By Diedre Anthony, as told to Rachel Reiff Ellis
My husband and I always wanted to have three children. I was the oldest of four kids and loved being from a big family. My husband was his parents’ only child but had half-siblings who were 18 and 20 years old when he was born. Their age difference played a big part in his desire to have three kids of his own who would have each other as playmates.
We also knew we wanted to revisit our three-kid plan after each child came along. My mom stayed home to take care of me and my brothers, but I was going to be a working mom, so I needed to make sure I could handle that work-life balance.
Building Our Family of Five
When our oldest daughter, Melody, was born, we were smitten. She was an easy baby, which convinced us to do it all over again pretty quickly. I got pregnant with Daphne when Melody was 14 months old. But the transition to two kids was more of a struggle than I expected. Daphne had colic and I had a C-section scar infection. It wasn’t the glamorous, lovely time I had imagined.
After about 6 months, we finally settled into a little sweet spot. I found my groove as a mom of two, in part because the colic eased, and also because everyone was sleeping better.
Originally, we wanted all our kids to be 2 years apart so we could go through the baby phase all at once, have all the gear, deal with the sleepless nights, and then move into the next phase. But of course, you can’t always plan these things. At first, I was devastated when that spacing didn’t work out. But now, I think having our baby, Julian, 4 years after Daphne was a blessing. I never needed a baby monitor, because any time Julian made a single grunt, Daphne would fly in and say, “Mommy, the baby is awake!” The larger age gap allowed her to really take ownership in her role as a big sister.
And I had built-in help! The girls were too young to babysit, but they were great helpers. They learned responsibility. Of course there were times when we dealt with their fears that I loved the baby most, but it gave me the opportunity to say, “Hey squirt, I love you, your sister, and your brother, all three. The baby just needs different things right now, just like you did when you were a baby.”
The Multi-Kid Learning Curve
It might seem surprising, but for me the hardest parenting transition wasn’t adding a third. It was going from one kid to two. With your first, it’s all about that one little person. Everything is a huge milestone. So when a second one comes along, you feel conflicted: Will I be able to spread my time and love between two children? How do I give my second child the same experience as the first one? There are a lot of new worries.
Once your third arrives, you know you have more than enough love to go around. You also feel more seasoned as a parent and don’t second-guess yourself as much. Your past experiences have built up your parenting resilience. You survived potty training once, for example, you’ll survive it again.
Now as far as sitting down goes, that’s out the window. Life’s definitely a juggling act once the parents are outnumbered, whether you’re a single parent or have a partner. That’s one of the reasons I practiced baby-wearing with my son — I ran out of hands! Finding a babysitter also gets trickier — and more expensive. It’s one thing to ask Grandma to watch one kid; three is a whole different story. You need more room in your house and in your car. The logistics of vacationing as a family of five aren’t always easy to work out.
Ultimately, though, for me, the pros of having three kids far outweigh the cons. My heart constantly overflows. I love seeing my children interact with each other. It’s a joy to see them grow and change. And when you have three, you get to relive those milestones again and again.
Daily Life With Three
My husband is a farmer, and I’m a school counselor. Until a year ago, we weren’t living on the farm, so he was gone for long hours each day. Typically, I would be a solo parent through most of farm season, which is April through the end of November.
Since we’ve moved to the farm, things are easier. I have to be at work just after 7, so I get up between 5 and 5:30 every morning to get a few things done before I wake the kids. I try to do at least one load of laundry every single day. With three kids and a farmer husband, we spend a lot of time outside, so it seems like the laundry is always up to my eyeballs!
Now that the girls are 7 and 9, they can help with chores, so it’s not just me doing it all. One thing I’ve found is that with two working parents, weekends can be filled up in a hurry with catch-up chores instead of fun, and lead to frustration really quickly. So I set a cutoff time for house tasks. We also have designated family time, like Friday night movie nights, which my kids really look forward to.
My husband and I make a good parenting team. We’re both pretty easygoing, laid-back people who go with the flow. Typically, if I’m stressed, he’s calm, and vice versa. We work well together.
Being on the same page about how you parent makes things a lot easier, because it can be really stressful. There’s always something going on. Someone’s always yelling, either for a good reason or bad reason. And if only one partner is carrying the bulk of the load, it could easily play into the demise of a relationship.
Early on in our parenting life, my husband and I came up with an “intimacy contract.” We reserve two specific nights a week as our together time. In addition, he takes over on Saturday mornings and gives me time to myself to write or browse a store or do whatever I want. It sounded really silly making it a contract at first, but carving out that intentional time has been a lifesaver, both for our marriage and our mental health.
How We’re Raising Our Kids
We’re a multiracial, multicultural family. My husband was born and lived his whole life in the South. I was raised by Jamaican parents in Sumter, SC. Our kids love the curried chicken that was the comfort food of my youth and also some good Southern macaroni and cornbread.
I grew up on a military base, where most parents were quick to discipline by saying, “What’s the problem? Go fix it,” and that was that. But my counseling background has taught me a different tack. I try to teach my kids the words to explain their issues and have problem-solving language. Instead of feeling frustrated with them, I can say, “OK, dig in your toolbox. What have you learned that can help fix this?”
I always want my children to feel comfortable talking to me, even if they’re in the wrong. I want them to know that I hear them and know them. For example, my oldest is very motivated. So I remind her that it’s OK to make mistakes, but it’s harder to bounce back when you haven’t been honest. My middle daughter is usually pretty open and transparent, but she is stubborn as the day is long. So if there’s something I want her to do, I give her praise first. I say, “I think this food would taste so much better if you help me in the kitchen.” And her eyes light up.
Knowing how your kids learn and also how they want to give and receive love is very important. Not only does it help you parent, it helps you have a better relationship, which at the end of the day is the ultimate goal.