How does the third child change your life?
May 14, 2014 9:13 AM   Subscribe

How does the third child change your life?

We're thinking about having a third child and just can't make up our minds so obviously I'm looking for advice/decision from the Metafilter. I can't rationally explain why our life would be better with three children but I also can't find non-selfish arguments for not having a third child. We have two beautiful daughters (2.5 yo and 1 y.o) and looking at how cool, smart, beautiful and overall lovely they are (despite having their moments) I feel like we should have another child. And on the other hand there's the pregnancy and the sleepless nights and the financial aspect and the disadvantage to my career and the fact that we'll have even less time to ourselves and for each other...

So help me decide... tell me, how did your life change with that third child?
posted by barrakuda to Human Relations (34 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder whether an unspoken aspect of your decision is hoping that Three will be a boy; sometimes that's difficult for modern people to admit because no one wants to sound like they don't value their girls. For what it's worth, this internet stranger believes that wanting your family to include children of both genders is completely legitimate.
posted by carmicha at 9:27 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

You go from playing a man-to-man to a zone defense. (Father of 4 with 5 years between kids)
posted by Cuspidx at 9:28 AM on May 14, 2014 [19 favorites]

Cuspidx has got it. We have three - now 24, 21 & 19. Number 3 didn't sleep through the night until he was 2 unlike his sisters so we were zombies for a while there. Other negatives - juggling 3 different sets of sports, music lessons and the like was complex, expensive and crazy making even though we were pretty restrained about how many things anyone did. Two in college at the same time is a budget killer. Someone was always on the outs. Going from 2 to 3 was as hard as going from none to 1. All sorts of things are packaged from families of 4 - with 5 that was messier - trivial but noticeable.

The pluses - my kids are great - I love them to bits and they're all really different people. We've learned and shared different things driven by each kid's different temperament, interests and abilities. I enjoyed pregnancy and babyhood and toddlers and my husband is as involved a parent as I am - that last is key because 3 is way harder than 2. And yeah ultimately it is a selfish decision and it needs to be because it's a challenge. And to counter Kruger5 we knew very shortly after #3 was born that we would NOT have a 4th for a number of reasons.
posted by leslies at 9:44 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have three boys. When I had two boys, sure, they fought, but they got on like wildfire for the most part. Teaming up to get into trouble, backing each other up to try and get out of it. They played well together for hours and when there were fights they were relatively simple to figure out. Age difference was 15 months. Not sure if that makes a difference.

Along came third boy, four years after the second. They adored him, but older bros maintained their close bond for the most part. Once third child hit school age (5-6), the fireworks started. Fights became "They're ignoring me!" And might be the middle/youngest teaming up on the oldest or some other variation. No matter what happened, they would all blame the others, and it got really tough figuring out what was going on.

With the first two it felt much more scary, to me, as a fairly young mom. I was more inclined to sneak in and ensure they were still breathing at night, or panic if they hurt themselves. Once the third came I didn't fully relax, but it seemed so much easier. Of course my third child slept through the night sooner, walked sooner, talked sooner. They say the early development is normal for kids who have older siblings to learn from.;dr version: Fights between two kids are a cakewalk compared to fights between three. Expect more singling out and teaming up during battles - always one on the outs with the other two. Easier parenting the third time around in some ways - harder in others. Obviously YMMV!
posted by routergirl at 9:47 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like we should have another child. Then do! We have three children. I thought we were done at two, but I had a very profound and personal experience that led us to having a third. The reason I thought we were done at two are the very reasons you are hesitant - lack of sleep, lack of time, etc.

How has the third changed our lives? I can't say we didn't have to deal with the pregnancy and the sleepless nights and the financial aspect and the disadvantage to my career and the fact that we'll have even less time to ourselves and for each other. Of course it's hard, but so worth it. Our lives changed for the better, even amid the chaos, tiredness. He's an awesome kid. He's strong, and so so giving. He's constantly doing nice things for others. He's good at bringing my 2nd child out of his shell. He's great at pushing my 1st child's buttons. He's my little buddy always. He's always up for a snuggle and a movie. He keeps me active. He's not idle and demands the rest of us be engaged as well.

Day-to-day life didn't change that much, honestly. My oldest was 5 when he was born, the second oldest was 3. However, having three small children was hard, but I'm glad I had them "fairly" close together. Having three was a bit more overwhelming than having 2. Lots of little people with lots of needs and demands. But you adapt. And the older children learn how to be great helpers.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:48 AM on May 14, 2014

Just chiming in to say there's nothing selfish about not having another child. Arguments could be made that it's a selfish thing to add to our population. So either way, don't let concerns about selfishness into it.
posted by stray at 9:49 AM on May 14, 2014 [20 favorites]

I haven't found that adding a third child has been the tsunami that some people seem to suggest (and I vaguely feared) it would be. Ours are 11, 8 and 5, and the 5-year-old has only been with us about a year, so we're a little further along the path than you. To wit:

Bedtime takes a little longer.

There's a lot more silliness and laughter in our house.

The kids are learning to compromise even more with each other.

There seems to be way more laundry than should reasonably be added by one child. Ditto dirty dishes.

Extracurriculars take up more time -- additional sports/music lessons, etc.

We love it and are having a blast. I'm not sure I follow Kruger5's logic, but I can definitely see the appeal of having more kids when you're really enjoying the ones you already have.
posted by BurntHombre at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ah, Sassyfras has a good point with the ways your third can affect your other two in positive ways. My third child has this amazing way of fitting in perfectly in very different ways with my oldest and middle kids. My oldest/middle sons are very different people, and the youngest can adapt to (or push the buttons of) either one with ease.
posted by routergirl at 9:53 AM on May 14, 2014

I have three sons, they're all grown up. One of the things that was wonderful about having three was that they took turns going through bratty stages. I always had two sweeties. They seemed to know that I couldn't handle two brats at the same time.
posted by mareli at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are many ways but the thing I am dealing with today.

Booking hotels, cruises, vacations are more difficult! Two double beds are easy to find. Finding lodging for 5 is a whole 'nother ball game. Makes it very pricey.

Also you go from a car to something with 3 row seating. Three kids in car seats (then booster seats) just don't seem to fit in a car.
posted by beccaj at 10:21 AM on May 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think having a third child also depends on your personality type as well. My aunt, who is a total sweetheart, is also an extreme extrovert who grew up in a very large family. She loved being part of a big close group, and knew she wanted lots of kids. She had three kids total.

Her first two were about a year and a half apart in age. She had a miscarriage, then finally number three came along about four years after her second child. The miscarriage made her realize she really, really wanted a third child, and because of her very sociable personality, she liked taking them to activities, being social with them, etc. It was a big adventure, and it worked for them.

My family's more introverted and much quieter on the whole. My parents were older, and decided that two kids were plenty. They had also been only children themselves, and I don't really think they knew how to handle two of us sometimes, let alone a third!

Everyone in my immediate family needs their space, and with five, we wouldn't have that. There would have had to been room-sharing, and a bigger car, etc. It seemed less overwhelming sometimes, which I appreciated growing up. It also made it a good deal easier to split something with my brother since halves or odds/evens often worked perfectly!
posted by PearlRose at 10:26 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

This doesn't directly answer your question, but we tried to have a third kid and for assorted reasons gave up trying.

It's too late to have one now, and all those reasons we had still make sense today, but I am nevertheless a little sad that we didn't manage to make it work, and I think I'll be a little sad about it forever.
posted by mattu at 10:29 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not a parent, but the oldest of three. The best thing about having three of us was that there was still someone to play with if I was mad at one sibling, but it wasn't like there were so many of us that we couldn't all be close.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:39 AM on May 14, 2014

Our kids are girl (7), boy (5), and girl (3 years old today)!

I adore our third kid, but I admit I am one of the people who feels that three is significantly different than two. The logistics mentioned upthread are true. You really need a bigger vehicle, and getting a hotel room that allows five together is surprising difficult. Three is when I really started feeling the pinch in our middle class budget. Reliable cars that seat five comfortably, (especially with car seats and boosters) are noticeably more expensive. Babysitters that are willing to tackle three at once are also harder to find.

I feel like the overall noise level in our house more than doubled with the third. That might not bother some people, but it does wear me down. This survey suggest three is the most stressful number of kids to have, and I can believe that. There is always something that needs to be attended to.

On the plus side, ours do get along well, most of the time. I think the girl-boy-girl thing helps with that. The two sisters are natural allies in some ways, but it's also natural for the younger two to team up against the tyranny of big sister, or the older two to ally themselves against the "baby." I only had one sibling, and watching the shifting dynamics is really kind of fascinating. And yeah, like most parents, I think my kids are adorable and I'm glad they are here but....Life for us was a lot easier with two. I would never dissuade someone from having a third, but be prepared. The stress level was a huge jump for us. Having two felt about 25% more hectic than having one, but then the third kid tripled the difficulty.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:46 AM on May 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

We felt like the change from two to three was a bigger difference than when we went from one to two. We can't deal with problems by each taking one kid. They outnumber us now and one of us is usually responsible for at least two kids. The house seems much more chaotic.

The advantages have been that we enjoy having kids and love our youngest, the kids can play together in various combinations, and we handle certain issues much better the third time around.
posted by Area Man at 11:04 AM on May 14, 2014

I have three, with a larger age spread than yours. I am really happy I had three and have never had the three of them fight together, nor gang up on me (I have essentially been a single parent since pregnant with the third) We live in a thousand square feet so maybe being in each other's pockets has made us closer? Spending a decade pregnant/nursing hit my career but not in a devastating way (I am the sole breadwinner so I never stopped working), my parents were helpful with babysitting when the children were younger (as long as I drove the hour west to drop the kids off at their house and then an hour and a half east to go to work and then reverse after work...). I definately don't think the third added much in the way of costs, but I never had much money to spend on any of the children and they have never complained.
posted by saucysault at 11:23 AM on May 14, 2014

Lots of practical questions, but it really came down to this: If you have a third child, what do you think the odds are that you will be happy you did it, and what are the odds that you will regret it?

On the one hand, yes, this is a completely unfair question: you don't know what will happen, much less how you will feel about it. But if you generally have the minimum practical resources (money, space, time) - and chances are you wouldn't be asking the question if you didn't - you probably have a pretty good sense of the answer.

We thought we'd be happy to have a third. We are.

And on a practical point, once the middle child is in a booster, if you get the right ones, the two boosters and one car seat will fit in any car as long as it's compact (e.g., Sentra or Civic) or larger.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:13 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a child from a family of five children, it was awesome, and my siblings are my favorite people in life. Just in case you want the other perspective. =)
posted by stoneandstar at 12:51 PM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll just throw in there that having three children is easier than having two children and being pregnant. The transition from two to three was much easier than from one to two, also.

I don't regret having three at all, even though they were all very close in age.

One thing that changes is that so much in life seems designed for two kids. I wouldn't let that dissuade you but it is a thing.

You WILL have your hands full when they are little, but when they are older, at least in my experience, three is a LOT more fun. However it is true that interpersonal dynamics are a bit more complicated. YMMV.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:11 PM on May 14, 2014

Another child from a family of three, and my experience with it as a child was so negative that I swore to myself that I would never have three children. Two, fine. Four, maybe, if I accidentally had twins or something. But not three.

Every argument was two against one. There's always one kid who knows that they're no one's favorite. There's a huge difference between "stay home with [sibling who's a year younger]" and "babysit [sibling who's a year younger + sibling who's three or four years younger]". One kid is always going to get called to make sacrifices on behalf of the other two. Think of how much you like your oldest child, and think of how she'll feel when she gets ignored because the younger kids are younger and needier. Think of how she'll feel when she has to get a ride to softball and no one's there to cheer her on, because siblings two and three have hockey and soccer and they're younger, so they need more support. With three kids, you're always going to have to chose, and one of the kids is always going to be the one losing out. Even if you manage to balance it perfectly, you're going to be missing Something Important for one of them. Callie shot the winning goal! The lead actress barfed halfway through Act One and Meredith stepped in! You can't plan for stuff like that.

My siblings and I are all well into adulthood, now, and get along great. I like them both a lot. Do I feel that my relationship with them as adults was worth the psychological disadvantages of childhood and adolescence with them? Probably not.
posted by MeghanC at 2:00 PM on May 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'll give you the opposite view.

My parents were struggling with adding another kid, and were on the fence about it. I was 7, my sister was 4.5 and we were just getting to that point where we were self-sufficient.

They borrowed the neighbor's baby for the weekend.

So Saturday we kids woke up. I put the baby in the high chair and made scrambled eggs and oatmeal for us to eat. Then we watched cartoons. My parents woke up at around 10 and decided that life was pretty good just as it was and decided that one more kid would disturb the pretty sweet life they were beginning to lead.

My recommendation is borrow a baby. Even for an evening, and see where you are. Your kids are younger yet, so one more wouldn't be that big of a deal. But once everyone is toilet trained and sleeping through the night, it's a hard thing to relinquish.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:23 PM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

My wife and I have five kids. Adding a third isn't that much different than adding the 2nd one. The main difference: you can't hold three kids at a time, so if they are all little and hanging out with just one parent, one ends up feeling left out. Since my wife works weekends, I've had issues trying to keep every child feeling loved and like they have my attention.

Also - think of your car. Can you fit three car seats in the back? If not, you'd have to get something different. We settled for a minivan...
posted by tacodave at 3:09 PM on May 14, 2014

I wouldn't change anything about having three sons, but agree with other people that having 5 people for beds in hotels, quad chairlifts, or even in cars can be difficult. My youngest is the most sensitive of my him to pieces. That being said life would've been easier if we'd stopped at two. Financially it was harder, we were pulled in three directions for activities, thankfully we had two sets of retired grandparents to taxi kids as well. One thing most people are surprised at is that going from one to two children is tough, but I found going from two to three young kids was a piece of cake. All my boys are two years apart.
posted by OkTwigs at 3:36 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have two siblings and have zero regrets about that, and never noticed any issues with going out/vacationing etc related to it. I never felt like my parents were being unfair towards any of us just because there were 3 of us - they equally participated in our extracurriculars and spent time with each of us as equally as they could. We mostly just hung out with each other more so than being separate with my parents. I enjoy both my brothers' company and always have. My brothers had a much more adversarial and competitive relationship as kids and they must have been incredibly difficult for my mother to deal with, but I think that would have been the case even if it was just the two of them, and if it had been either one of them and just me, it wouldn't have happened. I don't think it's about having 3 per se as much as about the specific 3 that you get, who may or may not like each other and get along, but that's not something you can predict. We are all incredibly different and it's nice to have people in the family who have such different talents and who I can go to to talk about different things or to do different things with, if I want to.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:54 PM on May 14, 2014

I'm like Meghan_C, except I don't get along well with my siblings now either (I met someone who met my sister as an adult, and knew her as a child, and knows her partner - the intro about me was apparently the same all three times "GA is my sister, she's a fucking bitch"). I see them, occasionally catch up, but I don't enjoy time with them unless it's limited (lunch is fine, a whole day is borderline, a weekend is fucking vile and I leave swearing I'll never do it again unless I spend most of the time by myself). Compounding it was that the youngest is the only boy so there were some really ugly gender roles and stereotypes getting played out with kids who didn't fit it at all (I'm too butch, my brother too femme, even though we're both hetero, we just didn't perform right).

This definitely plays into why my daughter is an only child, even though she's amazing and having another kid like her would be awesome.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:42 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not harder than two unless your oldest still requires as much supervision as a baby. You learn to do things with one arm that used to take two, and you're not worse for it. You spend a little more time dealing with children as a group in exchange for adding a lot to the web of relationships in your home. It's fun.
posted by michaelh at 6:47 PM on May 14, 2014

Also, I have to disagree with tacodave. You can totally hold three kids at once, and they love it. You just can't do it for a long time if you're as out of shape as me. What you can do for awhile is play "boat" and "bridge" and other games that involve all the children climbing on top of you.
posted by michaelh at 6:51 PM on May 14, 2014

I have five, and would, health and money possible, like to have another few. The logistics are a hassle - when we went from three kids to four, we had to take two cabs. Family tickets are usually for two adults and two children. OTOH, usually every additional child is cheaper because of hand-me-downs and sharing.

There is always a crisis though with more children. You rarely get all five perfectly happy and well, and more often, there are two or three struggling and so you end up having to constantly fire-fight. With two, you would have longer stretches of calm. Do you find that part of parenting interesting or exhausting? Do you need a calm and orderly household? Or are you comfortable with chaos and well-organised at managing that?

You won't regret the third child, but you might regret the calmer and easier life you could have had with two children.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:52 PM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Be prepared to wait forever for a table for five if you ever go out to eat. Traveling and hotel logistics weren't much fun either. I'm the youngest of three girls and while I love my sisters, I was always left out of everything because they are very close in age and I came along a bit later. That is why I have two kids and my third is a dog.

Seriously though, if you want a third enough all these challenges are nothing. I'm very glad now I have two big sisters!
posted by Requiax at 7:58 PM on May 14, 2014

We have a few close families we spend frequent time with who have two kids of similar ages to our three, and I think about the 'what if' sometimes.

I conclude again and again the wonderful, enjoyable complexity of relationships between all five of us is well worth all the increased costs of vacations, transport, housing, etc. Am facing that reality for this summer's plans.

Mathematically I guesstimate the combination of relationships is exponentially higher, and all of our lives have been enriched as a result. Impossible for us to imagine life going back to two kids.
posted by scooterdog at 8:08 PM on May 14, 2014

Quantify this thing as much as possible.

Are you ready to postpone career, empty nest, retirement, etc., that much longer? Spend (borrow?) the many thousands of dollars another kid will cost you over the years? Gamble that the bad stuff won't happen to you or the child when you risk yet again, but now that much older, all the stuff a woman risks when she gives birth?

Some more figuring to do: if you manage to raise a happy kid, that's years and years of happiness you are bringing into the world, but if you raise a sad kid, that's years and years of sadness you are bringing into the world. Be sure you're up to the task (happiness times three, not just two) and remember that a lot of it is out of your control anyway.

If the odds look OK to you, do it. You know what it's like to be a mother and you must like being a mother or you wouldn't be thinking this stuff.
posted by pracowity at 5:18 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I saw a couple people above say they didn't like being one of three siblings, so I thought I would chime in to say that my wife and I both grew up in three kid families and loved it. That's one reason why we had three kids.
posted by Area Man at 6:34 AM on May 15, 2014

MichaelH: True. I was thinking of specific times when you can't hold three. For example, I take all five of mine to church on Sunday mornings by myself (my wife works nights on the weekends). When we all stand to sing songs, three kids want to be held. I just can't do it, so I usually end up holding the littlest one and leaving the others to stand on the seats.
posted by tacodave at 3:06 PM on May 15, 2014

We recently decided not to go for a third. The way I see it, I've been a 2-time winner of the Healthy Child Lottery, and I do not wish to press my amazing luck any further.

Who are these people who can truly afford 3 kids? It will cost an estimated $241,080 for a middle-income couple to raise a child born in 2012 for 18 years, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Seriously, who has that kind of money? Something has to give.

With the 2 healthy kids we have, we can pay for most of their college while still saving for retirement, take them on decent vacations, and even afford fun extras like lessons and brand new shoes. This would definitely not be the case if we added a 3rd - I would absolutely be depriving my first two children. They would have fewer resources.

A concern no one here has mentioned yet is that the likelihood of female incontinence skyrockets after 3 pregnancies (among other risk factors, including being overweight like most Americans are). Most (but not all) moms who have birthed 3+ babies pee their pants a little or a lot when they sneeze or jump. This is something no one ever really talks about. Yeah. No, thank you.

I will add anecdotally that our kids play baseball, and there are a few kids on the team who are from families of 3 or 4 kids. Their parents have had to miss the vast majority of their games - because they are busy running their other kids around to various other activities. On the other hand, the parents who attend pretty much every game only have 1 or 2 kids. Now, maybe the kids whose parents don't show up to most of their games don't care, maybe they feel love from their parents in other ways, but still. If I were that kid, it would make me sad.

Long-winded way of saying if "selfishness" is your yardstick, OP, then it would be monumentally selfish of you to have a 3rd kid, because in no way would it be in the true best interests of your two daughters to cut their precious resources of your attention and money.
posted by hush at 10:45 AM on May 30, 2014

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