What It’s Like to Have Three Kids

Having three kids is full. And it is hard. But here’s the thing. So is having two kids. And so is having one kid. It’s always full, it’s always hard.

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I was talking to my friend, Kim, a month or so ago about that viral blog post “So, you would like to have three children,” where the author explains all the reasons why having three kids is sheer insanity and chaos. Very entertaining piece. Kim suggested I write a counter-point. And in true myself fashion (read: always tardy), here I go.

Having three kids ages 4, 3 and 1 is, to put it simply: full. The days are packed with tangible, definable activities like doctors’ appointments, preschool, park trips, road trips, Taco Bell stops, church, friends’ houses, library, gas station, grocery store, etc. The days are full. But the minutes are bursting at the seams: Carter needs a diaper change, Jack just whacked Selah with a lightsaber and is covered in breakfast. Selah’s pants are on backward. Your shirt was clean 7 minutes ago when you put it on, but for some unimaginable reason you wore white and now you have Cheetos fingerprints on your shoulders. Remember when you told your childless, pregnant self that you would never feed your toddler Cheetos, and definitely not before 9 am? Well, that was adorable. You reheat your coffee (again), don’t have your makeup on yet, and you have to leave five minutes ago. Three tornadoes with their own little plans to conquer the world swirl around you, one runs out the back door and into a mud puddle. And this is just your average Tuesday at 8:17 am.

And then there’s getting into the car. The morning has been brutal, but at least you have your insulated mug of coffee, the lifeblood of moms everywhere. You rush outside to the car, everyone is dressed and has shoes on, and at this point, you basically deserve a trophy. (Although the socks do not match. Whatever.) And then your 4 year-old says, “Ew, what happened to your coffee, mom?” You look down to see that the child on your hip spat up. The tablespoon of upchuck has covered his shirt, somehow dripped down yours, your pants and into your boot, but not before missing your thermos. But not just any part of the thermos. The little indented part meant for your MOUTH. You silently mourn your morning caffeine, hoist your oldest over the outer car seat, into her middle car seat. You swat the muddy pebbles out of your 3 year-old’s hands and plop him into his seat, commence a seatbelt buckling contest with the oldest, who despairs that she came in second place in a contest that isn’t really a thing, only a tool you thought you cleverly devised to save time. But now you’re making the moment teachable by explaining that, guess what, sometimes we lose, and it’s not super fun, but if you’re not good at something you need to practice it more, so maybe you need more practice at losing. And then she screams, you feel like a jerk, the baby laughs and you get behind the wheel to drive away, hoping to only arrive 10 minutes late.  Then you see your purse on the hood of your car. Finally pulling out of your driveway, 12 minutes late for preschool, who’s that racing up the street alongside your car? Oh, that’s just your dog. You contemplate leaving him in your dust, but refrain. 14 minutes late.

The show must go on.

Having three kids is full. And it is hard. But here’s the thing. So is having two kids. And so is having one kid. It’s always full, it’s always hard. Right after Selah (my first) was born, I asked a mother of four, “How do you do it? It’s so hard with one child! All my time is taken up with one kid, how do you have FOUR?” She replied, “It’s always 100% hard. One child is 100% hard. Two children? 100% hard…Your capacity just increases.” AMEN, sister.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I work out and have the credibility to draw an analogy from fitness-related things. My friend Kristin runs. A lot. Like 5 miles a day. Ask Kristin to run 8 miles tomorrow, and she’ll be like, “Ok, well, it’s a little more than usual, but I know how to run five miles, so 8 miles will be harder, but doable.” She will exert herself and sweat and it will be hard. But she could do it. And if she kept doing it, 8 miles would become her new baseline – it would feel easier than it did at first, but she’d always have to exert herself to run 8 miles.

If you asked me to run 8 miles tomorrow, I would probably silently stare at you until we both feel very awkward and then ask why you hate me and want me to die. I do not have the muscle, endurance, or shoes needed to run 8 miles. (Can I wear my Toms?) But if I built up endurance slowly, over time, first running one mile, then two, then three and so on, I could totally do 8 miles. When I had one baby, it was hard. Two kids under two? That felt impossible. But over time, you just figure out little tricks to make life work, and sometimes you even look at your sweet kids and your eyes well up with gratitude that you get to raise them. Ask me what it’s like to have a third child and I will tell you this: It is hard. But so is having two kids. And so is having one kid. I exert myself. I sweat and cry and some days I just have to be satisfied with the fact that we’ve all made it to the end of the day alive and only called Poison Control once.

But here’s the thing, the sweet moments are sweeter with three kids. The joy is truly multiplied in the good times. Three dancing, laughing children make my heart want to burst out of my chest and into a ray of sunshine. (That sounds messy and cheesy. Like something from the dollar menu at Taco Bell.)  The hard times are, as you’d imagine, harder with three kids than with two or one. One kid screaming his face off at Chili’s is a little different than three kids screaming their faces off at Chili’s. I’d imagine four or six kids screaming their faces off at Chili’s would be even more stressful. This is probably why I’ve never seen Octomom at Chili’s.

I guess my main point is this little gem I stole four years ago from that wise mother of four: “It’s always 100% hard.” And also Nike’s 1990s slogan: “Just do it.” And also, don’t forget to tip your waitress. Especially if you take three screaming babies to Chili’s.


Written by Molly DeFrank



This is an updated edition of a post originally published on mollydefrank.com

Featured Image by Patrick Fore

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