By: Aimee Tafreshi
I grew up in an All-American family with two children, spaced an ideal three and a half years apart, complete with a loveable Golden Retriever/lab mix. I had time to bond with my parents and didn’t feel threatened by the arrival of my baby sister (other than hiding my mom’s car keys when she went into labor). I gleefully pushed her as a toddler around the living room in a laundry basket. And I tolerated her creating a “tornado” on the Monopoly board when I was in the lead, ending our game.
Despite our idyllic set-up, I secretly admired my friends with large, boisterous families. Everyone in my extended family limited themselves to a practical one to two children, usually of the same gender. I wondered what it would feel like in a family of three to four kids with multiple cousins running around at holidays, too many to count. During a phase as preteens, my sister and I pretended we had a mysterious older brother. His “room” was my dad’s study. We nearly convinced some friends that he existed. At some point I knew that, one day, I would have three children. I also wanted to answer the eternal question—Do middle children live up to their reputation, as, shall we say, a tad odd?
Fast-forward into my 30s and my prophecy has become reality. I have an 8-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 6 and 4, not so neatly spaced at 21 months apart. The biggest rivalry exists, however, not between the two little boys but between the big sister and middle child. I have learned from my husband’s childhood experience, as well as my current situation, that their 2.5 years spacing is perfectly suited for explosive sibling rivalry and constant one-upmanship.
Do I regret having three children? Absolutely not. Is the middle child really as different as they say? Absolutely. I have no regrets about our family make-up, but there are some things you should know if you are considering taking the plunge into three kid-dom.
First, the middle child is a unique individual. I actually used the word “unique” on a class form to describe my son, because I couldn’t think of a third adjective. Was he funny? Not really. Was he super kind? No. I jotted down as many synonyms as I could think of for smart and then threw in “unique.” This kid is going to work for NASA someday. He will be the guy at the computer with a row of empty soda cans and crumpled candy bar wrappers. We secretly refer to him as Pig Pen because he’s always inexplicably covered in dirt. I don’t know if he will get married or not. He will need a wife who will wait on him hand and foot and who has the talent to cook without taking any time to do so. (Yes, his need for instant gratification is probably my fault; plus I’ll blame Minecraft.)
My middle child has been uniquely challenging since he came out of the womb, but as he gets older, I appreciate him more. As a baby, I would feed him around the clock, and he was always hungry. I would load him up on milk before play dates and would then spend the entire gathering feeding him more as he fussed. I used to think we were very different, but now I realize he is a lot like me. Sometimes the children the most like us drive us the craziest. After all, who would want to parent themselves?!
My conclusion: I can’t speak for other middle children, but mine fits the bill as marching to the beat of his own drum. And I love him for that.
Another point to consider—life in a large household is chaotic. Some parents like to use the term “organized chaos,” but let’s face reality; the chaos is often a free for all. One must employ a triage approach—if no one is profusely bleeding or has a broken bone protruding from his skin, then you can carry on with those dishes. Pick-up time in the afternoon is the worst. The kids yell over each other as I drive, screaming about their day, and crying when I choose to listen to one’s story first. I end up screaming the loudest that I’m going to get in a car accident if they don’t put a cork in it, and by the time we pull into the driveway, everyone’s eyes are stained with tears.
Which brings me to the competitive aspect . . . each child will constantly keep tabs on what the others are getting. I have had to tell them to stop counting M&Ms when I hand them out for a treat. Woe to me if one gets 22 little candies and the other receives a meager 21. At Christmas time, the presents were initially allocated so that Santa happened to bring one child a few more gifts than the other two. “You can’t do that,” I screamed to my husband, “they will count the gifts and think Santa is punishing the other two!” He stared at me in disbelief—Do you really think they will count the presents?—and then helped me reclassify the gift giver of the extra packages. Sure enough, the next morning the kids raced up to the table where St. Nick’s gifts sat and exclaimed, “Why did Santa bring us only two gifts each?” I smiled, satisfied that the question was not, “Why did Santa bring him two more gifts than us?!” Crisis averted.
Fights will often ensue about perceived minor issues, like who gets to sit next to Mommy in the restaurant, or who will push the elevator button (the latter is a big source of contention in two-child families as well, to which my sister can attest.) Simple decisions are fraught with peril and the potential for large scale fights to erupt, so parents must anticipate these conflicts and plan for a peaceful conflict resolution.
Another big issue for large families is logistics. As in, there is no way we are participating in winter swim league, spring soccer and Little League in the same season. I have to be judicious with what activities we commit to each year. My youngest son has yet to do much in the way of organized sports, but I’ve heard there are benefits to delaying team sports until children are seven or eight.
Schedules are a consideration for parents who have visions of raising the next Olympic gymnast or swimmer. Either limit yourself to less children or plan on dragging around the others to a ton of meets and practices. I have found endeavors in the arts (like dance and music lessons, theater camp and art classes) to be more forgiving to busy schedules, as you don’t have an added game or meet every week. We are doing swimming AND soccer this spring, and I am scared. I drew the line at tee-ball. My youngest will have to wait another season or two to begin his Major League baseball training.
The result of these logistical nightmares challenges—parents become better than FedEx at delivering their children from Point A to Point B on time. We have become experts at packing like an Apocalypse is coming—no detail is too trivial—and transforming into drill sergeant mode, adept at delivering orders with military like precision. I’m not here to be my child’s friend; I’m here to deliver him to soccer on time.
Another aspect of logistics is the effect on a parent’s personal schedule. I work, albeit remotely, and there are some weeks where there is literally some type of appointment or school commitment on the calendar every day. I feel for the majority of working parents who have a set work schedule because the parenting world is stacked against having an uninterrupted workday. Which brings me to sick days. No, not for a parent. We’re not allowed to be sick.
With three children, it’s a darn near miracle if someone isn’t nursing a viral or sinus infection on a given day. I can’t count how many times I’ve said in recent months, with great exasperation, “Oh god, his snot is green again; we have to go back to the pediatrician.” (Big sigh.) I mean, can’t the pediatrician just give me carte blanche to call in a prescription when I need one? We all know when the runny nose just isn’t going to get any better, so let’s stop wasting everyone’s time. Because there is no time!!!
The bigger problem with illness is once someone gets sick, we all fall down like a weak house of cards. And Mom and Dad with our old rusty immune systems usually take the brunt of the evil virus. I won’t forget my trip to the ER for dehydration for a lovely sickness my son passed on to me, only to come home to two more barfing children. There’s nothing like doing laundry all night long with a hospital admission band still on your wrist. (My husband was out of the country, so he had a nearly valid excuse for his absence.) I like to remind him of this story a lot.
And finally, the elephant in the room that no one likes to talk about—money! Children cost a ton of money. Every month we hemorrhage cash like Trump drops Tweets. We try to shop for the deals, but all of a sudden a cute and economically priced $20 fleece jumps to $60.00 plus shipping and handling. A restaurant outing to a casual dining place approaches a Benjamin. (And they don’t like McDonald’s or Burger King—where did I go wrong?!) Think you can score at a Kid’s Eat Free night? Guess again! You will still pay for that third child’s meal. The deck is stacked against us.
Want to travel? Better start saving—parents who want a modicum of privacy in the evening know that hotel suites are the way to go. That reasonably priced hotel quickly exceeds a luxury one when you are scouting out the largest suites on the property. Renting a vacation home is the next logical step, but I want the free hotel breakfast and maid service! (Free breakfasts are a must for large families traveling to avoid racking up a massive food bill each morning for half-eaten Cheerios.)
And finally, the one thing I want to leave you with, perhaps the biggest nuisance of them all—homework. Yes, homework. When the three kids are all small and in diapers, parents will dramatically lament having “three under three” or multiple kids in diapers. The stakes get real, however, when the tikes start elementary school. You will spend hours upon hours each night assisting each one with various stages of learning, including teaching “new math” that you never learned. When deciding whether that third child is the right decision for your family, simply do the math. That is, can you handle 13 years of homework times X number of children (adjusted for overlapping school years and volume of homework)? If you can solve that equation, then you might be ready for number three.
Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.