On having four

My youngest child turns four next week. He will have his first real birthday party! He has grown up in so many ways since his last birthday, when he was still in diapers, still in a crib (albeit with the back down so he could get in and out), and still using his “na-nas” (pacifiers). That said, even if he has grown up a lot, he is still marching to the beat of his own drummer. He has been doing this since he elected to send me into a very quick labor 8 hours before I was scheduled to be induced (I gave birth 19 minutes after we pulled into the hospital parking lot).

His birthday also marks four years of me being the mother of four children. Because he was a bit of a surprise, we never had a protracted should-we-have-a-fourth-kid discussion. Which may be just as well, because who knows what topics we would have hemmed and hawed about. There have been challenges. He has not been an easy kid. He has a lot of energy. He’s not big on sleep, though as he gets older, the downsides of this are mitigated (more specifically: he’s willing to watch videos on YouTube for an hour while we sleep in the morning). He’s insatiably curious, which means he runs his own science experiments: what happens if I do this? Here’s what happens: things get broken, or he gets hurt. This raises the stress dial on many situations.

But, boy is he cute. Incredibly bright. And so sweet when he wants to be.

And I really like having a big family! I recall reading the Anne of Green Gables books as a kid, and liking the image of grown-up Anne with her six children. Six would be a bit much, but four has been doable. I like turning around from the front seat of the minivan and seeing them all there. I like lining up four plates for weekend dinners, or setting up four stockings by the fireplace for Christmas. Lining up four coats and pairs of shoes…

Since I’ve been tracking my time since the little guy was 3 months old, I know that he has featured in many of my hours. I do sometimes wonder what I would have done with my time if the past four years had not been occupied by another little person. Maybe I would have paid more attention to my bigger kids? (though I hardly think they’re neglected!) Maybe I would have read more books? Perhaps we would have done more travel, but we’ve actually done a reasonable amount of big-kid-only travel in the last two years (Hawaii, the UK, Yellowstone…). While in the abstract it seems like having a fourth kid might have distracted me from work, my particular work is such that this hasn’t been the case. I write about time management. I did not have a fourth kid to boost my personal brand, but people definitely cite it as a credential. My speaking career is in a far better place now than it was four years ago. So who knows. Time is always filled with something. I would have filled the hours in some fashion. So I may as well have gotten this fascinating little person to fill my time with.

Obviously, not everyone wants four kids. Even if people have 3, there are things to consider in having another one. You might need a bigger car (we wound up buying a minivan). Childcare costs aren’t negligible. A lot of the 4-kid families I know wind up hiring at least a part-time sitter (or getting a lot of help from relatives), even if one parent stays home. This is because dragging little kids to older kids’ activities is incredibly frustrating and, depending on the age split, can lead to pushed-back bedtimes. There is a lot of schedule coordination. Many logistics. Two of my boys share a bedroom, even in our not-so-small house. I think this is fine, but we’ll see if they wind up harboring resentment about it.

I think there are upsides for my kids in having lots of siblings — though again, it’s complicated. The little guy is not always the easiest playmate (see above about breaking things) but he’s getting better. And my kids always have someone to play with, even if that sometimes means someone to compete with. When they do all play together and have fun together, it’s a joy to watch.

Here’s hoping the next few years bring a few more instances of good playing, and fewer early wake-ups!

Photo: My boots, plus the kids’ four sets of boots

16 thoughts on “On having four

  1. “Time is always filled with something…. So I may as well have gotten this fascinating little person to fill my time with.”

    Yes, this! I have 6 kids. I wish more people thought like you! Very few parents of grown kids regret having them.

    1. @Jennifer – I think that was the point of the book “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids” — unfortunately, we make the decision to have children when we’re in the hardest stage of it. It’s hard to make the decision from how many people you want around the table when you’re 70.

  2. As you know, I’m a mom of 4 myself! Agree with so much of what you’ve said. And while there really is no one right way to have a family, I often think of this piece by Frank Bruni when I’m feeling overwhelmed/frustrated. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/opinion/sunday/bruni-the-gift-of-siblings.html

    “My siblings have certainly seen me at my worst, and I’ve seen them at theirs. No one has bolted. It’s as if we signed some contract long ago, before we were even aware of what we were getting into, and over time gained the wisdom to see that we hadn’t been duped. We’d been graced: with a center of gravity; with an audience that never averts its gaze and doesn’t stint on applause. For each of us, a new home, a new relationship or a newborn was never quite real until the rest of us had been ushered in to the front row.”

  3. I was very happy when we had 4 kids, life and our family felt full and complete. Then, after 2 years of my husband and children begging for a 5th, I had another baby. Life with 5 feels basically the same as life with 4, except that the bigger kids are such a HUGE help with the baby that it almost feels unfair to parents with only little kids! My resentment at cutting back on travel has been cured by hiring a nanny who is more than happy to travel with us, so we will travel across the country a few times AND internationally this year, just taking all the kids (and the nanny) along for the ride.

    1. @Jessica M – how wonderful! Definitely at some point the older ones can help with the little ones. I would imagine that at 5 kids in the spread is such that it starts to be the case. And how great that you’re able to travel internationally with all of them too!

  4. I appreciate your perspective. I am an only child & currently pregnant with baby #3. I have always wanted 4 kids. Even though I often feel slightly like I am losing my mind on an almost daily basis, the good outweighs the hard. We have these amazing little people that we get to help mold & watch grow into our future. Not having experienced siblings myself, when I watch my 2 kids together I feel an ache of missing out on such a wonderful bond. I’m so thankful my kids get to experience it & I get to be an observer.

    1. @Amy – I have two brothers, but they’re quite a bit older and younger than me, so there wasn’t so much close playing growing up. It’s been fun to watch my kids truly be playmates (because the gaps are much smaller).

  5. Maybe it’s a bit of the “grass is always greener” after reading this, but I’d love to have more kids. We’re tremendously blessed to have two beautiful boys given that it took many years and thousands of dollars in fertility treatments (we’ve never actually added it up but it’s scary to consider how big that number would be). As a result, we are older parents, which brings its own interesting perspective. I like to think that our kids are loved just a bit more than other kids given how hard we had to work to have them 😉 but it doesn’t feel good when we’re mistaken for grandparents in this lovely middle-of-the-country place we live. I’m also an officer in my company and I have a 4-yr old – certainly not unheard of, but it provides me a lot more flexibility than when I was rising in the ranks. While we were working so hard and so painfully to become parents and everyone around us was becoming a parent, we traveled. For every failed IVF, we planned a trip. We took some amazing trips around the world while we were in our 30s – trips that many people take after they’re retired. It fed our wanderlust and we now are instilling that in our kids, who started traveling around the world with us as toddlers. Everyone has a different path and I certainly didn’t expect ours to be what it turned out to be, but I’m grateful for it!

    1. @Shelley- your trips sound amazing! I would like to do some longer trips and I know I probably could figure out a way, but it’s challenging (and four kids make it more so…speaking of the “grass is greener” phenomenon. I’m hoping it will become easier as the kids get older).

  6. So timely to read as I sit nursing our third baby. He’s now 10 weeks, but we’ve already discussed if we’re “done” or not. My husband is inclined to stop and I’m on the fence. I’ve always wanted a larger family but man. Even with an easy baby like this one, newborns are tough! This post is a good reminder not to make decisions based on the short term challenges!

    1. @Riley- congrats on your new little one! If you’ve made it to three, I don’t think four is appreciably more difficult 🙂

  7. Hi Laura, beautiful post. I’d like to read your thoughts on all the stories we tell ourselves about motherhood (and how we can turn them around).
    By Googling “motherhood is…” the top result is “hard”.
    I only have two, but I’m wondering: how much of this exhaustion is real, and how much is it a product of the stories we tell ourselves?
    Thanks
    Natalia

    1. @Natalia – I think it’s true that parenthood can be tiring (parenthood – not just motherhood). And I also think that the stories we tell ourselves can make it worse. These things can both be true!

  8. This is a very timely post for me. I have 3 children. Age 4.5, 35 and 1.5. For four years no baby arrived at all and I so when I finally got pregnant I was so thrilled and so relieved I said Im never going to stop! I always wanted four, for no other reason other than I have 3 siblings myself. My husband imagined he would have maximum 2 as he is has one sibling. When we got together he used always say max 3 and I would say min 3. Now I have had 3 in quick succession and I do feel a bit like I’ve been in the trenches the past 4 years . Its been fantastic and fun and I would have it no other way….but I guess you could say the novelty has worn off. Baby 3 isn’t a great sleeper either. I guess it’s just I was always so certain that I wanted at least 3 that it wasn’t really a discussion. For a fourth…ufff..im not sure. Im turning 40 this year and Id like to make a decision either way and draw a line in the sand. But honestly on a daily basis I could say 10 times I want a fourth and 10 times no way am I having a fourth. I don’t think a fourth would change my life drastically but it would keep me in this baby phase for longer….
    I REALLY like your phrase – I would have filled the hours in some fashion. So I may as well have gotten this fascinating little person to fill my time with….Maybe I should take that attitude.
    Maybe you can decide for me Laura 🙂 ha ha!

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