Raising and loving my children is one of my favorite things. Being pregnant, however, is one of my least favorite. And, since I'm now expecting my fourth child in six years (yay!), I've been pregnant quite a bit. And for the beginning and end of each pregnancy, I maintain about 15% of my standard energy levels. Thanks to perpetual dizziness and nausea, laying down for large portions of the day feels like the only way I'll survive.
I've read articles on how to thrive in the first trimester and a lot of the advice is fine for first-time moms but completely impossible if you have other people you're supposed to be caring for all day. "Show yourself grace and eat Skittles while binge-watching Netflix," one mom-blogger suggested. But if you have other kids you're trying to parent, laziness to that degree isn't an option.
In that first and third trimester, my kids indeed get 30-60 minutes of screen time every day, but the rest of the time I have to figure out something else to do so I'm not just watching them but developing them. Here are some of my favorite ways you can play with and enrich your children even when you have no energy and can't get off the couch:
1) Play Pharaoh.
My brother and I invented this game and played it our entire childhood and even as teenagers (which is a tad embarrassing to admit.) All you do is lay on the ground and send your kids to find blankets and pillows to build a pyramid over you---basically, they're burying you, but it's not as morbid as it sounds. Once they've covered you well (and tackled you a few times), you "wake up" and break through all the pillows, tickle the kids, then lay back down to get buried again. They love it and you get to lay down most of the time.
2) Play Remote Control.
You sit or lay on the couch and have your children stand in front of you. You point a TV remote at them and say things like "Hmm, what does the 'sleep' button do?" and they do whatever silly things you ask of them. (Other button ideas include: jump, grumpy, spin, laugh, sing, etc.) It's also fun to say, "Uh oh, I hope nothing bad happens when I push this red button..." and they get to decide what they do.
3) Put them in an enclosed space outside, sit on an exercise ball, and lightly supervise.
It's amazing how much fun kids have when they've got dirt. I've done enough research to know that sending little kids to play in dirt is one of the best things I can do for them. So I simply make sure they can't escape and then I grab a book, bounce on my ball (or sit in a lawn chair), and they do their thing while I do mine. It's perfection...except for the whole summertime-in-Florida thing. This experience is at least ten times better when mosquitoes are absent and the air is breathable.
4) Let them give you massages for charity.
My son is an entrepreneur to the core, and I particularly appreciate his massage business since, well, I get massages. However, seeds of greed start young and I don't want the kids to become materialistic, so I challenged them to raise $10 for the organization of their choice (Stephen chose an organization that helps families in crisis situations.) One of their fundraising techniques was giving massages. I gave all three kids some lotion, laid on my bed, and told them I needed a massage on my hands and feet. I told them I would give them a bigger tip if they did a really excellent job, so they got me a pillow and stuffed animal and played music for me. And those three kids massaged my hands and feet for probably an hour. It was so relaxing for me and they had a blast. (I totally had to change the sheets though because there was lotion everywhere.) I don't mind giving a big tip because I know it's going to a cause that deserves my money anyway.
5) Tell them stories.
Sometimes I just lay on the bed and tell them to gather around while I tell them a story, and if I can't make up a good one (which I usually cannot) I simply describe the plot summary of whatever movies or books come to mind. Whether I'm telling them about Beauty and the Beast or a simplified version of the novel I just read, they think I'm the coolest ever for having so many stories. Even if you're a terrible storyteller like me, if you lower your voice to a whisper for the suspenseful parts, your audience will be completely gripped. And then, of course, you can offer up the floor for the kids to tell you stories, which is a ton of fun and way easier.
6) Babyproof a bedroom, supply open-ended items or toys, lock the door, and lay down.
Again, independent play is super important, so you don't have to feel guilty for letting your children use their imaginations while you rest nearby. If you lay on your child's bed while your children are playing with cardboard boxes, you're still parenting well.
7) You might be a better mom if you start using paper plates.
A mom of eight gave me this advice and it rocked my world. I definitely care about the environment and I try to avoid disposables when I can (whether it's plates, napkins, paper towels, or even trendy throwaways in toys or fashion) but having zero energy means that we have to choose some priorities. Disposable is easier and it's not too pricey if bought in bulk. So switching to paper plates and cups for a season might be a good idea so you don't have to waste those rare moments when you do have energy on quite so many household chores.
8) Let them prepare their own food.
Do you know how much fun a little kid can have if you put a glob of peanut butter on their plate with some crackers or a piece of bread and hand them a plastic knife? Or how much they might enjoy a plate of spaghetti in which they get to pour their own sauce? It keeps them busy, feeds them, and teaches them independence. Boom. It's messy but most moms wipe down little kids after meals anyway. (I'm not one of those moms, by the way, but I'm trying to grow in that area.)
9) Washi tape art.
Once your kids figure out how to use washi tape (maybe age two or three), they can be kept busy for hours. And it makes no mess! They just rip pieces of colorful, patterned tape and arrange them on a piece of paper. Ask your kids to make art for specific people so that they're very careful to do their best work. You, on the other hand, get to lay down while your artists are busy creating. Buying a dozen or so rolls from Amazon is probably the easiest and most cost-effective way to acquire washi tape, and it'll be the best investment you've made in awhile. And you can get 24 rolls for $14, so they really don't have to drain your funds.
10) Give them a rug/towel and a book, set a timer, and close the door.
I haven't been able to do this with my 1 year old, but the 3 and 5 year old not only thrive for those fifteen minutes...they often ask for more time. It's amazing how little kids can thrive with boundaries. And it's amazing how relaxing or productive fifteen minutes of silence can be for you!
11) Hire a mother's helper.
Chances are you know a responsible pre-teen or teenager who isn't quite old enough to babysit but who would like to earn some money. Ask her parents if they'd be willing for her to work for you as a mother's helper! My mother's helper has been coming every week for over a year. She started at $5/hour (her mom's idea) but eventually I gave her a raise to $6.25/hour ($25 for a 4-hour shift each week) because she's getting older and does such an amazing job. She watches all three kids, reads to them, builds Lego's with them, braids the girls' hair, etc. and they absolutely love her. I still make lunch, change diapers, and discipline when needed, but for the most part I'm able to catch up on my tasks and take it a little easy.
I will mention that a lot of these activities depend on the obedience and independent-play abilities of the kids. This fluctuates greatly with my children and, unfortunately, tends to be correlated with how attentive I've been to their hearts and how consistent I've been to discipline them. If they're overstimulated or get too much screen time, they're not going to want to play with a cardboard box for an hour. So I constantly have to reevaluate what I'm trying to accomplish with my parenting, and then by examining my actions I must see if my functional priorities match up. And, of course, I need to pray that God will give me grace to be a good mom and that He will help my kids be joyfully obedient and part of the team.
Also remember that pregnancy or sickness is a season. It's probably not going to be for the rest of your life. There will be plenty of times when you are able to play tag with your kids and take them to the park and bake with them, but maybe it's not right now. That's okay. God knows better than we do that we have limits, and in His kindness He often orchestrates the universe in such a way that we slow down whether we want to or not.
I hope that was encouraging! Now get some rest :)
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a rad guy, and raising three little people ages 1,3, and 5...and I'm now expecting my fourth. I like lime green, Coke icees, and I wear my Crocs until they have holes in them...or melt.
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Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today