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From 2 to 23: What I've Learned Raising 6 Kids (and Running a Business!)

Hi there! I'm the mama behind Figgy (check out our fun toys at Figgy, and more importantly, I'm a seasoned pro at this parenting gig – I have 6 kids ranging from 2 years old to 23! That's right, over two decades of experience with everything from bottle warmers to college applications. Buckle up, because I'm here to share some of toddler parenting tips and the biggest lessons I've learned along the way.

Hi there! I'm the mama behind Figgy (check out our play couches at Figgy, and more importantly, I'm a seasoned pro at this whole parenting gig – I have 6 kids ranging from 2 years old to 23! That's right, over two decades of learnings with everything from bottle warmers to college applications.  I'm here to share some of my favorite parenting tips and the biggest lessons I've learned along the way.

Letting Go of the "Perfect" Parenting Playbook

Parenting advice is a constant flow these days, and guess what? It's constantly evolving! New research, mom advice, different schools of thought – it can feel overwhelming.

Here's the secret: there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Not one single way is correct.  What worked for your brother, your co-workers kid or even your firstborn might not be the magic bullet for your next. This is where trusting your gut and finding what works for your unique family comes in.

Milestones Are Milestones, Not Finish Lines

Milestones are fantastic tools to track development, but they shouldn't be a source of stress or frustration. My kids walked anywhere from 9 months to 17 months – they all got there on their own schedule, and now they're all ridiculously energetic. Focus on celebrating their progress and embrace their individual pace.

Uniquely You: Celebrating Your Child's Individuality

Just like snowflakes, each kid is one-of-a-kind! Their personalities, preferences, and learning styles are all their own. This isn't a challenge, it's a beautiful and rewarding opportunity to nurture and discover who each child truly is. Don't try to put them into a mold and make them conform.

Unlocking the Potty Training Puzzle

What motivates one child to ditch the diapers might leave another completely unenthused. Embrace the exploration and find what works for each little one. Maybe it's a sticker chart for one child and a favorite toy for another. There's no shame in a little trial and error – you'll find the key eventually!  Maybe the 3 day potty training method worked for you, but a little bribery might work for someone else - and who are we to judge?? Did I mention that Figgy offers waterproof liners for a reason :-) 

Picky Eating: Beyond Parental Control

There's a misconception that picky eating is caused by bad parenting, but let me tell you, some kids are just wired differently. My younger son, for example, had a sensitivity to so many flavors and textures that he went from thriving to 'failing to thrive' when he started solids. It wasn't about anything I did – he just had a sensory issue. It took time for it to be resolved and he is still sensitive to some foods.

Understanding Picky Eating and Finding Solutions

Every parent struggles with picky eaters at some point. The key is to avoid judgment and focus on finding solutions that work for you and your unique child's development together. Talk to your pediatrician, explore sensory therapies if needed, and offer a variety of healthy options in a positive and pressure-free environment.

Conquering Chaos: Adventures with a Crew in Tow

Traveling with a big family can feel like herding kittens on roller skates, but trust me, the memories you create are worth every spilled juice box and chorus of "Are we there yet?". We've explored the world with all six kiddos in tow, and yes, there were moments of glorious chaos – we lost things, missed planes and trains and buses - but we made it all work in the end.  On our last trip to Amsterdam my 13 year old left our only baby carrier on the bus! 

But seeing the world through their eyes, the joy of trying out new things and foods that would make your tastebuds do a happy dance (hello, stinky durian!), and the cultural experiences we've shared – it's priceless. As travel writer Pico Iyer says, "One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."

Here's the thing: you don't need to wait until your kids are teenagers or adults to embark on adventures. Pack your bags, grab your sense of humor, and embrace the mess! You might get a few sideways glances from other travelers, but who cares? Your crew will be creating memories that will last a lifetime, and the memories last a lot longer than cheap plastic toys....

Bonus Tip: Packing cubes are your new best friend. Trust me, color-coding your kid's clothes will save you from meltdowns over lost socks in the middle of the Pantheon.

Carving Out "Me Time" in the Mommy (or Daddy) Maelstrom

Alright, let's be honest – between the never-ending laundry pile, the chorus of "Mom/Dad, can you…", and the constant negotiations over bedtime stories (spoiler alert: there will always be one more book!), finding time for yourself can feel like searching for a unicorn in a tutu. But here's the thing: mama (or daddy) needs a recharge just like your phone does.

As author and motivational speaker Arianna Huffington says, "We can't pour from an empty cup." So, let's talk about carving out some precious "me time" in the beautiful chaos that is parenthood, even if it's just 30 minutes to sip a lukewarm cup of coffee in peace.

First things first: ditch the guilt. You are not a superhero (although let's be real, wrangling multiple kiddos sometimes feels like a superpower). Taking care of yourself isn't selfish, it's essential. It allows you to be the best version of yourself for your future kids, your partner, and yes, even your goldfish (because trust me, they can sense your stress levels too).

Now, how do we actually achieve this elusive "me time" in the midst of the daily whirlwind? Here are a few battle-tested tips from a mama who's been there, done that, and spilled the juice box (or three):

  • Become a Scheduling Ninja: Treat "me time" like any other important appointment. Pencil it into your calendar, set a reminder on your phone, and stick to it like glitter sticks to a carpet (yes, some battles are best not fought). Even if it's just 30 minutes while your partner handles bedtime duty, that sacred time is yours.

  • The Mighty Power of "Mini": You don't need a whole week off to recharge. Even small chunks of time can make a big difference. Maybe it's a 15-minute yoga session before the day starts, a relaxing bath while your partner reads to the kids, or a stolen moment to curl up with a good book after everyone's asleep (bonus points if you can actually finish a chapter without interruptions!).

  • The Art of Delegation: You are not a one-woman (or man) show. Delegate tasks! Ask your partner to take over bath time or story duty. If you have older kids, they can help with chores or even start babysitting for short periods (with appropriate supervision, of course). Don't be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, or even a babysitter.

  • Find Your Tribe: Surround yourself with other parents who understand the struggle. Join a local mom (or dad) group, connect with friends online, or even swap childcare with another family. Having a support system can make all the difference. They'll be there to commiserate over the meltdowns, celebrate the victories, and maybe even offer a much-needed shoulder massage (because seriously, your shoulders will thank you!).

  • Listen to Your Inner Voice: You know yourself best. Maybe your ideal "me time" involves a quiet cup of tea and a good book. Or perhaps it's a long walk in nature or a rejuvenating workout class. Whatever it is, prioritize activities that truly fill your cup and leave you feeling refreshed.

Remember, mama (or daddy), you are doing an amazing job. By taking care of yourself, you're taking care of your children and entire family. So, go forth, conquer your to-do list, and schedule that "me time" with the fierce determination you use to wrestle socks away from babies from under the couch. You deserve it!

Break Free From the To-Do List Monster: The Glorious Art of Outsourcing

Here's the truth bomb: you don't have to be a martyr to the to-do list monster. There's a secret weapon in your arsenal, and it's called outsourcing.

Yes, outsourcing. That fancy word that used to be reserved for CEOs and tech giants. But guess what? In the beautiful chaos of parenthood, it can be your saving grace. Here's why:

  • Time is Your Most Valuable Currency: As a working mom, every minute with your family is a golden nugget. Outsourcing frees up precious time for the things that truly matter – snuggling on the couch with a good book together, having epic pillow fort battles, or simply enjoying a conversation without the constant background noise of "Mom, can I…?”.

  • Focus on Your Strengths: Let's be honest, we all have our talents. You might be a whiz in the kitchen, whipping up gourmet meals that would make Martha Stewart jealous. But maybe laundry folding induces a near-existential crisis (and hey, no judgment there!). Outsourcing allows you to focus on your strengths and delegate the tasks that drain your energy (and possibly turn your hair prematurely gray).

  • The Magic of Efficiency: Let's face it, some people are just better at certain things. A professional cleaner can blitz through your house in half the time it takes you, freeing you up for more fun activities. And online grocery shopping with delivery? It's a lifesaver, eliminating the need to navigate crowded aisles with hangry kiddos in tow.

But wait, you might say, outsourcing sounds expensive! Here's the good news: it doesn't have to be. Here are a few ways to outsource on a budget:

  • The Barter System is Back, Baby!: Remember the good old days of trading Pokemon cards on the playground? This age-old concept can work wonders in the world of parenthood. Can you whip up a mean batch of lasagna? Barter your culinary skills for a friend's cleaning prowess. Excellent at organizing the perfect playdate? Offer your expertise in exchange for help with yard work.

  • Get Crafty with Online Resources: The internet is a treasure trove of resources for budget-friendly outsourcing. Explore online grocery shopping services with free pick-up options. Many local high schools offer student-run car washes or yard work services at a fraction of the professional cost.

  • Think Outside the Box: Can't afford a regular house cleaner? Maybe a teenager on your street needs some extra cash and is willing to tackle a deep clean once a month. Does your neighbor have a teenager who loves animals? See if they'd be interested in walking your dog while you're at work.

The key is to begin to get creative and think about the resources you already have access to. Remember, a little effort can go a long way in freeing up your precious time and sanity.

Bonus Tip: Don't be afraid to negotiate! Many service providers are happy to work with your budget to create a customized plan.

So ditch the feelings of guilt, mama (or daddy). Outsourcing isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of a savvy parent who knows how to prioritize their time and well-being.

By letting go of some control, you can create more space for the moments that truly matter – the laughter, the cuddles, and the memories that will last a person a lifetime. Now, go forth and conquer that to-do list monster, armed with the knowledge that you don't have to do it all alone!

The Final Giggle: Embrace the Ride

So there you have it! A glimpse into the wild world of raising a whole lot of little humans (and running a business on the side!). Remember, there's no perfect way to parent children, and every journey is unique. Embrace the chaos, celebrate the differences, and most importantly, have fun!

These little rockstars are only little for a while, so soak up every giggle, every cuddle, and every epic adventure. Before you know it, you'll be cheering them on at college graduations (with a box of tissues in hand, of course) and reminiscing about the time your toddler turned the living room into a banana-fueled toddler obstacle course.


Rachel Neill is a wife, mom, lover of all things Peloton and seasoned entrepreneur. She lives in Wisconsin and wouldn't give up the summers here for a more mild winter.