6 Kids, Marriage, Work, Health - "How Do You Guys Do It?"

Tobi Emonts-Holley


I’ve been struggling to write about this.

Several times a week I get asked: “How do you guys do it?”

• 6 kids (1-13yrs)

• Happy marriage

• Both work out daily

• Ph.D. & now CEO of a medium-sized company

The short answer is, there’s no secret. But people want more. So here's my attempt to give a fuller picture in the hope that it helps other parents.

But first up, the reason I’ve struggled to write about this is that any attempt to ‘reveal’ how we do it, will be incomplete and how things work for us, will not work for you in the same way. 

I’m not trying to be prescriptive, as I don’t know your situation. But if any of my/our experience can be of help, this piece has served a purpose.

So life with 6 kids (and no paid help) is most of the time some sort of chaos.

Take today, I just cleaned the kitchen and living room after lunch, the kids are settling in to do some watercolour painting and within 13 minutes you’d walk in the room and assume a tornado ripped through the house.

The cleaning is endless.

(I don’t have a tattoo, but my wife and I both agree that some variation of Sisyphus pushing up the boulder would be the most appropriate one to get)

The other constant is arguing. Someone took something. Someone pushed past someone. Someone looked at someone else in a strange way….

And if we’re being honest, it can be incredibly frustrating.

Whether that is coming home from work, exhausted from hours of meetings to be faced with sorting out a multitude of arguments. Or having spent all day running after the baby and toddler, trying to keep on top of the housework and feeling like you accomplished nothing.

Often my wife and I will sit in bed at night, feeling like we’re failing.

But as frustrating and draining as life can be at times, we also know that this is what we chose and we flourish in it. Because despite the never-ending daily battles to keep this family functioning well, we have created a home filled with love, trust, and warmth.

My wife’s dream was always to have a big family and to be a mum first and foremost and I’m happy we were able to fulfill that dream.

My wife exemplifies to me the best type of parent a child could wish for. Deeply caring, selfless, and appreciating every day with our little ones. And I feel privileged to learn from her every day.

Nevertheless, having kids and especially a large family does obviously take its toll on us personally and as a couple.

We have very limited time to just focus on ourselves.

Whether that be reading a book in peace or going out as a couple. So how have we retained our sanity and found ways to grow individually and as a couple?

The ‘secret’ is balancing the draining times with those that refill our cups.

We’ve both become experts at knowing what we need on a daily basis to be functioning humans and to stay calm amidst the chaos. 

Because as soon as the kids are up (around 6.30am) until they are all in bed (around 8.30pm), we are in “serving mode”.

• making breakfast, lunch, and often dinner before 8am

• school runs

• cleaning the house

• going to work

• taking the kids to their activities

•spending meaningful time with them in the afternoon/evening

What do we do to balance out serving all day?

For me it’s getting up at 5am, enjoying some calm time, and hitting a workout or going for a run. Especially time in the Scottish countryside has a healing effect on me and provides some vital mental clarity. For my wife, it’s very similar as she works out before the kids are up too and she enjoys going for walks with the baby.

Although the early mornings are precious and much-needed ‘me times’, they are by no means guaranteed.

Often some of the kids will get up early and then one of us steps in and is with them to allow the other to work out. We take turns with this, as we know how important that time is for us. (But truth be told it is obviously frustrating when that little moment of time you value so much is not available to you)

As a couple, we safeguard our evenings for each other.

Sure this is often not as much as we would like to have, but we found it is more important to make time for that space every day, even if it is only 20 minutes. Because we rely on each other so much that we need to be in tune with each other.

We both experienced our parents separating when we were younger, and the root cause for this was a breakdown in communication. So we make time for each other, to talk, check in and have a laugh together.

Our relationship is the foundation for a functioning family.

My wife and I have been together for 17 years now.

We started off as volunteers in a care home for adults with learning disabilities here in Scotland. Being colleagues first taught us quickly how to work together, discover our respective strengths and support each other when we needed help.

And the truth about being a parent is: it’s work.

Whoever stays at home and looks after the kids, is working.

And 99% of the time it’s way harder than going to the office. Just because there’s no paycheck attached to it, doesn’t mean you’re not spending all day serving somebody else, exhausting yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. And knowing that often informs how we plan our diaries.

Last week I had several days filled with long hours working. So on the weekend, I took all the kids up to the Scottish Highlands to allow my wife a day to recover.

But let’s be clear about what recovery really meant: she spent most of that time sorting the kids’ rooms out instead of resting because she is the most giving person I have ever met.

Also part of how we’re balancing the three areas of our lives: family, work, and personal pursuits is through loads of small little ‘hacks’:

• I often take on the ’dad taxi’ duties and then work from a plastic tray hooked to the steering wheel of the car

• We both workout from home, which makes habit maintenance easier and saves time & money

• My wife is an expert at involving the kids in day-to-day tasks (ranging from helping us with meal preps to doing the dishes with Disney hits pumping in the background to our older ones copying her and caring for the little ones without being asked to do so)

• We have made a commitment to put experiences over ‘stuff’ which saves money/stress, and all that time together helps us pull stronger as a unit

• We see it as our duty to be fit parents and stay fit with our kids (walks, gym workouts with the older ones, and playing basketball together)

But ultimately, the biggest ‘hack’ of them all is: embracing hard work and long hours.

This is not always easy of course. We lose our tempers, get frustrated at the lack of ‘me time’, and struggle at times to balance the demands of a parent with our other obligations. But we’re also a team that is incredibly in tune with each other, which helps us know when the other one needs a bit more support.

We share the work at home as much as possible, but my wife is certainly carrying the lion’s share of it.

Caring for so many kids, the inevitable mess that gets made, sorting out just their social lives on a daily basis, planning for special occasions throughout the year, teaching the kids life skills, and providing for this family all require hard work.

As any parent knows, having kids is simply a 24/7 365 gig. It’s even hard to be ill, as you are needed all the time.

So the best we can do is schedule our lives in a way that lets us have the energy we need (good food, exercise, and personal time to recharge), schedule our time so we support each other as best we can, and have the discipline to focus on what matters most to us: our kids and their wellbeing.

If you’re still here, I hope this was somehow useful to you. And I would love to hear from you. As a parent, what have you found helps you the most to be the mum or dad you want to be?

(And if you enjoyed this piece, please share it with your audience too, thank you!) 

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