Three children is not as hard as you think

This morning, we’re continuing the “reasons to have three children” series. To clarify: I’m not writing this for people who have already decided to have zero, one or two children. (Nor, really, those who have decided to have nine children.) These entries are a response to the sheer number of search queries I get on “reasons to have three children” and “why have three children.” In other words, I’m writing for the families looking for a reason to take the plunge.

The most common comment I get is that I “must be so busy” or “have my hands full” and that it must be unimaginably hard to have three kids. Which is, patently, insane.

A parenting forum I read every day had a poll recently asking which was the hardest jump, and most respondents indicated it was most difficult to go from zero to one kid, or from one kid to two kids. A further poll indicated that it was evenly divided between zero to one and one to two being most difficult.

My opinion (which you get in spades on this weblog) is that most people who have not had three kids assume it’s just as difficult to go from two to three as it was from one to two. And that, if you were to go from seven children to eight, that the eight child would be as hard an adjustment as the first or second.

Here’s a secret: it’s not incrementally more difficult every time. The huge hurdles are getting used to a baby in the house at all, and getting used to managing the needs of two children.

Once you throw in that third child, you’re used to having one baby around. You’re used to managing the needs of more than one child. And a magical thing happens with the third: you’re relaxed. You’re about as tired as you’re going to get. You’re used to thinking for three people already (yourself plus two kids) and the oldest child is already beginning to act independently. That jump to three kids? Isn’t that difficult.

I’ve heard that the family dynamics change again when a family reaches five children. It’s been suggested that’s because then the children outnumber the parental hands. But regardless, even there, the addition of a fifth child doesn’t cause the same familial cataclysm as the addition of the first or second.

Keep in mind I’m deliberately not discussing situations with twins or triplets, but only the addition of singletons to a family. And I’m also assuming (interesting assumption) that the children won’t have severaly debilitating needs which cause the entire household to be rearranged around them. I have seen the latter situation, by the way, and the family still seemed to make the adjustment pretty easily, widening and absorbing the new member and the new member’s needs as natural.

Come back tomorrow and we’ll keep going.


  1. Nicole

    Thanks for this. I agree 2 to 3 wasn’t hard. Now to convince my husband just one more wouldn’t be any harder. He probaly wouldn’t even notice. 🙂

    1. Lisa

      I agree and am also considering a fourth but can’t make up my mind. I have 3 girls aged 7, 4.5 and 1.5. The third was a lot easier by comparison. My eldest daughter is very helpful with the youngest which makes life easier too 🙂

  2. Sal

    Hi, I am so on the fence on this one so it’s good to hear others opinions. I have 2 children aged 6 and 3 and are thinking of a third. I am worried about changing the family dynamic and going back to the baby ‘stage’. My kids are pretty self sufficient so I fear it would be a massive shock and the tiredness could make the older kids miss out on the ‘quality time’ they would have had if mummy wasn’t so tired from number 3. I am one of two, my husband is one of four so we have already differing experiences of family life. Sometimes I think it would be ok then I have a night up with one of the kids (illness) and feel dreadful the next day and not very patient.. would this be the norm?

    1. philangelus

      I think what you’re experiencing is the norm. Ask yourself this: in the long run, would your children benefit more from Mommy fully awake while they’re at school, or from having a sibling? From Mommy being tired for a couple of years or from a lifetime of interactions?

      And in case you think I’m just a loon (although I am) right now I have one vomiting child and one feverish child, one teething baby, and one child who observes all the chaos and declares he has a sore finger and must be nurtured. Plus a stray cat that needs to be socialized. So I get the whole “burning the candle at both ends” feeling. But it’s eminently possible. And as the older children get older, they need less “hover mom” and more “advice mom” and “play mom,” if that makes sense.

      Some dreadful days are in the works no matter how many children we have. The family dynamic will change with the addition of another child (at any stage of the game) but it doesn’t have to be a bad change.

      There does come a point at which the exhaustion outweighs the benefits. We all hit that at different levels.

      Good luck!

    2. Lisa

      You to have rough days and nights while they are little, but I think the first year of a new baby is the most challenging. Once you get past that things seem to get easier, especially as they are all the kids getting older and moving into different stages like starting school etc and becoming more and more independent. Eg dressing themselves and helping themselves to breakfast cereal while you breast feed. I have 27 months between my first two and almost 3.5 yrs between the next two and I found the larger are gaps helpful and also you can rest while the older kids are at school & baby sleeps.

  3. Suzanne

    I hear people talk about if you have 3, it is better to go on and have the 4th… to even things out. I have two girls right now (5 and 3) and am on the fence about having an odd number of children. I am particularly concerned about the “middle” child thing. I don’t think I would go for 4 kids, so what are your thoughts on the odd number thing?

    1. philangelus

      I’ve been told that with an even number of kids, the kids tend to pair off, whereas if there’s an odd number, one is always the odd one out (no pun intended) and that creates more infighting.

      I’m not sure if there’s less fighting with four than with three, just because of how my kids are spaced age-wise. But there does seem to be less competition when I’ve got two kids with me rather than three, if that makes sense. I don’t notice a similar reduction with four because the youngest is still too little to fully participate with them.

  4. Pamela

    I wonder if I should have a third child as well and when, I will only have three if I do so that would not be an issue to talk about. My first two are girls 2 years apart. I am wondering if I should wait until my second is a year to try and have another one at 2 years apart, or should I wait until she is 3 or 4. I’m just not sure, what I am sure about is that I feel like one is missing, like a family picture with a shaded figure. I was on the couch after a busy day resting my feet and looked up and imagined three grown children smiling down at me, not just two. Is this a calling I wonder? Should I do it and be busy for a couple years to enjoy three grown children in the future with lots of grandchildren and to give the world the person it seems to be calling for?

    1. philangelus

      It’s the kind of question only you and your children’s father can answer, really — I haven’t found child spacing to be the same kind of issue that many other parents do because each spacing has its own benefits and its own challenges. Whenever we decided to have another child, it was with a lot of discussion and prayer. It’s good to be asking the questions ahead of time. 🙂

  5. dufflav

    I have 2 girls aged 4 and 2 and had a miscarriage in Dec. my husband and i were overjoyed when we found out i was pregnant as it was planned. now we’ve had some thinking time after the miscarriage and have made the decision not to try again. there are 3 main factors. 1. money (which is sad but you have to be practical) we can just about afford our current standard of living which isn’t flash, just about comfortable. another baby is going to put that under pressure for 18+ years and therefore we feel we’re taking away oppotunities from our 2 current daughters that may arise, that we won’t be able to give them, if you know what i mean. 2. my mothers age and whether she has it in her to mind a 3rd child as she is our child care 4 days a week as we can’t afford professional childcare. 3. we are both currently struggling to cope with full-time work and caring for 2 of our children to the standard of parenting we aspire to be, so adding another body to that might put added pressures on. i feel so sad by this decision as i’m headin towards 36 and feel this is my last chance.i feel like PAmela who sees the 3rd wee person there and i’m worried this decision will haunt me when it’s too late. i am trying to count my blessings and remind myself of the 2 wonderful children i have in my life and the opportunities i have now with them.

    1. Lil

      I feel the exact same way. I say live in the Now and whatever is meant to be… will be.

  6. Jolene (Homespun Heritage)

    We went from 1 child to 4 and now from 4 to 7! Once we had 3 anymore than that seemed so easy! Its so funny how our perspective changes!