5 Lessons I've Learned Transitioning From 2 to 3 Kids
My partner and I each grew up with two siblings, so when we thought about expanding our own family, the idea of three children felt right. Obviously, that decision depended on all kinds of factors rooted in privilege—such as our ability to get pregnant, afford the costs of a larger family, and make other choices related to overall family planning. We already knew the shift from one to two kids was a big one, so we anticipated the jump to a third to feel, well, major. Actual L-O-L here, friend, because a few years in, I can honestly say I truly underestimated the significance of the transition. Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned transitioning from 2 to 3 kids for those considering a bigger family:
When you have fewer children, especially if you’re in a two-parent household, you’re either playing one-on-one defense or you get a mini break when you’re not on point. Once you cross over into the world of three kids, the reality is that everyone wants different things at different times. To me, as a well-intended control freak and recovering people-pleaser, this was the absolute hardest part of the parenting transition. Case in point: the other day, in about five minutes, my husband and I were fielding detailed Roblox questions from my second grader, trying to convince our five-year-old to eat something other than fruit snacks and gently removing the screaming toddler from standing on the kitchen counter. Nobody was happy—my ears were ringing, my partner was about to lose his cool, and none of the kids were getting the attention and help they needed.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this occurs 80% of the time, every day. (Deep breath.) Part of it is due to my children’s ages, as they’re young and require lots of extra support and supervision. However, I’ve also had to learn to let it go. Not in the Elsa, super-chill way, but in the you are only one person and if you try to do everything perfectly you will lose your freaking mind way. For me, this means leaving the unfolded towels in the basket, stepping over loose Lego pieces, and recognizing that sometimes, everybody is going to be crying at the same time. It means functioning as a team and teaching my kids skills to become more independent, as appropriate. It means lowering my expectations and practicing flexibility. It means trusting that we’ll get to the other side, even if it involves complete chaos.
With three young kids, most of my parenting energy is spent on managing their big feelings, since they have none of the coping skills or tools to do it on their own. That involves breaking up fights, reminding them about safety rules, noticing when somebody needs space, wiping tears, offering hugs, figuring out what helps them emotionally regulate, and giving them language to describe their feelings in the first place. For example, my oldest is going through a jealousy phase—his siblings often receive more attention than he does, because he is more capable of doing different tasks and they’re not. However, that reality doesn’t negate the fact that he also deserves to feel important, special, and cared for. My youngest is much more likely to fling himself on the ground if his granola bar breaks—and that’s a very real disappointment for him.
Additionally, my partner and I are frequently navigating our emotional arcs. Sometimes he’s tapped out and frustrated by a seemingly small issue; sometimes I’m exhausted and wish bedtime didn’t last two hours. Even though we’re together all the time, parenting is relentless, so there’s very little margin to decompress separately or connect in a meaningful way. The result? We offer each other, and our kids, a lot of compassion on the tough days. We acknowledge complicated feelings and then try to move forward. Most of all, we recognize that five people in a family is not always going to be a breeze, and that’s normal.
When I say there’s very little margin, I mean there’s basically no margin with three kids, which initially took a real toll on the parts of my life outside of work and parenting—even more so than with one or two children. If that sounds depressing, you’re not wrong. Texts from friends, workout classes, coffee dates with colleagues, impromptu travel plans, staying up late to watch a movie, date nights, volunteering opportunities—even answering phone calls from my parents became nearly impossible.
Instead, I had to aggressively reframe my priorities: What was most important to me? What could be balanced differently in terms of the next day, week, or month? What felt restorative and energizing or purposeful, and what left me drained and resentful? What could be considered “good enough”? Now, I’ve embraced the five-minute phone call with a close friend or quick text exchange of memes with my sisters. I appreciate a glass of wine with my husband at the table while the kids watch a few episodes of a favorite show. I say no a lot, and trust that the right things will come back around. I think about how I want to spend my time, energy, and money intentionally. I try to remember that every stage is a season, it won’t always feel this way, and the people who know me best will understand that I’m doing my best.
I won’t get on an immediate soapbox regarding the lack of structural support for mothers in the U.S., but let’s be clear: we face skyrocketing childcare costs, lack of paid parental leave, unequal pay, unrealistic societal expectations, minimal maternal health support (with disproportionate impact on Black mothers), lack of community, reduced autonomy over our bodies and more. However, in the day-to-day, it’s easy to think that you should be able to figure it out on your own, which is a lie.
As a working mom of three kids, I quickly learned to ask for help, outsource help, and accept help in any form—playdates with fellow neighbors, eating takeout off paper plates, hiring a housecleaner once a month, going to therapy, requesting a hybrid work schedule, calling an in-law for weekend back-up, texting another school mom with questions. My partner and I also worked hard to balance household chores and parenting tasks more equitably, which helped (here’s where I share my shout-out to Eve Rodsky’s Fair Play). Some of these decisions require a certain amount of privilege, and I’m grateful and aware of my own. Others forced me to stop trying to be “Super Mom”, so I could simply show up as a mom.
Ten years ago, my pre-baby self would be surprised at how much I’ve changed. I mean, I own a van! With sliding doors! No, but seriously, I’m more flexible, confident, and honest in what’s best for myself and my family. I’m sturdier in decision-making, even when I wobble, and I embrace the many contradictions of motherhood. You know that saying about long days and short years? It’s true. Parenting a larger family is a wild ride, and I’m so glad I get to experience it.Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned transitioning from 2 to 3 kids for those considering a bigger family: