Two Cents on Three Kids.

A younger working mom I met at a recent conference told me she and her husband were contemplating having a third child. She looked like I remember looking when I had only two children – hair well coiffed, pink ipstick carefully applied on her actual lips, minimal bags under her eyes, a flat stomach. She looked so happy, dreaming of another baby. Then she asked me if it’s harder juggling work and family with three kids versus two. Like I always do when a woman asks me this question, I lied. “Three kids is great,” I said. “Your life is already total chaos, so how can a third make much difference?”

 

The truth is that, for me, having a third child wrenched my fingernails from the cliff I had been clinging to for five years, juggling two young children with fulltime, demanding managerial work running the Washington Post Magazine. You know, the kind of deadline-driven, high-adrenaline, wake-up-at-night-with-a-great-idea kind of work. I was so thrilled by my job that I told everyone, for the full nine months of my third pregnancy, that I wasn’t planning on taking any maternity leave.

 

Then Tallie was born. The first thing my husband said, after “It’s a girl” was “We got a good one!” From the start, Tallie was an “om” baby, a peaceful lump radiating joy and tranquility into our lives. There was no way I wanted someone else hold her, much less take care of her for hours while I went back to work. What had I been thinking?

 

And caring for three kids turned out to be, um, a little more demanding than I’d anticipated. Throughout maternity leave, between breastfeeding, getting the big kids ready for school, and caring for Tallie, I had zero down time. The 16 weeks I took off from my job flew by. When I went back to the Post, my life collapsed. I showed up a half-hour late for work most days, hair unbrushed, lipstick smeared across the bottom of my face, looking (and feeling) like I’d already worked a full shift by 9:30 a.m.

 

I got to every meeting late and regularly wrote important presentations the morning I gave them. My results were still good –sales and profitability and my employees’ evaluations were zooming. But by the time 5:30 came around, my breasts ached, my brain throbbed, and I had little patience or energy for anything, much less picking up, driving home, feeding and getting three small tyrants into bed. I don’t recall having a single conversation with my husband during this time. If I had had the energy to make any self-assessments, it would have been obvious that for my family, a third child was the tipping point into insanity. After six months, I negotiated (read: begged) to work part-time. This saved me. Ditto for my marriage, my kids’ mental health, and our dog’s life.

 

Right now I have time to think about all this because last Sunday, I dropped our middle child off at sleepaway camp for two weeks for the first time. Without her, our house is strangely quiet and unusually neat. The dog gets fed – daily. We arrive at places when expected, not 45 minutes late. I turn assignments in before their deadlines. Yesterday I returned a call to my mother the same day she left a message. I’m not yelling at the two remaining kids clean your room-brush your teeth-get ready to go!

 

Maryland_mother
07.16.08

I've always said that every child needs two parents. So once you have two children, they have you outnumbered!

Much as I'd like to have another kid to clutter up my house and spend my money upon, I know I couldn't handle it.

Now, maybe in a two or three years I'll raise the notion of being foster parent...but there's no way that I could handle getting pregnant now, at 40, let alone at 42+.

Of course in three years, child #1 will be at college. Maybe we'll be too broke to eat, let alone take in another child.

Laura33
07.03.08

Hey Leslie -- it's Laura from OB. Man, more power to ya! I barely get by with two; no. 3 would push me right out the window. I think the "right" number is the one that you figure out considering your own personality, your kid's(s'), and the other things you want to do with your life. Being an introvert myself, my highly-extroverted and super-active firstborn was enough to leave me feeling completely drained by the end of the day. Put that together with the fact that I love my career, which is fairly demanding, and three was out of the question from the get-go; in fact, even deciding on a second took three years of real soul-searching (not to mention a huge leap of faith!). Of course, No. 2 is a hugely happy, easy, mellow kid -- so if we'd had him first, who knows what might have happened?

I will say, I understand what people are saying about being able to enjoy the 3rd more. We knew, without question, that our second was our last -- in fact, when we decided to try, we agreed to take just one crack at pregnancy, whether it "took" or not (history of M/C, and I knew I only had the strength to take that chance one more time). So in the same way people are talking about the third, I have been fully conscious since the day my no. 2 was born that he's an incredible gift, that this is it, and that I'd better enjoy it while I have the chance. Of course, doesn't hurt that he's such a cuddly little snugglebunny. :-)

actionjackson03
07.02.08

I can't imagine having more than the one I've got! Hubs wants more, and I'd love to make a bunch more cuties like our daughter. But reality puts a damper on my maternal ambition.

leslie morgan s...
07.02.08

Leslie Morgan Steiner

I'm with Amy -- three really forces you to let go, in a good way. And we do cherish our third -- but I think it's because we know she's our last. Although I haven't given away my maternity clothes yet!

leslie morgan s...
07.02.08

Leslie Morgan Steiner

I'm with Amy -- three really forces you to let go, in a good way. And we do cherish our third -- but I think it's because we know she's our last. Although I haven't given away my maternity clothes yet!

krivera
07.01.08

My husband and I have been having this very conversation lately. Are we done having kids, or do we go for the third? I'm one of three, so having two kids seems like a small family. And like Leslie writes, I feel like working full-time with two kids is manageable. I'm in control. The question - will a third drive me crazy? Can our family handle it? Financially yes - as long as both continue to work. Space-wise, yes. And my body can still endure another pregnancy. Some people with three have told me you really cherish that baby time more because for many families, you know this will be your last child. I'm still on the fence. I'd like another child - I love the idea of having a big family. I just want to make sure I enjoy my family and don't drive everyone to total insanity. Maybe we should just flip a coin. :)

Julie Cole
07.01.08

Lulu, I always say when you go to three kids you have to switch from the 'man-to-man' defence to the 'zone defence'! :)

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Julie Cole
Mabel's Labels Inc.
www.mabel.ca

Julie Cole
07.01.08

I didn't actually find the third a big leap. Though I've heard uneven numbers hard, even numbers 'easy'. My hardest was (dare I say it) when I went from four to five kids last year. Even if two or three kids were gone, there were still two or three around! Finally clued in and got a full-time nanny after mat leave finished...should have done that three kids ago! Something about having five kids and a business....geez, what took me so long??

--
Julie Cole
Mabel's Labels Inc.
www.mabel.ca

Lulu
07.01.08

I've always said that I fear them outnumbering us. So we stayed with two.

AmyF
06.30.08

One of my friends told me that once you have 3, it's easier to let things go because it's just impossible to do everything the way you want with 3 kids. I went back to work full-time after I had my third child, but I worked from home part of the week, so that made it more manageable. I ended up switching to part-time and then even less, but partly to run my own home-based business. I did find myself counting kids on my fingers 2-3 times during the day to make sure I had accounted for everyone and remembered when I needed to pick kids up or be home for them.

I love the chaos of three. My kids are 5 and 4 years apart, so I sometimes feel like I cheated since I had the help of a 9-year old with my third baby. My third is now 3. It will be strange once we are finally done with diapers. Of course, it may be a while since my son couldn't care less about it just yet.

I think the trick to being a successful working mom with 3 is to create your own definition of what it means to be a successful working mom of 3.

Amy
Mom to 3
www.sofiabean.com