About Me,  Family Life,  motherhood,  Parenting

When 4 is less than 2 (Or the more kids I have, the easier it gets)

First off, thank you guys for the enthusiastic response to yesterday’s announcement. I have lots of fun ideas for content thanks to you fine people, and I’m excited to start laying down tracks. In fact! I just recorded the first half of episode 1 earlier today. And by recorded I mean pushed “record” and talked into a flat-lining screen for 10 minutes, thinking all the while I had an exceptionally well-modulated voice. Like, I actually had that thought. (Punchline: it wasn’t recording.)

So, ah, as soon as we get the minor technical details like actually recording my voice under control, I’m sure it’s gonna be a real top seller.

Judging by the sound of Legos hitting the ground and the baby’s intermittent-but-not-yet-frantic vocalizations, I’d wager I have a minute or 10 to tap something out. And since I’ve long since mastered the art of hitting “save,” today’s content will still be the visual variety. Technical prowess be mine.

The first thought I had when deciding to launch a podcast was “that’s pretty stupid. You have 4 kids.” The next thought was “eh, why the hell not?” It’s not like I’m writing War and Peace in all my downtime throughout the day. I’m generally either nursing, sweeping under the table for the 7th time, or trolling Facebook for “just a quick check in” (45 minutes later…)

In fact, a not-insignificant motivating factor is the very real fear of God in me that knows I will have to account for time spent on social media in my final judgement.

Shudder.

But honestly? I do have a lot of free time. Not like, leisurely time, but time to do what I want – or need – to do, almost every day. I can choose when to clean the bathrooms ( I mostly choose never), I can choose when to start cooking dinner, I can choose when to take a shower (again, neve….ah, not too frequently), I can choose when to go grocery shopping.

So what’s the secret? Lots of babysitting, maybe? Or a really well-run ship of a household that has my little snowflakes scheduled and polished to a shine by 8 am every morning, sitting in a tidy row doing their Latin grammar?

Nope.

Here’s the secret: 4 kids is the easiest number I’ve had so far. And it’s not because there’s less work.

There’s a literal crapload of diapers to change every day, I’m constantly picking single grains of rice out of the carpet, and I have been stopped 12.4 times during the compilation of this single uninspiring sentence to make 2 paper airplanes, answer a question about penguins, and remove yet another sticky hand from my shirtsleeve and redirect a shrieking pterodactyl to another part of the house. #whitewasabadchoice

I list that out not to sound impressive, but to illustrate how very far I’ve come from the time when, with one kid, I was so completely overwhelmed by a trip to Target that I would time it around my nursing schedule and sit in the backseat of my car, furtively suckling my firstborn for 40 agonizing and sweaty minutes, praying nobody could see the sliver of exposed flesh through the heavily-tinted windows of our (RIP) sporty Honda Accord.

And now there are four of them. And still only one of me. But I’m 99% calmer than when our ratio was 1:1. (I mean, I probably drink a little bit more frequently than I used to also. But I didn’t know about the myriad health benefits of red wine before I had my 3rd and 4th. Wink.)

I hear all the time from other moms that “I can’t even take my two to the grocery store by myself, forget taking four to Costco!” and I’m like, amen sister friend, neither could I.

I mean I did it, when I had to, but it was just as traumatic as you’re describing.

And you know why? Because I was completely maxed at that level of motherhood. 

I still maintain that the transition from one to two children was the most jarring thus far. Perhaps even more jarring than going from not-a-mom to why-won’t-he-stop-crying?

There’s only one time in the span of your mothering career when you have to double your output and halve your resources, and that’s why it feels so insane.

Think about it; when Luke was born, I only had to reallocate a quarter of my energy and brainpower. And I was already maxed out, so HAHAHA WHY NOT ADD ONE MORE TO THE PARTY? (slightly hysterical rising high-pitched cackle)

But it’s been fine. It’s been more than fine, in fact, as I was attempting to communicate to an overwhelmed mama at the park a few week’s back, watching with a mixture of dread and fascination as my sister and I rolled up with our double strollers and disgorged 8 children under the age of 7 between the two of us in a torrent of pint-sized humanity across the playground.

“I can hardly make it through the day with my two…” she trailed off, looking into the distance with a dazed expression. And I’m like, I know. I know that’s true. 

But for whatever reason, I don’t (usually) feel that way at the end of most days. I’d say 75% of our days end in “well, that definitely could have been worse,” and not because anything was terrible, but just that I’m tired.

Motherhood at any level is physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting. It takes everything you have, whether you’re mothering one child or (I suspect), seven.

But the secret formula to feeling a lot less crazed and a lot less like a hunted animal than when I was getting double teamed? It’s that I have more to give.

There’s more of me (literally. postpartum midsection, I’m looking at you.) to go around, because I’ve been training and learning, yes, but primarily because God has given me – is giving me – more grace, more patience, and more energy to meet the challenges of mothering more kids.

It’s the divine economy, which appears to operate almost antithetically to the human economy. The more you give, the more you receive.

So am I a better mom, a seasoned veteran who no longer shudders at the thought of potty training and who meal plans and gently encourages with a smile and a soothing voice?

ah, no. No I am not.

I’m still struggling with night-wetting, still shrewing at my beloved children for the umpteenth infraction of the morning, and usually in a less-than-modulated voice. And still hopelessly making it up as I go along.

But maybe because I know it’s not all up to me, perhaps precisely because I am physically incapable of meeting everyone’s needs in a given moment, I’m more content and more peaceful in this work. 

And that makes it seem easier. Even though there’s more whining, more noses to wipe, and more bedtime stories to read.

When I only had two kids, I could at least pretend I was completely in control. And I tried my damnedest to do exactly that.

Now? I know it’s not possible. There’s no way I can plan for every contingency, and there’s nothing I can do sometimes but cry out “God, help me!” when 3 out of 4 of them are going off like sirens in the back seat, wailing their disappointment with begin immobilized in rush hour traffic.

And He does. And I think, because I have so many more opportunities to ask Him, He actually helps me more.

So the moral of this story? Don’t be a stubborn control freak like me.

But if you are? Maybe He’ll send you a couple more kids to try and work it out of you.

pumpkin

33 Comments

  • Jessica

    This is my favorite, favorite blog post topic. It’s basically Essence of Hope, smeared on my web browser. Because, hello, two kids right now, and I literally have not figured out how to take them both to the grocery store.

  • Julie

    Love this! I feel the same way. About my three/almost four. One was the hardest for me, though. I was never so shell-shocked and scared of leaving the house as I was with “just” one baby.

  • Emily e

    I totally agree. I had number 4 in February (also Luke) and I am more at ease with parenting than ever. And I look back and how hard I thought one was and laugh at my former self. But such is life. You live, you learn, and you take four kids to Costco.

  • Karyn

    I still think going from zero to one was the hardest transition. Adding three or four was relatively easy. But….I will say going to five was hard. It wasn’t the individual baby but there was something about going from a “large small family” that is still a somewhat acceptable number to going over that threshold number into a “small large family”. I don’t know what it was but I spent the majority of my days in my pajamas for that first year. We’re headed towards number seven this March (God willing), with the oldest being 13 at that time. I think Kendra Tierney’s right in that you have more help from the older ones, however, you’re having to juggle the very different needs of pre-teens, young kids, toddlers and then a baby (both in our homeschool and in general life). And even though I’m not as controlling as I once was, I’m finding this juggle very difficult! Lots of praying is needed to get through the day, lol!

    • Melina

      I’m not sure I understand your concern. We are Catholics, not puritans, and there is nothing wrong with alcohol in moderation (hey, studies even show it’s good for you!). Jenny’s not talking about going out to a dive bar, getting trashed, and having someone pour her into a taxi to get home.
      And now I’m going to have a glass of wine as I unwind after a rather trying day with a toddler and a newborn…

          • Melina

            Yeah, I enjoyed a dive bar in my time too (hellooo, Star Lounge!). Now that I have little kids and no babysitter yet, we stick to our kitchen – which is good too.

        • Melina

          Okay, sorry if I bristled a bit at your comment then! There’s a certain contingent who seem to think that all moms’ meetups and relaxation times should consist of juice, cookies and some kind of craft, as if we are on exactly the same level as the children we care for every day, and that really gets on my nerves. Thanks for clarifying.

          • Mary wilkerson

            I mean, I don’t know if this is gonna get weird- if it is, Jenny feel free to delete. Jenny had shared some blogs ago about the importance of meeting with girlfriends or sisters occasionally. I had commented that I am just starting to see the importance of that and have instituted early evening bar nights (6-730) one a week for my crew. Someone commented that there were more appropriate places for stay at home moms to gather than dive bars. It’s a week later and I’m still ticked about it 😉 hence the comment.

          • Melina

            Oh, that sounds like heaven time right now. Well, you know, not HEAVEN heaven, but really, really nice. I’m guessing you don’t live near me but I wish you did!

  • J

    It’s funny to see such harried mothers of one or two and wonder if I was like that??? And yes we do become more capable, more competent, and rely almost exclusively on the grace that is necessary to sustain us as we attempt to do way way more than is humanly possible.

    It does get harder I must warn you. I remember being a mother of four of five little ones and having older mothers say these were the easy years and feeling so invalidated – they must not remember what it was like to be on zero sleep, and nursing, and perpetually postpartum. Well now I have teens and a young adult and I am still sleep deprived praying all night that they are alive until I hear that last car pull in the driveway. Worrying not about who scribbled on the wall but if they are in the state of grace. We are being seasoned with the little ones and the little problems to prepare us for the big ones and the immortal problems that lay ahead.

    That’s why we need to relax, let the little things go and just enjoy the silliness of childhood. Love them, enjoy them, and train them up in virtue.

    #11 is on the way – Lord give me strength

  • Lisa

    I’ve blasted out “God help me!” enough that when I’m looking frazzled and stressed the almost three year old will often utter “Mommy, God’s helping you”- sweet child, handing mommy her chill pill. 😉

  • Hermione

    Thank you for posting this, somehow I thought it would get easier with two but with my 3 year old and 2 month old I feel like I just ran a marathon, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I’m glad to know it gets easier with more.

  • Amanda Teixeira

    ” I was so completely overwhelmed by a trip to Target that I would time it around my nursing schedule and sit in the backseat of my car, furtively suckling my firstborn for 40 agonizing and sweaty minutes, praying nobody could see the sliver of exposed flesh through the heavily-tinted windows” This made me laugh since it was basically how I lived most of this past year. LOL I am so very glad it gets better with more kiddos!

  • Ashley

    Amen to all of this!!
    Our kids #2&3 came in very close succession, and it pushed me into a deep, dark black hole for a good long while. But I’ve emerged, and am absolutely loving life with 3 kids. And I love the looks at Costco – seriously, people? 3 kids is a *small* family! At least in the circles I run in
    The God’s grace thing is so very true. And the other thing that has helped tremendously? Lower standards. Much, much lower standards.

  • Suzi Whitford

    Ah, how much fun to read this! I am expecting number two and I’ve heard the transition will be hard. But mommies like you give me encouragement to take on God’s plan for my life! I’ve been wanting to do this earlier, but I will start today with my Twitter #IamThankful tweets. One of your quotes will be my first! 🙂 Thank you for the inspiration!

  • Kate Long

    This is right on. Number four was a breeze, just added into the mix. With number five, I’m drowning. I have been looking for camaraderie locally, but have yet to find anyone else with five under six. They are probably holed up somewhere nursing and cooking and wiping butts and teetering on psychosis if one more kid asks for help finding something for them. It’s made me question my vocation (seriously?? I think with the birth of number five its pretty clear where I’m being called… ha!), question my parenting, question my ability to mentally take in all that I do on a daily basis. My head won’t stop spinning, the thoughts won’t stop swirling, and then somebody goes and pees on the floor. I hope we all survive this chaos and somehow stay focused on the Truth. I know there is light at the end of this tunnel, I’ve heard people talk about it, and if one more person tells me to enjoy this time because it goes by so fast, I might seriously break down.

  • Cami

    This is probably one of my favorite posts of yours. Maybe because I relate or am at 3 littles, open to four and hoping for it to get easier. I dunno. But I DO wish more moms knew that more is indeed merrier. I have 3 sisters in law and to my knowledge they are all stopping at 2 kids. They already think we’re cray-cray for having 3. So a fourth will really get some reactions! Anyhoo… As an only child who grew up with divorced parents and basically just a mom, my mom doesn’t get it either although she’s supportive. But she’s never been through doubling her energy with a second child and doing it now as a grandma is already exhausting for her. But it is SUCH a great point you make. We double our energy once- the biggest leap but then the math gets less demanding as we move into 3 or 4 or 6 children. I never thought of it that way but it’s SO true! Thank you for insights like these. Hubby and I are overwhelmed by our exhaustion and blessings all at the same time. But I feel better now thinking of the possibility of another baby. And besides, children love babies. It’s so fun having a baby in the house. Every kid should be lucky enough to have a baby brother or sister.

  • Andrea

    Sitting in the Target parking lot nursing….overwhelmed by leaving the house…yep, 5 months into motherhood, this sounds quite familiar 🙂 Happy to read it’s not just me, and happy to read it gets easier with more kiddos.

  • Julie

    OK, I have to comment. I had five kids in six years. After number three my husband always just said, “Broke is broke and chaos is chaos.” Then our oldest died. Saddest, most grace-filled time in our lives. Then we got pregnant again–such joy and excitement! Then I miscarried–less than a year after our oldest died. The grief was lessened when my husband told our kids, “Nora needed a baby in Heaven to take care of.” Sometimes he is so wise–or just filled with grace, again! Then we proceeded to have three more children, spread out over seven years. St. John Paul II has said that the best gift you can give a child is siblings. SO TRUE! Our younger children learned the virtues of sharing and then when they were old enough to babysit, they learned that having a child was HARD WORK. (Talk about learning chastity at an early age!) Has all this been easy? Nope. Has God provided–in every way (financially, physically, psychologically, spiritually)? Yep. True, I often beg Him for His grace several times a day, (and the situation NEVER changes, but my attitude and spirit do!), but He always comes through for me. Remember, He won’t be outdone in generosity. The more kids we had, the more we just trusted Him in every way, the more graces and gifts He gave us. Yes, even to the death of our oldest. We have seen the fruits of her intercession in so many ways, it’s incredible. So, make your new mantra, “This too shall pass.” And beg our Lord for His grace. It is SO worth raising our Hope for the Future.

    • Cami

      Julie, thanks for sharing this. I need to hear these stories from moms like you that have truly experienced the spectrum of being tested in faith and hope and coming out in the other side gathering graces.

  • Robert

    I so wish I could get my wife to read blogs like yours! We have seven (three with special needs) and she so needs to hear from other women who experience the same frustrations, triumphs, sorrows, and joys of having a large family…. May He bless and hold you safe!

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