My husband and I thought we were done having kids after we had our first two. Then when our youngest was 3 and we had just celebrated chucking the diapers—surprise!—pregnant! We rolled with it, and now I can’t imagine life without our three kids.
It did change things, though. Having three kids creates a unique dynamic in a family and presents special challenges to parents. Here are some of those realities:
1. You have more kids than hands.
This is especially an issue if you have three close in age. You quickly learn to use your knees, nose, and toes as third hands.
2. You’re outnumbered.
In the immortal words of Kris Jenner and the original person she stole the line from: one is one, and two is twenty. So three is…100? Unless you’re in a polygamous relationship, you now have more children than adults in the house. Over the years, you often wonder why that math didn’t dawn on you before you welcomed a third kid into your life. If the oldest child is old enough to help out, they should.
3. Your oldest seemed way older than your youngest at the same age.
When your first kid was 4, they seemed like a big kid. Your third kid at 4 seems like a baby. At each age and stage, you expected a lot more out of the first child behaviorally and academically than you do the last one. (Sorry, first kids.)
4. Your middle child gets the shaft.
It’s inevitable. Your first kid gets the privilege and pride of being the first to do everything, and your third gets the benefit of babying because they’re the last. Those middle kids are creative geniuses for a reason. (I was a middle kid, so that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)
5. You experience more stress than other parents.
No, really. It’s science. My theory is that you have too many kids to do everything as well as you want to, but not so many kids that you feel like you can let things go. So you’re in a constant state of overwhelm, but you keep trying to convince yourself that you can do it all.
6. You really need that minivan or eight-seater SUV.
If you’re ever going to take anyone other than your immediate family anywhere, you now need more than five seats in the car. And if you have more than one child in a carseat at a time, you really need that bigger car.
7. You realize that the work of raising kids increases exponentially with each child.
You know what they say, “one is one, and two is twenty.” Well, if two kids double the work, then three kids quadruple it. Same goes for noise. You constantly question how people with more than three kids even survive.
8. You give up on sleep altogether.
That whole sleeping through the night idea seems awfully cute by the time your third baby rolls around. Sure, babies sleep through the night eventually. Then they become toddlers with bad dreams. Then they become school-aged kids who get freaked out by a horror movie commercial. Then they become tweens who feel the need to have deep, heart-to-heart talks at all hours of the night. By your third, you know that sleep as a parent alternates between awesome and sucky for years.
9. You constantly wonder where your money went.
Starting a college fund for your first kid feels like a natural and totally doable investment. Second kid gets a little stretchy. Third kid will have to get a full-ride scholarship. With three kids, extracurricular activities become an enormous financial burden. Your grocery bill creeps up until it’s as much as your mortgage. Just wait ’til all three kids need orthodontia. So long, vacations!
10. Flying as a family becomes totally cost prohibitive.
Speaking of finances and vacations, airplane tickets for five people is a joke. Even a cheap $300 flight suddenly becomes $1500. Road trip it is!
11. Hotel rooms become an issue.
Four people in a hotel room is perfect. Five people means finding a room with a pullout couch, paying for a rollaway, or bringing your own sleeping bag and mat and letting your kids duke it out over who has to sleep on the floor.
12. Somebody will always feel left out.
With an odd number of kids, any game made for two will automatically become exclusive. All three kids wanting to sit next to mom at a restaurant is an international crisis situation. Ever try splitting a cookie into thirds? Nope.
13. You rarely enjoy the same movies or TV shows as a family.
Unless you have three kids back to back, age and maturity differences will make choosing a family movie a nightmare. Your youngest wants to binge on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, your oldest wants to watch The Hunger Games, and your middle is stuck in the middle. You can’t afford to hire a professional mediator to handle family movie night, so you end up watching Megamind 10 times because it’s the only movie you can all agree on.
14. Family game night = same problem as No. 13.
Family game night sounds great in theory. But after the fifth year of weekly Candy Land tournaments to accommodate your youngest children, you find yourself fighting the urge to shove King Kandy’s face right into Licorice Lagoon and hold him there until he stops kicking.
15. When one kid is gone, it feels like a vacation.
Just as adding a third kid quadruples the work, taking one away for a day cuts the work by three-fourths. (I don’t understand the math, I just live it.) Send one kid on a sleepover, and you’ll wonder why you ever thought having two kids was difficult.
16. Your first kid has a gorgeous baby book, and your third kid has photos somewhere on the computer.
The scrapbook of our first baby’s first year is a gorgeous work of art, lovingly crafted by yours truly. Our second kid has a photo album with about a quarter of the pages filled. Our third kid is lucky if he ever gets a photo printed.
17. Bedtime becomes a mix of a marathon, a crisis, and a joke.
This is especially an issue with a wide age spread. Three different kids, three different ages, three different bedtimes—and everyone wants to snuggle with you. At some point, you end up putting kids to bed for two hours straight and wonder how this became your life.
18. Sometimes you have to tell them all to stop talking.
Just stop. Stop talking. No more sound from any more mouths. “If anyone opens their mouth and says a word for the next 15 minutes, they will be banned from all electronics for a week.” True story.
19. You truly understand how different each child is.
You kind of learn this fact with your second kid, but the third gives you a definitive answer to the nature vs. nurture question. It’s not that nurturing isn’t important—it totally is. But so much of who kids are is just who they are, no matter what you do as a parent.
20. You know for sure that your capacity for love expands with each kid.
Maybe you’re happy with three, maybe you don’t want any more kids, but you know that if a fourth happened to come along unexpectedly you would 1) freak out because OMG, four kids, and 2) love that baby as madly as you love your other three. Because as bonkers as they may make you feel, your munchkins have shown you that a mother’s love truly has no limits.
Though we didn’t choose to have a third kid, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. For sure, life with three children is chaotic and stressful at times, but it’s also filled with lots of life and love. Our family of five feels full, complete, and just right.
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