Parents of three, children in family of five -- what worked?
August 12, 2017 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Agonizing over third child decision. I know questions have been asked before, but, of course, there are More Details.

Sorry for the rambling . . .

Assume I know all the awful reasons not to have more kids in this world (Trump, coming apocalypse, climate change, etc.) Assume I know of these and am worried about them, but they are not alone going to influence my decision.

We are family of four (kids are 4 and 2) who spend lots of time together. We both have flexible schedules, and we travel a fair bit, because we do not have family close by. We'd always thought we'd have three children and I'm in my late thirties, so would have to decide very soon. We don't make scads of money, but are comfortable -- no debt, and decent savings, and the money situation will likely improve over the years. Older kid is in preschool; younger kid in part-time nanny share. Life is hard and sometimes crazymaking and we often now don't have enough hands, but it's really rewarding.

Everyone tells me having three kids is crazy. I know the zone defense stuff and the package holidays/restaurant booths/cars are built for families of five but I'm not sure if it's compelling enough. I was in a large family, and it was really tough as a kid, but that's partly because of various mental health issues in a parent, and the fact that they both worked very demanding jobs with long commutes and relied heavily on their children for babysitting/cleaning, etc. As an adult, I LOVE having lots of siblings.

But everyone I know in a happy family of five had some way of making it work well -- like a stay at home parent (my husband's mom stayed home, for example). That's not us. Nor do we have a lot of money for more paid help, and we have no family close by. I'm worried that it will floor us, that our kids will feel neglected, and that travel will suddenly become impossible. We could have a child with a disability that would add an extra challenge. Basically, maybe another kid would blast our equilibrium. At the same time, we DO live far from family, and probably always will -- maybe 3 kids is a way of anchoring my own family (not that that's necessarily a good reason, I know).

But but but I see pregnant women/babies and I feel we're not done. I LOVE the idea of having three grown children. (Three teenagers, hmmm, haven't thought of that.) But then again, I have two happy and healthy children -- why tempt fate? Would our happy family just fall apart? I'm also worried that my hopes to ramp up a career would also fall apart.

If you are a parent of three or were IN a family of five (or three kids altogether) what made it work or not? Was it a happy family, and why do you think so? Any advice?

PS Gender is not a factor: we truly do not care.
PPS I'm sorry if this comes across as insensitive to people struggling with infertility. It took us almost two years and various interventions to have our first kid, but our second was actually unplanned (even though we were thrilled, and had been planning on starting to "try" soon.) So of course, this may all be moot -- we may not be able to have another kid at all, and I don't want to do more treatments.
posted by heavenknows to Human Relations (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm one of three, with an age span of eight years. I'm sure it was difficult when we were young (my mom seems to have amnesia about this period of her life and insists it was easy), but we are thick as thieves. This is a pure generalization, but a lot of the people I know who grew up with just one sibling seem to have a more competitive and antagonistic dynamic with their sibling. When there are three of you, you're more like a gang.
posted by cakelite at 8:14 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


I'm one of three with a total of 7 year gap (three then four years). My mom was mostly stay at home (minus some random part time stuff) when we were super little but was back working before the third one was born, so there were three of us with two working parents.

I dunno, they made it work. I'm sure it was hard, but it was also fine. We didn't live near family, we did have a reasonable amount of money (not crazy rich, but there was never any problems making ends meet), which I'm sure helped. All three of us are extremely close.

If you want to make it work, you can make it work. People have been making it work for millennia. Of course there will be hard bits! But if this is what you want, and it sounds very much like it is, just do it!
posted by brainmouse at 8:21 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I was the youngest of three...my folks made it work. I also had three, all with an approximate age span of 2 years between them. The toddler years are a bit of a blur (LOL), but with three boys, what do you expect! It's a challenge, but you'll find the transition from two to three kids easier than one to two...your oldest will be a great help.

They are all grown with two kids each of their own now. They are very close, and count on each other for advice, friendship, and someone who they can trust in times of need. They all have each other as guardians for their children should something happen. It works...
posted by OkTwigs at 8:31 AM on August 12


I'm the mother of three - 22, 24, 27. In many ways the hardest part was juggling their activities as pre-teens and teens although equally challenging was the youngest not sleeping through the night until he was 2. Don't discount a last pregnancy being harder because of being older - that was certainly my experience but yes you will know how to take care of a baby and a toddler and that makes the transition much easier.

What worked for us was that we were both self-employed for a lot of the time and when my husband was working for someone else he had a fair amount of flexibility. It would have been much harder with more conventional employment. Three is inherently unstable - at different times different pairings were closer - the two girls, the two younger, the oldest and youngest - it changed. But they always had each others' backs in school and the two younger ones live together as adults.
posted by leslies at 8:38 AM on August 12


I'm one of three, because my parents always wanted three. I don't think you should make family planning decisions based on the shape of restaurant booths -- if you feel your family would be better if it were a family of five, you should do that. Restaurants can fit tables of five, cars with room for five exist, hotels have cots.
posted by jeather at 8:40 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


We have two with the third due any day now. We had always talked about having three but didn't think it would happen without us aggressively trying (like with the first two). You'll probably be happy either way- I would have been. I am not really looking forward to some of the logistical challenges with three and I really am hoping this one is a good sleeper. But like you I had always contemplated #3. I wouldn't agonize over the decision.
posted by sulaine at 8:48 AM on August 12


I have a friend whose kids have a similar age spread and no local family. And things have been really, really, really hard with the third. First time PPD/breastfeeding struggles. The mom wants to go back to school but couldn't swing the logistics of applying, much less going, and it's been about six months and every time I see her she looks shell shocked. I'm probably one and done and it looks . . . . awful. But I have two other friends with two kids who are 2 and 4. They both want a third (one is now pregnant) and talk about how wonderful it will be when our first friend has "three strapping boys who love her for the rest of her life." They see the good, they want to hold the baby. Hormones and desire are a powerful thing.

Making people is amazing and I'm sure they--you--will always love the new people who are made, but for my friend as an individual, my heart hurts for her right now, honestly. Because it seems impossibly hard, and you never know what the outcome will be down the line. Maybe one of your grown kids won't talk to you, you know? It happens often enough. I think whether or not parents are happy even in the moment of childhood matters, and I think it matters if parents are pushed beyond their resources or capacity too.

Also the thought of paying for 8 years of college for at least 2 kids at once gives me hives.

You can make it work, but I'd look very hard at the financial and tangible resources you have available before going for it. But I am a completely type A capricorn, and this is why I only have one child.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:56 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I can't comment on the having kids part, and I talked about this on the siblings question on Ask thread a while ago, but I grew up in a family of five, and it has been pretty awesome. I adore having two brothers and I love my family very much. It meant always having someone to play with, a cheerleader when we were down, someone who got you. It meant never feeling alone, really.

I mean, YMMV-- my mother is from a family of five also, and our Uncle was a terrible person who cheated my dying grandmother out of her house, while she was still living in it. So, I mean, as with anything, there's good/bad, and everyone is different, with different personalities. You can never really know.

What worked for my family, I think, was two-fold. One, my parents waited to have me--there is a significant age gap with my brothers. It worked out for us; my parents were ready for the excitement of a new baby again, (and had forgotten how bad it was, haha) and my brothers were almost a good age to actually help with me, and for my parents not to worry about them as much. So having a new baby sister to fawn over was actually pretty exciting for everyone. The other thing is not something one can control, and that's the fact I am female and they'd already had two boys-- they didn't really want a third boy so being the new baby girl made everyone really happy (and ensured I was kinda spoiled by all). Also, making an effort to just be really close, making it a priority. It helped I had good parents, albeit they were flawed like everyone.

Sometimes, when I see articles and such talking about how awful it is to have too many kids, because somehow psychologists say its the worst and neglectful etc, I get kinda sad because my experience has always been the total opposite. It has totally made me a better person, in my opinion.

And I said in the other thread, when my Dad got sick and died in my youth, having brothers helped tremendously, and it makes the future feel more comforting to know we have each other.

As said upthread, if you're feeling it, you should go for it.

Best of luck.
posted by Dimes at 9:02 AM on August 12


From your question, the CONS are:

Trump
coming apocalypse
climate change
we don't make scads of money/being a stay at home parent is not for us/we don't have a lot of money for more paid help/we have no family close by
we often now don't have enough hands
I was in a large family, and it was really tough as a kid
I'm worried that it will floor us, that our kids will feel neglected, and that travel will suddenly become impossible/maybe another kid would blast our equilibrium
We could have a child with a disability
Three teenagers, hmmm, haven't thought of that
I'm also worried that my hopes to ramp up a career would also fall apart

The PROS are:

I see pregnant women/babies and I feel we're not done
It's really rewarding [having two children]
As an adult, I LOVE having lots of siblings

I don't see any question here. You kind of want a third. You have many strong reasons to believe it's a bad idea. But you kind of want it.

I'd suggest trying to find something else that adds to the joy in your family, without adding so much challenge. You've done incredibly well now — healthy kids, healthy finances, two careers — and your instinct that a third could blow it all apart is probably right on. Your cons list is very powerful. The things on your pro list tell you you've done well, and I think you could do just as well developing a strong non-family community, so your kids would have something similar to lots of siblings. (FYI, my mother had a second child so I could have a friend; I couldn't care less about her, don't really like her, so just having kids doesn't mean your children will have adult sibling/friends.)

Given the huge risks, and the fact that you're searching for a way to "make it work," it seems clear: enjoy the happy family of four that you have. Being pregnant and being a mother have been the most fulfilling and amazing things ever, for me, so I'm not discounting that. But a vague feeling that you're not "done"? Seems like way too little to overcome the long list of reasons against.
posted by Capri at 9:02 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


I'm going to go against the grain here and say no. I'm the child of a parent who's part of a sibling trio. Parent has always described their childhood as problematic due to the three child dynamic. Drama between them continues today. Same with my spouse who is also part of a sibling trio, even with very different parenting styles and cultural background. Same with many kids I've taught.

There will certainly be others who had it great as part of their three child household, and I don't want to deny their experience.

But ... I can't ignore my own close family members who have always said NEVER THREE.
posted by Temeraria at 9:07 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


I have two brothers. I'm the oldest; they're 2.5 and 8 years younger than me (so there are about 6 years between them). Honestly, for my parents, the spacing is what made it work. My mom says it was way easier to have a third baby when we were older...and also differently challenging, because she was so tired and had kind of forgotten the amount of work babies are.

I've had two friends have - surprise! - third babies in the last year, both of them when their middle child was just barely two. They make it work. One has a SAHM, and they really mostly stayed home for the first six months. The other one works nights; her spouse also does shift work, and they have a patchwork of caregiving from family and preschools to cover the hours when they're both at work. The families I know today who have three small kids all have flexible schedules and enough money to pay for help when they need it.
posted by linettasky at 9:14 AM on August 12


This is a pure generalization, but a lot of the people I know who grew up with just one sibling seem to have a more competitive and antagonistic dynamic with their sibling. When there are three of you, you're more like a gang.

I'm not so sure about that.

One of my best friends and I are always trading stories about our childhoods because our families are eerily alike. The main difference is that I have one sister and she has two. My sister and I always patched up our arguments and rivalries quickly because we really had nobody else to turn to but each other - we're BFF’s to this day. In my friend’s family, there was always an opportunity for two sisters to form an alliance against the third, and it kept them from being as close as we were.

Now, it's entirely possible that a different mix of genders and a larger age spread might have made a difference.

Anyway, in the end only you and your partner know what's right for your family, and you’ll make it work either way.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:14 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I'm the oldest of three with an 11 year age gap between us. My parents both worked full time all our lives and we didn't have a ton of money. My youngest sibling is the anchor to our family and I think we would all feel a little incomplete without him. I loved having 2 siblings growing up and I love having 2 siblings as an adult - we are really close and I don't know, three is just right. Now that I'm starting my family I also wish for three but I'm older and having an extremely rough pregnancy and don't think I can handle it again. I absolutely think you should go for another one and finish your family of 5!
posted by tatiana wishbone at 9:18 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


We have three boys - oldest turning 12 and youngest being 7. I never had any strong opinion on how many kids would be right, but wife more or less wanted a third one.

Only thing that would give me a pause whether you can have/ afford enough child care/ help. We've always spent quite a lot of money on childcare; nowadays it more about after school logistics and summers, while it used to be about basic necessities. Luckily our income has risen over time, so proportionally it's gotten cheaper over time.

We've kept traveling as much as we can, and it works. Sometimes hotel rooms feel annoyingly small, and in some cases overseas we've had to argue that 5 of us will indeed stay in a single room. AirBnB is good for families of 5. And traveling is indeed most fun that we do as a family.

The middle child may need some extra care/ attention. Oldest kid obviously gets to do some stuff that middle one doesn't (although middle one will get there at younger age), and baby gets lot of attention due to being a baby. All three are hopefully their own persons with their own interests, etc. That said in our case the 3rd one is maybe the easiest as he has always been a part of a bigger pack; a pack that might fight ferociously, but comes together especially when traveling.
posted by zeikka at 9:29 AM on August 12


I got three stepkids when I married my spouse, and while I was not around for their baby-toddler years, it has been a really fun experience. The biggest thing in our favor (and theirs) is that they seem to genuinely like and respect each other, and they act like friends. I don't know how their parents did it, but it's amazing to see them sharing a back seat during a road trip and just chatting and joking and sharing tips for video games or whatever. Conflict does pop up here and there, but it's generally limited and easily diffused by spending a little time apart. And there's not a wide gulf in preferences for food, movies, and recreation--generally, we can find compromises pretty quickly.

A couple of factors worth noting: 1) I'm a recent arrival, and I'm not weary from years of full-time parenting and toddler tantrums, etc. I expect that would make a difference. 2) The two oldest are twins, so we're mostly exempt from considerations like middle-child conflict and planning/logistics for activities and playdates, because they have the same friend group and the same extracurriculars.
posted by witchen at 9:36 AM on August 12


Qualification: have 3 kids now in Elementary through High school. Grew up with a brother and two sisters. Currently all family are very far away.

Most of our friends / families of our kids friends have two children.

We are so happy with having three. Yes the early years were Hard (last two only 17 mos apart, I was traveling a lot then and spouse was a SAH mom).

One great thing is the complexity of relationships between all five, versus four. There's a richness there with all the personalities interacting, growing, and changing. Whenever I try a thought experiment of not having our third child I shudder.

A very personal question for sure. Would not trade places with another family of four for the world.
posted by scooterdog at 9:39 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I am one of three, five year gap between oldest and youngest. It was not a great dynamic growing up--as the oldest I really resented being pushed to clean up after my siblings, help them with their homework, keep track of them when we went out together. Do not make this decision with any basis that the oldest should help out--older siblings are not parents, I didn't get a say in the decision and I really needed more support from my parents than I got.

On top of that, we had/have very different personalities and interests and my parents struggled to accommodate each of us as individuals. We all ended up forced into sports, music lessons, scouts, and school activities we didn't want to do because one kid wanted to and its impossible for two parents to handle that many different activities. This also meant we each missed out on at least one thing that was very important to each of us.

Sibling disputes were always 2-vs-1. 1-on-1 sibling battles are nothing compared to two kids teaming up on and excluding the third, and my two younger siblings have a tense relationship to this day because they were usually on opposite sides and the youngest always had to fight very dirty in order to stand up to the older two.

We were two girls and a boy, and while a lot of vacation packages and dining configurations seem to accommodate five, that's really really not true. My sister and I always had to share a room or just a single bed (up to our teens, which was 100% not okay). We were often crowded into tables and cars really only meant to fit four, and on the few occasions where each kid had to have a parent with them we had a lot of juggling to do. It's also a lot harder to share big purchases (video games, basketball hoops, the family computer) between the 3 instead of 2, so keep in mind you may end up having to buy multiplies that you wouldn't otherwise need to.

I'm sorry to be so down on this, but I obviously had a very different experience than some of the answers above and I don't want you to assume this will definitely be easy. It was hard, and all three of us agree that my parents didn't handle it well. Unless you have really supportive family members to help bring the adult:child ratio closer to 1:1, I would not do it.
posted by Swiss Meringue Buttercream at 9:46 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


As an adult, I LOVE having lots of siblings.

One thing to consider with this benefit is you're assuming the children will all be close. This is not necessarily the case. I'm from a family of five, and I'm not close at all with my siblings. We only talk at family events, pretty much. My partner is relatively close to their sister (but mostly because the sister pointedly seeks them out to have a relationship; they wouldn't reach out on their own), but their relationship with their brother is pretty nonexistent. For both of us, it's not necessarily because we dislike our siblings or had some big fight with them or whatever, we just never developed a close relationship.

I will say being the eldest as a girl with two younger brothers sucked. The constant noise, brawling, and bickering between the two boys made me want to tear my hair out. I never got any peace, and any interests we shared were frequently ruined by their immaturity (relative to my own), e.g. we enjoyed a love of video games but they frequently destroyed my games by leaving them out of the cases and scratching the discs. It was hard for us to form any sort of sibling bond because we were just so different. Now that the first brother and I are both adults, we're more similar and we probably could have a decent relationship, but we're both fairly asocial people so that just hasn't really happened.

However, I don't think my parents (or my partner's parents, despite being near the poverty level) had any trouble giving us adequate care. My mother stayed home for me and the first brother and homeschooled us partially through grade school, but not for my second brother. He has sensory processing disorder and she's been able to keep up with and provide care for that pretty well. Now, that said, I also had an awful childhood and they were emotionally abusive... but that was probably unrelated to having three children, and I never felt that we were neglected, just... given the wrong sort of attention.

Honestly, I think this is something you can't really suss out whether it's going to be a positive or negative beforehand, because it depends on SO many factors you can't predict. I think you need to look at this as whether or not it's a risk you're ready to take right now. It's true you have a fairly small list of pros, but I don't think you can really express in words how massive those pros may (or may not be!) to you, so no one can really tell you if it's worth it or not.
posted by brook horse at 9:47 AM on August 12


I am the oldest of three and never for a moment wished I had fewer siblings. This probably had something to do with why I had a similar feeling to you....I just want a third. I just did. My husband, one of two, did not feel strongly about it one way or another but did feel strongly he didn't want to get a vasectomy, and lo and behold a third son was born (they're all boys).

Last pregnancy was the hardest (not that hard, I've been lucky), last childbirth was the easiest. My youngest child is my easiest. My boys have no sibling rivalry, love being brothers. I adore them all, they're all wonderful, sweet, kind people. My oldest is 18, we took him to college Monday, middle is 15, youngest is 11.

All this probably sounds incredibly Pro, yes have a third, and the reality is you want to, your body wants to, your DNA wants you to, it's a powerful urge that affects your judgment.

But actually, lately, I keep thinking, why did I have kids at all, what is it all for? Most likely this is because of the oldest moving into adulthood. I'm sort of realizing....."oh having babies is just making future adults.....and adulthood is hard" As I'm moving them towards being grownups I'm sort of feeling guilty for having foisted life and the necessity of making a living and negotiating the all the bullshit on them.

That all sounds like I'm depressed and projecting but I'm not. I'm a happy person with a full life, but I don't really know what it's really all for.
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 9:52 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


I'm one of three adult sisters (middle child), and I love both of my sisters and am glad they're part of my life. We live far apart but talk on the phone once a month or so and see each other a few times a year.

Functional things that helped: my mom stayed home when we were little, my dad had a stable good job with relatively flexible hours, and we hired a monthly housecleaner for years.

Not everything was perfect, but a few things my parents did that helped as we grew up:
- My mom supported us in developing friendships with each other. As we got older, she encouraged us to prioritize our relationships with each other over our relationships with our parents (in the case of conflicts), because she wants the three of us to be friends for life even after she's gone.
- Each parent made an effort (and still does) to spend individual time with each of us.
- When we showed signs of being interested in things, they encouraged us to develop those interests, with a little extra weight if they were different from the things the other sisters did, so that we each had our own "things". This helped prevent unhealthy direct competition/comparison.
posted by dreamyshade at 10:01 AM on August 12


As someone with only one sibling, who is much older, and who I never got along with, families with three kids closer to one another in age always seemed like a marvelous thing. They just seemed to have one another's backs, from an outsider perspective of course, that I really envied.
posted by Crystal Fox at 10:36 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I think moneywise people will always find a way to make it work. Difficulties seem to set in when families feel they have no support. You say that you don't have family around, but do you have any other community ties? Are you friends with the parents of your kids friends? Can you call them in a pinch, or trade babysitting? Are either of you able to make friends easily, like at soccer practice or at volunteer activities? Are you able and willing to ask for help when needed? If you're not happy with your current support network, or are not up to building it, are you both on board with moving closer to family (and will family be a reliable source of support? )?

Our overall support picture was a main criteria that we used when deciding how many kids would be right for our family.
posted by vignettist at 10:42 AM on August 12


I'm the oldest of four siblings - a gang of three all 1 1/2 years apart, followed by a fourth 4 1/2 years later who was too young to really be part of the gang. We three older kids got along well as kids and still get along well as adults. Like cakelite, I've often observed that when there are two kids they tend to become rivals and adversaries. With three of us, we fought and argued and it was often two against one, but which two were allies was always changing. There was no consistent one-on-one rivalry. Most of the time, we all were pretty good friends with each other.

Factors that probably helped it work well:

My mom stayed at home full-time until the older kids were in high school, when she did a little part-time work. My dad had a steady job that paid a decent salary.

We older kids were so close in age we could all play together well and could often be treated as a unit (same bedtimes, same rules, enjoyed outings to the same places, etc.)

Factors that may have made things harder for our family:

We older kids were so close in age that it must have been difficult taking care of us all when were little. Imagine having a 3 year old, a 1 1/2 year old and a newborn at the same time!

My dad had a job that required a lot of long, irregular hours and travel.

We lived in a foreign country where my parents didn't speak the language well for a couple of years starting when I was 4.

The fourth sibling is disabled and needed physical therapy, surgeries, etc. His mobility issues made it a little more difficult to get out and do things.

(My parents never acted as if any of those things were terribly difficult and they rarely seemed stressed.)
posted by Redstart at 10:52 AM on August 12


last childbirth was the easiest

There is that. I was my mother's third pregnancy (older brother died before sister and I were born) and she still remarks on how easy my birth was. One pain, one push, and there I was, all ten pounds. Doctor said don't have any more or the next one will walk out.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:37 AM on August 12


I am the younger of two (12 year gap) and my husband is the youngest of three boys (two years between each). Our girls are almost three years apart.
I admire how the three men get along and support each other, especially now that their parents are older. Each has his own life and his own family situation, but they enjoy they same things and often spend time together. The children get along well, too.

Some quotes from my mom: Have as many children as you want, when you want them, then stop.
Also, a statement from Peggy Lennon of the Lennon sisters that she gave me, but currently I cannot trace down: Crossing the street with two children is easy -- two hands, two children. If you can figure out how to cross the street with the third child, you can have as many as you want.
posted by TrishaU at 11:38 AM on August 12


I'm the third of three and am as you might expect very much in favor of the third child. I had the benefit of watching my older siblings make all the mistakes and wear my parents down so I learned to just do what I want without making a fuss about it and I got away with murder while being generally viewed as the good child. Don't deprive a potential family addition of this delightful free ride.
posted by janey47 at 12:23 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


It sounds like in your heart you want one more so just do it. You can't control for everything. If you feel like your family isn't finished yet then that's the answer.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:43 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


I think if you are a loving, kind person who's a good parent most of the time and you are raising happy, well-adjusted kids, having a third child won't change any of that. It may add some chaos and it will make money tighter. But I think if you basically have a loving family dynamic, the number of children you have won't change that.

If you feel in your heart that this is what you want, go for it.
posted by Amy93 at 2:58 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


What St. Peepsburg said. I think nothing else anyone here can argue against is going to trump your sense of "we're not done" and "I want a third." You want a third and you will have it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:12 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Since everyone is talking about their experiences as siblings, I'll chime in. I'm the middle of three (brother three years older, sister three years younger).

Being the middle child can really suck. In my situation, my mother and sister have always been very close, and my parents have always been deeply involved in my brothers life due to his health issues. I felt ignored, and I felt (and still do feel) jealous of the relationships my brother had with my dad, and that my sister has with my mom. I personally would avoid any situations that result in a solo middle child. Maybe being the middle child wouldn't have been so bad if I'd had other middle siblings to commiserate with? But for the most part, my childhood felt kind of lonely.

But, as what everyone else is saying...you do you, mama. Our lives are not your life and nobody knows what the future holds. Just be nice to that middle kid when you have one. :-)
posted by Elly Vortex at 3:15 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I am the mother of three (18,15,9) and I can't picture life without the third. (Like you, I didn't feel "done" and after the third I felt "done".) Having said that, these are the annoying things about having three: Driving all the kids to all their after school activities. Two was bad enough (of course they aren't all interested in the same activities) and with the third, I feel like I spend every afternoon/evening in the car, being taxi mom. Recipes, cooking dinner - they are mostly geared to 4 people. Cooking dinner for a family of 5 involves lots of math. Those services like Blue Apron where you order pre-prepped dinners to make your life easier, they are all geared for 4 or 6 or 8 servings, not 5. Traveling is more difficult for two reasons: Plane tickets are expensive anyway, but to have to buy 5 tickets instead of 4... ouch. Also, all hotel rooms are geared towards families of 4. Parents in one bed, kids in another, all in the same room. When they are little, you can stuff 'em all 3 in the same bed, but as they get older, that becomes problematic. Two hotel rooms is more expensive. It also annoys me in restaurants when they put the 5th person at a table for 4 by sticking a chair at the end, and there is barely room for everybody's dishes. Ah there's more but you'll find out. Enjoy the extra chaos.
posted by molasses at 4:25 PM on August 12


I would think about the logistics. I'm like you in that I do not know very many families with 3 kids where both parents work full-time jobs. Those that I do know have a driving au pair or a grandparent that takes a nearly-daily active role in childcare/logistics.
As someone with an older child, I'd suggest that you think about how things will work when your kids are older. Yes, they're putting on their own clothes, but they require a lot more transport. There will be times where you will have 3 different school drop offs/pick ups. Unless you get a van, you'll never really be able to do carpools or bring a friend along with all of your kids in the car. As your kids get older and are involved in more afterschool activities, it is going to be quite difficult to get them to all the different places that they need to be without some additional help.
I'm not saying that it is impossible, but if I were in your shoes, I'd be hesitant to take on this additional logistical stress.
posted by k8t at 4:27 PM on August 12


I have three kids - three years apart then four years apart, with 7.5 years total between the youngest and the oldest. We didn't start out planning for three, but we're happy to have them all. The only thing I'd change is having them closer together. The interests of a 14-year-old girl and those of a 6-year-old boy don't often overlap in any meaningful way.

One thing to keep in mind that will sound flip but isn't: going from two to three kids means moving from man-to-man to a zone defense. With two kids, it is easy to divide and conquer. Each kid gets a parent to read stories at bedtime, you can take one to gymnastics while your partner takes the other to basketball, everyone is occupied and accounted for. With a third child, there's another child who needs to be managed/cared for/supervised/hauled around. When the third is wee, of course, it's not so bad. But when they get mobile and have their own ideas, get used to not quite catching all of that soccer game or ballet performance. It isn't impossible, it's just a thing to keep in mind.

I drive a 7-seat SUV. I'm the at-home parent and I am in my car a LOT. It requires organization, but it is doable. My husband works a lot. If I were working full time, we'd likely need significant help in the form of a nanny and carpools and the like. That is also something to keep in mind.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 4:50 PM on August 12


I'm the eldest of three, and my father is one of three, and I'm a hard no on this question. Don't have three children. Sure, sometimes it works out and you end up with siblings who form a clique together or whatever, but in my experience, it's far more common to end up with one kid who's dad's favorite, and one kid who's mom's favorite, and one kid who...well, your grandparents like you.

One kid will forever be getting the short end of the stick, because there's no way for you to be at a baseball game and a choir performance and home with a sick kid, all at the same time. One kid will forever be getting left out for being too young or too old. One kid will have their needs ignored because you're a big girl, and we have to help the babies or because they're so young that they won't remember. One kid doesn't get to hang out with their friends after school because someone has to be there when the littler kids get off the bus, or while you go to that dinner meeting, or whatever. I'm the disabled kid in my family, and none of it was diagnosed until adulthood because everyone assumed I was complaining about things because I wanted attention. You can tell yourself that you're going to somehow avoid all of this, but I honestly think that it's literally impossible.

Everyone gets misty-eyed about the possibility of adult friendships between siblings, but that's a crapshoot at best. My mother is part of a huge family, and she gets on great with about three of her siblings--and pretty much doesn't speak to the others save once or twice a year. My father's brother and sister didn't speak to each other for decades. My siblings and I are all in our thirties, and I talk to my sister maybe once every two months, and my brother not at all if I can avoid it.

I feel really strongly that three kids/two parents is the absolute worst family dynamic, and as a kid who came from that dynamic, I sort of side-eye anyone who actively chooses it real hard. You have two kids. Think about one of them writing this answer thirty years down the road, and don't do this.
posted by mishafletch at 5:08 PM on August 12 [9 favorites]


What helped me in deciding whether to have a baby was to run the numbers. I got a rough idea of what it would take to have, feed, shelter, clothe and school a child (on my own) and realized that we would both be poor. I knew I wouldn't cope with that well - either organizationally or emotionally - and I realized it wasn't right for me.

At the time I was sobbing in my therapist's office about it. Now I value my freedom and the relative ease of my life, and I know I made the right decision. And I know that by not having a kid I've not increased by one the booming population which contributes to global warming and other issues. Obviously everyone can't do that or there would be no more humans, but I feel positive about it.

(Actually come to think of it, it was seeing a therapist that helped me seek out the information I needed and come to a decision).
posted by bunderful at 5:11 PM on August 12


I'm the oldest of five, and have 3, all roughly two years apart. My oldest is six, so we're in the thick of it. Unless you really, really want a third, or you can wait until your second child is 4 or so, I'd say no.

Three is hard, and I honestly think the only way it works for us is because I'm incredibly fortunate and can afford to not work and have childcare on top of it. And even then, I'm seriously contemplating a fourth because three very young children is an inherently unstable dynamic. I'm lucky that my oldest two are best friends, but it's really hard on the youngest. Someone always feels shortchanged, and none of them are old enough to truly understand the concept of fair.

You can make it work; people do, but you are working full time you are going to need help, and if you rely on your older children to provide that help, there's a huge potential for serious dysfunction.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:18 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I'm a dad of three (girl, 11; boy, 8; girl, 6) and I love my kids but--to be honest--I really wish there were only two of them. The difference between one and two kids is nothing compared to the difference between two and three. I find it really draining to be keep up with everything; hard to give everyone enough attention. Just getting everyone where they need to be is a constant challenge. We don't have grandparents near by, and we don't have funds for after school care, so I'm rushing constantly. In our particular family, part of the issue is that I am a much more active parent than my wife, so there's an imbalance there that is exacerbated with the third kid. If you and your spouse are both equally committed, maybe it won't be as bad. But from my perspective, the both-parents-working, three-kids, no-family-help thing is constant stress. We're managing, but I look enviously at one and two-kid families.

Our saving grace is that number three is the world's most personable, affectionate, adorable, funny child and thank God, because while three is tough, she is amazing. The problem is, having a super amazing third child is not a guarantee.

There are obviously lots of happy families of five, and you could be one, too. But it's loads harder than two kids. Two is twice as much work as one; but three is three times as much work as two.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:36 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


You're basically asking people to predict the future. The Optimists will say YES, the Pessimists will say NO.

Listen to your gut, and go along with it.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:59 AM on August 13 [5 favorites]


Oldest of three girls, about 2 years between each kid. Both my parents worked full time, we did live close to family. My parents were also able to arrange their schedule to minimize daycare needs, so they didn't see a lot of each other during the week. I'm sure that was hard on them, (relationship wise and functionally being a single parent during the week) but it worked for us as a family.

I like being one of three. My two sisters are a bit closer to each other than they are to me, but not to the point I feel left out: they happened to live nearer to each other for several years and I'm more introverted.

As kids we got along to varying degrees, we can have short tempers, but I don't think we ever wished one of us wasn't around and we never stayed mad for more than a day. More or fewer siblings wouldn't have made things much smoother (or rockier).

My parents were good at giving each of us the attention that we needed. A few times a year we'd get a day alone with each parent. I think that one on one time helped them figure out how each of us ticked. It also helped us kids know, deep down, that things balance out in the end. Kid A is getting more attention right now because of X reason, kids B and C will get their turn. Things need to be fair on the whole, not exactly the same at every single moment.
posted by ghost phoneme at 8:02 AM on August 13


Middle child of three here. Grew up nearby to one set of grandparents (although not so close that they provided regular childcare), parents both worked full-time (and my dad often worked second shift). NGL, it was not fun a lot of the time. 2 of us would always be picking a fight with the other, I ended up sharing a room with my sister until we went away to college (not inherently terrible, but felt deeply unfair and we were not happy roommates), and I just remember childhood involving a lot of vying for parental attention and approval. I developed an identity as the quiet, observant one, and have generally felt like the favourite that was inevitably neglected because I didn't cause trouble or need the level of care that my siblings did. I can imagine it would have been different if my parents had had more help or a better plan for dealing with us, but it didn't turn out so rosy. None of us are close now.

My second child will be two in about six months, and the past year and a half has been the toughest chunk of time on my life. So I am having to have some deep conversations with myself about closing the door on a third forever. I love babies, and I love my two, but I hate being pregnant, I am a huge introvert, the world is going to hell, kids are expensive, and I just have to admit to myself that we cannot emotionally, logistically, and financially handle adding a third into the mix. My husband is one of two, so he doesn't really grok quite how difficult it could be, but he knows what my childhood was like and mostly gets it.

You know best whether your family is complete or not. But I hope you won't discount the answers here which have highlighted the potential issues with more than 2 - I think it will take planning and intentionality to make sure everyone feels safe and happy. Best of luck.
posted by catch as catch can at 12:27 PM on August 13


I'm the oldest of three and trying to make this decision right now. I have a huuuuge spreadsheet with most of your points, plus tons more pros and cons you haven't thought of :) I'd be happy to memail with you if you want to think through some more of the implications.

One thing I haven't really seen here though is thinking about what your two kids are like personality-wise. My mom told me that part of the reason they had my youngest sister is that she felt my middle sister needed a younger sibling to get her out of her own head a little bit, which I think was a really insightful observation about her. I think my baby is likely to fade into the background as a middle kid, and one of the main reasons I think 3 might be a bad idea is that I want to make sure we give him the attention he deserves.

My parents made it work without local family because at no point in our childhood did both parents work full-time outside the home. My mom was a SAHM for almost ten years and then my dad started a business from our garage. Even with that level of flexibility, my mom leaned a lot on the kindness of our friends' parents and our neighbors, and the fact that our school opened up campus at 6am and allowed us to remain on campus until the gates were locked at 5pm. Many suburban public schools are no longer so flexible - the school where my kids will go opens up fifteen minutes before classes begin and if you're not enrolled in an extremely oversubscribed afterschool program you're not welcome on campus starting 20 minutes after the last bell. I basically have no idea what the hell I'm going to do once school starts. If you haven't already looked into how afterschool care works in your school district, that should be something you research before you start trying.
posted by potrzebie at 1:01 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


We have three sons, just less than two years between each, so 3.5 years between oldest and youngest. No family to help, both of us working, though with flexible jobs. Honestly, having three kids under four is a bit draining, though you will never have to suffer that given the current ages of your two. Ours have all graduated from college now, so we have gone through the entire process of raising them, and my wife and I have never regretted having the three. They have always got on well with each other and still emotionally close (not physically as they live on three separate continents and none of them within a thousand miles of us — thank goodness for Skype!).

The problem is that everything is so subjective and individual; if everything goes well, it's easy, but life can throw curves, which you know already with the first. However, there is no specific reason to believe that if you are doing well with two and want three that it will suddenly become a nightmare. The expenses go up, the logistics get a little harder and you can be stretched a little thinner, especially at the beginning, but there are compensations. You are better at parenting now, the kids have more built in playmates, hand me downs are fine when the kids are young and so on.

For some people there are very good reasons NOT to proceed with having the third, but when most of the cons are on the order of "we won't fit into a restaurant booth" you don't have those issues. Ultimately, it's an emotional decision not an entirely rational one, so do what you think will make you (both as an individual and as a family) happiest. If you need the encouragement of someone who managed to make it work and doesn't regret it in the least, I say, if it's what you and your husband want, go for it!
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 2:06 PM on August 13


I'm from a big family and liked being the older sister to several younger siblings. And I know several families of three children that did / are doing great. But also, just re-read your question and listen to yourself. Decisions like these, I don't think it's possible to make with your brain because there is no way to think of all the pros and cons. Pursuing one's dreams is a scary thing to do. It's understandable to fear that fate might smite you. But unless you're feeling the worries in your gut the same way you feel the dreams, I would say, that's a real signal.
posted by salvia at 2:10 PM on August 13


I am the youngest of 6 but with huge age gaps and a second marriage so there were only 3 of us at home by the time I was old enough to remember stuff. I liked it fine. I'm not close with my siblings now due to distance and me being a changeling or something (very different to the others) but having them both growing up was nice. My mother died when I was 24 and having 5 siblings was utterly fantastic for coping with that as we all had multiple people to lean on. My mum stayed at home until I was 11 then worked part time when I was at school and in the evenings.

I have 3 kids of my own. They are 11, 7 and 4. Two of mine have autism, the eldest has asperger's and ADHD, the youngest has severe classic autism. The eldest was only diagnosed after the youngest was born so the possibility of disability wasn't part of our decision. I am a stay at home parent and with our family I don't think much else would work. Childcare for children who need 1:1 support is astronomically expensive and having a central person coordinating (and doing) his therapies, financial benefits, social assistance and education gives his the best possible chance of a fulfilled future. I miss working and never intended to be a stay at home parent for the foreseeable future but here I am.

FWIW third births are often wild cards. I had all 3 of mine at home, with very fast labours. But after the 3rd I had a big bleed, a trip in an ambulance to hospital, 3 nights in hospital then home for a week before another big bleed due to a uterine infection which was just shading into sepsis when I got in for my second hospital stay. No such complications with my first 2 so there you go.

My family is the story people tell each other as the reason people shouldn't have families - multiple children with issues of varying severity, mum can't work anymore due to caring role, likelihood one child will never live an independent life. And honestly, I wouldn't take it back. I love them, having them has taught me tons that I couldn't have learned any other way and am grateful to know. I don't regret them for a second. And lots of people think "oh I couldn't cope if that happened to us..." But we couldn't cope either. Who can honestly cope brilliantly with even a single healthy new born, at first? Nobody. You learn.

If you really want a third and you have one then you will find your own way to make it work.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 3:09 PM on August 13


I have 3 who are currently 10, 8 and 6. I had my last one at age 40, which is to say, you've still got plenty of time. Maybe spread them out a bit more. It will definitely make it easier!

The ultimate litmus test for us was, when we look around our dining room table, is someone missing? And there was. So we had a third.

When you're done, you're done, and you will know it. Have a third. Just don't think you have to have one RIGHT NOW.
posted by wwartorff at 5:06 PM on August 13


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