Day 227: Do you have 3 or more children?

How the hell does it work when there are more kids in the house than there are parents? We have two kids – one for each of us – so we can trade off depending on which one we like better at the moment (totally kinda kidding.) The worse case scenario is that we’re each the temporary single parent of one child. Anyone can deal with that. When you’re out numbered, the situation seems destined for mutiny.  No matter what you do, at least one of your unchaperoned kids is running around ripping the leaves off of house plants and eating detergent. You’d be in a constant state of:

“Oh shit, where’s my kid? Oh OK, there he is. Wait, where’s the the other one. No, not that one. The other one. Oh God.”

I’ve asked people with multiple kids how they do it and they usually say, “It just works out somehow.” That’s code for, “I have no idea how they are all still alive.” They never have a good, solid, thought out answer. It’s more of a “WOW, GOOOOOOD QUESTION. I have no idea how this all works. Do you have any coffee, or cyanide?” Sometimes the answer is, “Oh, well, they kind of take care of each other.” GREAT! A 4 year old taking care of a 2 year old. That should work out perfectly! Hey bud, where’s your brother? In a pillowcase? Did you poke holes in it for oxygen to get in? OK, good boy.

The answer must be that you have to lower your parenting standards. Every now and then, you have to let one or more of your kids be unattended while they climb the ivy on the side of your house. Somehow it slowly morphs from a home into some kind of insane foster care situation where you care just a little bit less about their well being. Here’s your food. Eat it or starve, it’s your choice. I have too many kids.

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Marta says:

We have three kids, two girls 11 & about to turn 7 and a 4 year old boy. I never liked the idea of having kids terribly close togther, they compete over the same stuff, you can't reason or negotiate with toddlers, and I refused to have more than one child in diapers at the same time. Mind you, its mayhem! But I love it. They are all crazy and some days I hide in the back yard or attic! We would have had more, but I wanted a dog more! lol So now we have a boxer to add to the crazy mix and its great. The best is when they all have to ask you something at the exact same time, while you are on the phone or on the toilet and a war breaks out over who actually gets to speak to you first and who's question is more important! Love your blog, just found it today. Love day 215, the inside of a 2 yr olds head. Right on the mark!

Jason says:

Father of 3. I keep telling my wife we need to open the marriage up to manage them all. Hasn't worked yet… Anyway, the 4 year old does a wonderful job of watching the 2 year olds. I don't think there is a better answer than "it happens somehow."

Amanda says:

Oh my god, you made me laugh so hard I almost choked on the bowl of cereal I was eating. I have two children, and I really truly don't understand how anyone deals with more then that (and apparently, they don't understand either! lol). Mine are only two years apart. My youngest stayed in his stroller until he was just over 2 years old because he refused to walk properly (i.e without going limp every 10 seconds) and I couldn't carry him and hold my 4 year old's hand (which I had to do, or he'd run out into traffic, despite being told a bazillion times about the dangers…) Thankfully they are almost 3 and 5 and past this stage now, but holy hell, how would you do it if you had 3 or more children? Thankfully I will (hopefully) never find out :P

Georgette says:

3 kids (7,4 and 2). So yeah that is pretty much it! This is so my new favorite blog, you are inside of my head!

k bauer says:

5 kids here, all school age now but I walked around for years with only one leg shaved at a time, someone always needed me as soon as they heard the shower!

Carol says:

Going to zone defense is a good start, I'd also go with leashes in public. My husband & I have two sets of twins. They are 5 & 3 now, all boys. I found lowering your standards really helps. I'm not talking 'game changer' issues, more like housekeeping, matching clothes, shoes on the correct feet…. When you knock those expectation down a few hundred notches, everything else is easy. As for keeping track of them at home or public, I do my best – but I lose them sometimes. I count on the kindness of strangers, and thankfully that's worked so far. Now they'll scream if one starts to fall behind when we're out or someone hasn't loaded up in the minivan. So eventually they learn that Mom's not perfect and you better take care of each other. When people say, "I don't know how you do it." I just smile and think, you probably have benchmarks to ensure your day is worthwhile. My motto is 'how can I keep the kids alive today and still have some fun.' ;^)

5 kids. "Here’s your food. Eat it or starve, it’s your choice." – dead on. Although I don't think that's poor parenting. It teaches them to be grateful for what they're given and not to be picky and bossy and demanding. They learn to work as a team (family), nobody's spoiled, etc.

Denise says:

Wow! I'm am crying over here seriously, so glad I found your site! I have 3 kids and the oldest is 4, and yes what you have said is sooo true. I do honestly wonder how I have kept them all alive! You're last paragraph is exactly how you do it, that is your answer, you just have to lower your standards a bit, care less about perfect parenting that's for sure. Some days it's all I can do to open a can of alphagetti with one hand, baby in the other and put it cold into bowls for lunch. But then some days it's awesome. You never know what you are going to get!

A SIL mentioned your site. I especially love the self-help advice from a two-year old.

I had four kids in less than six years. It was insane. I am not only starting to recover and my youngest is almost seven. You don't go out alone nearly as much, especially when they are young. However, I remember going shopping at the grocery store when we were pretty much desperate for any food in the house. I had several strategies for handling child containment:

1. One kid would hold onto the baby carrier, one would hold my hand and one would hold onto the other kids hand. It would usually mean shuffling because one child was too small to walk very fast. I REALLY wished mothers with more than three children could use handicapped parking. I also built up the muscles on each arm. The least fun option for everyone involved.

2. The kiddy choo-choo. I would hold onto the baby carrier and the rest of the kids would line up behind me holding onto the coat/shirt of the person in front of them. To complete the picture, kids would take turns making the chugging noises and the whistle noises. This is very fun for the kids, but not as much fun for the adults, unless you like people looking at you strangely.

3. Using the cart as a child retention devise. I know there are all those signs plastered on the carts warning you to not let your children ride on the front or back. I let them ride on the sides. They would only step off without warning me once or twice before learning bad things happened and the incident usually did not involve blood. This is a win-win because the kids have fun riding the cart and the adult can count them within five seconds and, as an added bonus, walk at an adult pace, not a two-year-old pace.

You also have to be totally prepared to bail on any store if your kids decide to misbehave. Even if it means leaving a full grocery cart behind for some unlucky clerk to empty. Establishing effective bribes before the trip can minimize the chance of this happening. Also be prepared to lose a decade or more of your life and memory.

Charty says:

I have three kids, 2 girls (ages 5 & 2 almost 3) & a 1 year old son…its not easy…but I do the majority of it myself so….I really have no clue how the heck I do it…

Ali says:

I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't know how my 3 stay alive!! Didn't help that the baby started walking at NINE MONTHS OLD. Now they're everywhere, throwing toothbrushes under the couch, beheading Christmas ornaments, dumping out all the books and DVDs while I'm just trying to get the coffeemaker to crank out another round of joe (HANG IN THERE, Gevalia, don't give up on me now!) so I can keep up.

Charty says:

You seem like my mental twin right now

Shawna says:

I usually don't comment on random stuff I read, but couldn't resist. Our third ended up being twins and yes, it was hard! As another twin mom mentioned, they tend to run in opposite directions and only faster when you say "stop." All four are boys too and they are constantly in the midst of either a real argument or an imaginary game the involves fighting somehow (even though it's all in fun-until someone gets hurt). When they were younger, I coped by simply not taking them out of the house unless absolutely necessary. Now the youngest are eight and it's much easier. But those first five years or so…mostly a blur.

MamaFish says:

I had 4 in 10 years. It's true – the first is really hard to adjust to. The second is OMG so much more WORK! The third is a little bit harder, but not too bad. After that it's nothing. If money hadn't been an issue I could have easily had 10. Ok, money and physical stamina. The trick, if there is one, is comprised of several parts, none of which can work on its own.. First, keep up with the discipline. If you slack off, you lose control and it is so much harder to get it back. Second, keep them busy. My kids weren't regimented every hour of the day, but they were active all day – school, sports, scouts, 4-H, etc. By the time bedtime came they couldn't wait to sleep. Third, do things WITH the kids, not just stand around chatting while they play with others. It's ok to do that occasionally, but you have to stay involved to stay up to date on who they are now. They get older, they change, you want to be there when that happens, trust me. And fourth, make sure you have time for you. It could be 30 minutes in the morning to drink a cup of coffee and watch the news, or 20 minutes at night to read before turning off the light, or maybe a half hour while they're napping to watch your favorite show. Whatever it is, it's just for you. That last bit is essential to remaining sane. My youngest is almost 17 now, the others all grown and on their own. We're still close, talk every day, and each and every one of them has become an adult I am proud to know.

Margie says:

I have 5: 3 teens and 2 toddlers, and they are ALL boys. And yes, parenting standards do diminish, slightly. Or, as I like to put it… you get less uptight. lol! But I got a leash, and that has helped ever so much for forays into public spheres. It's a monkey backpak and the toddlers love it. I do a lot of counting of heads. And expecting the older ones to be able to keep themselves from being kidnapped or maimed while I deal with the youngers ones.

MamaFish says:

I agree, you get much more relaxed. You learn to focus on the important stuff and ignore the rest. For me that meant the kitchen and bathroom stayed clean, but clothes tended to pile up on the floors and vacuuming happened maybe once a month instead of twice a week. :P

Shanda says:

Oh my gosh!!! This was perfect! You don't even know how hard it is for me to keep track of my twin toddlers AND our 12, 13,& 14 year olds! You would think the older ones would help take account for the twins and sometimes they do, but mostly, they are a distraction. So is the laundry, the dishes, vacuuming, cleaning the showers, toilets, and baths….because WHENEVER I do any chores, chaos ensues and I find myself missing a kid or saving the other's life….or both!

It only takes putting one load in the dryer to come out and find one toddler on the counter, digging in a high cabinet, munching on dad's sleeping aid supplements or whatever other supplements he found easy to open. Or the other toddler climbing up the stair railing….on the OUTSIDE of the stairs. I am pretty strict and lay down stern boundaries, but they just know when the opportune moment is to break those rules.

My husband and I often say we feel like we save lives more than we parent. Child leashes??? I used to scoff at those parents, too, until I became one mom with two development-delayed twin 1-3 year olds that would book out in two different directions and the word "stop" meant nothing but go faster. I would find myself as the mom in the movie "Good Son" trying to figure out which kid I should try to save the life of first. I never ended up getting a leash, but gosh…if I was a good parent, I would have.