Friday, March 23, 2012

One versus Three

I've had a whole lot of people ask me, in the months since Seth and Lizzie have come home, about how much harder it is to have three kids rather than the one we had prior to last June.  It's a hard question to answer, so my thoughts about it are a little scattered.  I think I'm trying to figure out how much of our transition has been about suddenly having three kids, and how much has been about the issues that come along with adopting older children.  The reality is that it's probably a combination of factors.

Having three kids instead of one is more challenging in some ways; here are the things that have come to mind over the past few months:

* I generally find it much easier when I have 'just' two of the kids with me.  It doesn't actually happen too often where I have two kids instead of the usual three, but there's a significant difference/ease that comes with having any two of them.  I don't understand why this is the case, and it doesn't seem to matter what the twosome combination is, but the difference is striking.  Maybe it's simply being able to dole out more attention; maybe it's because I have enough hands for two; maybe the kids find it easier to juggle one rather than two siblings...I really don't know what the reason is.

* I now have two children who are early birds and one who is a night owl.  The combination is definitely a bit tougher because it means that I often burn the candle at both ends (I'm always awake while the kids are awake). I hope that this is something that will become easier as the kids get a little older and can function a little more independently (and more quietly!).

* Nighttime routines simply take longer with three children than with one child.  This is getting a bit easier/faster over time, but certainly it's an impact on time and capacity, and on how much other household stuff can't get done while putting kids to bed.

* I am frequently overwhelmed by the number of questions my three ask.  This is clearly a difference between one and three children.  I'm not sure if this is a typical experience for families with three kids, but I certainly know that I answer hundreds of questions every day.  Matthew has always been a 'why' kid (and a bit of a philosopher), and now I have two more kids who came home knowing nothing and who feel it their personal mission to understand precisely how every. single. thing. in. the. world. works. and. why.  A few weeks ago, I decided to count up how many questions the kids asked during the first fifteen minutes of breakfast - I even had a little paper and pen sitting on my lap to make a mark whenever I was asked a question.  I lost track at thirty-three questions and we'd only passed the eight minute mark at that point.  I'm frequently told that I'm very lucky to have such curious children because surely it must mean that they're bright; I agree that I am fortunate to have such children...but in all honesty, this is one of the things that currently takes the biggest toll on me.

* Taking three kids to 'extracurricular' activities is definitely more time consuming than taking one child to various activities.  It also costs a lot more money to enrol three kids than it does one child, which means we've had to become a little choosier in what we do.

* Feeding three kids is a lot more expensive than feeding one child...though given the younger two kids' appetites, it sometimes feels like we're feeding the equivalent of five kids.

* I absolutely have to devote more time than I ever did before to hair and skin care.  It's frankly a relief that Seth has short hair now because Lizzie's hair is more than enough for me to take care of (that might be different for other people, but I'm just not gifted with hair).

* Packing for an outing, picnic, vacation, museum, trip to the swimming pool, gym/gymnastics, or skating lesson takes a little more thought and effort...and bigger bags to carry everything in.  It also takes more thought to decide what snacks I need to pack along for every occasion!

* I do more conflict management now than I ever had to do before...but even that's getting better, and I'm getting a little more used to what works and what doesn't and what battles I'm just not going to bother with.

* Getting errands done is a little more complicated than before, though not much harder, in our case, because all three kids love going places...even when we're doing simple things, like grocery shopping.  It can get a little tougher because three kids are simply louder than one and we've earned a few dirty looks and a couple of nasty comments about the volume of my kids.  But this hasn't been a huge change for us.

* It is absolutely more of a challenge to h/school three kids rather than one...particularly given that they are at very different stages and have very different issues.  They require different teaching methods and what worked with Matthew won't work with the younger kids.  Also, needing to occupy two children while working with one is a little challenging and frustrating at times.

* Our house is a lot louder than it used to be!

* Did I mention:  Our house is a lot louder than it used to be!

All of that being said, three children are not three times the work of one child.  I'm a bit surprised by this, but it's least in our case.  I remember so many occasions, when Matthew was still an only child, when people would assume certain things about my time and availability because I had 'only' one child.  But that's always been b.s. from my standpoint.  When you have one child, your time is just as committed as it is with three children; it's not like you have your only child for one third of the time!  Matt was with me just as much as my three kids are now.  One kid is time-consuming; and three kids are time-consuming.

Also, when it's 'just' one child at home, guess who the play companion of choice usually is??  Any parent of a single child will know that the companion of choice is usually the this case, it was me.  I spent waaaaaay more time being Matthew's companion of choice before June of last year than I have been since.  This is something that's not often understood/appreciated by parents of more than one child - I remember a few comments way back in the 'Matthew only' days when people couldn't understand why I didn't have more time for certain things, when the fact was that I was spending it playing with, teaching, being with Matthew.  Not being as frequent a playmate now sometimes makes me a little sad.  I'm still on the floor playing with the kids a lot, but it was different when it was just Matthew and me.  I actually get my kitchen cleaned up more often now than I did when it was just Matt and me at home because I can send the kids off to play in the adjoining sunroom for a few minutes while I throw dishes into the dishwasher.

An unexpected and practical 'plus' of having three children is that certain chores seem almost magically to get completed faster.  It's odd, I know.  The kids don't have a long list of chores, but definitely everyone participates to a small degree:  the kids bring their laundry downstairs on laundry day; we all fold laundry together and the kids are increasingly able to put their own clean clothes away without making a big mess out of it; I can ask either Matthew or Seth to take the recycles out to the garage (Lizzie's too little) and to bring the garbage/recycle cans back in; they all clear their own dishes and usually one or two other things; they tidy their own bedrooms and around their school desks in the classroom; they set the table; they're happy to take a cloth and wipe counters/walls/windows/etc; at least once a day, I ask one of the kids help me on meal prep; oh, and it's so much faster with three kids to tidy the family, sun room and rec room at the end of the day than it ever was with 'just' me and Matthew.

As I read over all of the above and think about what has made the last number of months so hard, I'd have to say that much more than struggling with a transition from one to three children have been the struggles associated with bringing home two older children with issues of trauma and attachment, and helping their older sibling adapt to having a brother and sister.

By far these have been the tougher issues for me.  These are the things that stymie me, push my buttons, make me both madder and sadder and more frustrated and more guilty and more helpless than I've probably ever been in my life.  These are the issues that cause me lack of sleep, exhaust me emotionally and mentally, wear me out.

But still...I wouldn't trade a thing.  Despite the challenges of having three kids, despite the challenges of kids with issues, I love having three kids.  Whereas for other families, one child is the perfect number, I'm (usually) very thankful for the increased chaos that comes with having three.  I love the wrestling and cuddling that seem always to involve huge pile-ups when there are three kids instead of one; I love the different perspectives that are shared at the dinner table when there are five of us contributing to conversation; I love that as a parent, I get to experience something with one kid and another, totally different, thing with another kid; I love that I am not ever short on hugs (I now have Lizzie in the house!); I (usually) love that I am being challenged every day to come up with solutions to things that I never would have thought I'd be dealing with; and I love that I can't imagine life without my three loud, active, emotionally-exhausting bunch.

Oh, and speaking of loudness, as odd as it sounds, one of my favourite things about having three kids is the noise!  I love the noise associated with three kids running around screaming happy screams.  I've always loved a noisy household, and I certainly have that now.  There's something friendly and warm about a loud household, don't you think?  When my parents come over to our house, I think my poor Mom finds the noise a little overwhelming at times, and I know she'd prefer to have the kids engaged in quieter activities. (I always encourage her to try and see how far she gets with that!)  I suspect that visiting friends may find my noise tolerance a little high, too.  I do find myself trying to reduce noise levels just before Geoff comes home at the end of the day because his tolerance for noise (even happy noise - hard to believe!) isn't quite what mine is.

But that's my style - I love hearing kids laughing and shrieking and tearing around the house while some kind of music or audiobook is blaring away.  It's symphonic to me.  I think kids are often loud by nature (or maybe it's just mine!), and I tire quickly of trying to stifle something that seems to be pretty innate...I have so many other battles to fight!  I love the screams they emit when they're throwing their bodies off of the couch for the zillionth time that day in a pose that they are certain will make the record books. I love getting dinner ready while the kids are playing in the backyard and I can hear them talking and laughing about some thing or another.  It's true that Lizzie drives me a little crazy when she screams, rather than talks, into my ear (I suspect her extra-loud speaking voice may be a carry-over from orphanage days but I don't know; I also suspect that her voice has done permanent damage to my hearing).

But still, the bottom line for me, I guess, is that I love happy noise, and I love that happy noises from my three are becoming a more frequent thing around here!

1 comment:

  1. I don't have a comparison point, going from 0 to 3 kids at once, but I agree that some things definitely seem easier - being able to have them play together for a while, even spreading myself between them (which lessens the intensity of 1:1 interaction for me). And I do enjoy seeing the fun parts of each different personality (on the other hand, we also have two very different sets of "issues" with each boy, because of the different personalities - more opportunities to learn parenting skills, I guess). Other things likely are trickier or more tiring. I hate noise, and I hate questions (yeah, I am guessing the preschooler years will not go down in history as my favourites). We take question breaks, where I set the timer, and won't field any more inquiries for a set amount of time. I also have one child who, regardless of how many playmates he has, wants all of the adult attention and interaction, all of the time. And of course, when one or more is having a trying day, it can certainly be hard to continue meeting the nurturing needs of everyone, and maintaining any composure with which to continue the day.