Childrearing

If You Want To Be A Good Parent With Happy Children, Hold Off On That Third Kid — Unless You Are Willing To Make It To Four Or Five

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shutterstock_101626621In writing, the rule of three is a principle to live by.  Experts claim that when grouped in threes, your jokes are funnier, your examples more effective, and your structure more satisfying. Moe and Larry just wouldn’t be as funny without Curly. Goldilocks went through “too hot” and “too cold” before finding “just right.”  Moviegoers want a beginning, middle and end. So why does this rule just go to complete crap when it comes to parenting? Turns out three is the family size with the most problems.

A survey of over 7,000 U.S. mothers performed by TodayMoms.com shows

Mothers of three children stress more than moms of one or two, while mothers of four or more children actually report lower stress levels.

That’s right, despite how perfect the rule of threes is in every other aspect of life, it’s the ultimate stress sentence for moms.  With three kids, you are outnumbered and overwhelmed. With less kids, mothers perfect their coping mechanisms. With more kids, they pretty much don’t give a shit — in a healthy, loving way of course.

“There’s just not enough space in your head” for perfectionism when you get to four or more kids, [Dr. Janet] Taylor said. For example, she recalls with her fourth child she didn’t bother with things like obsessively covering all the outlets with safety plugs. “It just gets to be survival!” she joked.

Plus, she thinks moms hit a groove once they get past the outnumbered phase of having three kids and into the seriously outnumbered territory of four or more.“The more children you have, the more confident you become in your parenting abilities,” Taylor said. “You have to let go… and then you’re just thankful when they all get to school on time.”

I love this study because it supports my completely ridiculous refusal to “compromise” with my husband on the topic of having more children. We have two kids right now. I want two more, while he feels done. We’ve often heard the suggestion that we meet in the middle and have “just one more” to land us at three kids. Every time I hear that, I am caught off guard. Three children has never felt like a compromise between someone who wants four (a big family) verses someone who wants two (an average U.S. family).  In fact, as heated as our arguments have ever gotten, there is one thing my husband and I agree on at all times — neither of us want three kids.

It’s not just for my stress levels (I’m practicing that “just happy we made it to school on time!” philosophy with only two kids), I put a lot of weight in the impact of birth order. Technically I come from a family with three children, but my youngest brother is 13 years my junior, and 11 years younger than my other brother. We’ve always said he’s more like an only child with two sets of parents (poor kid!) so that there really isn’t a true middle child. But if my own family didn’t serve as an example, I watched enough Brady Bunch re-runs to know about middle child syndrome.  Poor Jan always cried about Marcia, Marcia, Marcia getting all the attention. And she’s not alone.

Dr. Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychoanalyst and possibly the most famous middle child, first explored the phenomenon where middle children feel invisible.

While older children get the benefits of all of the “firsts” a child accomplishes, younger children benefit from the emotional impact of being the baby of the family, often being spoiled and coddled. Middle children, however, often feel as though they have nothing special that is just “theirs.”

There is no middle child phenomenon with four kids. In fact, mothers of four boast benefits of the kids having “built-in playmates” and easily pairing off. Even at five, middle child syndrome loses weight. More than a single middle child, there is an oldest, a baby, and a bunch of other kids in the mix.

Parents of only children, be prepared to relinquish your spot as most defensive of your family size. After this survey, three might be the new one.

(photo: iQoncept/Shutterstock)