As someone who hit the breaks at two kids, I am always in awe of those who go for three or more children. People say that you are transitioning from man to man to zone defense, but I’ve always thought it looked more like herding cats. At any rate, I wanted to know how on earth they do it. So, I asked.
Every mother I talked to said that one thing is mandatory – readjusted expectations. Especially when the kids are small, it is just a matter of getting through it.
“My advice is to lower your standards, and then lower them some more and just roll with it,” said Sarah. “Early bedtimes are critical. And always have snacks.”
Shawna agrees: “Trying to be the same as other moms just isn’t possible. I got really comfortable with just being okay.”
Matching outfits? Nope. Alone time in the bathroom? Silly girl. Sanity at the grocery store? Forget about it.
“I went from one to three overnight and most of those first years are a blur,” Helen said. “But I do remember feeling like every grocery shopping expedition was like shopping with an octopus. Arms everywhere, grabbing items off the shelf, spilling bottles or toys, unexpected treasures tucked beneath stroller seats and blankets.”
And this was before Shipt or Instacart, which Helen said would have been a godsend.
There are some things you can do, of course, to make it all more manageable.
“Start making friends with parents of your kids’ friends,” Shannon said. “At some point, all three (or more) of your kids will have to be somewhere at the same time. Mom and Dad can only cover two, so you are going to have to phone a friend. Be sure to repay them by covering a practice or school event as well. And who doesn’t like having friends, anyway?”
Lauren stresses that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help because in her experience, people seem to offer less the more kids you have. And don’t forget to prioritize your spouse.
“A good friend with four biological kids and two foster kids told me once that you either pay the babysitter now or you pay the counselor later, and she’s right,” Lauren said.
For Candice, simplification is the key.
“Simplify everything so you don’t wear yourself out: your meals, your outfits, your activities, your hairstyle, your over-complicated friendships, your evening commitments (so you can stick with early and consistent bedtime), [and] your work commitments,” she said. “A well-rested mama is key.”
Planning can further relieve stress. Candice always kept spare clothes, both for her and the kids, in the car as well as wipes, snacks, and a grocery bag (to store said gross clothes) during inevitable emergencies.
Once some of your young ones are older, they can pitch in. Fostering a team atmosphere helps everyone play well with others.
“Respect each kids’ strengths and challenges,” Emily says. “If one did something this way, odds are the others won’t. Hype up the new baby until the older ones can hardly contain themselves. Get a minivan, you’re not cool anymore anyway. Realize the family that your youngest was born or adopted into does not look the same as your oldest. Things change and there are pros and cons to all scenarios.”
Terri adds: “All of them can’t play sports at the same time. Bedtimes stagger with ages. All have chores to lighten the load. Have backup plans with backup plans.”
Vacations obviously look different the more kids you have, but today there is the magical world of VRBO and Airbnb.
“Hotel rooms for a five-person, or more, family make vacation planning trickier and more expensive,” Beth said. “Also, you pretty much need a third row in your vehicle, even if you only have three kids, if they will all be in car seats at the same time. And really even if they won't, because three across does not seem to confer sufficient distance to avoid constant fighting.”
But along with the extra work, mess, and stress more children bring, there is also a lot of joy.
“We strive to embrace the chaos because with more faces, there are definitely more hugs,” said Biz. “It can be crazy-making to live with so many personalities, but it’s also a gift.”
Days that bring you to your knees now will someday be over. And believe it or not, you might miss them.
“Don’t forget to take care of you,” Biz said. “Give yourself a lot of grace. The days are long, but the years are short.”