post-edit note: I just realized I posted this without finishing my answer for one of the questions below. Whooops! I just added what I meant to say in gray just so you’ll know…

I have begun to try to categorize the questions that come in that go together. This post includes a bunch asking about what life was like for us with little toddlers. I thought they would be appropriate this week in light of this post and how my heart has been so nostalgic about the early days lately.

Please add in advice or ideas because I certainly don’t have all of them and I know I have SO much to learn! I’m putting old pictures in this post so you will really believe that we were once in that stage ๐Ÿ™‚

I am a young mother (ages 4, 2, and a baby) and I would LOVE to hear what life was like for you when you were in that stage. How did you handle the constant craziness? How did you discipline? (Time outs, spanking, ???) Sometimes my kids go to bed and I think “today was a total FAIL!” Any other general advice for this stage would be wonderful! Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚

There are a lot of questions like this in this post and it has made me step back and wonder: How in the world did I get here: from there?? …and how did it happen so quickly?

How in the world am I not a “young mother” anymore?? I mean, I was just there. My friends and I were just gathering once a week letting our toddlers play while we made wreaths or wrote up drafts of our motherhood book we dreamed of writing together. (That was our kitchen in our rental home in Virginia. Isn’t that lovely linoleum? See Max in the maroon on the right? And Elle’s right behind them. I’m probably totally pregnant taking the picture.)

I swear I was just barely making a schedule for meeting all the neighborhood moms at the pool or for doing babysitting-swaps so we could get an ounce done without toddlers crawling all over us:(Gotta love those pants.)

I swear we were just at the farm together discussing diaper rashes and how to get our babies to nap better during the day.We would go “garage-sale-ing” on Saturdays to find the best board books and gently-used toys for our babies and we would strap our kids in the car and go to the Gap to get sale prices for clothes for our kids to wear the next season.(yes, I think that really might be drool…)

How did it happen so quick that there are no longer cheerios crunching under my feet on the floor nor toothpaste to clean up in the bathroom?I was just barely the one incredulously asking this question to older friends, “so how is it having a kid in high school?”

And now suddenly this boy:…is the one in high school and is millimeters from passing me up in height. I am six feet tall for crying out loud!

It really does baffle my mind.

I felt so busy as a mom of toddlers in such a different way than I feel busy now. It was constant physical drain from vacuuming out the mounds of laundry detergent someone filled the dryer with to bawling while sweeping up piles of beautiful hair my two-year-old just cut off of her head.

It was, like you said, constant craziness, and there were many nights I went to bed thinking “today was a total failure.”

But then I remembered to do what honestly got me through those years: I went and watched my babies sleep each night. I would linger over their beds every single night, but for longer on nights following particularly harrowing days. There was something magical about those long eyelashes resting so gently on those chunky baby cheeks that got me every time. Made my heart fill up with gratitude instead of feeling like the end of the world was on it’s way.

And then I prayed my heart out that the next day would be better.

As for discipline, I did spank my kids a couple times but I don’t believe in that at all. I’m a firm believer in “time-out.” But it has to be “emotion-free” on the part of the mother for it to be effective. If you stick a child in time out while you’re hopping-mad it’s just giving them the attention they want…toddlers will take any attention they can get, even if it’s the negative kind. I love the “Love and Logic” tactics where you say stuff like, “I’m so sorry you chose to do that because it means you will have to spend some time in time-out. I hope you will make a better decision next time.” I swear even toddlers “get” this.

Another thing I think helped so much through the toddler phases was that I always had a parenting book on my bedside. See below for more about which ones I’d recommend…

What I need to know is how you got through those real early years. [see above for answer to that part] I have a 4 year old a 2 year old and a six month old…that doesn’t sleep! I am so tired and feel bad because I am not being the mommy I want to be. I can’t get my little guy to sleep and I don’t believe in letting him cry it out. But I also feel bad for my girls because I am a cranky mama. These early days pass right? Haha.

Oh I am such a believer in letting babies “cry it out!” That may sound horrible to you but they were all healthy, big babies at four months and I knew they could make it through the night just fine without me. I read a book (maybe “Baby Wise”???) that talked about how you go in and soothe them for a little bit and then gradually go in less and less until they just make it through the night.

It was one of the most horrible things to go through for everyone involved for two to three nights. I could only do it when Dave was out of town because he couldn’t handle it. I stayed up and cried all night silently in the hallway while they wailed away in their crib. But in the end it was so worth that agony for a few nights because it made life amazing again and I could really enjoy my babies. There is something so miraculous about getting to sleep through the night again after so many sleepless nights.
Yes, these early days pass.

Much, much too quickly.

I’ve just started on my parenting journey (5 mths & 2 1/5 yr old) and was wondering what books you would recommend that have helped you through your own parenting journey?
My all-time favorite is I Didn’t Plan to Be a Witch by Linda Eyre (who happens to be my mother). In fact I need to dust that puppy off and read it again. I know I’m biased but it is the best book ever for mothers to put their role in perspective and to take joy in the journey. A Joyful Mother of Children is also up there on the top of my list (also written by my mother). Teaching Your Children Joy sure makes you think too and is linked with “Joy School” which I am incredibly grateful I had the chance to do with each of my children (aside from Lu who I’m still working on). There’s a Joy School link on my sidebar if you want more info. on that.

Post edit note: I cannot believe I forgot to mention “A Mother’s Book of Secrets”!!! (One of my personal favorites:) The exciting news is that it has recently been reprinted and is available again here.

I’ve also read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk multiple times. It has had a big impact on how I talk to my children, and how I listen to them as well.

I love all your parenting ideas, and am wondering some things were you did when your kids were really young (like under 5, toddlers, etc). Discipline, traditions, etc.. I have really young kids and am always looking for new ideas.

My favorite discipline tactic for younger children is one we adapted from my parents. (Are you surprised?)

It’s the “fighting bench.” (Well, they changed the name to the “repenting bench” to put a more positive spin on it when I got older, but in my mind it’s still the “fighting bench.”)
My parents bought this bench in England when we were young and put it prominently in our kitchen. Whenever we got in a fight we had to sit there with the person we were “tangling” with (as my mom’s words “it takes two to tangle” rang through our heads).

We had to sit there until we took ownership of what WE did wrong. Oh how we itched to just rattle off all the bad things our “bench partner” did, but that was forbidden. We had to fess up and take responsibility for what we did to perpetuate the fight.

And then we had to apologize.

And then we had to hug.

I know that sounds icky because isn’t it horrible when you’re really mad at someone and you have to touch them let alone hug them? But by the time we had gone through what we did wrong and said we were sorry the hugging didn’t seem so bad.

I swear this practice helped us all become the great friends we are. It helped us take ownership of our actions and helped us bond together.

Although we are not the proud owners of an antique bench from England in our family, we have found that sitting on a stair works just as well. I still have my kids sit on the stair from time to time when they argue.

Give it a try. It is a miraculous thing.

As far as traditions go, we did simple things. We went on a walk as a family every Sunday afternoon. We had Family Home Evening. Dave told the best, most imaginative made-up bedtime stories about Prince Max and Princesses Elle and eventually Grace. We talked about “Mirror Land” a lot. We read book after book after book after book. We kept things simple out of necessity, and it worked.

I have four children, ages 5, 3 year-old twins and a 20 month-old. My question is, did you have a routine when your kids were young? I feel like we’re just getting out of the craziness that came with having the twins and our little one so close together and am struggling to find some sort of balance for our days at home. I know your kids aren’t all that far apart and just wonder if you had any ideas on how to make our time at home productive, but relaxed and definitely fun. Thanks so much for all you share and how you mentor complete strangers like me through this blog! ๐Ÿ™‚

I think every mother has to go through thousands of different phases of “routine.” It changes each year whether there is a new baby or new extracurricular activities or a job change or even when you just want to pull up your bootstraps and get more organized. I have gone through phases where I have one day for laundry, one day for cleaning, one day for organizing dinners for the rest of the week. I’ve gone through years with colicky newborns who had reflux when just staying afloat was the only “routine” I had. I can only imagine how twins would most likely throw you in that category. I think every situation warrants different means of routine. We just have to make time to step back and evaluate what is most important at each stage.

Very most importantly, I think it’s essential to realize as a mother of young children, (especially when those children are close in age), simply “being there” for them is enough. It’s so easy to get down on ourselves that we didn’t happen to save the world on any given day along with wiping off runny noses and kissing scraped knees. But we must realize that in doing these very seemingly insignificant tasks we are changing the world. If those little people entrusted in our care feel love and value it beats any other accomplishment in my book.

I’ll just leave this rather lengthy post with two thoughts:

1) Have someone take pictures of you with your babies. I was looking through old pictures for this post and it made me sad that out of the thousands of pictures I have, I can count on one hand the pictures I have with my tiny babies. That makes my heart ache. I wish I would have captured the love I had for them a little bit better.
2) You may think your children will be in this stage forever:But they won’t.

They’ll grow up before you can blink.

Yes, it’s a crazy time with toddlers getting into mischief and babies spitting up all over everything within a three-meter radius of themselves. But it passes too quickly and it will make you cry when you look back even if you take full advantage of having it there while it is in front of you.

My favorite quote:

โ€œEverything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach. T. Berry Brazelton. Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with โ€˜Goodnight Moonโ€™ and โ€˜Where the Wild Things Are,โ€™ they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories.โ€ Then she goes on and talks about some of the mistakes she made while raising her babies. โ€œโ€ฆthe biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us makeโ€ฆI did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of [my children] sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.โ€

–Anna Quindlen

How I hope I can remember to enjoy the “doing” a little more than the checking off “getting it done.”

Because before I know it I’ll be missing the teenage years just like I miss those baby years now.

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  1. I think i needed that today. It's the last 10 days before school starts, and as much as i love having them home, they are starting to fight, and yesterday i thought.. oh it can't come fast enough.. THEN, today in the mail, i got my 'kindergartner' schedule for my little girl.. choked, lump in throat.. sobbing in the van LOL.. they do grow up so quickly.
    Mine are still young, 7,5,4. But i no longer go to the 'baby' section, diaper isle, infant tylenol stocking up.. when did that stop? I LOVe the book ' the lasts' by karen kingsbury, i think thats its name.. sooo heartbreaking!!!

    I agree with CIO. I never wanted to do it either, but i never had good sleepers, i never slept a night for 5 years. when my last baby came i just had to. my other two girls were up hourly, if not more, and 2 nights and it was done.. why,oh why did i not do it with my other two!!


    With lighthearted illustrations and a sweet, reflective tone, best-selling author Karen Kingsbury encourages parents to savor not only their children's "firsts"โ€”like first steps and first wordsโ€”but the "lasts" as well. With the tenderness of a mother speaking directly to her child, Karen reminds us not to miss last days of kindergarten and last at bats in Little League amidst the whirlwind of life. Adapted from a poem in Rejoice, mothers and grandmothers everywhere will identify with the tenderhearted reflections in Let Me Hold You Longer. An ideal gift book for special occasions from baby showers to graduations.


  3. You're like the wise, humble, SMART big sister I always wished I'd had. Thank you SO much for this post Shawni!!! That quote is getting typed up in a pretty font, framed and put in my kitchen.

  4. Thank you for telling us that you are 6' tall. I feel slightly better that you look so amazing and thin. At 5'3" it's not as easy to look so elegant. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    My kids are all 10-15 years old now, but this is great advice for the early years. I love your perspective on things, and am so grateful that you share with all of us. Thank you.

    Oh, and… even though I'm out of the younger years, I'm going to do the fighting bench. Thank you for reminding me of that idea!

  5. p.s. You even look amazing in "those pants". If I tucked a shirt into high-waisted pants like that I promise that a photo would never never never make it out "in public". ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. This post totally choked me up, because I know I'm in the throws of the early years, and its been really hard. But at the same time it's going by so fast. Sigh.

  7. Thank you for this! I also LOVE that quote by Anna Quindlen. I even took pictures of my then little ones sleeping, years ago when I first read it. It makes me teary every time I read it. It has been awhile since I've read it, and the timing was right with school starting around the corner and patience thinning!

  8. I so relate to 'where did that time go'. My oldest is now 27 and my youngest 4. My advice would always be to really live in the moment, it takes a bit of a paradigm shift in the mind, that these are not days to be 'got through' but days that are truly cherished because they will soon be gone.
    I also identify with the pain of leaving your baby to 'cry it out' but it truly does work and as i tell my friends and siblings, 'he/she won't hold it against you in the morning but will wake up happy and smiling.

  9. LOVED every word. How DID that time go so fast? How could my baby be giving such amazing advice? It just happens so fast! And no matter how much you try to slow things down, it just seems to go faster and faster. Loved those old pics!

  10. I loved every word too. This was such a great post. I love reading your blog. I do have a question-do you have some hair styling techniques? Your hair always looks great! Do you use a straightener?

  11. Thank you! I cried the whole way through reading that post. I feel like there are such ebbs and flows with this and all stages of motherhood. Sometimes, I'm doing really well at living in the moment and soaking up the love i have for my young family, and sometimes, I'm barely making it and constantly feeling frustrated that I'm not enjoying it more. After yelling at my kids this morning to get the same list of jobs they've had to do all summer long, and feeling bad about how mad I got about that, I needed this today.

  12. This was beautiful. I love that Quindlen quote.
    I think the best thing we as mothers can do is first to TRY HARDER, and then to cut ourselves some slack on those days when we need it. That's how the Savior and Heavenly Father treat us. We need to follow their examples in ALL things.
    Thank you for being so relatable.

  13. I definitely needed this today! We just moved into our new house 3 weeks ago and with kids ages 8, 6, 4, 2, and 4 1/2 months it is not easy to do!!! I've been so crazy busy trying to find a spot for everything, put stuff away, etc. that my kids have been put on the back burner. Thank you for your post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. What a wonderful and fun blog you have here! Crazy how fast time flies, makes me sad ๐Ÿ™ My oldest daughter starts kindergarten this next week, wow.
    Anyway, I just LOVE all those pics. So cute!!!

  15. Thank you for answering my question! ๐Ÿ™‚ I loved your advice and even read it out loud to my husband. Perspective can go a long way. Thank you again for your words of wisdom!

  16. Thank you thank you thank you. That last quote tipped me over the edge of having tears in my eyes. Holy cow. I am a young mom with an almost 2 yr old also struggling with bouncing back from having a molar pregnancy. Life has been hard. I have been really hard on myself and how my body has "failed me." BUT, my little daughter, however crazy and cranky and 100% toddler she may be, I try to remind myself that she really is a miracle baby for us and that she is perfect. I have really been trying to focus on all the positive things, to not get frustrated too easily, and to soak in those moments. However, I wish I now remembered more of the newborn moments. I'm already sad about not remembering things when she was born 2 yrs ago, I can't imagine those feelings in 15 yrs! I'll be crying like a mad woman all the time!!! lol I'm going to look into those books you suggested. We can't have enough good reads!

  17. Thank you very much for this post. These were questions I have been thinking about and I'm glad you have answered them. I'm a young mum with an almost 3yr old, 17month old and pregnant due in November. You are real mum and I thank you for diligently writing on your blog. I love it ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. This is my favorite of your Q&A posts ever. Your love for your kids shines through so much. I only hope I can be as diligent and hopeful as you one day, my boys are 3 and 1 and I constantly feel that what I do is never enough. Thank you for sharing all this. I can't wait to read some of your mom's books!

  19. Loved this post. I am also a firm believer in letting them "cry it out". Now I have a question if you can fit it in sometime. I have a 7 and a 4-year-old who seem to fight all the time. A lot of the time it is the 7-year-old picking on the 4-year-old which results in some sort of retaliation. Do any of your kids fight nonstop and if so what do you do?

  20. For the mom who doesn't want to let her children cry it out, give her this idea that has saved our lives. We have a sound machine and when they start to cry we turn it on so we don't have to hear their pitiful wails. It makes it SO much easier! And it has a timer so if she wants to only let them cry for a certain amount of time she can do that. Although stay strong!
    Thanks for the post–beautiful!

  21. Wow. I have become a big fan of yours in the past several months, & this post was extremely helpful. I have a 4 yr. old & a 2 1/2 yr. old, & some days (like today) I almost go insane! Thank you for taking the time to offer sound advice that was so timely for me right now.

  22. This post was an answer to my prayers on mulitple levels, thank you.
    I love the idea about the fighting bench, I'm so using that! and I have found my new motto for the year! I've been trying to think of one for me and my family since I found your blog and reading this post helped me figure it out during this stage in my family's lives: Live in the Moment.
    I can relate with a lot of the feelings you had right now and I really want treasure less the getting it done while I have a newborn in the house, its such a challenge. Thank you for a beautiful post, I love fridays!!

  23. What really hit me was your comment about taking pictures with your babies as little ones. I take a lot of pictures, and try to be in them, but I'm thinking there are likely more with just my son and I as he was the first. There are a ton of pictures of the next two, but likely not a lot of just them with me! Thanks for mentioning this as I am going to make it a "project" to take pictures with them individually! My babes are 5, 3 and 9 months ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. This is my favorite post you have written ever. Thank you for reminding me to enjoy my toddler even more. Plus, I just ordered every book you suggested. I am always looking for ways to improve and enhance my parenting skills. Being a mom is harder than I thought it would be…

  25. I REALLY needed this post. My husband and I just two days ago decided it's time for our first little baby to cry it out, after trying everything else we could think of to help her sleep through the night. Yesterday, while my husband was gone, I sat with my fingers in my ears crying listening to my sweet baby wailing, thinking to myself "I'm the worst mother ever, I'm the worst mother ever." This was so reassuring! Thank you again and again.

  26. Thank you for your post! I just found out last night that I am pregnant with my 3rd baby (definitely a surprise) and feeling very overwhelmed at how I am going to do it all. My girls are 3 and 1 and I just appreciated all the input, it's nice to know that someone out there as been through the same thing!

  27. oh such a timely post to this busy mummy of 4 under 6. I am so used to telling people my life is crazy that I forget that I do actually get time to myself each day even if it's just a little or for a gym class.

    I love the older photos and you are so right about photos with your babies. I don't have enough of them and wish I did!


  28. I attended your parents' classes this past week at Education Week where I learned about the "repentance bench." I loved the idea and quickly put in into place in our home (on an antique bench I bought in England!). Yesterday, my two young boys were sent there twice. Wow! What an amazing thing – their arguments were over faster than lightening. Worked like a charm!

  29. beautiful and amazing and poignant. Thank you.

    I often am shocked that I'm not part of that "young mother" group anymore… but then I realize that I'm not, and that gone with that title are the uncertainties and feelings of inadequacy… maybe not gone, but they have changed.

    I remember kneeling and praying for forgiveness from Heavenly Father who gave me such tender spirits… and waking the next morning ready to be better.

    And to think that in 5 months I get to start all over again with the newborn phase… with a 13, 11, 9, 6 and 4 year old to help us.

  30. Oh Shawni, those were some wonderful memories! Do you remember that we always had to have Spinach dip (in the bread bowl) and other yummy snacks at our playdates!? Thanks for sharing those pictures…Sommer and Calvin were CRACKING Up (they especially loved my short "do!" Thanks for inspiring me (and so many others)! Love ya.

  31. i love the repenting bench idea. your parents are truly amazing. what creativity, as well as helping you learn from situations.

  32. i love how reading your blog is like an extended version of your book, which is my favorite as well (A mother's book of secrets) THanks!!! ๐Ÿ™‚
    oh, and I really hope I win that amazing prize of going out to eat with your parents. what a treat!!! I wouldn't even need dessert. haha. ๐Ÿ™‚

  33. I too am a mother of five and look back at when my children were little with such fondness and disbelief at how quickly the time goes. My children are 16,15,13,10 and 5. My youngest started kindergarten this year and I sobbed!
    Shawni – I love following your blog and respect you so much as a parent. I did want to bring up one thing. I teach childbirth and baby classes at a local hospital and have to stay up on current research on babies. A lot of new information has come out about the harm of allowing a baby to cry it out. Check out this link to Dr Sears: I know a lot of moms take your advice to heart and I just want them to be able to make informed decisions based on current information.
    Thanks for always sharing from your heart!

  34. Thank you for reminding me to take more photos of me WITH my babies! I feel like I don't take nearly enough baby pics as it is, much less any that have mom and babe together–I have a job for my husband tonight! You have accrued so much wisdom–thank you for sharing it with others.

  35. A friend of mine just told me about your blog and I've been poring over it (late last night and between conference sessions). I'm in awe of you and your darling family! I'm also on day 2 of trying cry-it-out with my 4-month-old little girl (our first) and seriously struggling. So, being curious what you do with your cute kids and knowing they turned out well, I searched "cry it out" on your blog and found this and now feel a bit more encouraged that I can actually do this. But, seriously, is there anything harder than hearing your baby cry and cry? Yes, there are. But it sure is tough. Thanks for your sweet example of parenting!

  36. Thank you, thank you. I can not soak up enough mothering advice and ideas. I just recently read "A Joyful Mother of Children" by your mom and it has made a big impact. I'm so excited to read her other books! I also love how honest you are and that you actually said you believe in crying it out because I do too-happy baby and happy mom after it's done!

  37. I probably had the hardest day I have ever had with my three young children yesterday. I stumbled upon your blog for the first time ever today and it was just what I needed. In fact, it made me cry, and more importantly, made me want to take a deep breath and try harder and work smarter and love more. Thank you for your words.

  38. Thanks for this. I'm pregnant with my first and really looking forward to pregnancy (and my lawyer job and 3 hour daily commute) to be over. This post helped me feel some excitement and anticipation about the next phase of life and a little more relaxed about the current phase. Thanks.

  39. Thank you for this post. It's been a long week with my little ones, almost 2 and 4, and I just needed to hear your words. I needed to be reminded to live in the moment. . and take pictures of me and my littles. Thank you for all you do and give to complete strangers.

  40. I'm adding a thanks, with tears in my eyes, on top of the many others you have received. I needed this. My 3 year old and 8 month old will really appreciate it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for helping me want to be better and take action to do it.

  41. I read your book a couple of years ago and stumbled upon your blog just last night via pinterest. I looked at the family picture and thought it looked familiar. Then i remembered…I love what you have to say about mothering and raising a family. It inspires me to be a better Mommy, to enjoy the little things and not to sweat when things go hay wire. Thank you for sharing!

  42. Hi Shawni! I haven't commented for so long but I still really glean so much from your posts so THANK YOU for who you are. My friends and I have been getting together to watch the powerofmoms virtual retreat.. where you talk too ๐Ÿ™‚
    I've got a 4,3, and 1 year old ( and I'm just beginning the Repentance Bench. Do you think it would be helpful at all to start off by both kids telling each other about their feelings/why they are upset… and then what they did wrong? I'm having a hard time not addressing their initial feeling first, but maybe it's better to focus just on taking personal responsibility. I feel like they need to recognize their emotion before being able to work through it. But I'd so appreciate your feedback.. especially since you've been through it as a child!

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