Over the years, I’ve gleaned a few pieces of wisdom from other moms that I’ve learned the truth of firsthand myself now through experience.
Two that have particularly resonated:
“5 kids is as hard as 4, is as hard as 3, is as hard as 2, is as hard as 1.”
My mother-in-law said this to us a long time ago (probably when I asked her how she managed to raise 5 boys!), and it took me awhile to really “get” it. At first, I wondered–“How could raising one kid be as hard as raising 5 kids?”
What she meant (I think, anyway) is that there are challenges that come with each additional kid, but it doesn’t necessarily get “harder” because 1) you grow as a parent in what you can handle, and 2) there are challenges that come with having just one kid that don’t really factor in as much when you have several, and vice versa. Often, the challenges aren’t inherently “harder”—they’re just different.
Example: Going from having no kids to having one kid is a super steep learning curve. You’ve never been a parent before, and so you’re basically starting at square zero. Having one child can also feel very isolating, especially if you’ve cut down your work hours (or stopped working altogether)—-it’s just you and this one tiny human to interact with, and the loneliness and lack of adult contact can really do a number on your mind.
But, going to two kids can feel just as difficult, because you finally got used to caring for ONE baby/toddler/child, and you have no idea how to divide your time between two. While you may have felt mom guilt before over other things, now it seems to come up more because you worry about how much you have to divide your time between the kids, and you also notice that your second child definitely gets less one-on-one/hands-on time than your first did.
Going to three kids is a new challenge because all of a sudden, you’re out of hands. Also, you can no longer have just one kid per parent, so as parents, you feel outnumbered.
And so on.
The Power of Expectations
The second piece of advice I’ve often thought of is something my sister said to me once. I asked if it was hard for her to adjust to having 4 kids, and she just laughed and said, “Honestly, no. Adjusting to three was initially kind of challenging, but once I’d just embraced the chaos, adding another to the mix didn’t seem to make a difference.”
Over the years, I’ve heard many–MANY!–moms say that the transition to three kids was the hardest, just because it basically did push them into that “chaos” feeling quite often. Because I’d heard this so often, I had the lowest of low expectations for how we would handle the transition to three, especially since our youngest two would end up being less than 18 months apart. Because I expected chaos all the time and no “me” time and frequent meltdowns and jealousy galore from the older two siblings, it meant that I was pleasantly surprised (over and over again) when the vast majority of my basement-level expectations ended up being surpassed, and by a long shot.
Do we have chaos more often than before? Sure. But is it all the time? Not even close. Do I have less “me” time than before? Sure. But do I not have any? Nope—I end up getting at least a couple hours on even the hardest days thanks to naps and the kids all going down to bed at least a couple hours before I do. Have the older siblings been jealous? Honestly, not really. Sure, they’ve had their moments when they want our attention when the focus is on the baby, but by and large, they’ve just taken it in stride. Both of them were already used to having one sibling, so adding another to the mix didn’t seem to faze them too much. (It helped that Mathias is now old enough to really start playing with Raven, so they each had a built-in playmate to depend on when Mom and Dad are focused on other things.)
Contrast all this to the expectations I had when I was going from one kid to two—because I’d heard several parents say that their transition from one to two kids had been their easiest, I had this dangerous expectation in my head that it was going to be a breeze. After all, Raven was over 3 years old at that point and very responsible for her age, and I’d watched my friend’s baby for several hours a week while she was at work without a problem. Because of these high expectations that our lives would just need a “little” adjustment to accommodate our new normal, I was blindsided by how hard it really was to divide my time, to deal with problems I’d never had with my first (like constant ear infections and major constipation), and the ever-constant lack of sleep.
So I knew not to expect much out of myself when we added a third, and I knew there would be issues we wouldn’t foresee and that the other kids’ reactions were basically going to be unpredictable. And somehow, that made all the difference so that instead of everything seeming super hard, it made it so almost everything went better than expected.
Which is a much more sane way to live out these in-the-trenches days.
The Power of Experience
Another thing that made this transition to three way easier?
The fact that we had over four and a half years of parenting experience under our belt beforehand, including experience with having both a girl and a boy. (It also helped that we had all the stuff we needed for either gender, so the financial implications–other than the hospital bills and the diapers–were pretty negligible.)
Because my second had been born less than a year and a half before Hyrum came, I still well-remembered the newborn haze—I remembered to not expect any kind of routine until about three months in, I remembered that the first week is the hardest sleep-wise and hormonally for me, and I remembered that the saying that each stage won’t last forever is a tremendous bit of wisdom—it serves as a good reminder to relish in the newborn snuggles and the sense of awe at ushering a new life into the world, and to not get hung up over the hard parts, like the severe lack of sleep, the often-painful and adjustment to nursing (or the sometimes disappointing fact that your breastfeeding plans are not going to actually go as planned), and the times when your head feels like it’s going to explode because Everyone. Is. Screaming.
I’ve also learned to just let myself go with the flow of this time of life. Rather than expecting to be in total control of my days, I just outline a few key things I’d really like to try and get done that day, and then I fit them in as best as I can around whatever comes up. And if they don’t happen, I remind myself that there’s always tomorrow to try, try again.
I’ve quickly learned that there’s no room for perfectionism when it comes to living with small, needy humans, so in order to be able to find happiness and contentment daily and thrive the best that I can, I’ve just had to accept that life will look a little crazy for awhile. And that that’s okay. Fun sometimes, even! Definitely joy-filled, if I allow myself to notice what’s in front of me.
The Power of Differences
Lastly, we have another key reason that the adjustment to three has been easier than the adjustment to two—
Hyrum, in many ways, is a healthy, mostly go-with-the-flow baby.
Does he have his challenges? Sure. (I’m beginning to wonder if any baby is really truly “easy” or if, as parents, you just get good at overlooking or dealing with those things that are a bit more challenging, or if they just seem easy because in your experience, you know there are much harder things that can come up. None of my three kids has been totally “easy” or totally “hard”—rather, they’ve each had their unique set of needs and wants and ways of expressing their frustration, and we’ve just had to deal with that. Some of those challenges were definitely harder to deal with than others for us, but they all came with learning curves!)
For starters, because he was born premature and had to be admitted to the NICU for the first few days of life, breastfeeding got off to a rocky start, and we’ve never found a good nursing rhythm. So, almost since the beginning (when we discovered he wasn’t gaining any weight from nursing after the first week or so at home), I’ve been pumping and feeding him every time he eats. This is not convenient and it sometimes means he is wailing at the top of his lungs while I am pumping (which is emotionally hard on me since I feel like he feels that I’m just ignoring him since I’m usually pumping right by him), but I’m grateful to be producing enough this time around to keep this routine up for now. With my first, I unexpectedly had to stop breastfeeding at four months after my autoimmune disease diagnosis, and with my second, I stopped after 11 months (rather than going the full year as planned) because I was barely producing anything by that point.
My three kids have all had vastly different feeding/nursing experiences, but that’s helped me to accept what is in my control, and what is not. It would be nice, of course, if nursing had gone off without a hitch like we’d hoped, but it is what it is, and I’m too busy to waste time wishing things were another way.
One thing Hyrum definitely has going for him is that he’s actually in a pretty decent nighttime routine. He’s just about four months old, and he usually only wakes up once every night around 3:30 to feed, then goes right back to sleep. This means that other than a 20-minute blip in the middle of the night, he sleeps from around 8:30 or 9 at night until 7:30 or 8 in the morning. Of course, he is a teeeerrible napper during the day (Raven was the same way as a baby), so there’s the trade-off.
He also spits up a crazy amount, but he’s a “happy spitter,” unlike his brother Mathias, who had awful reflux that he eventually had to go on medication for. This means that he often has a sour-milk stink about him–because he’s never gone more than about five minutes after a bath without spitting up all over again–but he’s cute enough to get away with being a bit malodorous.
My Two Cents
If you were to ask me what advice I would give to someone who was nervous about adding a third (or second, or fifth, or first) baby to their family? It would be this:
Every baby comes with challenges, and every baby comes with joys. With every new addition to your family, your life will never be the same, so don’t waste time thinking about and comparing things to how they were “before.” Rather, know that with each new addition, you will be made to rise to the challenge, your heart will be made to overflow with a love just as strong and just as overflowing as for your other child(ren), and you will find things to love and things to be glad are fleeting about every stage.
Embrace it all.