Raising three kids is not simply raising two kids plus one more. A three-kid family has a different dynamic, and it’s not the default dynamic of most family situations.

Event tickets are sold in packs of four.

If you’ve just had your third kid, you might not be able to fit your kids’ car seats and boosters in your family car.

You’ll go to a restaurant and be asked to wait a minute.

They’ll push a table over for you while a family of four is seated immediately.

You’ve exceeded the norm. Four is a tidy number and five is not, but since when has raising children been a tidy process? As we celebrate with Tsh as she joyously expands her family, I would like to share my observations on caring for a family of five. Our children are four-years-old, two-years-old, and four-months-old, respectively, and here are some lessons I’ve learned by having three children.

Count your blessings.

Yes, you just made life so much more complicated than your friends who have enough hands to hold each of their children’s hands when crossing the street. You have two kids to hold onto as well as a stroller to push; one day you’ll have a kid holding hands with a kid holding hands with you.

For now, you can babywear and free up a hand for each of your elder two, but the math is clear: your youngest isn’t even walking yet, but you can’t keep a hand on each child.

They will need to rely on each other more, and you will need to trust them to do so. But think of that image of them walking together in a line and remember that they are gifts to each other as much as they are to you.

Encourage an alliance.

Your older two deserve to maintain their regular activities, to get outside and play, to read and be read to —  without always having to wait for you to feed the baby or shush the baby or put the baby down to sleep. Figure out how many ways you can accommodate their needs while you simultaneously tend to the baby, but also encourage them to work together.

Can your eldest read to your second child? Can they push each other on the swing? Foster their sibling relationship in this unique time, before the baby can join in on all of their activities.

Photo by The Bywaters

Find time for each child.

Then, when the baby is finally asleep, make sure you take over the reading, and wrap each of your elder two around you. They will need just as much physical affection as ever, and perhaps even more of your attention.

You won’t be able to devote your full attention to them every time they ask for it, but you can reward their patience. Read a third story at bedtime instead of the regular two. Sit out on the porch and share an orange after dinner. Seek out quiet moments so that the space for talking is available.

Watch your language.

Your second child now seems impossibly large. For so long you’ve thought of her as your baby, and now she’s been bumped up the line. As she defines her new role, help her by modeling positive language.

You don’t have to call her your middle child. Labels carry a lot of weight, and the “middle child” label doesn’t carry many positive connotations. Call her your second-born, or use gender to define her via her siblings as your first daughter or your only girl. Honor how special she is by introducing her in a way that everyone else will be able to see it, too.

Make the difficult decisions.

Sometimes the baby will cry just as the older two need you, too. It’s true outside your home and it’s true here, too — you can’t please everybody all of the time.

Make sure the baby is safe, and then take a minute to tend to your elders’ needs. They’ll remember feeling neglected if you always go to the baby first, but the baby won’t remember a thing if he cries for an extra minute. And you’ll make it up to him with extra snuggles at midnight. And 2 a.m.  And 4 a.m…

Photo by Arslan

Remember why you’re here.

You’re here, a mama of three, because you can do this. Because you have this much love in your heart. Because you believe in yourself, your partner and this family.

My second daughter’s birthday is December 11th, which means she was nine months old on a September 11th. I spent a lot of time thinking about that milestone; that the day she transitioned to longer “out” than “in” was the day we commemorated such violent tragedy.

My daughter became more a child of the world than of my womb on the anniversary of the day I remember hearing people ask how anyone could bring children into such a world. We asked the opposite question: How could we not?

The gift of your three children to the world tips the scales towards greater compassion, greater ecological care, and greater humanity.

Savor the moment.

Caring for yourself, tending to your marriage, and now being responsible for three little ones — it can be a lot. There will be chaos, and you will be more tired than you believed possible. But enjoy it.

My own mothering mentor, whose children are now in their 20s, tells me to remember that the days are long but the years are short. They won’t always need you as much as they do now, and then you’ll miss their little hands and constant closeness.

It is my hope that when I reach that period I’ll look back on these crazy days of their childhoods and think, We did it. We got through it with love and patience, and we raised them well.

What is the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?