When I had 3 kids, I was constantly stressed. But when the fourth came along, something remarkable happened ...
When my first child was a baby, every decision seemed monumental. When to start solids, when to stop breastfeeding, when to potty train, to pre-K or not to pre-K? And when it came time for pre-K, which one? Of course none were good enough for the child we were sure was a budding savant, but were there any that would at least be capable of keeping up with her?
With the second, it was no different. All the differences between the new baby and her sister were accompanied by a host of doubts and hours of google-researching. I worried about teething rings and sterilized toys like a pro.
Then 18 short months later, our first son made us the parents of three. Suddenly, we were outnumbered — and we felt it. Agonizing over potential minutiae became compounded by agonizing over logistical minutiae, like how to buckle three kids into the car or how to maneuver a grocery store with two basket-sitters and only one basket. Literally everything seemed infinitely, hopelessly complex. Every minute I wasn’t potty-training, changing diapers, feeding, bathing, or cleaning up messes, I was dashing across the room to save a toddler from falling off the table he had climbed on or pulling said toddler off his sleeping sister’s head. I would look at mothers with five, six, and seven children and wonder how they were still sane when I was on the verge of a breakdown with three.
As it turns out, that stress wasn’t in my imagination — a recent study found that mothers of 3 are by far the most stressed:
The TODAYMoms.com survey looked at 7,000 mothers from the US and assessed their stress levels as related to the number of children that they had, and it turns out the number to avoid is three. Yep, three. Seems an innocent enough number, but it turns out that mothers of three stress way more than those who only have one or two kids. And funnily enough, it was found that mothers who have four kids were generally the least stressed of them all … But why is four the ideal number of kids to have? According to New York psychiatrist and mother of four Dr. Janet Taylor, it’s just because you eventually learn to loosen up and stop trying to control every little thing. “There’s just not enough space in your head” for worrying about perfectionism when you get to four or more kids, she says. “The more children you have, the more confident you become in your parenting abilities,” Taylor continued. “You have to let go … and then you’re just thankful when they all get to school on time.”
Amen, sister. I remember spending hours picking out outfits for my oldest two so they would be perfectly matched and well-groomed … and then I’d spend even more time convincing them to wear what I’d chosen rather than a swimsuit and pajama bottoms. Now, my standards are somewhat lower. If it’s clean, I’m thrilled — but if it passes a smell test and has no visible stains, that’s good enough for me.
Ditto with all the decisions that filled my hours with worry as a mother of fewer-than-four. When do I potty train? When they seem ready and we run out of diapers and gas at the same time. When do I start teaching them sight words and reading skills? When their kindergarten teacher sends it home as homework. Do I still sterilize toys dropped into the dirt?
Don’t get me wrong, life doesn’t magically become easy and stress-free when you have more than three kids. Logistically it can become complicated the older they get. But those logistics make it impossible to spend hours of time stressing over every decision. It’s just impossible. So you learn to let go. Instead of worrying about whether or not a princess-themed tea party is socially conditioning my daughter, now I just worry about whether or not anyone can get her there. If we can, great — party’s on! If not, sorry, kiddo — next time.
I now have five kids and honestly, having so many kids is pretty liberating. I know big families get a bad rap and parents of many often have to field negative comments, which can make parents of 2 or 3 nervous to have more. The truth is that parenting is never easy, but it also doesn’t get exponentially harder the more kids you have. In fact, having a 12- and a 9-year-old have made it so much easier to parent a toddler than it’s ever been before — I’ve got two extra sets of eyes and arms to help me out!
The greatest freedom in having 5 kids is that it’s forced me to stop obsessing over potential problems and start tackling real ones. I no longer spend time trying to be an ideologically and philosophically perfect parent, because I don’t have that kind of time. Instead, I have the freedom to care only about being the best parent I can be right here, right now, and let the rest go. It’s all I have time to do — and really, it’s all I should have been doing all along.