‘special daddy and girls time’, ‘mummy bush walks’ (also known as city shopping trips), all of those things and more. We can celebrate the most ordinary of family outings by making them into a thing. 
  3. Making sure we fill the cups of those who are struggling. We don’t punish and we don’t reward. And the child who is struggling may not seem worthy of special time. The reverse is true. They need it more.
  4. Encouraging all of the members of the family to gather around another who is struggling. Sometimes we call this a ‘Blessing Day’. Kids are right. One birthday a year just isn’t enough. Half year birthdays are a good time for this but we don’t have hard and fast rules – spontaneity works well for our family. 
  5. Letter writing. I write the children letters of encouragement. Sometimes to all of the bigger ones, sometimes in an exchange of letters to one of them. We love surprise letters. I have a glimpse of their little world when I read those. 
  6. Talking time. Our eldest in particular loves to come and talk to me when we have done bedtime. I have a practice of always being available then. He needs it and when the others are older they will too. We must listen now and have these practices in place. 
  7. Sleepovers. Especially since we started sleeping on the floor ourselves (still supposed to be temporary) having different children in for a sleepover on their mattress (or all of them!) has been a fun and often experience. Balancing our own quality time is still possible and the balance is fine. But the children find that so special, even moreso the older ones. Again… We are investing in the future by being available and having an open door now. 
  8. Publicly acknowledging and affirming. When our children have done something special or there is something to commend, we will tell the whole family as we are eating dinner, for example. So our whole family can celebrate and acknowledge that thing. We might also do this in conversations with others outside our family. This is in particular an important way for wives to acknowledge their husbands. I am taking that idea and extending it to my children. In particular the boys will benefit from this. 
  9. Responsibility. All of our children respond well to being given responsibility for real things. Things that make our family work. Like food. If they cook a meal for our family it is a wonderful achievement for them, and they hear everyone’s real appreciation as we eat. Today as we expressed joy and delight at Mr 10’s French Onion Soup at lunch time I realised how blessed they are learning to cook with that sort of appreciation and genuine delight over their resulting family meals. We respond genuinely to all of the resulting benefits to our family team from the very real contribution they make to our household. 
  10. Birthday Letters. Each child receives a birthday letter, celebrating their year and with words encouragement and affirmation. We are now also making birthday movies with clips of video, photos and special music as part of the birthday blessing. Everyone loves their special movie. 
    special playground time with littlest
     

I am sure there is more. But I see the numbers in our house as being in our favour. We have even more opportunity to bless and be blessed. We are all extravagantly blessed. 

20 reasons why I don’t charity shop

It is kind of people to suggest that I go charity shopping for clothes for our family. If they think I haven’t thought of that. The chances are, that with 6 children, a student budget, and a permanent position as wardrobe mistress to my family, I would have considered and most likely tried it.

I feel awkward in those conversations when it is suggested. Often the suggestion to buy our clothes this way comes as a ‘should’. Or the person suggesting it does it successfully for their family. I know some people who just seem to have an amazing gift for finding bargains that they actually want in charity shops. It always makes me feel bad that I don’t do it, and that they think I should. 

  1. My first point can’t be made very easily, and is likely to be confronting. Here it is: just because we don’t have a large income, and do have a big family, doesn’t mean we have to wear tatty clothes, or that having new things is an irresponsible use of our finances. This isn’t ever said aloud, but has been the sub text a few times in conversation on this topic. It is also pretty obvious to me when 5 bin bags of stuff is dumped on my doorstep and I feel an obligation to go through it all… Which takes a lot of time… And I discover a) it’s not all clean and b) a lot of it would be put in the rags pile by said charity shop. So why was it good enough for me? (I once read an article called “why I don’t give crap to the poor” and it was fantastic. People have dumped an inordinate amount of crap on us. I add it to the pile of our own junk that we are recycling or throwing away, if it isn’t donateable).
  2. I have a clothes budget. It’s pretty low, but I have the ability to choose whether to pay a certain amount for an item of clothing or not. If it is what we need, I can buy it if the money is there. 
  3. Less is more. Maybe I don’t want 15 tops for each of my daughters. 7 or 8 will do, so I don’t have to go looking for second hand ones, I can buy the ones I do want at prices I am happy to pay. Such as in a sale. And then I might ‘buy ahead’ if I have funds and it is a good plan at the time. Or I might not.
  4. I think charity shops can be over priced. Especially compared to good deals from quality shops in sales. 
  5. I have 3 boys and 3 girls. So we hand down all our clothes. I keep the clothes in great condition, never tumble except only on low VERY rarely and the clothes last us and are used well.
  6. Boys wear their clothes pretty hard, especially trousers. Decent boys’ clothes don’t exist in many charity shops. They are often worn out and not even handed down in our family. And that’s ok.
  7. We are given some second hand clothes. I keep the ones that will work in our wardrobes and fit with our needs. This frees up some money for good quality new additions… At the right price, with the budgeted money… Etc.
  8. Sizes. This is currently a problem. Second hand clothes, especially if they have been tumble dried, don’t always fit the size it says on the label. It is very annoying for me to have size 6 clothes that don’t fit my 5yo, and need to be worn by the 3yo. It doesn’t help the girls manage their clothes, and it doesn’t help anyone else help them. I am being ruthless about this right now.
  9. I have 6 children. I don’t have time to waste going shopping all of the time in the hope of bargains. I want to go out with a list and get all I need in one or maybe two shops. In one afternoon or morning. For all 6 children. Who would most likely all be with me. This works amazingly. It does not work in charity shops. 
  10. I have so many pressures on my time. I can’t spend it all shopping. The saving is small and counter productive. In my experience. The way I do it. 
  11. My oldest child is 12. I’ve been buying his clothes for 12 years. I am good at it. I also respect his (and the others’) taste, preferences, and desire to choose. If your eldest child is 6 or 7, and especially if they are a girl, you just won’t understand why I have not pursued charity shopping for my kids’ clothes. 
  12. I find charity shops chaotic and disorganised. I don’t like the smell. It’s not an environment that works for me.
  13. Being intentional about our wardrobes saves us money in any event.
  14. Being intentional about just about everything, saves us money and I can budget for my preference in not charity shopping. 
  15. I save money in ways others don’t. And that’s fine! Washable nappies, menu planning, strict grocery budget, reusable cloths instead of kitchen towel… It all adds up. I don’t have to justify myself explaining these things to someone who thinks I need to be buying second hand clothes. I generally don’t go around telling people they should be washing nappies or saving money on baby wipes and kitchen towel at mealtimes. But those things save an incredible amount of cash.
  16. My children are well dressed and it makes them feel good. They are taking care of their appearance and it is part of their self worth. 
  17. We have no debt. Low income but no debt. We can budget our income in the ways that suit our family and work towards our values. 
  18. I care about fair trade and slave labour. I know that is a good reason not to buy clothes new. But the times I have really tried to do this, again, usually just after someone’s helpful ‘should’ comment… Haven’t been blessed. 
  19. Marks and Spencer school polo shirts are really cheap and they post to Australia for free. Their socks are also great and a third of the price of Australian socks. Another saving. 
  20. We are all different. 

The Facebook Post: In which it is noted I have Even More Time.

IMG_0303
Fun we enjoyed just because. Not for an audience, just because we were having great family time together.
IMG_3275
I made these with my 3 year old after dinner, before bedtime. She said “Mummy I love making these with you”. I knew normally this was my coffee and Facebook time. The guilt was far less significant than the joy in hearing those words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part way through last year one of my friends (also a beautiful mama of 6!) gave up Facebook. This was highly inconvenient to me. We both homeschool, used to live in the same State, and a few years ago they moved interstate and Facebook became a really great way to share vignettes of our day to day lives… till she gave it up. I wobbled for a bit, we lost touch a bit too… then I remembered we both had phones, and started using them more. Her freedom from Facebook and the willpower she seemed to have in ignoring it (she hadn’t deactivated her account) intrigued me and I felt a tug. Eventually  I decided to try a month without Facebook and see what happened. I have been reading Hands Free Mama by Rachel Stafford this year, and knew I needed to try it, after other minor screen free experiments, such as a day a week or certain times of day when I didn’t use any screens.

The minute I switched Facebook off for my trial I felt an immense freedom. And I discovered I had Even More time for the things that were important to me, my family, especially hands on time with the Littles and little slots of time when connection with a child replaced connection with the internet. It was amazing. I discovered I loved my life way more without Facebook. And I had so much more time for housework, organising and decluttering. It definitely contributed to the fast forward on simplifying and reducing our possessions. Space in the house was rapidly appearing, and the space and freedom i felt mentally from taking away this big distraction, was amazing.

Gradually a word for all of this began to dawn on me and I shared it with my husband and we have made it a family goal.

Intentional.

We want everything we do, to be intentional. Not an accident, not being carried along with something because it seems like it’s what we perhaps should do, not because we don’t want to interrupt a status quo. We want to be intentional with our time and with our possessions. We will buy or keep things because they fit with our goals, and because they have something to contribute. Things won’t stay if they distract us from what we are aiming for. A long time ago we had a much milder version of this, but now we are feeling much more ruthless, and seeing the benefits of all of this make us more determined and excited to continue.

Back to Facebook… I did go back to Facebook after my month off. But only to wind it down permanently. I loved my life too much without it and discovered what felt like the most amazing treasure I never knew existed. I have had long calls with friends, and discovered our friendships are far better when I do that rather than connect briefly with them, and 200 other people, daily. I wrote myself a list of the benefits to me, at this point, of not having Facebook.

Tiny pockets of useful time
Clear head
More natural thought processes
Feeling of freedom
More present
More calls with friends
Making more of an effort to connect with positive friends
Control our information flow
Intentional communication
Silencing negative lines of communication
Not exposed to bad news we are not connected with
Not rushing to help everyone
Better boundaries
No continual information overload
Less distracted
Better motivated
Better sleep

Looking at this list, there is some pretty big stuff I have discovered. Everyone is different and just how not everyone should have 6 kids, I am sure not everyone needs to give up Facebook to discover all these things.

I have kept myself one tiny thread of Facebook. I admin a group, and I have created myself an admin profile, with only 1 friend (my co-admin). It’s a group  we started together and at present there’s no one else to run it. It’s slow traffic and I am seldom logging in. For some reason I am getting text messages to my phone if I get a message, so I don’t even need to log in to see those. This is intended to be a temporary solution to the group issue. I had to make sure I don’t drop other people in it, but by the same token I have still achieved my goal of letting Facebook in the traditional sense, go. Loving it.

Even Less. And Loving it.

Goodbye to an historic possession... and a whole heap of others too...
Goodbye to an historic possession… and a whole heap of others too…

Part 2 of the Decluttering Story.

Less stuff, more cash, more time… more satisfaction.

Definitely more boundaries.

I will be writing about boundaries…wow I am enjoying thinking about those and finding more all of the time. We have definitely put boundaries on our house, and on our possessions.

The relevance here is that by putting a boundary on our physical possessions, we have made room for creativity, for the things that are important to us, for our values. Now I sound like a minimalist, although I don’t look like one yet. 🙂

Once the mad frenzy of decluttering mainly to charity shops had slowed, we turned our minds to bigger things. Floor space. Wall space. Any space we could lay our hands on. Instead of continuing to lament the lack of storage, we have decided not to store. This decision has been hard. We are in this house for another 3 years, and after that will be moved to another house, somewhere in Australia, and it will Have. More. Rooms. But rather than think that we have to store things for 3 years, or keep tripping over them… we have now decided to audition everything into, or out of our lives. Now we are actually selling some of our storage. We have thrown away book cases, sold cupboards, a filing cabinet, and even toy storage.

Some of the things in this category have worth that we felt we couldn’t just give away’. Though giving something away to someone who needs it more than me, simply because they need it, has always been something I want to do.

So we are prepared to give things away but this time also knew we were going into different territory with some of these items. The best example of this is the Vintage Bass Amp. I know nothing about this stuff but my husband had one, and when we moved into this house it had only one place it could go. In the study on the third floor. It wasn’t going to be used in a gig any time soon. Pretty much this amp has turned into a millstone that we kind of drag along with us wherever we move to. It has moved house with us 4 times in the past 7 years. Finally we had The Conversation and my husband let me list it on Gumtree… particularly after I found out what they were being advertised for on Gumtree…

A useless piece of furniture became a fantastic find for the guy who bought it, and was actually going to use it, my husband said goodbye to his Navy Band days and we were able to buy a bunk bed in cash for the boys (after realising that a new bed would really help them with the storage and function of their room). We went from that early sale on to selling heaps of things. We have made $2,000 in about 7 weeks. Now we have a ‘Gumtree fund’ of cash that we can use to buy our kids swimming lessons… we have sold stuff we don’t need to buy skills for the kids that we DO need but can’t afford. We’ve actually chosen to sleep on the floor for a while  because we did a room swap with the boys and found out that our bed was faulty, going to break sometime soon where it had been poorly made, and was suitable for the hard rubbish. I am not sure it makes us minimalist yet but it’s amusing to us anyway, that apparently some minimalists choose to sleep on the floor. 🙂

This rush on selling bigger things, being brave and getting rid of big wobbly book cases, saying goodbye to old instruments that have served us (and others) well… have given us so much more room. Even more. We have a study and music room where we were literally just storing everything previously. We have another room where the children can read books, practice instruments, and where my husband may even get to study during the next 3 years. Considering that is actually why we are here, suddenly our house looks like it is suiting our purpose and serving our goals.

And we are All. Way. Happier. The kids love decluttering, love selling stuff on Gumtree, we laugh at our pitiful attempts to hold garage sales… the last one was pretty good but it was nothing like this, and was way more work.

The key is not holding on to stuff. We have recently had as our goal: Owning less. Making room. So you price things differently because you want them gone. My bottom line is ‘this thing has to go’. If someone won’t pay the market value (who does, on Gumtree?) then I have to take what they are prepared to pay. These things still add up. $2K later, I finally get it.

The more money part? Not only did we make money for our fund, but we started spending less, and differently. This has made more difference to our finances than any other lifestyle choice we have made before. In December we had no money for food, or rent for January, or even Christmas presents. By the end of December we had money for presents, food in the cupboard, and rent set aside for more than January… without even touching the Gumtree fund. Some of this is fathomable, but mostly it is God’s Economy.

Less is more. A decluttering story.

Regularly filling donation bins has become a pastime
Regularly filling donation bins has become a pastime

We have been on a quest to create space and organisation in our challenging home for two years.

We moved into college accommodation (3 storey townhouse with little to no storage space, and a tiny backyard) two years ago this month.  Term for my husband started almost immediately. Our youngest child was due to be born in 6-7 months. There was time for unpacking what we could, find what we needed immediately, and ‘the rest’ stayed in either boxes stored in the ‘study’ (the top floor landing area), under the stairs (a cupboard filled with dread in every house we have ever lived in, with or without stairs) or stored in my inlaws’ shed. We also had a massive wooden wardrobe stored in their shed, again filled with items we decided we did not immediately need.

In a three storey house, with 5 or 6 children learning at home… one rarely visits the top floor save for getting out of bed in the morning, and going to bed at night. Certainly the Study never reached its potential.

The challenges of a large family, together all the time, in such a difficult-for-us- home took their toll on our family in many ways.

We had a few holidays away from home, thanks mainly to generous offers from friends, or the occasional splurge on a week in a holiday house while the money was still there.

Our efforts turned from organisation to decluttering. We started to look at what we had in boxes, and knew we had too much. We also started to notice that we felt so amazing in those holiday cottages, without most of our ‘things’ and enough clothes to last us only a week.

After our own efforts and ideas ran out, we turned to a professional. We hired Rebecca Mezzino from Clear Space Organising Services for a two hour consultation. It was the advice and missing pieces we needed. We had advice on how to put our house ‘on a diet’ and received some real encouragement about our efforts to date. After that meeting we started to work on the strategies we had discussed – re-evaluating what we owned, looking at ‘prime real estate’ in our home, working out what was needed to make high traffic areas more successful and also accepting that we can never achieve perfection but need our place to be functional and give us a feeling of more space.

It turns out that we found decluttering addictive. We began to really notice our productivity, mental health and organisation sky rocketing in the areas that we were working on. We took the advice we had received from Rebecca and instead of a kind of ‘new year’s resolution trip to IKEA’ to buy more storage, we put a block on any spending for organising.

There were so many immediate benefits and there were others we had not anticipated. We began to stem the flow of anything coming into the house. Around the same time we were still receiving donations of bags of clothing or toys from well meaning acquaintances and sometimes friends. We let very little into the house, and passed on what we did not immediately love or need to use. We were also daily piling up bags and bags and more bags and boxes of clothes, toys, books that we knew we wanted to live without.

I have always believed in setting children up for success. So our view on toys and tidying for example, has always involved having a system that was easy for the children to manage, reach, and when things were too difficult for them to deal with, reducing the amount immediately available – either by rotating toys when we had room to store, but in latter years by simply having less.

We weren’t able to sell things for a long time. We had too much of a problem on our hands, and a house that was driving us crazy. We needed to pass on as much as we could, as quickly as we could. This generally does not involve trying to sell things.

Rooms began to improve. The children were wholly on board, and enjoying their own efforts to own less, and create more space in their rooms.

Then we moved on to stage 2. Even more fun, even more space, and even more time on our hands to concentrate on what matters to us.

We have learned so much. This beginning is the tip of the iceberg.

Even more support

Exodus 17:11-13

New International Version

11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

It’s tiring being the eldest child. It’s tiring being the parents! No matter how many children we have, we are all tired sometimes. Not everyone has a ‘village’ behind them, or surrounding them.

One of the criticisms or painful recollections I read or hear about large families, is that too much is expected of the older children, they are expected to ‘parent’ the younger ones, and that they were not allowed to just be children.

There’s a lot in this to break down, and discussing children and chores is definitely on the menu! But how about the pressures on our eldest children to be leaders, set an example, always do better so that the younger ones can follow?

My husband and I are both eldest children. We have also taken a different road from each of our families of origin. We are in that place where we will either be tempted to overload the eldests (because in a family of 8 the dynamic of who is the eldest is a flexible one)…. Or we will be accused of it. Probably already have been.

We see leadership qualities in all of our children. Our mission statement as a family includes what we see as a call to raise the leaders of the next generation. Leaders wherever they are, whatever they are doing, and whether they are assertive and ‘out there’ or quiet, gentle leaders.

Moses was a leader who grew tired. We had read the story in a morning devotion on a day we were struggling. My eldest was struggling in particular. A late night, stresses that were upsetting him… I realised that even leaders need their arms holding up now and again. That includes us as parents, and it includes all of our children, even the eldests!

I explained to my son the significance and the meaning of the Aaron, Moses and Hur story to me that day. I assured him that it was ok that he needed his arms to be held up. We are a team. We can each hold up one another’s arms when we are weary and need help. It’s ok to be tired. It’s ok to need help to do something that we can normally do, or that is within our control or power.

Yesterday that same eldest child stepped up to his leadership qualities and held up his Daddy’s arms with the gift of a beautiful letter of encouragement and scriptures. The leader of our household needed, and had his arms held up by his eldest son, his wife, and other of his children. In fact all of the children contributed silently and without needing to be asked, in different ways. Maybe just taking the pressure off, amusing themselves, playing quietly and allowing their Daddy to study.

Today: eldest needs holding up and that’s ok. We are a team. There are even more of us to support each other. We can go with the natural ebb and flow of energy and stress levels and emotional capacity.

We all need our arms to be held up sometimes.

IMG_2359-0.JPG