When I was a newly-minted mom of one, I read one of those inspirational motherhood books penned by a mother of — get this — eight children.
I was intrigued in that way that many of us are by big families. I couldn’t help but wonder, how on earth does she do it? How does one woman have so many kids and still manage to smile for her book’s headshot? Isn’t she exhausted beyond all belief?
And yet, as I read the book, more astonishing to me than the fact that a mother of eight had managed to look like a happy human being long enough for a camera to snap her picture were the words I read from her about the secret to having all those kids was.
“Well, I know you won’t believe me, but I’m going to say it anyway: Having eight kids is easier than having one or two little ones.”
I never forgot those words and they have bolstered me many a time in my years as a parent. It encouraged me to no end to know that a mom of eight kids, who surely knew more than me, thought having two little people was harder than a gang of eight. I repeated those very words to myself many a trying time in my life as a stay-at-home mom of littles and now, as a mom of four, I can finally see that she was right.
In some ways, some parts about parenting do get easier when you have more children. Like …
1. Car seats.
OMG, the car seats. I really can’t imagine a life when I don’t have to pre-plan at least ten minutes into my departure time in order to be able to buckle what feels like fifteen children into the complicated straps of their car seats. When I had two young daughters, I dreaded the task of getting out of the house and would often plan my outings with the express purpose of limiting the amount of car seat in-and-outs that would be required. But then a funny thing happened. Those two young daughters grew up a little and (gasp!) can now buckle themselves! And although I still have two little ones to buckle in and out, having two that can strap themselves in feels like a luxury. Somehow, I don’t dread errands as much as I did anymore, because it doesn’t feel like everyone needs me to do all of the heavy lifting.
2. Grocery shopping.
You may think that taking all four of my children grocery shopping would be a nightmare, but shockingly, it’s not. When I would take my first daughter grocery shopping, it was an incredibly stressful experience every time. I would panic, worried what I would do if she would cry, sprint through the store hoping she wouldn’t wake up, and forget half of the things on my list. Now, though, grocery shopping with all of the kids is actually kind of helpful. Just last week, I finally ventured to the store with my newborn in tow and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it all went. My oldest held the list, my middle fetched me items off of the lowest shelf, and even though the baby cried the whole time during checkout, I no longer saw her tears as an end-of-the-world situation.
3. Going to the bathroom.
Okay, sorry for going here, but it’s the truth. When I had my first daughter, I was morbidly curious as to how other mothers went to the bathroom during the day —especially if it was a trip that might require a bit more time, ahem. Did they bring their crawling-into-everything baby into the bathroom with them? Did they stash a basket of toys in there for a distraction? Did they just leave the door open so they could keep an eye on the baby? I couldn’t believe that my life had resorted to strategizing my bathroom visits. But now? Now, I simply ask an older sibling to hold the baby for a minute or make sure she doesn’t roll under the bed again while I do my business. You may think I’m crazy, but when your daily stressors no longer include how-on-earth-will-I-go-to-the-bathroom-today, it kind of feels like a game-changer.
4. Getting dressed.
Confession: when I had but a mere one or two young children, it was a very rare occasion indeed for me to get dressed for the day. I mean, really, what was the point? It felt like I was swimming in dirty diapers and breast milk all day, anyways. If I’d do my hair or make-up, they would just get ruined in about ten minutes flat after kissing the baby’s cheeks or wrestling the toddler into pants. And it’s not like I had time for any of that! But now, with four kids at home, I actually get dressed and ready for the day. It has something to do with the fact that I have another person, even if that person is four or six years old, to hold the baby for a few minutes, but it’s also because I can’t very well ask my kids to get dressed if I’m lounging about in my pajamas all day. Example goes a long way in parenting, it would seem. Who knew?
5. Bath and bedtimes.
Obviously, like most of these, this does not apply if you have given birth to quadruplets or adopted children of similar, young ages. These scenarios only apply to the common thought that you have one or two children at a time, reproducing more, younger children as the latter continue to reach older ages. So, with that in mind, I will admit that with two and even three young kids, bath and bedtimes were absolutely, hellish nightmares. Trying to bathe everyone and get their wet, squirming little bodies into jammies and then hope they would actually go to sleep and then dread the middle-of-the night awakenings = awful. So the ability to simply say, “Hey, go get ready for bed!” and have kids that can bathe themselves and dress themselves and will actually stay in bed feels like a delicious breath of fresh freedom.
6. Dealing with mom guilt.
No article on parenting would be complete without a hefty dose of mom guilt, right? And honestly, with four kids, I feel a lot less mom guilt than I did with just one. With one kid, I felt this tremendous pressure to do all things and be all things for my daughter — I was her sole source of love, safety, security, food, education, and entertainment for the great majority of her waking hours. And now? It feels like the pressure isn’t all on me. There are other people in the room for the baby to look at other than myself, there are siblings to make her laugh when I’m feeling tired, and there is literally something new for her to learn every minute she’s awake simply by being a part of the family. And the love is practically bursting at the seams.
7. Talking with my husband.
This one may be a silly thing, but hear me out: it was an endless source of frustration to me with our first two that it felt like not only was I too exhausted to have a coherent conversation with my husband, but someone was always needing us. Someone was always crying or throwing a tantrum and it felt like we didn’t talk in complete sentences, ever. Now, for some reason, things are better. Maybe we’ve just grown accustomed to each other’s shorthand or become more adept at drowning out the din of small children, but more often than not, I’ve found it’s easier when all the kids are able to entertain each other and we might actually fit in a pleasant conversation every now and then.
Overall, I’m glad to have reached some sort of peace in my mothering where I don’t feel constantly stressed and exhausted and wonder if it will ever get easier, because I’ve finally learned the secret —
It’s not about how many kids you have or don’t have, or how much you work or don’t work.
It’s about realizing that in all stages of parenting, there are things that get harder and things that get easier.
And whether you have one kid, four kids, or eight, only one thing is for certain:
Parenting is never truly “easy.” But it’s still pretty amazing.