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How to have a completely peaceful car ride with three small kids

My husband has this little joke whenever the three-foot-and-under crowd in our family gets insanely loud en route somewhere. He pretends to press an invisible button near the A/C of our car, which magically scrolls up a sound-proof window between us in the front seat and those in the back. You know, like in a limo.

Total peace after that.

Obviously there’s still cacophony. The baby is screaming because that burp just won’t get out. Our second is loudly singing to whatever tune is on repeat in his head (he doesn’t talk, but he sure hums in pealing decibels). The five-year-old sits in the back, telling us whatever story from the day she wants to recall, yelling over all the hubbub so that we can hear from the front.

It doesn’t always work this way, but most days, Kyle and I look at each other, and we just smile. Sometimes one of says, “Three? Really?” But at the end of the day, if we don’t laugh at the chaos of it all, we’ll go mad.

See, it’s a matter of perspective.

When the bedlam is good-natured and the clamor is simply because our family’s median age is five, then there’s not much to do except smile and remember that the days are long but the years are short.

How’s your perspective? When your day is nuts and the house is a mess, do you feel like a failure? In taking a quick glance at the living room and recognizing that 95 percent of the mess is because of the kids, do you still somehow feel guilty?

Are you counting your blessings?

I know that life at this stage is insane. I’ll be the first in line to wish it wasn’t so messy, so sticky, so loud. I’ve given up hope that by the end of the day, I’ll never have anything smeared on my shirt that I didn’t directly put there — at least for another decade or so.

I’m not saying I never get frustrated or impatient — far from it. But I’m also learning, day by day, to embrace all the good with the bad that come with this stage, and to smile at all those voices vying for my attention from the back seat.

They’re totally worth it.

What helps you plow through all the chaos and embrace your day?

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Mrs. M

    Thanks for this post, Tsh. I find that when I take time to BE with my kids at the end of the day, tucking them in bed, praying together, singing lullabies, and talking about their favorite parts of the day, it quiets me inside and helps me deal with the chaos during the day.

  2. Jolene

    Great perspective! I have three, going on four soon, so this was especially fitting to read today. I especially liked your quote, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Great thing to remember!

    • Lilly

      I think the quote is from Gretchen Rubin over at The Happiness Project ( She even made a short video based on the phrase (really cute)! The book is also fantastic.

      I also loved this post. Perspective can make such a huge difference when there’s not much that can be changed.

  3. Sofia's Ideas

    One thing that helps is having time in the morning to put my mind in the right place – a time to be still, to center myself, to repeat my daily mantras (affirmations), to write my daily journal entry that includes my gratitudes. And like you said, it helps to remember that they’ll be gone one day and we’ll long for the days that we had little hands to wash, noses to wipe, and hugs & kisses to give.

    But I do struggle with perfectionism which results in me losing my patience and getting frustrated throughout the day. I am a work in progress. But then again, aren’t we all? πŸ™‚

  4. Melinda

    This is my husbands second marriage and my first. He has two older children and was used to peace and quiet. I was a teacher of pre-K and K and my classroom was always loud, organized chaos it was called. Adjusting the loudness intake in my head now comes fairly naturally. But I have needed a quick little phrase to remind my DH that quiet isn’t the norm and shouldn’t be. “The days are long but the years are short,” is SO SO perfect. Thank you!

  5. Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool

    Amen to this, Tsh! With the equivalent of three five-year-olds under our roof at all times, life is loud, busy, and (ahem) chaotic on a regular basis.

    Sometimes I just have to get out a journal and write down every.single.wonderful thing that happens throughout the day to make sure those are the ones I’m focusing on–I always end up with a very long list!

  6. Jodz

    Hehe. I need that sound proofing. What gets me through the day is remembering my kids are kids. They think like kids and act like lids because they are kids.

    • Kara Fleck

      “They think like kids and act like lids because they are kids.”

      YES! Love this πŸ™‚

  7. Kendra

    Oh my gosh, Tsh, I so needed this today. I don’t usually travel long distances with the kids, but this essay gave me pause. Thank you, and I hope you are doing well with your new addition. I enjoy reading your blog so much!

  8. prerna

    So true.. So true… I just have the one toddler and there are times, when she alone can drive me up the wall, but at the end of the day, when I see her at play, or snuggle up to breathe in her toddler-fresh hair or simply get an unexpected hug or kiss, it makes the mess, the noise and the endless driving around for playdates, totally worth it:-)

  9. Kara Fleck

    πŸ™‚ Okay, I’ll admit it: I was lured here by the title of this post LOL

    Seriously, though, you’re right about how fast the time flies. And, yes, it might a little loud around here at times but the alternative – the peace and quiet and if it would mean it came at the cost of not living with these wonderful small children? Well, I don’t even want to think about that …

    Here’s to perspective! πŸ™‚

  10. Alison @ Femita

    So much depends on your attitude. If you tend to have a positive outlook on life in general, it will be easier to cope with stress and mess. You must accept that all good comes with bad and learn to look past life’s imperfections. As you said, there’s not much to do except smile. That might as well be my motto in life!

  11. Emily

    We just got back this week from driving to Colorado to see my husband’s grandmother. Round trip it was a little over 1700 miles, with our 4 year old twins and our wiener dog. We set up ipods with their favorite movies, I had new coloring books and a couple of little things, they had their favorite stuffed animals–and they could have cared less! Our kids sleep very little on a big trip and this was no exception. First day we did 650 miles in 11 hours. They were champs and just stayed awake chatting most of the way. What I find with them is that since my husband and I enjoy seeing new scenery they do to. They loved finding things as we drove to point out to us. It was a long, hurried trip but it was also nice. Most of my friends with young children tell me they’d never attempt something like this. But I found if you make it an adventure and find things for them to look out for it goes so much better! In a few days we’ll be heading to Montana for a shorter 1100 mile round trip. Can’t wait!

  12. Kristen

    Tsh, this made me laugh out loud because we’re in very similar places, I think. But I’m currently pregnant with number 4. And sometimes, when things get really crazy here, and the 4 year old and 2 year old are playing loudly and the 1 year old is wailing (especially in the car), I’ll look at my husband and say, “You know, I think what we need is another!” And then we laugh. Because, sure, it’s completely crazy. And sometimes we’d rather just have some peace and quiet. But these people are so, so worth it!

  13. Jule

    Not what you’d expect, but I cried upon seeing the I-35 picture! πŸ™‚ We moved to Omaha from Cedar Park, TX last Thanksgiving and seeing that sign made me instantly homesick, even though I truly love where we are. We have two little ones now, and my 5 month old is finding her voice . We lost two between my almost 4 year old and her, so the ‘cacophony’ is almost welcome. Thanks so much for this wonderful post!

  14. Karen

    Not long ago, my husband and I traveled from Southern Ohio to Atlanta, Georgia, with our three a small sedan. My friends thought we were nuts for not at least renting a van, so the kids wouldn’t try to murder each other in the cramped backseat. We set up a portable DVD player with their favorite movies, our oldest had his favorite books, we had regular snack times, and stopped every two hours. We survived. And it was actually less stressful than flying, with no layovers, no connecting flights, and no delayed departures…we actually spent the same amount of time on the road as we had the last time we flew home from Atlanta.

    It can be done! We are actually thinking of buying an RV so that we can do it again, but without hotel stays.

  15. MG

    Well, since you asked… I simply say a quick, emphatic prayer for God’s Grace, remind myself how I love my sons and would do anything for them… and that I wouldn’t want to go back to life without them. πŸ™‚ What a blessing children truly are!

    p.s.- my sons are ages two and one — a year and 5 days apart

  16. Mandy

    “The days are long, but the years are short.” That’s a great mantra! We also have three under six, and I think you’re spot-on with this post. It’s true that our biggest frustrations come not from what’s actually happening, but how it matches our expectations. When we change our expectations, our frustrations lessen as well.

  17. Thrifty

    I love that line “the days are long but the years are short”. So true.

  18. hillary

    I have to laugh b/c when I read the title in my inbox I said, “no, way!” There is just no way there will be a real solution to this, but I loved reading your thoughts and couldn’t agree more!

  19. therese

    We have 4 under 5 and we have definitely been dreaming about that “privacy screen” limo window for the last couple years!! πŸ™‚ We started traveling a lot less when #4 was born but what is absolutely worth it is when the 3 older ones start singing or playing peek-a-boo to make our baby stop crying. The other evening all 3 of them were singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, it was so precious. Those moments make it worth it and knowing how fast they are growing.

  20. Lindsey@ PiecefullyHome

    Funny! We pretend to have one those limo sound proof buttons, too! πŸ™‚ With three kids as well, we recognize that there is going to be noise and lots of it. I love the chaos, but sometimes it gets to be too much. When I feel the pressure rising, esp. in the car and your trapped, I find singing kid songs to the baby helps. 1. the baby is happy to hear “father abraham” 2. the older two chime in even though they find these songs babyish
    3. How can I lose my temper when i’m singing happy songs? I can’t!

  21. Tsh

    Just wanted to say, for the record, that I didn’t coin the phrase, “The days are long but the years are short.” I’ve heard that since I became a mama almost 6 years ago, but I don’t remember from where. It’s obviously stuck with me though.

    Just wanted to throw that out there. πŸ™‚

    • Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool

      I don’t know who said it originally, but Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project uses that phrase multiple times throughout her recent bestselling title!

      • Kara Fleck

        I’ve always heard the saying is a Chinese proverb … but now I’ve got to go check out that Happiness Project book, because the saying is a good one (and so true!)


        • Sarah-Kate*

          Oh, that’s easy– that was MY mommy! πŸ™‚ (With four kids, I hear it A LOT!)

  22. Angie

    This is my life too… it’s funny, sweet, endearing, annoying and LOUD. But it’s good, isn’t it?!

  23. Erin

    What a wonderful post! I so needed to be reminded to enjoy the messes, the noise, the craziness. Way too soon they will all be grown and the house will be too quiet. Thanks for the reminder to cherish our everyday life.

  24. Maryann @ Raise Healthy Eaters

    I really try to enjoy this stage as much as I can. My kids are 3 and 15 months and are so adorable. I have days when I get frustrated by all the they create but I remind myself to count my blessings. You are right. Kids are worth it and then some. While both my husband and I will sigh a breathe of relief when they get older, I know we will miss this stage too. Like this morning when we were all in our bedroom. My husband starting singing “This is how we do it.” My 15 month old stood up and started dancing. My daughter joined right in. Then me and my husband danced liked crazy people. We were all laughing, singing and dancing. It those wonderful, spontaneous moments I cherish.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  25. Rana

    This is a regular day for us. When the twins were toddlers I resolved myself to the fact that days were going to be crazy. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  26. Kelly @ Ahimsa Mama

    I love this post – I really needed it these days! My daughter is five and my son is two, plus two big dogs, and some days, especially in the summer when our schedule seems to be much more open and we’re hanging around home much more, I feel like there are days that are just full of NOISE NOISE NOISE NOISE! I’m not someone who tolerates it well, so I just try to remember that these days will pass and try to laugh and enjoy the insanity of it all!

  27. katepickle

    ah so true!
    When life gets insane in our house my DH and I often look at each and and say..
    “and you thought it was a good idea to have four!?!?” and then laugh… cause if you don’t laugh you cry and laughing is way more fun!

  28. Amy

    This is my first time here–I LOVE it!
    We just got home from a shortish road-trip with our two kids (6 and 2).
    It was so fun to listen to them talk to each other and point things out to one another on the trip, and my daughter just loves teaching her little brother about the world.
    These days won’t last long–I’m trying to enjoy every second!

  29. Keely

    My mantra has been for years: “Regardless of the state of the house, if at the end of the day, the children are fed, relatively clean (‘clean’ being a loose definition, depending on the days activities, and just how ‘worth it’ the accumulated dirt was on the days that baths are simply out of the question), mostly happy, tucked into bed, and safe… it was a successful day.”

    It’s hard to let go of every image in the ‘mass media’ world telling moms that we should have clean and happy kids, a spotless house, and copious amounts of time to have hobbies and lives of our own. Thank you for the reminder that for now – this is not just good enough – but in hindsight will be remembered as fantastic.

  30. Elise

    I have a few mantras that help me keep perspective with my three children aged three and under. I have a sign in our living room which says: Too blessed to be stressed and I take comfort in that. Also, I recently read somewhere (for the life of me I cannot remember where) the following words: “Speak to be echoed, Act to be copied” – a perfect quote I think and the last quote I really like is “Normal day let me be aware of the treasure you are” by M.J. Irion. It is all too easy to take things for granted, life is fragile and things can change in an instant, so that last quote really appeals to me. For all the chaos that comes with my three cherubs, it is our “normal” and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  31. Vicki R.

    LOVE this post. Truth – especially: “But at the end of the day, if we don’t laugh at the chaos of it all, we’ll go mad.” I wouldn’t have been able to believe that or even say that had we not had our 2nd child. He is a screamer. He’s loveable, he’s charming, he’s inquisitive, he’s peaceful (at times), but he’s also a screamer. I am so thankful Hubbs & I can laugh (most of the time) when he’s screaming, especially on long car rides. When we’ve done everything we can for the little guy & he still chooses to tell us about how frustrated he is about the situation, then the best remedy has always been to (quietly) chuckle about it. We know it doesn’t last forever (thankfully) & we know that these days are fleeting, even when it’s craziness. Thanks for the reminder to be thankful, regardless of how wacky the day seems!

  32. Keely

    Vicky – having had 2 screamers (we called them the baby pterodactyls at the time!), I can say you have a great attitude – it will pass – and in time you will forget the shrieking (except the funny moments)… even (I cringe to suggest it) miss them… Especially when your shrieker turns into a MASTER negotiater, and those screams of frustration give way to very coherent, logical and difficult-to-disagree-with arguments… not the best thing when the 5 year old REALLY wants to jump out his window into the pool below and you realise you having trouble rebutting his arguments for this course of action…
    Thank you for reminding me of the shrieks – they have faded in my memory… πŸ™‚

  33. Kristy

    Good thoughts. We open the windows. Sometimes the wind muffles the shrieks.

  34. Sara

    We recently discovered the hypnotic power of books on CD. We picked up James and the Giant Peach from the library, and our kids (ages 8, 6, and 3) were quite for nearly two hours. We usually have quite a bit of bickering on car rides, so we were so, SO grateful!

  35. Glenys with kids travelling in the car.

    What gets me through the day is the cuddles. My youngest hands down gives the best cuddles. He and his brother can wind each other ..and then me up in no time. A cuddle fixes it all very quickly.

  36. Carl Johnson

    I remember those trips on Sundays with the kids. Sometimes I used to pretend there was the magic glass windows separating the rear from the front of the car. Fortunately, things have changed. Yes! they grow up.

  37. Sarah @ LeftBrainBuddha

    Love this ~ I always remind my husband in that in a few years, they will not want to talk to us at all! Helps to keep perspective and enjoy the constant chatter. And I just LOVE this: “When the bedlam is good-natured and the clamor is simply because our family’s median age is five, then there’s not much to do except smile and remember that the days are long but the years are short.”
    I may need to get that framed….

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