Three Is a Magic Number

By Veronica

There is something about having three kids. Having one was hard; that sudden switch from non-parent to parent exhausts everybody who experiences it. Two had its challenges; I could no longer focus on meeting the needs of just one kid. Everything had to be shared. But three. Three was a whole new ballgame.

I could no longer carry all my children when there were three of them. If one of them ran off at the park, I had to leave one behind me to chase her down. Strollers and baby-carriers became even more indispensable.

They no longer all fit in my lap. One leg per kid did not adequately distribute the supply of kids. Reading aloud became an exercise in selective exclusion. Somebody had to stand or – gasp! – sit NEXT TO Mama instead of ON Mama.

Coordinating naps became more difficult, and keeping the other kids healthy when one was sick became nearly impossible. The home was noisier, the demands more constant, the disagreements more likely.

But the biggest change for me was in my temper. Until I had three, I still clung to illusion that I could control my temper by controlling my circumstances. I thought I could make my life conform to a certain order, and avoid the things that frustrated or enraged me. It didn’t work, of course, but when I only had two kids, I could tell myself if I just tried harder, I could MAKE it work.

Three removed such illusions.

Even before my third child was born, I knew I had to change. I spent much of my third pregnancy praying, “Help me not be so angry all the time.” My third baby proved to be my most demanding child. She has a definite sense of how her life should go, and she storms and hollers and tantrums if it does not.

Have I mentioned she also looks the most like me?

So three kids became my crucible. I began to change. I am still changing, but I can already see where my character has reformed. I tell my husband when he has hurt my feelings, rather than storming at him inexplicably. I accept childish help at household tasks, even though it takes longer. I even ask for it. I allow messier activities. I no longer expect stillness and quiet from my kids in public. Instead, I am the center of a small maelstrom of children, and as long as the maelstrom moves along with me, I’m okay with it. I have become one of those strangely competent, unapologetic mothers who is comfortable with my kids acting like kids.

For me, these changes happened in earnest when I had three. I now have four, and though having a newborn throws a wrench into any routine, I don’t notice the same drastic changes this time around. But I wonder: for those of you with larger families, is there some similar change you notice when you have the fifth or seventh child? When you meet other moms of many, do you all nod your heads knowingly and say, “Well, he IS the sixth child”?

Because I hear from many parents that the third child changed things. My sister says, “With one or two kids, they join your life. With three or more kids, you join theirs.” That brought a great change for me in expectations and in my own behavior. I am delighted at how it has contented me.

I think maybe three really is a magic number.

Veronica, mother of only four, regularly blogs at Toddled Dredge.

26 Responses to Three Is a Magic Number
  1. Hannah
    January 27, 2009 | 1:19 am

    “I have become one of those strangely competent, unapologetic mothers who is comfortable with my kids acting like kids.”

    I have three, and I am VERY MUCH still working on the above. Would love to see you in action and take notes. 🙂

  2. Aimee
    January 27, 2009 | 9:09 am

    You took the words right out of my head! I’ve always told my friends that if three kids doesn’t break you, then you can handle more.

    I have four right now, but my friend with eight children says that #7 is just like the second coming of the original #3. 🙂

  3. Antique Mommy
    January 27, 2009 | 10:12 am

    Smart, tender and poignant. I only have one, but I was #3 but I have seen what you are talking about in my own mother.

  4. Veronica
    January 27, 2009 | 10:15 am

    Hannah, that just might be the most intimidating comment I’ve ever received. Hoo boy.

  5. Tina
    January 27, 2009 | 10:15 am

    Wow! You must be living in my head. I couldn’t have said any of this better myself. We have 3 and won’t have any more, but I agree 100% with everything you said…EVERYTHING!

  6. DaniGirl
    January 27, 2009 | 10:23 am

    Great post! Three has made me less indulgent, in a good way. It has, though, strained my temper way past it’s breaking point. If I were younger, and independently wealthy, I’d do four, maybe even five. But three – especially three boys – is just enough away from the norm to make me feel like I’m living a bit of an adventure, without getting into “I need my own reality TV show” land.

  7. Heather
    January 27, 2009 | 10:26 am

    Thank you so much for this post. I only have two, but I am in that angry stage. I am grateful to know I am not alone and there is a way to come out of it. I am working on it, but you know it is not easy. Thank you.

  8. Theresa
    January 27, 2009 | 10:36 am

    Wow … you are SO right!! Three is most definitely the hardest. If you can live through the third, what’s one more?! Numbers 4, 5, and 6 were a breeze. :o)

  9. Tonggu Momma
    January 27, 2009 | 10:44 am

    I have just one child and one sibling, but most of my aunts and uncles have between four and eight children. My Uncle Peter said it best, I think… “Going from two to three is THE most difficult because that is when you have to shift from man-to-man to zone defense. With two, you have two parents (typically), two arms, two sides of the lap to sit on. Everything changes with three, but once you master the zone, it gets better.”

  10. Kat
    January 27, 2009 | 10:46 am

    One child for me was a piece of cake. I kept telling my mom that I didn’t know why people had such a hard time with it. Everything fell into place and it helped that I had the easiest baby on earth. The second child came along and though he was much more demanding and difficult as a baby it all fell into place very quickly as well. With three? Well that really took some adjusting. I feel like it is constant craziness around here. But you’re right. It has helped me to accept the noise and activity that comes with having kids. I think I am more laid back because I have to be. It will be interesting to see how I will adjust to four. 😉
    Great post!

  11. Sarah
    January 27, 2009 | 11:02 am

    we just had our 5th. For me, 4 was not much different than 3… but adding a 5th has changed everything. I NEVER have enough hands, or enough time… or enough anything. 5 is hard yo.

  12. Patois
    January 27, 2009 | 11:26 am

    We “only” have three. But that third one? Oh, yeah, such a third child. We have a saying about him, “He’d have been our last even if he’d been our first.” And we so mean it. Two in 20 months was a breeze. That one? Dang, I could never have added any more.

  13. Julie
    January 27, 2009 | 11:29 am

    I have 3, and I must say I found it harder to go from 1 to 2 than 2 to 3. Once I’d learned how to divide my attention, adding a third wasn’t such a big deal. However, my three are not that close in age — they span 7.5 years — and maybe that has something to do with it.

  14. suburbancorrespondent
    January 27, 2009 | 1:31 pm

    It varies with the parents, and how closely the kids are spaced, etc. What is important is that, whether at #3 or #5, it happens. We are humbled, and in our humility learn better how to be patient with others and with ourselves. It is the greatest gift my children have given me.

  15. Carrie of Ceaseless Praises
    January 27, 2009 | 5:30 pm

    I’ve heard a lot of people say things like this so I think I’m lucky that my firstborn is rather high-maintenance at times- I’m already to the point of not depending on myself but on God! 🙂

  16. Cat
    January 27, 2009 | 7:27 pm

    Great. I’m 4 weeks away from having my third child and already scared to death of how it’s going to change our lives once again. Now you’ve just made my fears a reality. LOL

  17. Erin
    January 27, 2009 | 9:02 pm

    My hubbie and I go back and forth about 2 or 3…right now we have one. I love your perspective!

  18. Moriah
    January 27, 2009 | 10:08 pm


    I have three children. I know EXACTLY of what you speak. LOL.

    (And yes, people have also told me that adding a 4th isn’t as big a change as that 3rd was.)

  19. edj
    January 28, 2009 | 11:04 am

    Well I never had 2 kids, I went directly from one child to three children. But I can relate to not having enough arms, lap, etc. Also to the angry stage. I quit, and didn’t move on to 4. (Who can blame me? Pregnancy one=one child; pregnancy two=two children; pregnancy three…??? I just didn’t know what kind of pattern I had going 😉 But I agree–three is the magic number 🙂

  20. Kelly
    January 29, 2009 | 12:05 am

    My Mom, who raised four children, used to say that after baby number three, it didn’t matter if you had one or six more; once you’re outnumbered, game over.

  21. Alexis
    February 1, 2009 | 12:48 am

    Thank You for such a lovely post. I am expecting my third and I am also suddenly aware I will have to change…and I’m practicing now 😉 I somehow feel it’ll mature me and make me even more focused on my own dreams as well as my family’s needs. Atleast I hope so….

    But it’s def the right thing for me to hear right now and I wanted to let you know.


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