That’s the next most common question I get asked, after they say “You have 6 kids?” with a very incredulous tone.
|One of their favourite past times: Climbing trees
So how do I do it?
1) Close one eye
When I had 3 kids, I had to ‘close one eye’. When I had 6 kids, sometimes I had to ‘close both eyes’. When #1 was little, if she dropped her spoon on the floor, I would go to the sink and wash it before giving it back to her. After I had more kids, well, I would just give it back to them sans washing. A little bit of germs wouldn’t kill them, and it would help to make their immunity stronger, no?
In the early days, when the hub would do silly things like let them play in the rain, I would be nagging at them until I got all worked up. However, now I look at them squealing in delight kicking the puddles of water, and if I “have no eyes to see” (loosely translated from a Chinese phrase, meaning can’t bear to look at it), then I will find a quiet room and enjoy my half hour of solace by reading a book. After all, those are what childhood memories are made of, aren’t they?
2) Make them independent
I figured early on that the only way I was going to be able to manage all of them was to make them as independent as possible. My mom always comments that she has been seeing a lot of families on outings where it’s 1 kid with 5 adults (mum, dad, grandma, grandpa and helper) whereas for us, it’s usually 5 kids and 1 adult. I have no problem taking them out by myself, and the times when I was pregnant and needed to rest at home, the hub would happily take the 5 of them out. We never ask the helper to follow us out as she has her hands full with housework. So when we go out she doesn’t need to cook and can have a break.
From the time they entered Primary 1, I told them that they are in charge of all things pertaining to school. That includes the packing of their school bags, homework, spelling, revision for exams, basically everything. I have to say that my 4 girls did remarkably well in handling all their school work, but I can’t say the same for #5. Many parents tell me it’s a boy thing. In just this one year of him entering P1, I have received more phone calls from his teachers than the other 4 girls combined in their entire school life.
I allow them to venture out on their own on public transport. #3 and #4 (who are in P5 and P3 respectively), take the bus by themselves to the library to help me return books or pick up stationery they need for school. Some friends think I’m nuts, but there aren’t any major roads to cross, they have a phone with them, and they only go in the day so I think it’s fine. Once they are in secondary school, they take public transport to school.
From the time they were in kindergarten, they were able to pack their own luggages for family trips. Initially I had a huge luggage where they all put their clothes in. During the trip, everyday I would get a chorus of “Mummy, where’s my blue t-shirt? Mummy, where’s my socks? Mummy, mummy, mummy.” It drove me nuts, so I bought each of them their own little luggage. Problem solved.
When we moved house last year, we did it in stages as I had just delivered Kate and was still recuperating from my C-section. The kids did all their packing by themselves and the loading and unloading. Some time later, I went back to the old house to pick up some items, and #5 tagged along. He was only in K2 at that time and I was surprised to see that he managed to pack his own things into the cardboard box, hauled it up onto the trolley, pushed the trolley to the car, and loaded it. He went back and forth several times and packed up his sisters’ leftover things as well. When I went to the car, I found the boot almost full! He had watched his dad do it and he followed suit.
3) Just do it
Sometimes when we think too much, things seem insurmountable. When you are in the midst of things, you don’t even have time to think. You just do. Now looking back, I really wonder how I survived those years.
4) Change your perspective
One of my good old friend just gave birth to her first child. She felt very overwhelmed with the 2-hourly feeding schedule and she said it was tiring having to tend to the baby with the little sleep she was getting. I shared with her that for 10 years, the longest stretch I slept was 4 hours. I was either breastfeeding a baby every 2 or 3 hourly, waking up to make milk in the night for a toddler, or waking up to go to the toilet when I was pregnant. I am a light sleeper and any little sound would wake me, and it took me ages to go back to sleep. In the day I still had to tend to the kids and at times, I was also working part time. She was surprised and it shifted her perspective. There was a joke among my friends whereby every year, they would ask me what I wanted for my birthday present. My reply was always the same, that I wished I could have a room to myself where I could sleep for a full 10 hours uninterrupted.
In one of my stints in a hospital when I was a student, I had the privilege of meeting a very inspirational man. He was in his 30s and was an avid sportsman. He got into an accident while para-gliding and had to amputate all 4 limbs. Instead of falling into depression which most of the doctors expected him to, he did not dwell on his misfortune but instead set his mind to get better. He set himself high goals (the doctors thought he was delusional) and he perservered at his treatment, working very hard to tone up his muscles and master the use of the prosthetics. He eventually managed to go back to work, and to his hobbies of surfing and para-gliding. Everyone who watched him during his treatment sessions were speechless. Here we were, nurses, therapists and doctors, who were all prepared to aid him in his recovery, but instead, we were all humbled and inspired by his strength of spirit.
My motto? What don’t kill you makes you stronger. When the going gets tough, I always think to myself, “We have 2 hands and 2 legs, what can’t we handle?”
These days, teachers expect parents to supervise their school work. #5’s Chinese teacher sent me a WhatsApp text to say that I was supposed to craft a speech for his “Show and Tell”. To begin with, my chinese is nowhere near fantastic. And besides, I really had not factored in “Teaching them show and tell” into my daily to-do lists so I didn’t have the time to do it. I got one of the girls to help him out with it. The next day, the teacher called me to say that it was not up to standard and she gave me suggestions on the sentences to use. I had to again delegate the job to one of the girls to re-teach him.
Taking care of Kate is also a full time responsibility. The helper is not able to look after her all the time as she has to do the housework. When my hands are full, the kids will take turns looking after her. #3 spends the most time with her as she loves babies. Once she returns home from school, she will look for her and play with her. When daddy was away, Kate missed him and would cry sadly at times calling “daddee”. #3 knows that her favourite thing is to play with water so she cleaned the long bath, filled it with water and put Kate in to play. That never failed to cheer her up.
6) Good family support
I definitely wouldn’t have been able to manage without the help of my hub, my mom, my dad, my mom-in-law, my dad-in-law, my sisters-in-law and my previous maid of 14 years. My hub works from home and he is very hands on with the kids. In fact, when #1 was born, I didn’t quite know how to bathe her as she was so small and slippery. But he was a natural and handled her really well. He could bathe her, change her diapers, make her milk and swaddle her. When the kids were younger, he would swim with them all the time. My neighbours would say “Your hub very free hor” because sometimes they would see him swimming with them a few times in a week. Then they would comment “Wah, he can manage them so well!” They were amazed at how he could handle all 5 of them especially as none of them could swim! But swimming with daddy was always the highlight of their week and they would all come back after an hour beaming and chatting happily.
When they were younger, my mom came over everyday to help take care of them. She did anything that was needed; feed them, bathe them, put them to sleep, etc. She can easily hold the fort if we are not around. When #5 was just 2 months old, the hub had to go away for work. I was just about going crazy with the 2-hourly breastfeeding for the 5th time round, that I told him I was tagging along. We left the baby and the other 4 kids to her and the helper for 2 weeks.
My dad’s job is to ferry them around. Especially during their P6 years when they had tuition the whole weekend, he would be in charge of their transport. My parents also loved to take them to the zoo and the bird park. When #5 was younger, they literally took him there every other week. Of course, they are also in charge of spoiling the kids, which I used to frown upon, but I have realised that that is what makes them happy so now I leave my dad alone.
We live with my in-laws and my mom-in-law does the early morning walks with the kids. When they were between the ages of 1 and 3, they used to wake up at 5.30 or 6 every morning. We didn’t know anything about proper sleep habits, so we thought that if we kept them up later in the night they would wake up later. Only after I had #5 did I read up on sleep patterns and I realised that the later you keep them up, the earlier they will wake up! It doesn’t sound logical but it’s true. As my mom-in-law was the only one awake that early, she would take them for a walk around our condo.
My dad-in-law comes back once every few weeks and he would make sure that the freezer is stocked with enough food to feed the kids. He would always question them if they are being fed well and he would also enquire about their studies.
My sisters-in-law are also such wonderful aunts to the kids. One SIL cooks and bakes very well, and the kids will ask her to make them their birthday cakes. She also takes them out when she goes for nice meals with her hub or her friends. They always come back and tell me excitedly what yummy food they had. Another SIL is good with her hands and she would make earrings for them or teach them to braid their hair. The other SIL lives overseas but every time she is back, she makes an effort to take them out or buy them boardgames to play.
I am extremely grateful for all the support that they have provided us over the years.