Mothers of three reported higher levels of stress than even mothers who had more than three children in the house.
Is there a magical number of kids that every family must have? Well, it’s certainly not three. Families with three children not only have more toys lying in the corners of the house and more dirty socks lying behind the couch, but it also adds way more stress to the plate. But this does not mean that having more than three children means more stress.
An exclusive TODAYMoms.com survey in 2013 collected responses from 7,164 mothers in the U.S., who gave an average of 8.5 for how stressed they felt on a scale of 1-10. The study revealed that mothers of three experienced the most amount of stress, while mothers of four or more kids claimed to have lower levels of stress.
Jill Smokler, blogger and author of Motherhood Comes Naturally (And Other Vicious Lies) said, “Going from one to two was an easy, breezy transition. Two to three, everything was turned upside down. I do not feel like I have it together. You only have two hands! Just crossing the street and not being able to physically hold all their hands I find tremendously stressful.”
Other findings of the study showed that 72 percent of mothers stress about their existing stress, while 90 percent of them stress about keeping themselves fit and active. One of the biggest causes of stress was that mothers find that they do not have enough time during the day to complete everything that needs to be done, which was claimed by 60 percent of the respondents.
As mothers say, handling two children can be a challenge. But when you have three little ones running around the house, it can be chaos. Andrea Bonior Ph.D., who wrote about how having three children is massively different from having two children said, “That’s three dyads going at any one time; three intricate emotional terrains; three possible grudges; three possible prank wars; three possible fisticuffs; three possible long, drawn-out retaliations after any one person deliberately farted on one other person’s science project.”
The main advantage you have with two kids in the house is that one parent can take on one while the other parent takes on the other. “You’ve heard it before: two children and two parents is a man-to-man defense. Three children and two parents, however, is a ‘what the #$%@ were we thinking?’ defense,” says Bonior.
Once again, the number can come in the way of simple but important things like bedtime stories. Dr. Bonior mentions that two children can comfortably take a spot on either side of a parent while he or she reads bedtime stories to children, but where would the third one fit in a situation like this?
When it comes to having a larger number of children, mothers somehow seem to get a better grip on things. Families become more confident and fall into a rhythm of getting the ball rolling when there is a large number of kids in the house. “The more children you have, the more confident you become in your parenting abilities,” said psychiatrist, Dr. Janet Taylor. “You have to let go… and then you’re just thankful when they all get to school on time.”
The number of children you have in the house can affect almost everything in the house. Every house can possibly be seen as an ecosystem of its own and the dynamics are largely affected by every member. Psychology Today says, “Each member must co-exist with every other member. Culture, the number of members, the number of children, and other elements all play a part in the overall ecosystem.”
Although big families are challenging too, they push children into learning the importance of pitching in and lightening the load for everyone else. According to Kelley Kitley, a psychotherapist, author, and mother of four, "They encourage each other, hold each other accountable, help out more to lighten the load at home, and the kids entertain each other."
Having three children in the house does not mean you can’t work things out. It’s still possible to get your kids to pitch in and it’s still possible to prioritize and see what works best for your family. For mothers, it’s especially important to learn to say no when you have to. Sometimes if you want to take a short-cut so that you can complete your task and also pay attention to your personal needs, then that’s okay.
“You have to be able to say no to your kids, to your spouse, to your friends sometimes,” said Dr. Taylor. “Instead of making the perfect lunch for your kids, go for a walk by yourself. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, take some deep breaths and focus on what you need.”
Another thing that she recommends is a simple exercise that would just take a few minutes out of your day. Take a sheet of paper and draw a pie-chart, highlighting how you spend your day doing various tasks. On the other side of the paper, draw another pie chart, but this time highlight the things that you would want to do instead of the things you put down on the first pie chart. See how different the first pie chart is from the second one, and see how you can make changes throughout the day. Get help from your partner and your children, and move closer to the second pie chart.