Let’s face it: Straddle Parenting brings some pretty unique challenges to bear. Things that stretch families with three or four children all in one relative season of childhood can feel like brewing storms when you’re trying to multitask by filling out your high school senior’s FAFSA paperwork in your OB’s waiting room. Ask the Straddle Parents is a forum for readers to get our personal perspective on how we’ve navigated some of the terrain— sometimes with success, sometimes with spectacular failure, and always with a whole lot of grace.
I am at a loss. My older kids have events like musical performances and graduations coming up. I (obviously) really want to be there, but my littles are pretty much guaranteed to steal the show—and not in a good way. How do you fully embrace these milestone moments when half of you is trying to keep a toddler from causing a scene?
First of all, I fully feel your pain. I have gazed into the not-so-distant future and realized that there’s a very real chance I might be nursing a baby while one of my older daughters is trying on wedding gowns! There’s not very much out there in society that prepares you for this level of straddle parenting— which is why this site exists in the first place!
And while we haven’t given a daughter in marriage just yet, we have crossed a couple of those “once in a lifetime moments” for our older children with a little one in tow. Is it easy? Not always. But is it doable? With a little forethought, yes!
First, I urge you to honestly assess your situation. Chances are good if you’re like me you have a soft-focus image in your mind of how amazing and memorable that group shot is going to be when you and your whole brood cheer your big kid on. And maybe that’s true. But if it’s not— and it sounds like you’re pretty sure that’s the case— then reality is your friend. Don’t add stress and chaos to the event by forcing a little one to behave in a way that has never been possible in a situation with far less riding on it. You are only going to be disappointed and frustrated. If you don’t think you and your spouse can be fully present for the big doings, and you’re not wanting to trade off duty walking the littles outside, then it’s time to call in back up.
When our now-19 year-old daughter graduated from our homeschool in 2014, our youngest two were 3 years and 17 months old, respectively. On the practical side, both my husband and I had to be present on stage to hand her the diploma. On the heart side, neither of us wanted to miss a second of the ceremony celebrating the culmination of so much hard work. We could have left our teenage sons in charge and hoped for the best, but that still left us with the potential of needing to step in if the wheels fell off. Instead, we talked to my in-laws, who agreed to be in charge, leaving our hands (and minds) free to enjoy the graduation fully. They knew it might mean stepping out with a little one, but were willing to be the fully on duty kid keeper for the evening anyhow.
But what if you don’t have a relative on hand to run interference? First, check and see if any childcare is provided. Chances are good it isn’t, but you don’t know if you don’t ask. If nothing has been arranged, but there is a good location available for use and other families in need, see if you can arrange childcare for the group. It’s a long shot, but not unheard of at big events.
No on-site options? Time to hire a babysitter— to either tag along and sit in the stands with your family, ducking out if a meltdown begins, or to keep things under control at home, clear of the location altogether. While it doesn’t sound ideal (who wants to have to pay for someone to watch their kids while they’re standing right there? or to leave behind a child while another family member enjoys their moment in the sun?) the peace of mind will be well worth the cost. It’ll also preserve the memories for both you and your older child, who no doubt wants to see you smiling in background, not ducking out the door with a screaming toddler in tow.
If it’s just not possible to have your littles in the fray, try to include them in other ways. If the event will culminate with a celebratory dinner, swing back home to pick them (and the sitter) up for the meal. Arrange for some portion of the party to make it back to your house, so he or she can get a taste of the joy and be doted on by the gathered friends and family. Or just arrange a special time for your little one to be able to fete the older: maybe being in charge of making a card, popping a candle on some special breakfast cinnamon rolls, or decorating the older child’s bedroom door.
In the end, the idea is keeping your sanity and continuing to knit together your family’s fabric of togetherness. There are no cookie cutter ways to do that, so get creative and relax into what works for your specific circumstances.