I have 4 small children (although they are rapidly growing up, gulp), 2 dogs, 2 cats, a tank full of fish and a husband to look after. I don't have any regular help with the children during the week except statutory education during term time (The Eldest is in full time school, The Boy is just about to start full time school, up until now he's been at preschool for 15 hours a week, The Feral One is about to start preschool for 10 hours a week, before that she was with me full time and The Baby is still at home with me full time). The Husband is pretty good at helping out, but he leaves for work between 7 and 7.30 in the morning and comes home around 6 at night. The children get up at 7 and go to bed around 7, you do the maths. My mother lives not to far away, but works full time. My sister and Mother in Law both live further away and have their own lives to live. Whilst I can call on people in an emergency, on a day to day basis, it's me, with help from The Husband in the evenings. How do I do it? Well, quite apart from the fact that I don't think I do "do it", here are the things that I DO do.
Prioritise sleep. We all need differing amounts, but I like 8 hours at night or I feel like death. It's amazing how my parenting skills and ability to keep my temper improve when I get some sleep. So I go to bed early if I need to and recently I've worked on getting the baby to sleep through.
Get up before the kids. This is a relatively recent addition to my survival skills, but already it's made a huge difference. Now that the baby has started sleeping through, I can go to bed at 10pm, fairly safe in the knowledge that I will get 8 hours sleep before getting up at 6am. That hour to myself before the kids get up allows me to get organised and have my breakfast in peace. Then I can hit the ground running when they wake up and I am less likely to metamorphose into Screaming Harpy Lady.
Get organised. I try to make sure that everything is where it should be the night before, so that we are not running round like headless chickens in the morning before the school run trying to find shoes and coats. Packed lunches are made the night before and stored in the fridge so that they can just be grabbed. The children know where their shoes and coats are kept so they can get them without my help. Of course, you can pretty much guarantee that something will go awry, a child will undress them selves just as you are going out the door for example, but being organised lessens the chances of a meltdown by any of the parties involved.
Get out of the house and do some exercise. I have two dogs who need to be walked everyday and I know that I feel better when I do it rather than leaving it to The Husband. Unless it is snowing heavily, there's really no reason not to go out. I wrap up everyone in waterproofs and head out. Our wet dog walks are legendary and generally really enjoyed by all.
Batch cook. Why cook a meal two or three times when you could just cook double or triple the amount and then stick it in the freezer? It's also easier to remain Zen at meal times when they refuse to eat what you have cooked if you haven't slaved over it for hours (by the by, I operate an "Eat it or starve" policy when it comes to meals). I keep freshly cooked meals very simple for the same reason.
Meal plan. I do a weekly meal plan to make sure that I know what we're eating every evening and to make sure that I've got all the ingredients. There is nothing worse than looking in the fridge at 4.30pm thinking, "What on Earth am I going to feed them?!!". I don't always stick to the plan, but at least it's there as a point of reference.
Pick your battles. The Feral One has drawn on herself? Never mind, it'll wash off. The Eldest refuses to touch vegetables? It's ok, I'll puree it into her meals. The Boy has pulled out all the toys and thrown them across the playroom? Well, he can just help me put them back again. The baby is pulling all the DVDs off the shelf? At least it is keeping her quiet. I don't sweat the small stuff, it's ok if the kids spill water on the floor, it's ok if a child wets themselves, it's ok if they've drawn on the walls. I'd rather it didn't happen and I'll try to ensure it doesn't happen again, but it's ok and certainly not worth losing my temper over. It's NOT ok if they hurt each other or if they are mean to one another or if they are rude to me - those are the battles I pick.
Know your limits. I am neither Superwoman nor a saint. I know what I can and can't get done during the day with the kids in tow. I do NOT do the weekly shopping with them, it's just not worth the hassle and stress. I do it online in the comfort of my own sitting room after they are in bed. If I don't get all the washing sorted, so what? It'll keep (and if I'm lucky, then The Husband will sort it for me).
Count your blessings. I know that there are many people who would give their right arm to be in my fortunate position and when I really want to scream, I try to remember that (only try, I'm not a saint and some days the scream just has to escape).
Look on the funny side. We were walking the dogs up on the common yesterday, it was a beautiful day, the girls were on their scooters and The Boy was on his bike. I just shouted to The Eldest to wait for the rest of us, when she went round the corner, down the hill and badly grazed her knee (quite a lot of blood). As I legged it towards her, further screaming ensued behind me - without my constant guidance, The Boy had driven his bike off the path and down the hill into a bush full of brambles and had then fallen over. I had to laugh - it was either that or cry...
Outsource the cleaning. Ok, I admit that I am a very lucky girl to have this. The lady who cleans my house is amazing, she comes in once a week and blitzes it. I call the day she comes "Sparkly Thursday". It takes the pressure off me, because at the end of the day, I am not superwoman, nor do I claim to be.
If all else fails then:
Eat chocolate. I'm never going to be thin, but hey, I'm a nicer person when I have eaten chocolate.
At the end of the day, I'm only human. I have coping strategies, but there are definitely days when I am more Screaming Harpy than Calm and Collected Mummy. Remember: