My friend Christina, the writer behind the witty, sarcastic, and totally relatable blog, The Mediocre Housewife, is expecting her third child very soon. So obviously, she came to me for some advice on mothering three children. What? My shit is totally together. And here, for your reading pleasure, is her letter to me and my response back to her. Enjoy!
With only seven weeks left until my due date, I’ve had a lot of growing concerns over managing three children. Or herding—whatever it’s called at this point.
Having been around this block already, I thought you might be the best person to handle the answers to my deepest parental concerns regarding my husband and I officially being outnumbered by our children. So, if you don’t mind I’ve written a few questions that have been weighing on my mind:
1. How do you take care of the needs of a newborn when they clash with the needs of your toddlers? Is this one of those times as a parent when it’s totally acceptable to pour cereal on the table and just let your kids have at it?
2. How do you get everyone ready and then have time to get yourself ready? Is this one of those times in life where you just have to get ready after the middle of the night feedings or it’s a lost cause? Is this when Chapstick becomes an acceptable form of lipstick?
3. How do you have time for everyone? Do you divvy it up all day or just pick the child with the most potential and go all in?
4. How do you get all three kids to eat at once? Is a trough acceptable with most state laws?
5. Whose turn is it to go first? Do you ever really know?
6. Who gets the only purple cup?
7. How does everyone fit in the bath tub? Do you do a lottery for who gets to keep dirty feet for the night?
8. How do you discipline everyone at once? Or do you prefer to give yourself a timeout?
9. How do you fit everyone in the grocery cart and then have room for your groceries? Do you bungee tie two carts together? Is one child the cart mule and responsible for pushing? Do you strategically place your baby in between the laundry detergent and milk jugs, then prop their head up with a bag of marshmallows?
10. How do you put everyone to bed at the same time? Does this require using pressure points? If yes, do you prefer the neck or shoulder?
I’m sure, like every mom, I’ll get used to juggling three kids. Not literally, of course, because babies are extremely wiggly. Your advice is welcome and I’m sure will be most helpful when I feel like I’m going to lose my mind. I can rest assured knowing that every other mom of three kids lost their minds years before me.
Congratulations on your soon-to-be-born third child! What were you thinking? Oh, wait. That’s not very polite, so instead I’ll say, how exciting for you!
Since I like you, I’m going to be real with you about wrangling (that’s the best word for it, really) three kids.
1. The thing that’s great about newborns is that their needs, while frequent, are pretty straightforward. Also, you can set them down somewhere and they just lie there. The hardest part for me was keeping my toddlers occupied while I nursed the baby. I really think that bringing home a new baby is the perfect time for toddlers to get a freaking hobby already. Are yours showing any interest in handicrafts? Filmmaking? Whittling? Have they mastered emptying the dishwasher by any chance? At the very least, I recommend buying them an I’m-sorry-we-left-you-for-a-few-days-and-came-home-with-an-infant-sibling present. Something with lots of moving parts to keep them busy is best.
2. Getting everyone ready and out of the house in the morning usually means that at least one of us looks clean and presentable and one of us looks disheveled and awful. We rotate though, so it evens out in the end. It doesn’t matter how much night-before prep work you’ve done; you’re still going to have to get up four hours before you have to leave. Toddlers can take like 45 minutes just to eat half a banana. And babies love to poop in fresh diapers. In fact, studies have shown that pooping in fresh diapers is the number one favorite thing about being alive for 9 out of 10 infants. It’s science. So, yeah. Chap-stick totally counts as lipstick, and putting on deodorant counts as showering.
3. I never feel like I have enough time for everyone. Someone is always either crying or about to cry. Lots of times it’s me. Some days are better than others, but every day includes some crying. They’ll outgrow that someday, right? Right?!?
4. In terms of feeding your brood, you’re going to need to get a lot of Cheerios. Everyone likes Cheerios, and they have excellent nutritional stats. It says so right there on the side of the box, so you don’t have to worry about it. A trough actually doubles as a terrific coffee table, so I’d say you’re well within your rights to go ahead and set that up. Then just liberally sprinkle those Cheerios around a few times a day and you’re good! Fiber! Iron! B-vitamins! Parenting win!
5. I never know whose turn it is to go first, but one great thing about toddlers is that they have excellent memories AND they’re crappy liars. So I usually ask them whose turn it is to go first. Also every now and then I just declare that it’s the youngest kid’s turn. She will always be behind in the going first department, so I might as well help her out when I can.
6. The purple cup can go and die. Because the thing is that in our house, it’s not always the purple cup that’s the coveted one. I never know, from day to day, which cup is going to be “the precious.” You should really just buy 10 orange cups (because no one’s favorite color is orange). All exactly the same style. Ooh! Look at that! I just gave you some actual advice. You’re welcome.
7. Ugh. Bath time. I come from a long line of dry-skinned Puritans who basically believe that putting your baby in water too often will turn her into a witch, so I’ve never really been too keen on bathing babies and toddlers on a daily basis. A few times a week has worked fine for us. If, hypothetically, your kids should sneak into the bathroom after you’ve already put them to bed, discover lotion in a fun, user-friendly pump bottle, and rub it into each other’s hair, then yeah, you’re going to have to step up the bathing schedule. Some nights though, all of my kids go to bed with dirty feet. At least they’re not witches.
8. You can’t really discipline the kids all at once unless you position each of them in a separate area of the house, where they won’t stay, unless you physically keep them there, which means you’re just punishing yourself, and no one wins, and as mentioned in number three – the crying. This is a hard question. I need a timeout. I’ll just take this bottle of wine with me while I think about it…
9. I don’t go grocery shopping with all three of them. Well, hardly ever. I can take them to Target or Walmart because they have those wonderful/hateful carts that can seat three kids, but that also allow them to kick the crap out of each other. Our grocery store, however, is not at all equipped for moms with more than two kids. Attention, grocery store: STEP UP YOUR GAME. Your groceries are, in my opinion, vastly superior to those of Walmart, but I can’t get my whole crew in there to buy them.
10. Bedtime, I have to admit, can get pretty rough around here. When we finally get everyone upstairs, I say totally crazy things like “Please take off your clothes” and the kids answer with completely reasonable things like, “Daddy has a PEEN-IT! He’s a MAN!” Then they run away to cry on the bath mat because while they were babbling on about peen-its, someone else got the purple toothbrush (see my cup advice in number 6. I need to start following my own advice). And it feels like no one will ever be fully jammied, brushed, read to, sung to, and given the correct combination of stuffed animals and dolls. Ever. I don’t know. Pressure points sound like they might be a good idea.
So there you have it. Aren’t you so glad you came to me for advice? I’m practically just like Dear Abby. So kind and helpful.
Okay maybe not. But at least I gave you the orange cup idea, and hopefully I’ve kept your babies from a tormented life of witchcraft.
Having three children will, often, make you feel like you’re losing your mind. But it will also give you so many moments when you look at them, playing, or singing, or laughing, all together, and you’ll take a deep breath and feel good about your life choices. They’ll belong to you, but also to each other, and that’s a pretty amazing thing.