The Perks And Pitfalls Of Having A Fourth Kid

The Perks And Pitfalls Of Having A Fourth Kid

Rita Templeton

We didn’t set out to have four kids: “Quality over quantity,” we always said. But, well, we had three, and they were such awesome, high-quality kids that we decided to go for a fourth. Either that or my husband canceled his vasectomy appointment and 15 minutes of passion on the couch turned into the fourth baby we didn’t know we’d be having. (You guess which version of this story we’re going to tell him.)

Obviously, I regret nothing. I mean, spontaneous couch sex is pretty awesome. And we got our youngest little man, who I absolutely cannot imagine our lives without. He has added something immeasurable to our family, completing it perfectly, the last piece of the puzzle that we didn’t know we needed.

That being said, if you’re the responsible type who is actually weighing the pros and cons before deciding to add a fourth child to your family (or if you, too, are a pregnant casualty of couch sex and just want to know what you’re in for), there are a few things to consider. The transition from three kids to four is a weird paradox. It’s a mixed bag of perks and pitfalls, simplifying your life in some ways and complicating it in others. Let’s dive right into it, shall we?

Clothing them is fucking expensive.

Kids are pricey no matter how you slice it. You can be as thrifty as you wanna be, but even $5 T-shirts are $20 once you buy four of them (and let’s face it: $5 T-shirts are the exception, not the rule). Hand-me-downs are awesome if you can manage to keep things nice that long, but realistically, they rarely make it through that many kids without looking like something you snatched from a dumpster and ran over with your car. Yet there’s a perception that since you have so many kids, you must be all set when it comes to their wardrobes —  so people aren’t knocking down your door with gifts in tow like they are with your first or second.

But the things you only use for a short period — Halloween costumes, snowsuits, and winter coats — can be handed down multiple times. I once bought a toddler-sized Cookie Monster costume for $14 and used it for eight Halloweens (and after that, the dress-up box). And the resulting feeling of getting your money’s worth will have you patting yourself on the back.

You’re practically a child-rearing guru by now.

By the time you have your fourth child, you’ve seen it all, a certifiable veteran parent. You can accurately identify a weird rash without even consulting WebMD, know when to worry about a fever, and are a pro at handling everything from asshole toddler meltdowns to preteen awkwardness. Sure, there are times when you still feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, but when you think back and compare it to your first or second child — when you really didn’t have much experience under your belt — you feel pretty damn confident in your abilities.

You have to drive a big vehicle.

Ever wanted to toss your last shred of pre-parental coolness to the four winds? Well, now’s your chance because your family no longer fits in a cute little car! You’re forced to drive a minivan or some other sizable ride that screams, “Out of my way! I have a soccer game to attend!” Yeah, you’ll enjoy the family-friendly features such economy-sized vehicles provide, but the part of you that still feels young and hip will bitterly disapprove. Unless you’ve always dreamed of rolling in a bus-sized ride littered with stale french fries and goldfish crackers, in which case, you’re in luck!

You’re aren’t so anal any more.

Remember how anxious you were when your first baby came home from the hospital? You sterilized everything that came within a 6-foot radius, meticulously baby-proofed the house before your tiny tot could even roll over, instructed everyone who made contact to scrub (to the elbows, please) with antibacterial soap. By the time your fourth baby comes, you know that all this effort isn’t truly necessary, and therefore adopt a refreshingly laissez-faire approach to parenting.

When my oldest son was a newborn, he came home to a vibrating bouncy seat that swayed gently, played music, and produced a dazzling Vegas-quality light show. My youngest got plopped into a beanbag, and I instructed his brothers to stay away from his soft spot with their pokey fingers. Both have turned out just fine; in fact, my youngest, who has been raised in a much more relaxed style, is less picky and more go-with-the-flow. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Everyone treats you to their shitty opinions.

For whatever reason, three (or fewer) children seems to be a socially acceptable neat little family package. But once you cross that threshold and have four, the judgmental side-eye and unsolicited comments — from acquaintances and strangers alike — start flying. With your first couple of pregnancies, people are positively ecstatic. But from the moment you announce your fourth, you’ll hear things like, “You know how that happens, right?” and “Wow, is this your last?” People act like you and your partner are some sort of insatiable breeders doing it Duggar-style. They practically toss condoms at you as you maneuver down the grocery aisles with four kids in tow.

You have to maneuver down grocery aisles with four kids in tow.

‘Nuff said. However …

You get built-in helpers.

By the time No. 4 rolls around, your firstborn (and maybe the second-born too) is usually old enough to be a pretty big help. Even small things like fetching fresh diapers, making a bottle, or keeping an eye on a wandering toddler while you actually poop alone can be a huge help, making the process of raising the fourth baby infinitely easier. Not only that, but nothing teaches your older kids responsibility like helping out with a younger sibling. It’s like you’re doing them a favor! (Keep reminding yourself of that when you get tired of hearing them gripe about it.)

Date night? LOL forever.

When you’ve just got a couple of kids, sometimes the stars align and you get a free evening. They go to Grandma’s or they’re all spending the night with friends. But with four kids, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll all be gone at once. In the five years that I’ve had four kids, the most I’ve pawned off at the same time is three. And since it’s generally frowned upon to leave a toddler home alone while you meander off to a nice dinner, our date nights have been few and far between. Nobody ever wants to take all four at the same time. While there’s always the option of a sitter, it’s harder to find one who feels comfortable (and is capable of) handling four children and also doesn’t charge an arm and a leg and a kidney.

The odds are now even.

When you have three kids, someone is always left to fend for themselves — usually, the youngest. Then you get to deal with a little broken-hearted person who just wants to tag along with the older siblings and can’t understand why they keep getting left out. But when there are four, they tend to pair up, which is so much easier. However, there is one caveat to keep in mind: This takes a while to happen because you have to wait for your fourth baby to grow up enough to be deemed “play-worthy.”

Family fun gets more complicated and is also fucking expensive.

Did I mention that having four kids is expensive? Well, it bears repeating. But what sucks the most is that, while many attractions offer money-saving “family packs” of tickets or park passes or accommodations, they’re almost always for families with three or fewer kids. Hotels frown upon six people in one room, even if several of them are small people who would refuse to sleep in their own bed even if they had one. Having four kids makes it harder, both financially and logistically, to do anything vacation-wise.

There is a bit of a silver lining, though: In the event that you do take out a second mortgage and go to, say, an amusement park as a family, your even number ensures that no one ends up riding a ride alone or with a stranger.

There’s more of everything.

More people to catch heinous stomach viruses, extending your nurse/janitorial duties by at least another 24 hours. More nails to clip. More hair to cut. More fundraisers. More extracurricular activities to sign up for and spectate at (and pay for — KA-CHING!). More “Can I have a friend over?” requests and more school projects. Everything that’s hard about parenting, you have to do in quadruplicate.

But… there’s also more love. More personalities in the house to keep things interesting and fun. More snuggles. More laughter. More of that gushy feeling you get when you watch your children being good siblings. More of everything that makes parenting fulfilling and worthwhile.

So if you’re on the fence about making the leap into the four-kid lifestyle, let me offer up one last little tidbit: The more you have, the more available butt-wipers there’ll be when you’re too old to do it yourself.