Recently, Mrs. Feit Can Write and I enjoyed a very lovely date night. We went out, ate some good food, had some drinks, and saw one of our favorite bands. Best of all, it was a completely kid free evening.
I know that may come off a little crass, but nights out (of any kind) are kind of a big deal. Part of the reality of having three kids ages five and under is not being able to go out whenever we want.
Dinner in a restaurant? We would need to pack 15 pounds of stuff into the diaper bag, answer a million questions on the way there, strategically pick a place that is busy/loud enough so we don’t ruin the dining experience for others yet slow enough that we do not have to wait for a table or risk slow service*, and time the whole operation perfectly so the kids are not starving when we arrive, not hungry when their food gets there, or the baby doesn’t need a bottle while one of us is trying to eat.
*Although we have noticed that families with multiple young children tend to get exceptional service and/or hurried out of most places.
Assuming we pull that off, there is still the challenges of keeping young children entertained, quiet, and appearing as if they did not just escape from the zoo. That’s a lot of work for the four crayons you get at most restaurants. The odds are high that one of us will say “never again” at some point in the evening.
What about a date night for just the two of us, you ask? Paying for a sitter is never cheap, but when you get past two kids, you end up spending more just to leave the house then you do while you’re out. We used to have a pretty good system of date swaps where we would watch the kids of some friends while they went out and a few weeks later they would reciprocate. But strangely, right about the time we brought home baby number three, those informal arrangements dried up.
I get it. Watching more than two kids – even for a few hours – is not for the faint of heart. Living with more than two has been an experience – so much so that we’ve joked about changing our phone numbers so the adoption agency we used can no longer find us.
But is it really that bad?
Well, according to this article, it is. They cite a study that says that three kids is the most stressful number of kids to have. In what seems to be counter-intuitive, parents with four (or more) children have less stress then parents of three.
Why? The article lists two key factors:
The increased stress of being out-numbered makes the transition from two to three much more difficult than from one to two. And once you get past three kids, parents tend to “let go” and trust their parenting instincts and experiences.
For the most part, I agree with this.
Going from one to two isn’t that bad. You can divide and conquer or one parent can pretty easily take both kiddos and give the other a break. But a big part of the challenge of three is being outnumbered. You only have two arms to pick up crying kids, and one set of eyes to make sure your little explorers don’t wander off in the store. The classic parenting joke is you switch from a man-to-man defense to a zone. Even with your spouse* helping, somebody will always be facing a double team.
*This is as good of a place as any to give a serious shout-out to all of the single parents raising two, three, or more kids by themselves. In your next life may you come back stranded on a remote tropical island with a spa, an open bar, and no screaming.
As for the “letting go”, I’m not completely sure I buy that. Yes, with our youngest we have relaxed on a number of things that would never ever have happened with our oldest. For example, when our oldest was about 9 or 10 months old, we were at Wal-Mart when her pacifier fell to the floor. I’m pretty sure we threw it away, because neither of us could ever imagine it being clean again. Since then, we’ve joked that with baby #2, that pacifier would have been run through the sterilizer and given back. With baby #3, I probably would have popped that sucker in my mouth, given it a quick slurp and handed it back to my daughter.
But I’m just not sure that relaxing your standards necessarily equals a reduction in stress. I totally get the concept of “survival mode” – doing what you have to do to make it through the day. But I wonder if the guilt of knowing that you let the kids watch four movies just so you could get lunch picked up before bedtime doesn’t create its own stress.
If anything, I think the reduction in stress with child #4 comes with acceptance. Acceptance in knowing that you’re never going to know a house that is clean or quiet. Acceptance that you’re never going to go out for date night again – and probably wouldn’t be able to afford it if you could. Acceptance that this is your life.
With three kids, we still hold on to the crazy notion that we can still do the things that families with one or two children do. Like go out to eat, take vacations, drive a mid-size sedan, have friends and family offer to watch our kids, or pay for college and/or weddings. And that can be stressful.
But as somebody who never wanted to have more than two kids, I absolutely cannot imagine life without all three of my beautiful babies; the loves of my life, the reasons I go to work, and the reasons that my heart is full of love.
Yeah, it is crazy, stressful, and often crazy stressful, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
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(Author’s note: Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post? Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge? Like clicking on links? These questions are all answered here.)