It seems these days that strangers notice my growing belly immediately after one of my three children does something outrageous in public.
“Looks like you’ve got your hands full,” they invariably comment, most recently after my daughter (Kid No. 3) picked up her fallen Panera grilled cheese sandwich off the restaurant chain’s floor and stuffed it into her mouth before I could intervene.
Hands full. Mouths full, too.
In the past seven years, my husband and I have gone from kid-free and carefree 20-somethings to suburban 30-somethings on the verge of having our fourth baby. Our days are full of yogurt stains, financial strains, work sprints and school scheduling. I often feel like the kid in “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” perpetually responding to the cascading demands of each small creature in my life. If you give a kid a lunchbox, she’s going to leave it in the car during drop-off. If your kid forgets his lunch, his school will call in the middle of your super-important work meeting and demand a resolution to this culinary crisis.
Some days, it feels as if chaos is unfurling in every direction. Far from being an expert parent, I’m an amateur ringleader at the circus, often clueless about how to tame the lions of bedtime or train the baby elephants to do what I say. (And when I say it!) My car is littered with crumbs, I start most work emails with “Sorry for the delay!” and my most often-repeated parenting mantra is “What did I say?”
So . . . another kid? Yep, another kid. I know not everyone can or wants to have children at all — let alone have a larger family. There are insane constraints on modern couples’ time and resources. Choosing whether to have kids — and how many — is an incredibly personal, often complex decision. And in our case, raising three kids is already organized chaos. Here’s why we decided to have one more.
It’s an adventure
Before we had kids, my husband and I traveled the world, endured multiple deployments as part of his Navy career and spent three years in long-distance marriage. But the biggest adventure we ever faced came in the form of a wrinkly, eight-pound little boy — our firstborn son, Henry. It’s absolutely true that having kids chips away at real chunks of your freedom. But they also bring unforeseen adventures big and small — the limitless potential of their lives, the marvel of watching a person you created discover the world, the simple beauty they invite you to rediscover in everyday moments. And each subsequent child, with its unique story and DNA and purpose, gives you a new adventure to live.
Having children has been the biggest adventure of my life. Having a fourth? I guess I like to live adventurously.
It’s a challenge
Nothing will make you dig deeper into your reserves of personal strength than trying to calmly discipline an out-of-control toddler who is violently kicking you while you try to change its poopy diaper in an airport bathroom. Except maybe getting up for work the day after your baby went through the four-month sleep regression. The point is, parenthood forces you to rise to the occasion — often literally and in the middle of the night.
The kind of personal development I have gone through because of parenthood — I’m vastly more organized, disciplined and intentional with my time — has been a massive self-improvement boot camp. Without the demands of growing and feeding and raising these children, I know I would not have been so transformed. And though every time I’m on the precipice of welcoming another child to our family, I begin to doubt whether I can again step up to the new demands, I’ve learned that I have the ability to rise. Motherhood has taught me about my strengths.
Less is more
I was that mom who registered for all the things, bought all the toys and signed up for all the activities — with my first kid. But with each subsequent child, not only do I buy fewer things but I’ve also gotten rid of the majority of child-focused gear and toys we had accumulated. Along the journey of parenthood, I’ve embraced much more of a minimalist and essentialist mind-set, noting that kids seem happier with fewer, more creative toys, and that I am happier when I don’t have to spend all my free time cleaning up their messes. Reading Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism” not long after my husband and I Marie-Kondo-ed our home, I discovered a similar philosophy could apply not just to our stuff but also to how we all spend our time.
Now, our kids are enrolled in only one activity each season. We aim to spend our weekends unwinding as much as possible, not running from one activity to the next. We believe that quality time together is more important than stuffing our lives full of “enrichment.” And so without forced fun adding more chaos to the busy lives we already have, living a bit more simply has made space in our days instead to welcome another baby.
Lazy parenting rules
Don’t knock “lazy parenting” until you’ve tried it. This latest parenting philosophy, a modern antidote to what has been called “helicopter parenting,” helps kids take greater responsibility for themselves for an early age, which has the added benefit of making parenting a slightly less all-consuming task.
And here’s what that looks like in our house: My 2-, 5- and 6-year-olds dress themselves. (This often results in fascinating outfit choices and pants worn backward.) They put on their own seat belts — even our 2-year-old. (I inspect their work before we drive away.) They have to make their beds before they get out of their rooms in the morning. (We cheat a little. They have zip-up bedding.) But lazy parenting helps my kids increasingly take responsibility for the minutiae of their lives, which leaves me a bit more free, too — for sometimes, just being plain lazy.
And if you give a girl time on her hands to unwind, hang out with her husband and be a little bit lazy, well, she just might end up with Baby No. 4 on the way.
Liz Tenety is the co-founder of Motherly and the co-author of the forthcoming book “This is Motherhood: A Motherly Collection of Reflections + Practices.” A former Washington Post editor, she lives outside New York City with her husband, two sons, one daughter and one amazing au pair.
Follow On Parenting on Facebook for more essays, news and updates. You can sign up here for our weekly newsletter. We tweet @On Parenting and have a Facebook discussion page about parenting and working. Join us.