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May 9 2013

No Matter How Many Kids You Have, You’ll Be Stressed

By at 4:14 pm

three kids in car“Apparently I picked the wrong number of kids to have,” a friend and mother of three kids posted on my Facebook wall the other day. “Maybe you are onto something?”

She–and every other mom of three kids I know–was referencing the recent survey by TODAY Moms (full disclosure, for which I’m a contributor). The survey came up with the unexpected finding that the moms who have it hardest are moms of three kids:

Mothers of three children stress more than moms of one or two, while mothers of four or more children actually report lower stress levels, according to an exclusive TODAYMoms.com survey of more than 7,000 U.S.mothers released Monday. Call it the Duggar effect: Once you get a certain critical mass of kids, life seems to get a bit easier.

Let me let you in on a secret that you probably already know: this is bullshit. Sorry. But here are the reasons:

1. EVERY number of kids is stressful; NO NUMBER is less stressful than another. 

I’m going to be a mom of five kids in November. You’d think I’d have this whole thing semi-down pat by now and that it would be a walk in the park.

You may be surprised, then, when I tell you that it is actually pretty freaking stressful to be a parent of four kids. I see the pediatrician more than I see my close friends. I pack more lunches than a school cafeteria worker. When not waking up to take care of some crying baby, I wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I gave one of the kids their medicine, and if I stupidly signed up to chaperon a field trip the next day.

Somehow, I do not think the stress will dissipate once I pop out Kid 5.

But guess what? It was pretty freaking stressful to be a parent of one kid. One could argue that it involved fewer juggling balls in the air, sure, but less stressful? No.

It’s that first kid, that one kid, that is the game-changer and world-rocker. It’s that one freaking kid that makes your heart reside outside your body in a place where it can easily be broken. It’s that one kid that makes you wake up in the middle of the night worried. It’s that one kid that changes your entire life.

Being a parent is stressful. Period. No matter how many of those stupid “kid outline” stickers you have on the back window of your car.

2. The assumption that “it’s easier with four plus kids than with three” is rooted in one idea: Giving Up. 

I’ve argued before that yes, it can be somewhat easier to be a fourth-time mom than a first-time mom–just because you’ve been down the road before and are no longer concerned that your kid is going to get Shopping Cart Disease.

But much of the idea that it’s easier with four and more kids than three seems to be rooted in the idea that well, if you have four kids, you might as well just give up. After all, you’re never going to be able to do everything for everyone and parent the way you want to, just because there aren’t enough hours in the day. And once you adjust your expectations, you’ll be happier.

But what if you’re like me, and you suck at adjusting expectations? What if you still want to give each one of your kids the attention, love, praise, and reprimands they deserve? What if you’re NOT willing to throw in the towel? What if you won’t let them just drop their towels on the ground, not say “please” or “thank you,” not do as well as they can on their homework or figure out how to be a person through neglect?

Then you’re like me: really busy, and kind of screwed. Not livin’ la vida loca. Not sipping (virgin) margaritas while the kids play “somewhere, who knows where?”

Sure, one (i.e. my husband) could argue I need to be more laissez-faire and I need to take a step back. Got it. But I need to put in the work and time to make sure that these kids fill that void: that they are kind to one another and others, that they make their own lunches, that they put their crap away, and that they don’t take people for granted. That takes work, my dear.

3. Circumstances are key. 

The number of kids you have doesn’t govern the level of stress you have: it’s all about what else is going on in your life.

The person who has newborn twins, I’d argue, has a hell of a lot more stress than the person with three kids equipped with trust funds at boarding school. The person with one kid going through a horrid divorce is dealing with a lot more than her circumstances may imply, as is the parent who has a child with autism or special needs. Money can alleviate a lot of stress, as can healthy relationships, as can healthy children. Those “x factors” are huge in parenting: a world can be changed in the blink of an eye.

So don’t worry, moms of three/expectant moms of three. We’re all in this ever-flooding boat together.

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