So we've recently added to our brood with baby number 3. He is a joy and a curly, tottering bundle of delight. He's also a lot of work. Whether to have a third can be a preoccupation for couples of the blessed duo. Just when you are coming put of the woods and have a pair of nearly rational beings, you wonder whether you're quite done with the baby cuddles, the babbling, the first steps... Rather like birth, you tend to remember the better bits! It's a big decision and there is even a website dedicated to the question, Having Three Kids. Having a third does have a big impact on your life in ways that maybe I hadn't fully thought through. In fact, having three or more children can sabotage the feminist dream of equal parenting in some unexpected ways.
1. The most obvious thing to mention is that having another baby means more time off work. This puts you an extra step behind in your career in relation to your peers and in relation to your partner. Even if you continue to work full-time and take the minimum maternity leave, this can be a hit in terms of finances and professional standing. Suddenly two working parents become a more senior working parent and a more junior working parent. However shared parental leave does offer a way to address this if you are willing to properly embrace equal parenting - see The View from Norway for an insight into how this feels in practice.
2. A family of three generates an unbelievable quantity of laundry! Not just a third again. Another baby keeps on growing out of stuff and it all overflows everywhere. The pile of sheets someone was sick on or peed on. The darks, the lights. The uniform. The piles of clothes yet to be sorted. The piles of clothes yet to be put away. The adult clothes which now also need washing daily because they are covered in a multitude of stains from small children rubbing themselves up against you. It's like suddenly washing for a family of 8! We should share the laundry but we don't because I am a control freak about it. I am oppressed by laundry in a trap of my own making.
3. Maintaining equality in your relationship gets harder. With one child, sharing childcare, pick ups and drops offs, cleaning etc is relatively simple. With two of different ages, it's a stretch. With three, one parent often ends up working part time simply in order to cover the varying needs and complex arrangements involved with a larger family. See the point about laundry. This means that not only professionally are you likely to be junior, you also have become, if only on a part time basis, what you swore you would never be, a "housewife".
4. Servicing a larger family does up the drudgery factor. We all know the lovely things about family life, the cupcake baking, flying kites, watching family movies. But the drudgery bit, the bit which is all, "what the hell are we going to eat for dinner tonight? "no, I have no idea where your PE kit is", "really, do I have to put everything back in the cupboards, AGAIN?" just grows exponentially. And let's be frank, women somehow attract drudgery in the domestic sphere even in supposedly equal relationships. Maybe it's because some women find it harder to relax when the house is a hell hole. Maybe it's impossible to switch off from the immense 24 hour responsibility of trying to be a good mother/employee/volunteer/person.
5. Forget "me time" for maybe a decade... See point 4. "Me-time" is pretty key to your identity as a person other than a mum. However, holding on to any outside interest or hobby is going to be tricky unless you are properly determined about it. As you absolutely should be for your own sanity. Instead you end up collapsing on the sofa flicking through Grazia.
6. On the positive side, you do become a legendary uber mum simply due to the number of offspring you are responsible for. One more than basically everyone else. You are older, wiser and more relaxed. People look at you with a mixture of confusion and awe. They're thinking, "Why in god's name would you have three?? But, hey, well done on making it out the house on time, you must be a goddess of logistics".
7. Talking of logistics, holidays are a military manoeuvre. Not a very relaxing prospect! I feel the need to embrace lists in a more extreme and detailed way than ever before. Gone is the idea of a simple holiday home. For that you need back up (A.K.A grandparents) to cope with above mentioned drudgery that just follows you. You need EASY. All-inclusives. Or Centre Parcs. Definitely no city breaks. You can't man-mark anymore people! And lo and behold the control freakery side where you take charge of packing everything for everyone in case something essential is forgotten. Instead of obviously involving your partner in packing for the kids too like a reasonable feminist parent should.
8. You think of yourself as the calm, patient, nurturing parent but you become the shouty parent. Because you are so, so tired. You are not who you want to be. However, it really helps if you have a rational older child. It really, really helps if the two older ones get on. If they don't, DON'T EVEN CONTEMPLATE any more children.
9. If you're interested in equality, then you want to be fair to all your kids right? Being there for all your kids is harder. Are you missing out on bedtime stories with one because you're feeding the youngest? Are you too busy to spend as much time with each one as you'd like? When they're older, are you going to request time off work for three sports days? Three school assemblies? If you took a two year career break with one, are you going to do that with all three so that they all get the same early years input? This is the emotional reason that women of three plus children often give up work or end up in junior positions or part time, while feeling like they're failing their families or their professions whatever they do.
10. Have I put you off? Actually I hope not. Investing in family life should never be a negative. If anything, having a third crystallises the wonders and the challenges of parenting because you are thrown right back in the deep end again. It reminds you what is important and what you need to fight for. Even now, I am realising that I have got too tired or lazy to make sure equality is at the heart of our household. But it certainly can be. Partly by demanding it be so, but also by letting go a little and remembering that you are not the only person who can respond to your kids' needs. A healthy family involves all kinds of grown ups who play an equally important role.
Good luck with decision making!
Other articles you might be interested in:
"1, 2, 3, 4, 5...The "So, d'you think you'll have another?" question
Who wins the moral highground? Child-focused or child-free?
Feminism now and that elusive work/life balance
Being a full-time mum while keeping those doors opening...