Is it harder to parent one child, two children or more than two?
There are a few parenting myths that have grown up over time. Some are the soft lies you tell those expecting about the birthing process so they don’t get too anxious. The bits where you focus on the outcome and breeze over the emergency caesarean part, for instance. It’s not really a question of truth or lie and, of course, all birth experiences are different; it’s a question of emphasis. The outcome part is indeed amazing, although you may have weeks of physical or indeed mental pain afterwards. I remember sitting on the stairs after an emergency caesarean in which my daughter had been within 10 minutes of dying and I within 20 doubled up with an infection of the caesarean stitches and feeling like I had only survived the first round to be finished off in the second. But what a beautiful, beautiful person that daughter became. My life would be all the poorer without her.
One parenting myth, however, that seems to be repeated every now and again is the idea that once you have two children it gets easier to have more. Having one is a shock to the entire system, for sure, and they don’t have any siblings to play [or argue] with so you are their main playmate. Having two small people is hard work. You get one dressed and the other one has done a massive poo and you don’t think you will ever leave the house. You get one to bed after several hours of rocking and the other one wakes up screaming five minutes later, waking everyone within hearing distance and you have to start all over again. One of the children spends their life winding up the other, causing moments of intense meltdown, usually in public spaces. You get my drift.
However, the idea that it gets easier the more children you have after that is, in my experience at least, a bit of a fantasy. It’s not that it’s a competition. And, of course, it depends on the children, the family set-up and so much more. And for sure you are slightly more competent as a parent. That is also the case when you go from one to two. You know that Calpol is a miracle cure, for instance. You’ve been through the early stages so you know what’s coming next. But having to look after three or four or five etc people instead of two is no walk in the park. Yes, you generally stop fighting the chaos and go with it and yes, they can play with each other [when they play and don’t fight, that is], but you still need to watch babies and toddlers at all times. You can’t ask your four year old to be in charge. If you have a bigger age gap between your children maybe you can get the other kids to pitch in, but that is not guaranteed and it depends very much on the child and the relationship between the children.
The main thing is that you are dealing with three or four or more very different personalities. Children are complex beings from very early on. As with any relationship you are feeling your way, getting to know them just as they are getting to know you. Different children have different sleep patterns, different likes and dislikes, different personalities, different things that upset them and so forth. Trying to juggle all of these is not easy. You almost need a PhD in Child Psychology. Which is what makes them so blooming interesting.
It doesn’t get that much easier with age. Of course, you can relax a little in certain aspects, but there are more demands in others – homework, being one. Just spending one to one time with each of them becomes more complicated – and children seem to arrive with a very finely tuned fairness radar. Then there are the financial demands – you need more stuff – a bigger car, more beds, more student support, more money to fund driving lessons etc. There are more after school clubs – most of them at completely different times. More holiday playschemes to organise. You have more schedules to remember, more playdates to organise, more birthday parties to run, more of everything. When they get to the teen years, there are more pickings up and droppings off. You spend your life in the car, especially if you don’t live in a big urban area. You worry more. You have to handle more exam crises and mental health issues. You maybe get better at handling all of this with practice, but each child presents a new set of circumstances, each child handles situations in a different way.
Chaos is the order of the day. Chaos can be fun, but it is really hard work too. Perhaps when you have one or two children you seek to retain some sense of your pre-child life. After two this generally goes out the window and there is a certain freedom in that. You see your friends once a year if you’re lucky, but you have your own team. ‘Me’ time basically centres around having a bath every now and again and putting a lock on the bathroom door [it’s harder to get into the bathroom the more kids you have too]. It’s not that having more kids is anything to regret, the opposite, but it is not easy. My logistical skills have become honed to the point that I tend to try and make things more demanding by overloading events or activities on top of each other just for the challenge.
With the cost of living crisis and unpredictable cost rises, having more children also comes with huge worries about money. The older they get, the more they can contribute, however,. But that often means parents doing the work drop-offs and pick-ups.
It’s not just the parenting myths that are a problem. Another is our different interpretations about the fundamentals. Take the ‘mental load’ of parenting. For some, that means multi-tasking – loading the dishwasher while checking emails, for instance. To me the mental load is all the other stuff that caring involves that nobody sees. The stuff that goes on in your head, arranging, worrying, thinking what would cheer x up/raise their confidence, keeping everyone going and more or less happy…If you have more children there is, of course, more stuff swirling around in your head – unless I’ve been doing it completely wrong all these years, which could always be the case.