Sorry Older Kids, I'm A Better Mom To My Third (And Fourth) Child

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Sorry Kids, I'm A Better Mom To My Third Child
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

I’m a mom of four children. When I look back over my first few years of parenting, I honestly don’t remember much at all unless I see pictures. When our first daughter was a brand-new two-year-old, we adopted a second daughter. Then, two years later, we adopted our son. At one point, we had three kids under the age of four: a preschooler, a toddler, and a newborn. I’m tired just typing that.

My third kiddo probably got the best parent of all, because I knew what the heck I was doing. Instead of having to look up every single parenting quandary, like when it’s safe for a child to try strawberries for the first time, we just went with it. I learned to be more laid back, more intuitive, and certainly more go-with-the-flow, because there was no other option with three young children. Perhaps, because I got to practice parenting on his older sisters, getting my parenting sea legs, I’m a better mom to my third child.

My first child was an oldest child stereotype. She slept well, ate anything we put in front of her, and was generally content. She didn’t attempt any dangerous toddler stunts, like jumping off the coffee table or scaling the baby gates. In fact, we realized we didn’t even need baby gates for her. She just did what we told her to do. She held my hand in the store and quietly colored while I worked beside her. I thought, what are parents whining about? Parenting is pretty easy! Yes, I was prideful and completely naïve.

When our second child arrived, she, like her big sister, fit the stereotype—but hers was the second child stereotype. She was wild, the child we couldn’t turn our back on. She had the energy of a cheetah, adored superheroes and sharks, and preferred basketball to tea parties. I always laughed when people would gush over me having two girls. They assumed that we played dolls and princesses all day. There were far more dance parties, wrestling matches, and bike riding. Our second child totally changed our family vibe.

Choosing to adopt is to opt to embark on unpredictable journeys. We knew we wanted to adopt a third child, but we weren’t sure how long the process would take. Adoptions can take days, weeks, months, but more typically, years. We filled out the adoption agency application and worked our way through the interviews, background checks, fingerprinting, and home inspections, convinced that we would have more time with just our little family of four before child three arrived.

We only waited a few months when an email from the social worker arrived saying we had been chosen to adopt a third child who would be born in two months. We were thrilled, but also overwhelmed. Were we ready to be parents again? How would our daughters adapt to a new sibling? At that point, we had one adult per child, a perfect ratio. Whom would our odd number three default to?

I came from a family of five, the oldest of three siblings. I remember feeling like my parents were unfairly strict with me. They had rules, and I followed them, being the compliant, type-A kid. Then my sister, the classic middle child, arrived, and my parents’ world was turned upside down. When my brother was born a few years later, he was chill, the baby of the family, and could get away with anything. I think by the time kid number three makes their debut, parents are out of energy for over-the-top parenting. We just want sleep, not parenting books, not rules or organization, and certainly not perfection.

The third-child theory held true for us with our own son. His big sisters doted on him all day, every day, and so did we. The old ladies at the grocery store were right. My hands were very full. Our hours were a whirlwind of bottles, diapers (and blowouts), puzzles, tricycles, naps, snacks. I didn’t have a choice. I had to let some things go. There simply wasn’t enough time, patience, or energy to do it all. How was it that three kids felt like ten?

I realized that some things just weren’t that important when I looked at the big picture. So what if my kids chose their own outfits and, gasp, they didn’t match? What’s the big deal if we don’t pick up the living room every night before bed? If our kids got too much TV when it poured outside all day, they’d be okay. Their brains wouldn’t be ruined. My third kiddo got the absolute best of me, because when he arrived, my expectations of how things should be went out the door.

Our third kid was the one who gave me the gift of letting go, slowing down, and chilling out. I was more willing to stop, get on the floor with him, and read a book or have a tickle fight. What was most important is that our kids were safe, healthy, and loved, not dressed like they were emerging off a yacht or knew how to read by age three. My to-do list was not theirs, rightfully so, and we were outnumbered three to two.

Our home is messy and loud, while also generally happy. Thankfully, we had a third child to teach us how to re-prioritize and enjoy the journey, rather than adhere to all the self-imposed rules.

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