Earlier this year, a friend, just shy of bringing home baby #3, asked me a question I know I’ve asked myself on more than one occasion:
“Am I crazy to have more than two children?”
I was startled at first, mostly because our little town is packed with large families. But then I returned right back in my memory to my third baby shower, where I all but begged my friends with three kids to give me some guidance. The internet is not robust with such information. It’s mostly full of satirical prose on how mothers with more than two children will eventually lose their minds and need to be committed. An occasional article will go viral in support of large families, but it’s few and far between. Certainly not enough to comfort an anxious, expectant mother.
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Tips to Welcome New Siblings
There’s not a great deal of preparation we did with our older girls before we brought home each little sister. There were a handful of big sibling books that were good to read. While we waited and waited for the big question about how the baby ended up in my body in the first place, it never came. Each big sister selected a gift to bring to the new baby at the hospital, but this was really the extent of their involvement prior to bringing the new baby home.
I created a “special time” box for each big sister, filled with small activities that we could do together in the moments I could steal away from our newborn each day. We filled the boxes with puzzles, non-messy crafts, special dolls, and other items with small parts. Having that special “Time In” with each older sister as we transitioned to having another baby in the house proved significantly less stressful than I thought. It would only take 10-15 minutes, then the special box would go back into hiding until tomorrow. Our girls looked forward to it no matter when in the day our special time occurred.
Always a big fan of having a plan, I was eager to have a schedule in place before we added to the chaos by having another child. But, no matter what I planned, or scheduled, or how hard I tried to get everyone to stick to a routine, it was upended by one child or another. Lowing my expectations was crucial. Ultimately, we certainly had a clearer picture of the upheaval that occurs when introducing any new family member.
Taking Care of Mom When Bringing Home Baby
Most expectant parents are primarily focused on their children in the newborn phase, and rightly so. The fourth time around, I wised up and listened to some of my seasoned mommy-friends. Ample research points to lying-in with your new baby, which provides physical and mental health benefits for mothers. Plus, you get to focus your attention on bonding with your new baby instead of being overwhelmed by toddler music classes, rampant preschool viruses, and piles of laundry.
It bears repeating, but having low expectations does wonders for a mother’s mental health. Recognizing this season of life for what it is, complete with its discomfort, as well as its raw beauty, allows you the opportunity to truly embrace and, dare I say it, potentially enjoy these moments with your little ones. Instead of making myself a to-do list each day, I found that I was happy each evening once everyone was fed and still here with us. It’s important to take any tiny victory, as there will be time for slaying your checklists in the future. Giving yourself the compassion needed to heal will serve your family best down the road.
How Many Kids Should I Have?
A recent article in The New York Times discussed how travel serves to increase our carbon footprint. While the article was interesting, the Facebook comments really plagued me after I sifted through them. Many readers claimed that, in fact, it wasn’t travel that was leading to global warming, but instead, it was “irresponsible parents who drive gas guzzling vehicles to cart their many children around” who are destroying our planet. Attempting not to take this as a personal affront (which, honestly, you should never do with Facebook comments anyway), I reflected on the impact of having a larger family, both on my well-being and the world around me.
The Engineer and I knew we wanted four children from the start; not because it was a magical number for any particular reason, but that was the vision we had. In pre-marital counseling, I remember our priest’s words so clearly:
“It benefits the world and brings joy when parents have children that they have the capacity to love, care for, and bring up to serve the world around them.”
This has remained our mantra as we’ve added each daughter to our family. Four was definitely our number, and I pray that we live up to this ideal as they grow.
If I could offer any encouragement, it would be this: Don’t shy away from having the family you feel called to raise, no matter the size. If you feel at peace with your family at its current size, that’s probably the number for you. Even if you’re feeling exceptionally overwhelmed with your current number of children, it may help to picture how you hope your family will look in ten, twenty, even fifty years.
Personally, I felt pretty overwhelmed with three kids. Looking back, it was completely my life circumstance at the moment, plus the personality of my third child, that led to the overwhelming feelings. Now, having had four children for the past three years, I feel confident this is our number.
No two families are the same, and what works for us wouldn’t work for our child-free friends or our neighbors with nine under their roof. But, if I can offer a take home message to my readers, it would be that, no, you aren’t crazy. It’ll be just fine.