three’s a crowd

Man, Three Kids Is Weird, Huh?

There are some real challenges with this odd number.

Is three kids a bad number of kids to have?
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“You’re going to get another baby brother!” I announced while six months pregnant to my toddler. I paused, clearly naive, and waited for raucous applause and excitement. Instead, he grabbed his 1-year-old brother by the shoulders and said, “I’ve already got him, I don’t need another one.” Then, for effect, he shoved his brother to the floor. “But another one is going to be even more fun!” I said in a high-pitched voice, trying to convince both of us.

Days later, I stumbled across this article, which referenced a survey conducted about the number of kids moms felt was most stressful. That number was three. I prayed it wasn’t true.

But here I am with three kids, and I can firmly say that three is a tricky number. Going from one to two was still manageable for me, so initially I thought adding one more wouldn’t be that different. But I’m an only child, so I had absolutely no idea what I was in for, and it has been baptism by fire (which is ironic because my middle son just started a fire this morning). I was (blissfully) unaware of the challenges that awaited me with three kids.

First and foremost, there is the practical matter of only having two arms for three people. My boys are eighteen months apart and this was a huge issue when they were little.

I vividly remember being in a grocery store parking lot with a baby carriage and two toddlers. I had the bucket carrier on one arm and was holding the hand of one of the toddlers. Then I had the two toddlers holding hands. One decided he was not into my arrangement and darted off, directly towards a zooming car, naturally.

I watched it happen in slow motion and had to make a snap decision whether to abandon my newborn in the carrier and let go of toddler #1 to chase down the escaped child, hoping he didn’t follow suit and run off in a different direction, or pray that toddler #2 would hear my pleas and abort his mission to run solo across the crowded parking lot.

Thankfully we all made it out alive that day, but the stress of that encounter scarred me so badly that I didn’t leave the house alone again with all three for many years. I would grocery shop, exhausted, at 10 PM after my partner got home and the kids were safely asleep, just so I didn’t have to relive the trauma of the busy daytime parking lot.

Being outnumbered matters. With two kids, we could play man-on-man defense but now we are playing zone, and sometimes that’s not as effective. And it’s not just logistics, either. The mental load of three is tremendous. Because, of course, all three have unique personalities that require different parenting. I find it challenging trying to make sure everyone’s vastly different physical and emotional needs are all sufficiently met and that we are spending adequate individual time with all three kids.

Plus, odd numbers create logistical difficulties. Everything seems to be set up for families of four and things just seem to be made for pairs. Every time we ride a rollercoaster or a water park raft, a lengthy discussion (read: bitter argument) ensues over whose turn it is to ride alone. We had to buy a bigger car that could accommodate three car seats. When we travel, we often have to book two hotel rooms because the occupancy is typically four with two queen beds. We often have longer wait times at restaurants because four-tops are readily available, but seating five usually requires a larger table.

But for us, by far the most challenging aspect is that with a triad, there is always the inevitable and dreaded "odd one out." It rings true to me that three is the most unstable of sociological groups because it is unbalanced. Very rarely do my kids play together nicely as a threesome. When it does happen, we sit and watch, rapt, knowing it’s likely to end in disaster at any moment, so we enjoy it while we can.

The phrase “three’s a crowd” wasn’t invented for nothing. One of my children is always feeling left out after the other two have paired off because they have bonded over something. Sometimes the thing they have bonded over is a shared activity, but oftentimes it's their shared anger at the same brother, who then feels isolated and ganged up on and wants revenge, and so the cycle of bickering continues.

When there are only two kids, the playmate choices are finite because there’s only one other person. But with three, there are options for alliances, so you don’t necessarily have to remain on good terms with everyone.

All that said, I suppose there are pros and cons with every number, so you do your best with what you’ve got. After years of suffering from infertility, I’m just grateful to have any kids and I’m acutely aware that not everyone has a choice in the matter of how many kids they have.

If I had fewer or more kids, would life be simpler or more peaceful? Maybe. But I don’t. I have three and I’m madly in love with each and every one of them. And I couldn’t imagine it any other way. And besides, where’s the fun in peace and quiet?

Christina Crawford is a Dallas-based writer, guacamole enthusiast, and mom to three feral little boys. She spends her days putting out fires (actual and metaphorical) and trying to keep goldfish alive. Her words have appeared in Newsweek, HuffPost, Health Magazine, Parents, Scary Mommy, Today Show Parents, and more. You can follow along on Twitter where she writes (questionably) funny anecdotes about her life at @Xtina_Crawford