I was chatting with a relative about an expectant acquaintance. “A baby shower, eh? How nice!”
“Yes, she’s very excited about this baby.”
“Yeah, she doesn’t realize all that’s in store for her, right?”
“Well, it’s her first, so at least she’s got just one to deal with.”
“Actually, for me, I think one was the hardest number to deal with, so far.”
At this point, my relative looked at me. “Are you kidding? You’ve got three small children! I’ve seen how much work they are!”
They are. And yet, I stand by my assertion–so far, anyway. If you’re expecting Number 2 or Number 3 and wondering how in the world you’ll handle it, I would argue that you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Multiple bottoms to wipe and squalls to calm are compensated by the following:
1. You don’t have as many stupid worries…
With my oldest newborn, I was plagued with worries: “She’s not responding to that noise. Is she deaf? She’s a month old. Shouldn’t she be more interested in her environment? Am I making eye contact with her enough? She isn’t napping more than 10 or 20 minutes at a time; why? She’s fussy. Is she going to have sleep problems her whole life? I laid her down on her tummy; she sleeps a bit more at night, but is she going to succumb to SIDS? Why can’t I get her on a schedule? She got a cold at 1.5 months; I’m the worst mother ever. I just squirted too much saline into her nose and she’s hysterical. Did I give her pneumonia? [Pediatric nurse: No. She got salt water down her throat and doesn’t like the taste.] She’s not vocalizing much.”
With my second child, I figured he’ll sleep when he sleeps; I put him down diligently, but didn’t worry about it too much when he woke up. Ditto with my third. Both slept better than my firstborn, incidentally. Aww, poor baby got sniffles? Break out the humidifier and wait for him to get better.
2. …But you’re better at recognizing real dangers
It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’ve let my babies get hurt because I’ve failed to identify real hazards. Of course my baby was going to reach out and touch the hot lid when I was trying to comfort her and stir dinner. Of course my toddler was going to investigate that hot tea while he and his sister were helping stir batter. Honestly, I shouldn’t have let those things happen no matter what, but it is easier for me nowadays to imagine “Let’s see, if he pushed that basket aside, he could get to that flimsy table and pull it over on himself.” I know more about how babies think, can see the world a bit more from their perspective, and so have been better able to keep the environment safe for exploration.
3. They play with each other
Okay, a toddler shouldn’t be “playing” with a newborn, but as soon as the baby gets a bit older you can entertain his siblings with him, and him with his siblings. You can’t just stick them in a room and leave them there all day, but you also aren’t the kids’ ONLY source of interpersonal playtime. Having three kids is going to change the dynamic as soon as my baby becomes a toddler, but for now he’s still basically a cute, crawling, babbling dolly for his siblings. My older son and daughter are too small actually to be responsible for him, of course, but they can engage his attention (and he can engage theirs) while I do something like type this blog post.
4. Your “infrastructure” is in place
You know, by this time, what sorts of schedules, baby items, and use of space works best for you. You’ve already managed to cook dinner with a needy baby and a toddler wrapped around your leg. Another child adds more needs, of course, but unless that child has different medical or developmental issues than your first two, those needs are not fundamentally different than those of your first children. You’re not learning how to get the floor swept, when are the best times to do a bit of work or steal a few moments with your spouse. You know that cutting vegetables while letting the baby play with Tupperware in the kitchen is fine, but cleaning the shower requires that you place him somewhere safe and enclosed.
5. You know what you have to prioritize and what you can let go
Food, dishes, laundry, sweeping, and decluttering the family room have to be kept on top of (more or less), or I’ll drown. Children must be read to every day, diapers must be changed, teeth must be brushed. A lot of other activities can be pushed to one side if needed. There’s always time for snuggles and tickles.
6. Your first child is older
My oldest is four, so I can’t exactly work her like a character in a Dickens novel. Nevertheless, she is intelligent, capable, and mature enough to lend me a bit of a hand in many tasks. She picks up well, helps fold laundry, clears the table (reluctantly), stirs neatly, breaks eggs correctly, wipes surfaces, and buckles her own carseat straps. (Her room is a disaster, though.) She can help her brother with his socks and shoes, keep the baby happy, and tell me when someone is about to do something hazardous. My two-year-old is (mostly) potty trained, can do some wiping and pickup, and is learning how to break eggs and do the chest clip. When he isn’t sitting on the baby, he’s very sweet to him. Every age has its challenges, but seeing children grow and develop new skills and emotional maturity is very rewarding.
7. You know how to teach as you go about your day
You practice saying words back to your baby as you feed him. You sing the 12th repetition of “La Arrana Pequenita” with your toddler that day. You’re “enriching” your children naturally, because that’s what they demand; unless you stick them in front of a TV all day (tempting as that prospect is), a typically-developing child will demand that you provide them with opportunities to improve their motor, cognitive, linguistic, and social skills, and you’ll get better at doing so with practice.
8. You’ve got three children
Three first steps. Three first words. Three sets of smiles. That’s worth an awful lot of fuss and chaos.
Now excuse me while I go change the poopy baby, break up a fight between his siblings, tidy up the spilled diapers, and fix lunch.