In my early 20s, I nannied for a family of five kids. The chaos was constant. Despite my adoration for each of the five children, I used to think to myself, I could never have this many kids; I’d go nuts.
Then, years later, after giving birth to our second son, I thought to myself, I’m done; I can’t handle more than two. And our sons grew, and there was chaos. But there was always a part of me that wanted another child. Though parenting two crazy boys was tough, it was also incredibly rewarding. So after many conversations and lots of prayers, my husband and I decided we might have one more in us. We did, apparently, and she was born less than a year later.
Now hear me—parenting three is no small feat. There are days when I ache for a moment of peace, or I think I can’t wash another dish or do another load of laundry. There are days when I just want the kids to PLEASE. STOP. WHINING. As the saying goes, “Two’s company; three’s a crowd.”
It is crowded in this house, but it’s full of the raw materials from which the best parenting lessons are built. Amidst the chaos, here are three of those lessons we focus on in our house:
One of the biggest sacrifice families with multiple children make is financial. It’s not rocket science—more kids equals more money. Our children learn quickly they simply can’t do everything, buy everything, or eat everything (though sometimes it feels like they do). Often times it feels like my husband and I say “no” much more than we say “yes.” But you know what? I am OK with this. Mick Jagger said it best: “You can’t always get what you want.” The quicker my little people appreciate this, the better. By saying “no” to many things in our house, we are saying “yes” to the greater things.
In a crowded house, our kids have learned quickly that sharing is essential. Whether it’s sharing bunk beds, clothes, toys, time with Mom and Dad, or a bathroom, the littles in our house are expected to feel uncomfortable—a lot. And again, I’m OK with this, because life is not about making ourselves comfortable.
Sharing doesn’t always require sacrifice, either. A big family means a built-in tribe with whom we can share life. Sharing a meal with someone is more fun than eating alone. Sharing time together grows our relationships. Sharing snuggles on the couch breeds lots of love.
In an ever-growing narcissistic culture, I want my little people to know life is not about them. It takes nothing more than a baby sister to instill this in my two boys. Many times we can’t participate in an afternoon activity because sister needs a nap. Often we can’t sign up for every summer camp (see financial sacrifice above) or watch just any movie or fill-in-the-blank because of baby sister. So we learn to say “yes” to each other and “yes” to others, showing more concern for them than for ourselves. Sacrifice and sharing lend themselves quite favorably to selfless attitudes.
My 20-year-old self didn’t understand this. I thought more kids would equal more mess, more chaos, more burden. Certainly they would encroach on my needs and wishes.
But maybe having kids isn’t about what’s in it for us after all; it’s what we can do for them. My life now is characterized by mess, chaos, and—let’s be honest—a lot of burden. But these burdens have also turned into life’s biggest blessings. And perhaps it’s not just the kids who are learning the art of sacrifice, sharing, and selflessness. For this, I am grateful. And despite the constant chaos at my crowded house, three is some pretty awesome company, too.