Wednesday, May 08, 2013

More is easier

By now I'm sure that most of you have heard about or seen the recent survey results which were published about how having three children seems to create the most stress in parents. I think what is surprising to the majority of people is that the parents with four or more children reported the least levels of stress compared with parents of smaller amounts of children.

I don't know about the exact number '3', but I do know that my experience has been that more is certainly easier. As you add more children to your family, there are certain things that you learn, most of which go a long way to reducing parental stress. I think there is a lot more to it than the repeated reasoning of having learned zone defense once you are outnumbered.

I tell people all the time that having 7 or 9 or 10 is easier than my experience with 2 or 3. No one believes me, but I tell them anyway. It does make me wonder if I secretly enjoy being looked at as if I had three heads, though. This impression is not just me being delusional, but because of some real, explainable reasons.

What are they?

1. With the addition of each child, your sense of what is 'normal' is broadened.

With two children, you have an 'either-or' situation. You deal in opposites. Because children will find their own niche in a family, often the second child will fill the gap not occupied by the older sibling. It is easy for parents to get into thinking that these are the only possibilities for behavior and personality.

There is a reason that three throws so many. That third child is going to be an unique individual and often that little personality is going to be completely unexpected and seemingly to come from left field. If Child A is like Mom and Child B is like Dad, who does that leave Child C to be like? Their own person.

By the time #4 comes along, Mom and Dad have begun to figure out that the possibilities are wide open as to whom this little person is going to be.Instead of trying to find the expected, they begin to wait with expectancy to watch the unfolding of personality.

2. As parents, you are just more experienced.

The more children you have, the more parenting experiences you have. Bodily fluids do not hold the same ick factor anymore. (They're still not enjoyable, but instead are just a fact of life.) Doctors are already lined up. After three children, someone was probably not hitting developmental milestones exactly, yet is still growing and maturing. You may not have seen it all, but you have a wider sampling of children's development, so that it is easier to just enjoy subsequent babies. There is a lot of worry with the first couple that one just doesn't have with later babies. Perhaps even, one of your older children has had some sort of crisis, medical or otherwise, and you have made it through (or are making it through), enlarging your sense of what you are able to handle. Experience can often bring with it a sense of calm.

3. With more than three children, you learn that something has to give in the schedule.

Parents with more children are often more relaxed simply because they are not chauffeur, maid, coach, cook, and cruise director for their children. They just cannot be everything to everyone and that's OK. Parents of larger families learn to prioritize, to sign up for limited sports and activities, to expect children's help with household chores, and not feel the need to give children every latest gadget. Realizing that we just can't do it all is incredibly freeing... and relaxing.  With two children, you can still run the car ferry and make it work, even if it does add some stress. With three, it becomes just that much trickier and the parents still have yet to give themselves permission to let some of it drop. (Please, I'm not saying every parent of three children does this, but I've certainly seen quite a few.) I think the single biggest way a family can reduce their stress level immediately is to cut back on outside activities and commitments.

4. Many hands makes light work.

This is very true. As children are added, the oldest are reaching an age where they can be helpful. A house gets clean much faster with 5 people cleaning than with just one. There are more people who are capable of doing things to help. Of course, this is assuming the children have been trained to help, and the parents need to let go of having everything perfect. Which leads me to my last point,

5. By the time child number four has arrives, parental delusions of perfection have been pretty much decimated.

Perfect house. Perfectly clothed children. Perfect yard. Idealize notion of what leisure looks like. The first three children have often done the hard work of reordering their parents expectations and principles. The younger children reap the rewards of more relaxed parents with more accurate expectations of what life can and should look like. With child number three, especially if those three children are still young, the process of reordering is still in progress. It can be painful (at least for the parents) as they are forced to either reassess what is important and what life is going to look like or they can continue to fight against these forces of nature.

There are always times in a family when life is stressful... either due to a new child being added or money problems or other crises. Having a certain number of children is no guarantee to having a stress-less life. But really that is just life; it is completely separate from how many children you have. And just because you are feeling stress with 2 or 3 children it doesn't follow that with the addition of another child a certain amount of stress is added accordingly. It's not. In fact, because of all the reasons I've mentioned, it might even make for a more relaxed family.


Gretchen said...

I believe you when you say that having more is easier, but probably only because I've actually met you and seen you (and your children) in action. My sister and my mother (with 5 and 6 children respectively) say the same thing. "3 is hard. 4 is easier."

It's only anecdotal evidence, but I've done a surprising number of divorces for parents of 3 children. I have never done a divorce for parents of more than 3 children. (Although, I suspect that has to do with the fact that the child support calculation on 4 or more children is staggering - it's an incentive to stay married, I'm pretty sure!)

susieloulou said...

A baby is so much easier with siblings! I "only" have five, but when you can say, "Go see what the baby's doing!" it really makes it harder to lose that weight you gained ;-)

Lucy said...

Two's a hobby, Three's a job! Direct quote from a guy on an airplane :-) I have 3, but I fully believe even more would be easier because of the often overlooked peer pressure factor. The first one we had to train to everything right. The second picked up a LOT of the way to do things from watching the first one, and third even more so.

I was really amused when I read Dr. Sears recounting how they had used spanking to discipline the first few children, but then stopped spanking and recommending spanking as discipline because they thought they had uncovered better ways of disciplining with the later children (I think they have 6 total). HA! I think he gives himself waaaay to much credit - the remaining ones are easier because they buckled down an instilled discipline in the first few. Peer pressure probably did a lot of the remaining work.

Jmtc, and probably applies mostly to kids born into a family, adoption may not be as subject to familial peer pressure, though it probably doesn't hurt!

Leslie said...

I do agree! Back when I only had one child a friend of mine said, "The first kid takes up SO much of your previous 'personal' time. The second takes double. The third takes up all the rest of your time. After that you are already devoted to spending ALL your time on your kids so it doesn't seem like you lose any more personal time to parenting."

I have four kids now and I think she nailed it.

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