It pains me to write about having four children, when I actually have five – my eldest child died in 2013 following a brain hemorrhage. It’s was a horrible, senseless thing to happen, but this is not why I’m writing today.
We were happy with three children, but when we had that terrible sadness, we quickly decided to have a couple more! So, two new kiddiewinks later, and life is crazy but good. They each bring us joy and frustration in different ways!
We now have a blossoming teenager who simply can’t be seen with us. We have a tween boy who has been known to spend all day in the same chair playing the Xbox. A nearly four-year-old boy who is full of energy and is constantly grazing. And, a 20-month-old girl who lets everyone know what she wants!
Winter has dragged and we’re determined not to let it drag us down with it. The idea of grabbing a picnic and getting outside sounds easy enough, but when your children have a spread of ages, pretty much anything you do together will be no fun for one or more of you. Finding energy for the battles that would potentially lead to ‘fun’ is challenging, to say the least.
I have gratitude in bucket loads, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t mean I can’t find the small things in life hard sometimes. When we had three children of similar ages, we managed quite well going out for lunch, to the cinema, to the park; going anywhere was actually a fairly calm experience… but throw a couple of energetic pre-schoolers into the mix and we soon realized we weren’t going anywhere…!
Here are my top four main gripes about getting outdoors and how we have tried to overcome them:
- Everything takes forever
On our free days it’s usually mid-morning before we start thinking about what to do. Then the children want their lunch early, so we put off going out so they can be fed at home (see point 2). Then they all need to be dressed for the weather – layers and layers – and every eventuality planned for – nappies, spare clothes, wipes, drinks, more snacks.
Ok, are we ready…? Not quite, the toddler needs changing (again) and the boys have got bored waiting and are playing on the iPad half-dressed, oh yes, and I’m still in my pajamas! All it takes is for Mark or me to give the ‘shall we just stay in’ look and the kettle is on!
What we do instead: To make the task of going out seem less overwhelming, we don’t go far. Staying close to home means we don’t have to wait too long if we need to change a nappy or clothes.
They don’t know they’re walking round the block, Gruffalo’s hide anywhere!
2. Everything is expensive
Rubbish weather means most people go inside somewhere outside! I know eating out is a luxury for many families, but it’s a treat I do miss. We used to think nothing of buying a cosy pub lunch, but with bigger appetites from the older two, the cost of going out to eat feels so wasteful that we don’t bother. We’re looking at £100 and that’s us scrimping on everything and only having one drink (which they down within the first 5 minutes). Even if we’re desperate, McDonald’s is nearly £30 to feed us all, and we rarely order a takeaway now. It’s not that we’re stingy, it’s just that the cost-benefit ratio is way off!
In fact, pretty much anything with an entry fee is out, because the cost is crazy. It would cost us £50 to have an hour’s play in the local trampoline park… The only parks we can go to are the local tiny ones, much as I adore the fantastic coffee shops, we simply can’t justify the cost for the drinks and ice creams that the children (and we) find so tempting.
What we do instead: When money is tight, we go out after having lunch at home and take a snack with us. We avoid anywhere with shops and only take some change for emergencies. Plus, I have learned that you really don’t have to spend a lot to entertain your child. I bought a £1 whoopie cushion and it kept them amused for ages!
I saved up all year for this, it deserves to be immortalized!
3. Someone is always left out
It’s hard to find an activity we all enjoy. With the teen not wanting to be seen with us, she often ends up not coming unless it’s by force, so that’s one person annoyed before we’ve even started. The tween boy is pretty good at adapting to whatever the younger ones are doing but still gets quickly bored and counting how many Xbox minutes he’s earned from breathing in fresh air. We can’t take the little ones to the cinema so we miss all films, for the hassle not just because of the cost.
What we do instead: To keep everyone happy, we try to find something we can all do even if it’s just for a short time. If bribery is required, we’ll go to a book shop or WH Smith to buy a magazine, or give them extra gadget time when we get home.
Come on, stand on the slippy rock and smile. Only another half hour until we can justify going home!
4. Family time is time apart
We do go out, sometimes all of us manage to be in the same place, but the younger two need constant supervision as they like to run in different directions. Sometimes we go to town, just to push them in a pushchair, but in shops they start taking stuff off the shelves, asking for food again, and wanting to buy stuff!
Mark and I don’t actually get to see much of each other as we’re just making sure the children are all in sight and safe, that’s not to mention if we happen to see anyone we know and try to have a conversation. Browsing in shops is a luxury!
What we do instead: To get the quality-time vibe, we accept that being out won’t give us much chance to sit back and watch our children playing happily in one place, so we have a tradition that when we get home we all have a warm drink and watch a movie together (if we’re lucky, they are so worn out that Mark and I get to have a mini snooze on the sofa).
Just four more miles and then we can go home… yay!
For us, staying in is the new going out. Before the Change 4 Life people start calling, we’re not complete couch potatoes, but those times when everyone else is donning puddle suits and wellies, you’ll most likely find us snuggled up in our safe place, in the dry, with wi-fi, a cartoon, Lego and snacks. It’s very likely to be like this for a few years, but being together is all that matters.
I can’t wait for the drier weather when going outside isn’t quite such a military operation. How about you? Do you find going out expensive? I’d love to hear your time or money-saving tips?
A guest blog from Kelly Owen
Kelly is 41 and runs her proofreading business from her home in Bishop’s Cleeve, Cheltenham. She is married to Mark and they have five children. She also blogs about the loss of her eldest child at Chasing Dragonflies.