I remember one of the first times I ventured out of the house after my second daughter was born. It was winter and the height of the cold and flu season. My oldest was 16 months and not yet walking. My youngest was about a month and I had enough. I was getting out of the house.
For this virgin mission I decided on the local library story hour, 30 minutes of songs and stories and the chance to actually breathe fresh air and experience natural light. My ineptitude and natural fear of taking two little ones out on my own was palpable and when I explained to a chilled out mom that my kids were 15 months apart, she replied: “mine too, and I’m pregnant again.”
She’s nuts. I thought with some disdain as I imagined choosing to take on the insanity of a young toddler and a newborn again. Little did I know a mere 14 months later I would be popping out my third daughter and would be the mother to three under three.
Surviving three children born within 30 months is not for wimps. Like a soldier going to war, I had to (and have to) mentally prepare myself each day. The reality of being outnumbered three to one with a constant revolving set of needs and demands is something that takes a few deep breaths in the morning. With my children now aged two, three and four I have seen some sh*t (literally) and feel I can offer some advice. So here is my survival guide.
1. Get a Good Support System in Place
After we had my second daughter, my husband and I realized we needed time away from our kids and turned to our parents for help. My parents give us a weekly ‘date night’ and my husband’s parents take our children for the weekend about once a month so we have some ‘adult time’. The best thing I can give my kids is two parents who still love and respect each other and having time alone has been a huge blessing to our marriage. I reached out to my good friends who would come over to visit me because they knew it was too much for me to pack up the kids and go out, and adult conversation was a necessity. I also embraced The Ontario Early Years Centers where I spend some great time with my kids and with other parents (for FREE). The best part of these centers is the kids can play with paint and play dough and glitter and it is not messing up your house. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the resources around you.
2. Crying is Ok
When I was a new mom I would actually find myself running to my baby’s side before she even had a chance to cry. The littlest fuss and I would scoop her up and stuff my boob in her mouth. With each subsequent child I have learned that sometimes the kids will cry and it’s ok. Often it’s from being overtired or overstimulated and just like us moms, it can be cathartic. So unless the cry is preceded by the thump of falling out of bed, I wait for them to come to me.
3. Tantrums Happen
Become immune to whining. In my opinion, if kids know a little whining (or a full blown tantrum) will get their way, they will use it to their full advantage, usually in public, at your in-laws or during the family photo shoot. With my three little kids, they outnumber me and are more than happy to take me down, so I need to be the one in control. When my kids misbehave in public (often) I simply strap the tantrum-er into whatever device I have (stroller, car seat, shopping cart) and continue on with my business. If I am somewhere without any of these things, for example a playgroup, I find a quiet corner to place them a walk away. I know a lot of moms like the idea of a time in so we can hug out the feelings, but in reality when you have two toddlers and a newborn, you are halfway through a hug and you have at least one kid halfway across the mall. This is about survival and safety. A simple, “I don’t like this behavior,” is all they get out of me. People stare, so what? If you have three under three you need to get used to a lot of attention, especially from old ladies in the grocery store.
4. Get Your Sleep
I am a firm believer that a rested mom is a better mom so for me the answer with my second and third babies was co-sleeping. My first daughter slept through the night at three months, my second at 10 months and my 2 year old is still working on it. Whether naptime needs to be a family affair or you give yourself an early bedtime nothing spells a bad day like a tired parent.
5. Keep the Peace
I learned early on when my oldest two daughters were toddlers that if I am their referee now I will be their referee forever. I have learned to encourage them to ask each other to stop negative behaviors rather than react (we are working on it) but stepping back and allowing them to work out their own conflicts (this has resulted in baby fist fights) has saved my sanity.
6. Embrace the Chaos
You will be running 30 minutes late for the next five years, embrace it. You are now entering territory where the cute outfits have been replaced with second hand sleepers and shoes are on the wrong feet. Your house is likely always at least in a slight state of disarray and laundry is something of an afterthought. When you have three young kids it’s important to lower the bar. You are in survival mode. Don’t feel guilty if your kid’s first birthday party isn’t Pinterest worthy or if the sink is full of dirty dishes. As long as your kids are happy and healthy you are doing a great job.
7. Celebrate Milestones
When you have three little ones depending on you for everything it is easy to get overwhelmed. With every milestone you are closer to your own freedom so cheer on those early potty attempts and embrace rubber boots with handles. Let the shoes stay on the wrong feet and three year olds pick out their own outfits. It will benefit all of you.
8. Encourage Independent Play
I remember the advice given to me by my grandmother when I brought my first baby home. She said to allow the baby some time alone to play from an early age and she would be able to play alone her whole life. The beauty of having kids close in age is that they are each other’s best friends. Now that my girls are a little older, they are happy to spend the day pretending to be princesses and Ogres or running around in the backyard. I am always here to play with them if they want me. But they don’t need me to be right there all the time. Three kids at once can be overwhelming, my husband and I enjoy spending time one on one with our kids. We call it taking them on ‘dates’ and it often involves ice cream. I have to admit this is my favourite way to spend time with my kids. Whether we are swimming, shopping or walking on the beach, those are the moments I feel I really get to bond with my girls.
9. Have a Sense of Humour
Chances are there will be lots of great moments and lots of not so great moments. I have seen a lot of crap. Literally. But I think it’s important to focus on the good and try to be as present as you can. Remember you are gathering all the material for their wedding speeches so take lots of embarrassing photos.
There was a reason I found myself pregnant again. Although having kids close together is a huge challenge, it is also rewarding and fun. My girls are super close and are blessed to have each other as I am to have them. Remember the days are long but the years are short, so wipe that spit up off your shoulder and seize the day.
Do you have 3 under 3 or 4 under 4 or even 5 under 5? How do you manage? Let us know in the comments.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.