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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Monica says:

I only had one child. He had 4. His wife and he agree that they may never get good sleep again….I think that right now with 3 under the age of 5 its more like just trying to keep them wrangled. They use a gadget that when my son was a toddler was considered offensive to some. The put a harness on the child with a tether. That way they can't go too far but are still mobile on their own. The grocery experience was a sight. Baby in the cart, toddler in the harness and the 3 yr old with her hands firmly on the cart under mommy's hands…thereby thinking she is pushing the cart but still under control. I, frankly, don't know how they do it. But I wouldn't give my grandbabies up for anything!

Sarah says:

I have 5 kids, ages 9,7,5,3, and 1. I was raised in an "insane foster care"–my parents were foster parents, and besides my 6 actual siblings, we had around 60 kids who lived with us over the years, some for a few days, some for several years. I've learned to have a great sense of humor…growing up as I did, developing one was a matter of survival!

So naturally, I chuckled and nodded through this whole post, all the way up to the last paragraph, when I realized that a) a father of two kids is telling me that I *must* have lower standards of parenting than he, and b) he is defining "low parenting standards" as "leaving them unattended every now and then." Not cool, dude. I've put in a lot of time and heart to raise my kids in such a way that I *can* leave them unattended now and then without anyone imploding. And the alternative–never leaving them unattended for a second–can we say helicopter parenting?? Kinda stunts the imagination…

Also? Since when was it considered "caring less about their welfare" to expect a child to eat a meal that has been prepared? Because silly me, I thought that was "caring about their character." You know, teaching traits like thankfulness and contentment… And yes, my home is insane (and made of AWESOME!!!), but it is a HOME–one that fosters love, respect, generosity, humor, and more joy than you could possibly imagine!

I think maybe that's the point–you don't get the large family thing. And that's fine–I'll bet your kids are amazing and I can tell you love 'em like crazy. But when you don't get it, you probabaly ought not go there–at least not in such a negative way. It's kind of a bummer–I love your work, and even this post started out great; I can't figure out why it ended on such a strangely sour note.

And now, I must go clean up the mess on the kitchen floor…the 7 yo was supposed to be watching the 18 month old….I hope that's ketchup! ;-)

E says:

I love your post… This is awesome… My sister was a foster parent for many years and I lived with her as well.. We had many kids in and out of the home as you did… I am so glad you are such a great parent and have broken the cycle that so many continue… It is great to see this… :) Thank you for sharing… I love your sense of humor… You sound like an amazing person… Thanks again for sharing your story… :)

Kelly says:

Thanks for this response. As the mother of 6 fantastic kids, I couldn't agree more.

Jill says:

I was thinking the same thing, Sarah! I am glad u said it. Mother of a 13 yr old, a 3 yr old and twin 2 yr olds.

I didnt plan to have this many kids, but I never thought for a second that I wouldnt MAKE it work, no matter what I had to do. The love you have for your kids naturally makes your standards high.

Lisa says:

I have 3 girls, 5,4,and 2. I have no idea where I heard this but … with one you can double team them, with two you need to go to man-to-man and with three you have to switch to a zone defense. It's hard. Really hard. Thank God I only have to parent two of them between the hours of 3pm and 8pm – LMAO! Yea for public education!

Darla says:

I have 4 kids (19, 15, 10 and 6) In a way I guess I've only had two at a time that needed constant watching. The oldest has joined the Army, which actually made the home a quieter place because he and the 15 year old were mortal enemies. Now, I shuttle 3 kiddies around to various activities and doctors appointments. I can't afford to work… thank God hubby has a great job! My car insurance is about to triple because the 15 year old is driving now! YIKES

I can't imagine having 3 or 4 little kids at once but having them spread so far apart hasn't been that bad. They do actually start taking care of themselves. But, ya gotta keep an eye on them… if it's quiet for too long it's because they've just stripped the entire living room furniture of all it's pillows and pulled all the books off the bookshelf to build a monster fort. (then they expect YOU to pick it up)

Melissa Dallmier says:

ROFL!! I so totally understand the if its quiet for too long part!! I have 3 kids (13,9,4) My youngest is loud at all times so I know when he gets quiet its getting ready to hit the fan!!

Mrs. Fun says:

I have 4 kids and my husband is currently working out of state, only home 2 weekends a month. Wanna know the secret? Auto pilot and alcohol after bedtime…. oh who am I kidding, the drinking starts at dinner time ;)

Mary says:

Once I had the third, I lost my mind and everything got worse. Within a year, I started forgetting all their names. I have the greatest chance of remembering the oldest's name so I call them all that OR "the short one," "the tall one," and "the boy."

Nancy says:

I hear you, sister! I once went through all three of my girls names and the dogs names before I got to my husband's name. "Who are you?" works in our house also.

Emily says:

Ditto to pretty much everything Anne said. :) I'm the oldest of seven children in a very strict, and very loving family. I LOVE my family and still enjoy spending time with them whenever possible. (We are all spread out in four different states and two countries right now.)

As for us, my husband and I are currently expecting baby number six to add to our crazy mix. Our girls are currently 6, 5 & 3 1/2, and we have twin boys who will be 2 next month. The answer to your question on how to survive with more than one per adult, or more than one per hand: structure, discipline, consistency, love, and a whole lot of baby/toddler/child-proofing.

Anonymous says:

I love your response :o) and agree wholeheartedly! (We have all girls, 8, 6, and twins age 2)

Jennifer B says:

Yeah, I have four sisters and I always heard a lot of:

Did you just roll your sister down the stairs in a SUITCASE?

Where is (insert sister's name)?

JUST GO OUTSIDE.

miz thing says:

Yes to "Just go outside." we use it all the time with our 4 kids!

Anne says:

Hilarious! :) For the record, though, parenting 3 or more kids requires pretty strong parenting standards! I have 4 children ages 5, 3, 2, and 1. My husband travels every Mon – Fri for his job, so I am on my own the majority of the time. The way I make it work is to be very organized and prepared for each day in terms of school, meals, and routine. I also think I'm a little more strict with the kids than some parents because when you are outnumbered you can't lose control or its mutiny. So, my kids need to listen and follow the rules, and for the most part, they do! I keep the kids busy, we don't watch much TV, and they all get plenty of attention and have lots of fun. It can be done, and it can be done well! Thanks, though, for making me laugh.

Sue says:

I agree with Jeremy – I spaced my kids 10 years apart. The only time they are all in the house together is Christmas with the Grandson! It is its own wild ride.

Jeannette says:

I have a 2 year old and twin 4 month olds. I laughed so hard at this. I have no idea how I do it. One baby is batting a toy, the other baby is sleeping, and my toddler is kicking alphabet magnet letters around the floor behind me screaming…"MAMA MY ABC's!!!!!!!"

The answer is: Wine.

I think the trick is spacing. Well, either that or get a divorce so you split time with the ex. Totally joking (kinda).

Christine says:

As a single mom of 3 under 8, I have one word for you: Triage. You deal with the most life threatening thing first and work your way down. That and lots of coffee.

I have four and I count them repeatedly throughout the day. When we're hanging out with cousins, nieces, nephews etc, I have to make sure I am leaving with the right four children (they are the fourth generation of a large extended family and they all look alike to me). I look for ways to save or create time – for example, I try not to bathe them every day. Hygiene is overrated. Occasionally I blog about it (of course) but this usually results in one of them going unfed.

You are a very, very funny man. Thank you for making me laugh.

Cat says:

It's the gender trap! I have two boys who drive me crazy – sometimes with homicidal thoughts and other times with love and tenderness. I want a girl now and I may JUST be crazy enough to try it. But daaamn, the money. We'd be crazy to have a third for that reason alone…. 2/3 of my paycheque is spent JUST on daycare. Ick.

With one kid you double cover and know if one of you slips the other has your backside.

With two kids you play man-to-man. You're each on an island, but if you're good and have attitude you can shut your man down.

With three you play zone defense. It's all about discipline. Don't leave your position to try to cover someone else's job because that leaves your responsibilities open and a weak spot in the defense, letting the bad guys score.

Adri says:

Single mother of three. Hopelessly outnumbered, yes. There is a 5 years gap between my eldest girl and my son, a 7 year gap between my son and my baby girl. Each child got a ton of one on one time with me, and while I often feel as though I am losing my mind, I don't really have much to say for any parent who claims to feel differently. Yes, there is more work involved, but there is far, far more love. Add to that the fact that when I am gone there will be three people left behind who can turn to each other and carry on squabbling, supporting, et cetera, and I really don't think there's anything else to say.

Dana says:

As a 4th child myself, I couldn't agree more … yes, growing up in a large family helps develop negotiating and compromising skills, and … yes, having a large family is only for overachievers!!! I have great memories of my noisy, active childhood, and we were always well fed & nourished, both emotionally & physically. But, as a parent of 2 college-age children, I have to say that I personally couldn't AFFORD more than 2. I don't know how my parents did it!!! (All 4 of us are college graduates & 3 have their Doctorate degrees. None of us had to take out loans until our graduate studies.) Start saving now & have your kids apply for every scholarship opportunity there is!!! In the meanwhile, enjoy the chaos!!! :-)

Kristy says:

I laughed a lot, then I got a little offended. I have four kids under 8 and yes, they do watch out for each other. But I think that is part of being any sized family. I only had one brother but I was always watching out for him. That's how it works! I think my kids are learning to be compassionate and nurturing and that, as a human being, it is important to care about the well being of others. They also learn negotiating and compromising skills that will help them as adults. You should hear the way these kids work out who gets the last donut. My kids are deliriously happy. They ALWAYS have someone to play with and they love each other madly. Our home is full of laughter. And, ok, usually someone is screaming at 5-10 minute intervals, but is that really different from your house? More importantly, I have friends with a mere one or two kids who live by the "eat it or starve, it's your choice" model of parenting so I don't think that attitude is necessarily driven by the number of children. Just pointing out that not all big families have poor parenting standards as not all smaller families have good standards.

Jill says:

This is AWESOME! I TOTALLY AGREE AND I praise my kids for their compassion and concern for each other DAILY becauae I came from a family that was as big but not as tight as I hope mine will be. :-)

Kristin says:

Speaking from experience, we have three kiddos. The reason we have three is we wanted four, and realized we might possibly go insane if we tried for one more. It is a crazy life, but with just two it was too easy. Couples who enjoy a good challenge or are overachievers are the ONLY ones who should try this…LOL. There are plenty of times that someone is screaming and acting crazy, but it is usually someone being mean to the their sibling to get more attention. The like to play the attention game, which usually results in someone hurting someone else. What we do have in our favor is four years between the last two, that happen to both be boys. My husband can conveniently put the youngest on his shoulders and like magic…we are back to having two. When that third child is removed it suddenly becomes quiet and everyone gets along, similar to just having one, but you still might have to tell them to stop touching each other in the back of the car. It's like people who have more than two dogs or cats, it is more work. But there is also more love in our house……and fighting.