I read an article a few years ago about how parents of three children were more stressed than parents with four or more and thought it couldn’t be true. More children, more money, more problems, right? But apparently mums of four kids put less pressure on themselves which reduces their stress.
The survey was a few years old but I started thinking about it again after my second daughter was born in 2016, and my husband and I were discussing if we were ready to have a third child. We’d always planned to have three, and it seemed smart to have the third one sooner rather than later so we could get the nappies and broken sleep stage of parenting over with.
But I know we both weren't sure if we actually had the stamina for three because we already found life with two kids to be quite stressful. The possibility that we could become even more stressed didn’t make us feel confident.
So rather than relying on a survey to help us make such a big decision, I thought it would be better to ask mums who actually have three kids whether they were more stressed since having their third child, and if so, what the biggest contributor was to their stress. This is what they said:
Without a doubt this was the biggest cause of stress for all the mums I spoke to. Renee, mum to three kids aged 10, 5 and 4 says, “Three kids is mostly chaotic. If one child is out at a sleepover or play date the dynamic changes completely and things seem much calmer with two, or vice versa, if we have another child over to make four kids. Generally I feel somebody is always left out, either the kids pair off, or when parenting one on one there's always somebody fighting for a bit more.”
“The biggest change I’ve found in moving from two to three is just not being able to be in three places at once,” says Jess, mum to a 4 month old, 2 year old and 4 year old. “In the early weeks I would be putting bub to bed and come out to find my toddler eating crusts off the top of the bin and my preschooler into something else.”
Elise, mum to three boys says, “I do think stress levels also depend on how close the kids are in age. I have friends with three kids, but their ages are spread out, which they have said made it not too bad. I had three under 3, so things were quite stressful in our house for a while.”
The cost of childcare and school fees, birthday presents, Christmas gifts, healthcare and clothing (not to mention groceries) for three kids is a big incentive to just stick to two kids. Most mums said having a third child also requires upgrading to a bigger car and house, as Belinda, mum to three girls aged 6, 5 and 2 found out. “Finding cars that fit three seats was a challenge, and each time we've had another child we've moved house,” she says.
Renee says, “We got a bigger seven seater car so if anyone has a play date we have room for friends and we built a bigger house, for more space. I would’ve gone for a fourth child, but hubby said no way, he wants to retire one day.”
It’s also no secret that the tourism industry caters best to families of four. “Holidays are harder – most deals are aimed at four people, and some places don't allow five in two bedrooms because of fire hazards so it’s more expensive to travel,” says Belinda.
However, it’s possible to have a third child on a budget. Ainsling, mum to a 7 year old and 6 year old twins says, “We used to drive as a convoy before we bought a bigger car.” Hand-me-downs, camping holidays and bedroom sharing are small sacrifices to make for giving your children an extra lifelong playmate.
Three children and two sets of parents means when everyone has activities, playdates and birthday parties to attend at the same time mum and dad have to divide and conquer, and it makes sense that it would add stress.
“So far we have just had two of the kids in Saturday sports, but once it becomes three I think it might be a bit harder to juggle,” says Renee.
Vanessa says, “My oldest two are 7 and 5. The biggest struggle I've found is managing school and kinder drop offs and pick ups with our 1 year old baby. Your day can’t revolve around the baby's nap times, and they have to constantly be in and out of the car, which sucks when they don’t sleep in the car.”
Hannah, mum to a 6 year old, 5 year old and 1 year old says, “I don't think having a third creates more stress, I just think there’s more planning and thinking involved.”
Lack of couple time
Whether or not you have people to help out seems to play a huge role in how much time you can spend with your partner when you have three kids, especially when they’re young.
Renee says having family support makes it much easier to have three kids. “Thanks to the grandparents my husband and I still can have date nights and even generally have a week’s holiday alone together each year.”
Kelly, a mum to three boys who are 8, 5 and 10 months old has had to find other solutions. “We have no family support close by so it can be trying at times but we have an excellent friendship circle as well as a couple of really good babysitters on hand,” she says.
It’s important to remember too that missing out on one on one time with your partner is temporary and you’ll gradually get more time as your kids get older. “When they were young it was all hands on deck and our primary focus was keeping the kids alive,” says Ainsling. “Things are much easier now. We make time for each other.”
Is there a right answer?
As it turns out, all this very useful advice didn't actually sway us one way or another. Deep down, we felt there was just supposed to be one more little person in our family, and we are now eagerly awaiting the arrival of our new baby in a few months time.
I have no doubt we are going to be stressed, tired, and time poor, but also content in our decision to be a family of five. As the saying goes, "You never regret the children you have, only the ones you don't."