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In the spring of 2006 I surveyed nearly 50 mothers of three about what it's like to have three kids. I asked these moms the same questions that people have been asking me, and I got lots of different answers. (Thanks to all of the respondents, who provided thought-provoking, insightful, and entertaining answers. I'm grateful for their honesty and wisdom.)

For each question, I've given an overview and analysis of the responses followed by selected quotes from respondents. I attributed these quotes using the participant's first name when given permission, and using their first initial otherwise.

What made you decide to have three (or more) kids?

Roughly a quarter of the moms responded to this question with some variant of "Decide? Who decided?" These moms arrived at three by way of twins or by way of an "oops." Those who had three on purpose said that they "felt their family wasn't complete" or "felt someone was missing" or simply "wanted a large family."

Many of those who wanted three said that they did so in part because they came from large families themselves. Several said they had been only children and wanted their kids to have siblings. Four respondents were trying for a specific gender.

E: The twins were IVF, the third was a HUGE surprise.... Too much beer and rides and Busch Gardens, Va.

Julie: I was not planning the first or last, and I am still a bit surprised that I am the "mom" in this situation.

C. Delia: Having three children was an amazing leap of faith for me. I was never one of those twelve year old girls who decided to have a house filled with kids and then planned out their names and birthdays decades before I actually had them. I babysat on three separate occasions during my adolescence--purposely getting fired from the last gig rather than explain my ambivalence for small children. We had our girl and our boy--"our perfect matching set"--and we thought we were done. I donated all of the old baby clothes and went back to (part-time) work. Then, our son turned two years old and an all-consuming desire for another baby came over me. I tried to talk myself out of it--I told my friends I was crazy and then, one of them said, "Maybe you're just meant to be the mom of three. I think you feel it when you're done." My husband had always wanted three, so he was thrilled. After several lovesick, insomniac, conflicted months--I decided to jump into motherhood again. I wasn't finished having children--I felt it in my bones, my blood, my body knew before my mind did. I've never looked back.

What were the issues that most concerned you about having three, and how have they turned out?

The most common answers to this question were having enough time for each child and having enough money. (Interestingly, very few moms were worried about having enough time for their spouses, or even for themselves.) For the most part, moms reported that they've managed to make time for each kid, though many said it was a continuing struggle. Some said that they didn't have much one-on-one time but that it was made up for by the other kids.

Moms also worried about how they were going to ever get out of the house with three kids and whether they would get enough sleep. The consensus was that things ease up considerably after the first 6 months to a year, though no-one said that these issues ever completely go away.

Julie: The biggest issue was that of my time. I already felt so divided between my two boys; making yet another division was daunting. Adding a body to the mix, another pregnancy and the thought of more lost sleep was simply terrifying. But we survived all that and they really do grow up. And we sleep well now, now that I have Ferberized everyone, including my husband, who too wakes in the night looking for a little attention.

J: My biggest concerns were mobility (going places) and being able to meet everyone's needs. It's tough, and some days I feel like a hamster on a wheel. But fourteen months later we are all still hanging in there.

Sheila: I was concerned that I would have a little less time for each one if I had 3. I might have less time but they get more time with each other. Their life is more balanced because they have more friends (siblings). I get some free time when they are all entertaining each other.

K: I was concerned that #3 would create complete chaos. Yes, it is much more chaotic! But really, it was the first 3-6 months that were most demanding.

E: When the baby was born I had 3 kids UNDER the age of 3 (The twins were 2). Logistics was my big concern. Now at a year and a half into it, it really all works out OK. The twins were a HUGE help in the beginning and now I really like the age differences (or lack there of).

Do you find that having three is much harder--or different--than having two?

For many mothers of twins, this question is irrelevant--they go from having one kid to having three without a pitstop at two. Of the moms that didn't have twins, about half said it was harder, and about half said it wasn't. It was interesting to see that there's a big range in just how hard people perceive three vs. two. Some of the difference seems to depend on the specific ages of the kids; people with bigger spans between their kids were more likely to say it wasn't harder. If the oldest child was roughly 6 or older, the moms often report that the oldest helps out a lot with youngest, easing the workload. Some moms with closely spaced kids also said that it wasn't much worse having three, either because the kids played together a lot or because they were already in baby mode so it wasn't a big change.

L: YES! I know why people stop at 2. You can still eke some time out for yourself. I don't think it is possible with 3 unless you have a nanny.

C: The little things like putting 3 kids in car seats, waiting for 3 to get unbuckled and into the store... well, those you just learn to live with and as soon as you don't dwell on how much work it really is, you can hypnotize yourself to gloss right over it all without a second thought. Or if you're like me, you don't have time to worry over the small stuff because one of you kids is trying to go it alone in the parking lot while you are trying to keep him from getting run over and at the same time get 2 other bodies out of the minivan.

Elisa: I found that three works better than two. My husband helps more and now we get along better. There is a 4 1/2 year age difference between my middle child and the youngest and both my older kids help with the baby. There are times when it is more difficult having three, but I am much happier with three.

J: Three has completely blown our hair (what's left of it) back. It is ten times more difficult than I EVER thought it would be. Some one told me that one to two was the "big adjustment"... WRONG.

Larissa: The hardest is how it has affected me socially. Most of my friends have two and are out of the baby stage and entering the "all kids in school hurray!" stage. Before, I was able to swap with a friend so that we could help out in our kid's classrooms. Can't do that with our second because I don't have anyone that needs swapping. Only me. Can't go to Disneyland with my best friend and kids because of the baby.

S: Life gets increasingly more challenging and interesting the more children you have, but it also gets more fun and more entertaining. It was the best thing we ever did.

What's the best thing about having three? What's the worst?

Nearly all of the survey respondents said that the best thing about having three kids was seeing how much their kids loved each other, played with each other, and took care of each other. The worst? Eternal piles of laundry, unending housework, excessive noise, sibling fights, someone always needing something, and zero personal time.

C. Delia: The best thing might be tripping over their jumbled piles of shoes, or watching them wrestle around on the carpet like a pack of wild puppies. Each child is an individual--and they benefit from not having our extreme over-focus imposed on them. It is divided three ways and this lets them be flawed and unique and imperfect, as all of us are anyway, whether we realize it or not.

A: The worst thing about having three is that it seems like the world is made for a family of four. Booths at restaurants seat four. Family passes are often for four. Even on airplanes we don't always get to sit together.

J: It's a lot of work...never ending at this point. Having to figure out what compromises to make to get through the day with some semblance of sanity. (i.e. you finally have the opportunity to vacuum the floor, but want the kids to finish their naps, so you choose to just scan the carpet for any big chunks that might be baby choking hazards and move on to your next load of laundry...) Overall, I don't regret having a third, and the joy that they bring to my life more than makes up for the sacrifices we have to make.

Larissa: The best is when they play so well together and look out for each other. Seeing a picture in my mind of when they are all grown up, home for the holidays, us... all playing a card game together, them... best of friends. This might not be the reality, but I'm really hoping... and planting the seeds. The worst is the GUILT and FRUSTRATION over not being able to get anything productive done, yet feeling like I'm also not ever able to spend quality time with any of my kids even though I'm a "stay at home mom." (How is that possible?) The NOISE is a close second.

How has having three kids affected your career (and your spouse's)?

The majority of moms in the survey are stay-at-home moms (32/45), some of whom home-school their children (6). Not surprisingly, most of the stay-at-home-moms said that having a third child has had no effect on their career--a few said it had delayed their return to work or school by a few years. Most moms said having three kids hasn't affected their spouse's career. Three said that their husbands work more, but they weren't sure whether it was because he felt more pressure to provide for the family, or because he wanted to stay away from the chaos at home.

Only three moms indicated that they work full-time. Of the moms who reported working full- or part-time, jobs included (among others) dentist, engineer, chiropractor, police training specialist, freelance writer, and owner of a home-based business.

S: I haven't worked for pay since we started having kids, so all it's really done is delay going back to work for 4 more years. I am a little bummed about this sometimes (am starting to daydream about old jobs :-) ). My husband really knows how essential he is now. I can get by when he has a late meeting or a brief trip, but frequent travel is just not an option right now. He has a two week trip away coming up and I am dreading it. He has gone onto a slightly less ambitious career path right now as a result. (But I think this is good for him, too).

L: I miss a lot of work because of illnesses or school functions. It is hard but I have a very family oriented employer so that helps out a lot.

C: It hasn't affected either of our careers, except to make my husband work more to help us make ends meet. We both work full time. I've always been a full time working mother and enjoy my job. I wouldn't be happy as a SAHM. Of course, I do take more sick time now that I have 3 little ones, but that's what it's there for.

Larissa: For me, having the third has affected my career significantly. We need the second income, but it's hard to think about going back to work with three kids. Three bodies with different schedules and different needs. What is the point of working if a large part (sometimes more than half) goes to paying for good daycare? How do women even manage to coordinate all those bodies and schedules (including their own)and stay sane?

Do you come from a big family?

26/45 moms answered yes, they come from a big family. (Interestingly, two said "No, we had only three kids in our family"--which shows that how people define a "big family" can vary considerably. I should have been explicit that my definition was three or more kids! I counted those two no responses as yeses.) The moms who had three kids on purpose were more likely to come from big families than the moms who had three accidentally (80% vs. 30%).

Dana: No, I am an only child. I think that is why my dear children seem to be such constant privacy invaders. I grew up liking my private time and somewhere deep in me I still crave it although I never seem to get it.

Julie: I come from three and my husband comes from six. I believe that we often try to recreate what we know. The hard lesson is that we are recreating what we know of our childhood, but we are not the kids in this anymore, but the ones responsible for all those little darlings. The kids from big families tend to say that they had a blast, but it is the parents that I am most concerned about.

Do you have family members nearby who help you out?

Sadly, the vast majority of moms say that they have no family helping them out, though there were a few exceptions.

K: Yes - my mother-in-law comes every Friday to help with cleaning and the kids. The kids go to their grandparents' house about once a month for an overnight. Just this month my third went too! What a treat to be alone in my own house.

L: No! Waaaaaaaaah!

Is it possible to go out to dinner or go shopping with three kids? If so, how do you manage it?

All but three moms answered yes to this question, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and confidence. Several (6) moms responded, "Sure, we do it all the time!" The phrase "total nightmare" was used by several (3) others. Some moms were comfortable with grocery shopping but not restaurants; some were the other way around. Many moms get through their grocery shopping using the time-honored technique of bribery, or by giving their kids snacks the whole time. Some enlisted their older kids' help in finding items. Some used double (or even triple) strollers; many have the older kid walk and the two younger ones either in the basket or one in basket and one in a sling. Some moms choose to shop when the older kid is in school, or when one or two of the kids are with the other parent.

Specific restaurants mentioned as being kid-friendly include Pasta Pomodoro, Fresh Choice, Chevy's, and anything with a drive-through.

Jenny: We split the kids up into two shopping carts and go grocery shopping as a family. We have always done it.

S: I view shopping with all three as a challenge, sort of like climbing a mountain or running a marathon. It gets my adrenaline going! You just never know quite what will happen. At the grocery store, there is definitely some bribing (if big kids behave they can get a chocolate milk) & some eating (eat deli ham as we walk, open bag of pretzels for baby, etc.) I have to say that if I had, say, a 16-month-old, a three-year-old, and a five-year-old, I'd probably skip all dining out & shopping with all three alone.

C: I am possibly the only person on the face of this whole earth who is not intimidated by taking all 3 of my kids out to dinner or shopping or anywhere else for that matter. Even my husband shies away from the idea of taking the family out to eat.

T: No. You have any ideas? I have decided that I am never going to the post office anymore either. At least, not till the twins are older. Haven't decided when that is yet. I even went grocery shopping at 10:30pm last night. I love shopping late at night.

V: It's not necessarily fun, but it's possible. To do it, we start about 1.5 hours before we need to be out the door... make sure the [twin] babies are changed and fed and hopefully sleepy. Get older daughter ready. Get bags packed. Get babies strapped into carseats, hopefully not screaming too much. Carry older daughter out to the car and get her strapped into car seat. Start car and its DVD player. Run back into the house to get babies in their carseats and bring those out to the car. Run back into the house to get bags. Get into car and do head count (make sure everyone who's supposed to be there is actually there!). Reverse the whole process when you get where we're going.

Dana: Dinner - I like drive thru with all children strapped into carseats. One time in a Denny's I actually ended up with a fork in my scalp. I need lots of dad help when we venture out.

Do you live in an area where you have to drive your kids to school and activities?

A solid majority (33/45) of the moms answered yes to this question--they're driving their kids to school, to soccer, to Boy Scouts, and on and on and on. Many of them commented that they find themselves dragging the third kid all over the place. Even those moms that homeschool spend a fair bit of time driving to activities.

D: YES, I LIVE in the car!

B: Yes, we drive our kids to school and activities. Usually dad takes kids to school on his way to work. One activity is violin lessons, so I load up 3 kids and meet dad at the parking lot of the teacher's townhouse complex, get out 7 year old and violin, then he drives the other 2 home and starts dinner, and 7 year old and myself drive home to a late dinner.

A: [Yes but] I don't consider that *I drive them* but that *I attend with them.* We do most of our activities as a family, not as individuals.

Does having three kids mean that a minivan is inevitable?

25/45 moms answered either "Yes, definitely gotta have one" or "It's not inevitable, but we have one anyway." Some moms said "No way, we drive something else." The something else was typically an SUV with third-row seating. Specific vehicles cited include the Honda Pilot, Chevy Suburban, Ford Explorer, Jeep Cherokee, Pontiac Bonneville, GMC Yukon, Acura MDX and Volvo station wagon.

Larissa: What do you mean inevitable? Minivans ROCK!

Marina: YES, and I hate it!! Would rather have an SUV, but is too costly.

N: You can't take three kids, a stroller, a baby backpack and a bag on the bus without someone getting hurt.

C. Delia: We are comfortably squeezed into the Jeep Cherokee we purchased just before baby number two. Yes, we have some hairy, "Mom, he's breathing on me!" moments--but, we haven't been banished to minivan-country just yet.

K: We drive an SUV, but minivans are much more practical and easier on the back when buckling kids.

S: It's not the worst thing in the world! We have a Sienna and I LOVE it! I would say that it's much easier to have one, because otherwise you can't carpool (and therefore lose precious alone time). And also, it's very difficult to have playdates without one. Today my big kids went on a playdate after school with another mom who has three kids. The baby took a nap and I had time for some tea and the newspaper - all possible because she had a minivan, too!

Sheila: No. For awhile we put three in the backseat of a Pontiac Bonneville. I liked that because it was easy to toss food or drink over my shoulder and easy to chat with them. The minivan is less convenient in that someone will be way in the back and you have to yell for them to hear you and you can't pass food to them while driving.


Copyright 2006 Jennifer Eyre White
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