I hear the question often, and I've finally gotten to the point where I don't get offended. Most people are generally curious when they see a small brood of little people dancing around my legs. I am going to take your question most literally and attempt to answer it here.
For the well-intentioned comment, "I don't know how you do it," let's first define the "it". My house is often very messy, jobs are unfinished by the end of the day, the family menu is pretty basic and mostly not organic, and I am usually vegging out in front of the TV with my feet up once the kids are all in bed. So in a lot of ways, the "it" is not very spectacular. What do you mean by "it"? That I keep the kids alive? Well in that case, here are some quick ways to explain how I survive the day.
1. The kids play together. This is primarily the way I can get things done throughout the day. With four kids in one house, there is always a play date happening. Someone always has an idea for playing....as soon as breakfast is over there are always activities, suggested by the kids. Obviously little kids' attention spans are short-lived, they do squabble over toys, and often their play gets LOUD, so it's not like I get hours to myself while they play peacefully and quietly. BUT those dishes I never loaded in the dishwasher after last night's dinner? I usually can count on at least 15 uninterrupted minutes to clean up the kitchen while they build the latest Lego castle.
2. Naps. There are actually only a few times during the day when I have to direct all four children at the same time (mealtimes and bedtimes are the intense moments). But during the remainder of the day, they are often either entertaining themselves (see point #1 above) or are sleeping. As in, not mobile, not hungry, not whiney, not anything but conked out safely in their bed or crib. And even if only one of the Lynch Littles needs to snooze, that afternoon nap is sacred. I count on it for the child's and my own daily regeneration. Of course, the other thing I count on is ironically...
3. No Naps. Wait, what? Allow me to explain. The youngest of the Lynch Littles is at an age where he really can't avoid the afternoon nap, even as much as he fights it. Even if we are all on the go, he inevitably will fall asleep in the car, or in the stroller. But the older ones generally have outgrown that stage. I originally thought I would be in a state of mourning when they dropped the nap, because that afternoon time was so integral to my sanity. But as I discovered, dropping the afternoon nap equated with an earlier bedtime. It has also meant that once they are in bed, they stay there. Bedtime has become so much easier since they gave up the nap. But wait, you say, there still are kids that need my attention during that afternoon sacred time. Which brings me to my next point:
4. TV. OK, I realize that I may have invited all the perfect parents out there to criticize my decision to let my kids watch TV in the afternoon. Go ahead and write your nasty comments. Because honestly, I have very little guilt about allowing my kids to watch age-appropriate shows from PBS for a limited amount of time. I don't rely on the TV to babysit my kids, but I do take the time when they are watching how Daniel Tiger learns to share so I can catch up on whatever jobs have been interrupted throughout the day. And sometimes, I even take that time for myself. I can squeeze in a workout video from my Kindle during a couple of episodes of Wild Kratts! I even have time to shower!
5. Preschool. Yes, even SAHM's rely on preschool. I believe my children benefit from the time they can spend with other children their age, and I believe they can benefit from listening to another adult telling them what to do. And the verdict? They love it. So yeah, I'm perfectly OK with dropping the oldest two off for 2.5 hours, twice a week. It gives me a chance to breathe from the constant demands of four kids. It's not an excessively long chunk of time, but enough to be able to think of what I need to do for the rest of the day, and week. If taking care of my kids is like a track workout, preschool is like the short rest in between intervals. Preschool also gives me some quality time with the youngest Lynch Littles, and that is invaluable in and of itself.
6. Community. Even though new life is always joyous, I *may* have panicked a little when I found out I was expecting baby #4. Who would look after my kids so I could go to my prenatal check-ups? Who would watch the kids while I was in the hospital? How would I manage to keep up with the usual laundry and meal planning, all with a newborn? We live pretty far from family, and the baby was due at the start of my husband's coaching season, and arguably the busiest time of year for a schoolteacher. But you know what? My husband's colleagues and their families all rallied. They brought meals, they allowed me to drop off the older kids for a few hours, they gave me baby clothes and toys, they simply checked in. The grandparents took their turns to make the 8 hour drive and visit for even a short weekend. Packages arrived from faraway friends. Despite all my anxieties, our little baby's birth was a true celebration of life.
Ultimately baby #4 finally taught me to rely on all this help. When my older kids were first born, I tended to bristle when someone went ahead and folded the laundry, when someone set a plate of food in front of me while I was nursing. I am strong and self-sufficient, I shouted in my own head! Stop stepping on my confidence! It only took the fourth kid for me to realize that my self-perceived independence was really just an outward sign of my own self-righteousness and pride. With the fourth baby, I had no other choice BUT to lean on others. I let go of my false sense of control, and it was beautifully liberating.
So that's it. There is no magic formula or secret system I implement. And despite all that I've written above, most days are still tiresome. Joyful, but exhausting. This parenting gig is hard, no matter how much help you have.
I suppose the greatest answer I have to "how do you do it all" is basically, I don't. Thanks for reading.