The One That Tips the Scales

Once upon a time, many moons ago, when people would ask me how I felt about children I would always tell them I wanted 4 or 5. I knew that was a big number, but I loved kids. They were fun to play with, funny to talk to, and they took naps pretty regularly. I was a daycare teacher who spent my days in a classroom with 12-30 children under 4. How hard could 5 children of my own possibly be?

Oh to be young and naive once again!

Then I had my first daughter. We had our ups and downs, but all in all, I could totally handle it. She wore correctly matched outfits and newborn sized shoes. She got a bath every day and we had a wonderfully relaxing, hour long bed time routine. When it came time for my second daughter’s arrival, I was ready and confident. I could totally have the time and energy to devote to two children! Things were a bit chaotic, but she was an easy baby. We got into a routine, there were baths every other day, clothes that almost always matched, and if I didn’t get very much sleep, it wasn’t such a big deal.

8 months into my journey of two children, I found out there would be a third. I will admit, there was initial panic. I was concerned about things like car space and sharing bedrooms. I worried about how my family and friends would react. I knew that people would be much more judgmental about a third baby announcement. I was right. People all wanted to know what I would do with a third child. They looked at me with something akin to pity. I was confused. Wasn’t I a good parent? My two little girls were sweet, smart, and relatively well-behaved. I kept them mostly clean and adequately fed. Why would anyone be concerned about my ability to add a third to the mix? How much more chaos could one child add to our already toddler filled house?

Turns out that most of those people weren’t being judgy.. they just had 3 kids.

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You see, I have found that three is a magic number when it comes to children. It is the number that tips the scales. I know a lot of parents. I have observed, polled, and assisted them. I have come to the conclusion that, for the most part, you can separate parents into two camps: parents of 1-2 kids, and parents of 3 or more. You can generally tell them apart by their attire. Parents of 1-2 children occasionally have time for planned outfits. Parents of 3+ have a much higher chance of wearing a hoodie and yesterday’s yoga pants, or threadbare cotton PJ pants.

I am by no means knocking being a parent to 1 or 2 children! Parenting, by its very nature is hard, frustrating and tedious as often as it is rewarding and fun. I am not in the habit of putting down any parent who is doing their best to raise decent children!

What I’m saying is those of us who have chosen to push our luck and have a third child (or more) face unique challenges. For example:

  • Two children can play together. In fact, if they don’t want to be alone, it is often their only option. And if they decide they don’t want to play together, they can both choose to play separately. Three (or more) children generally form themselves into shaky alliances. If someone wants a partner in crime/ play they have a choice of playmates. This could naturally sort itself out, but more often than not it results in tears, pint-sized politics, and someone left out.
  • In the car, two children can sit apart from each other, allowing for conversation, but no physical contact. Three children take up an entire back seat. The urge to invade someone’s personal space is far too strong to resist. Also there are only two window seats, which is occasionally catastrophic.
  • When you are out running all the errands that momma’s get stuck with and your children decide they are hungry, a snack can easily be split in half. However, a third of most things is not enough to qualify as a snack.
  • Crossing the street with two children is straight forward. You have a hand to hold on to each of them. However, crossing the street with three children means you have to trust an older child to hold hands with her sister, even if she sees money, trash or a pretty rock on the ground in the middle of the intersection.
  • Little legs get tired. Whether it is on a pretty trail in the woods, the soccer field, or you’ve just walked a little too long in the mall, sometimes they are going to need a lift. Two children can usually be persuaded to take turns and keep moving, and if not, carrying one and dragging the other is a feasible (if unappealing) option. If there are three children, the time between turns becomes far too long, and your chance of two of them continuing to walk instead of teaming up to mutiny are slim to none. [Edit: For those who say strollers are the answer, you have obviously never pushed a double stroller on anything other than a smooth, straight path. And you have definitely not attempted it while trying to keep tabs on whichever child(ren) you have been forced to leave free.)
  • Most people¬†mothers can manage to follow two conversations at once, even if they are spoken with various speech impediments and are hardly relevant. The most skilled of us can even manage to respond to both conversations with appropriately time “uh huh”s and “oh yeah?”s. However, if you add in a third string of chatter, it all just dissolves into unintelligible noise that assaults your ears and steadily grows louder as they all try to outdo the others for a response.



Then there is the issue of logistics. I know that, in reality, 3 children cannot possibly make that many more dishes, laundry and general clutter than 2 children. However, that last 1/3 of mess makes a difference in one persons ability to clean it all up. I imagine/hope that as they grow older, three little girls will be a big help in the daily chore department. However, as I wait for that cold day in hell, I am stuck with three small children who love to “help” with chores. I try to encourage any offers of assistance, and I know they are learning, but these attempts almost always require me to go back and redo them later, and more often than not result in a bigger mess than I started with. Often times three.

There are three times the chance that someone will decide to play in in the bathroom instead of the playroom. There are three times as many random breakable/multi-piece toys that people insist on giving children for their birthdays. Three times the doctor, dentist, and therapy appointments. Three times the classes and activities you are guilted into encouraging your child to participate in.  Three times the chances that you will forget something (or someone!) at any given moment.

Basically it boils down to this: If you are an octopus and can clean/taxi/referee and generally mom at warp speed 24/7, the chances are you are already doing these things with 2 kids. If you are an octopus and actually enjoy the chaos and warp speed momming, than by all means, go for the 3rd, 4th, 16th kid. Just make sure you don’t like to sit down, because frankly, its definitely the third one that tips the scales.