When you have four little ones scampering around, nothing goes 100 percent according to plan. It's something Laura Dove, the mum of four and blogger behind Five Little Doves, has learned the hard way.
"Our days can be manic, especially in the mornings when I'm trying to get all four of them ready for school," she says. Laura has got used to things going awry: someone's t-shirt shrunk in the wash, someone else doesn't want to eat breakfast, and the other two are squabbling over a favourite toy. Just another day in the life of a mum!
Over the years, Laura has learned a few tactics that help her take it all in stride. "I think having a strict routine is the only way I manage to find a little calm, knowing that our days are structured and planned where possible so there are no surprises or moments of panic," she explains. We caught up with Laura to find out how she deals with picky eaters, gets her kids to make their beds, and manages to stay on top of her family's hectic schedule.
In a household of six people, Laura says finding alone time with just one of her kids can be tough. Still, she wants to make sure she has a strong relationship with each of her children. That's where playtime comes in.
"I try to make time each day just for myself and each child," she says. "That could be reading a story together, playing a game, chatting about their day over dinner, or an activity together before bed."
When your kids can be a bit fussy about their food, mealtime can quickly turn into a battle. Laura knows the dinner struggle well — she has four kids, after all — and she came up with a genius way to deal with it.
First, she plans kid-friendly meals that she knows her family will love, like Heinz No Added Sugar Hoops or homemade pizzas. Since they only take minutes to prepare, Heinz Spaghetti Hoops — now available with no added sugar — are a great option for busy days. "My children have several after-school activities — street dance, gymnastic, swimming, and music groups — and I am often trying to fit in meals between dashing off to the next activity," Laura says. "I love that I can have Heinz Spaghetti Hoops served up in just a few minutes."
Plus, they're so fun to eat that kids will have a great time stacking the hoops on their forks. When Laura has more time to cook, she asks her kids to help out in the kitchen. Once they've gotten up close and personal with the food, they're more inclined to at least try it. If all goes well, Laura will even let her kids bake homemade desserts as a result for good behaviour!
Winding down after family game night can also be a challenge — especially when all four kids are hyped up on the adrenaline of the game. Luckily, Laura has an ingenious motivational tool that comes in handy at times like this: the family reward chart.
It's a simple system. When the kids behave well, they earn bonus points that eventually add up to a treat of their choice. "They can cash in their points on a daily basis to earn something simple such as watching a movie before bed, painting, making slime, playing a game," Laura explains. "The great thing about having four kids is that you can pretty much make everything into a competition and they will all fight it out for top spot!"
At bedtime, Laura will challenge the children to see who can be the first to brush their teeth, put on their pyjamas, or tidy up their bedrooms. The winner gets a point — and ultimate sibling bragging rights. "You've never seen kids move quite so fast when there's the promise of another point on their reward charts," she says.
Laura also takes on an activity that terrifies many other parents: travelling with children. Though she and her husband have always loved travelling, they were initially worried about taking the kids to another country. Would they behave badly? How would they deal with time differences? Would the holiday be a complete disaster?
Once they actually went for it, though, Laura realised she shouldn't have felt so worried. "It turns out that kids will be kids regardless of where you are in the world, so you may as well just take the leap and travel more," she says. "I think the best advice I could give is just to do it! Don't overthink it, don't get overly stressed, just book the trip and make the best of it."
Her family also faces another big challenge on holidays — finding activities that everyone can enjoy. Since there's a 10-year age difference between Laura's oldest and youngest children, she has to get creative to keep everyone happy. "Usually myself or my husband will take Lewis, 14, out for the day to a theme park or a water park, and make sure that he is having a fun time whilst the little ones enjoy building sand castles or enjoying the kids' club," she explains. A little alone time with just one of the kids can be a nice respite from a hectic family holiday, too.
Learning to Love the Little Moments
Even now, with years of experience under her belt, Laura says she still struggles with feeling like she ought to be a perfect parent. "The mum I aim to be and the mum I am are still not quite the same thing — being a mummy is hard sometimes," she says. "That said, I think I am the kind of mum who gives my children a fun and happy childhood, who is open and honest and understanding, and who champions my children in everything they do. I always say that I may not be the perfect mummy but I am the perfect mummy in my children's eyes, and that's all that really matters to me."
Laura also tries to remember that sometimes there's beauty in the little things. Sure, holidays abroad can be lovely, but the quiet moments spent sharing some Heinz No Added Sugar Hoops or reading a book together are just as precious. "Some of my favourite moments are just the six of us, snuggled up on the couch, watching a movie together," she says. "The ordinary moments can still be extraordinary!"