A question today from Lyna, which I felt totally compelled to answer (I know, you’re all shocked!):
my twins are 18 mo, and i’m ashamed to admit that i have been relying a lot on my maid in handling them. i even take her along on our outings. yesterday i did something ambitious, i went out with the twins and my elder daughter WITHOUT the maid. it was a stressful experience – i ended up losing my temper on my 4-yo for the littlest reason. i feel so bad and incompetent as a mother.
so how DO you do it? how do you handle outings with 2 toddlers and a rebellious 4-yo without getting all stressed out?
Getting out of the house is more and less challenging at all different ages. But, more than anything, I think it’s hardest when you simply lack practice. Don’t beat yourself up, it’s tricky. Here are some tips:
When you’re new to solo outings, pick them carefully. Don’t drag three kids to the grocery store at 5pm. Pick a time (maybe right after a nap?) when they’re all typically in a good mood. Pick a destination that isn’t too far away, whether a short walk to the park or a short drive to a friend’s house. Pick an outing that is manageable and kid-friendly. If there’s some kind of contained drop-in play space, or a small fenced-in playground (though that can be tricky with the young toddlers), that might be a nice bet. Pick some place that is child-friendly and interesting so that you don’t have to expect them to sit still and be quiet for very long, but also someplace that is small or enclosed enough that you’ll be more able to keep a watchful eye on all of them at once. Also, consider a class they can all enjoy on their own level, such as a music class (I’ve heard lots of good recommendations for Music Together for multi-aged siblings). It’s structured, it’s kid-friendly, it’s entertaining, and it’s only an hour. Make sure you have enough time to get home for the next meal or naptime.
Especially at those ages, you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink with you. But the last thing you want is to be caught without a few diapers and wipes in case of a containment failure. And snacks. Don’t ever forget the snacks. I’m not above using Goldfish crackers as the occasional bribery for good behavior or to avert a meltdown. Bring snacks and maybe sippy cups with water. It won’t go bad if you accidentally leave it in the car, but it’s there if you need it. A hungry child is more likely to be cranky, so make sure everyone’s happy and fed! Other than that, maybe bring a comfort item if your kids are wary of new situations, but make sure it’s a second-string stuffed animal. You don’t want to accidentally leave the One True Blanket at the mall. If you have messy kids, you might leave a change of clothes in the trunk of your car, but no need to drag it all over creation.
Along with choosing your time and location carefully, you need to make adjustments to your own expectations in order to lower your stress level and make you less likely to have a meltdown (and we’ve all done it). Don’t have a list of things you want to accomplish while you’re out, don’t make your first outings all about errands. Take it small, and keep it focused on the kids. Make it an outing focused on something fun for them, not to-do list for you. And then realize that they may not enjoy it as much as you had hoped, and that’s OK. Realize that sometimes they’re just going to have a bad day and you’ll have to make a quick departure. And that’s OK. And, remember, kids are a lot like dogs and horses: they can totally smell fear and tension. If you’re tense and ready to snap, they’ll pick up on it in a second. Relax, and put on your “calm and loving mom” face. You can let out the frustration when you’re home and they’re all down for a nap if you need to. But as far as they’re concerned, stay cool.
With the older sibling, take a page from LauraC and do some advance preparation. Talk about what you’ll be doing. Talk up how much fun music class will be together. Repeatedly discuss what you’re going to do in detail (“We’ll all get in the car and drive to X. Then we’ll have music class, and there will be instruments to play and songs to sing, and you can dance if you want to. When class is over, we’ll come back home and have lunch.”). Also discuss behavior expectations. I don’t think there’s a need to focus too much on potential consequences for bad behavior. Instead, focus on all of the nice things you’re expecting her to do since she’s such a wonderful big girl. Let her know when she’ll have choices (“You don’t have to sing along if you don’t want to.” “You can choose whether we have pretzels or string cheese for snack.”) And, again, be reasonable. Don’t expect them to sit quietly somewhere for 45 minutes so you can have a latte and read a magazine. But do expect the older child to do things like hold hands while walking, use an inside voice, etc.
Practice Makes Perfect
If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Honestly, this is one of those things that only seems more daunting the longer you wait. And I know a lot of people who get caught in the (somewhat enviable) trap of almost having too much help. The down side to having a lot of help is that you do become really reliant on it, and you start to believe that you couldn’t possibly get by without it. But you can, and lots of people do. So plan ahead, give yourself a pep-talk if you need to (I think I can, I think I can!), and then just go for it. Even the most “experienced” among us have days when things seem to crash and burn. But you learn from the experience (shouldn’t have gone to X when they skipped a nap!), and do it better the next time. Just keep trying, and soon you’ll be an old pro.