The other day our boys were exhausted from a busy day out. Since they no longer nap, I brought them upstairs to watch a movie and (hopefully) rest for awhile. Sitting in my arm chair with a 10-month old nursing/sleeping in my lap, 2 4-year olds spacing out on my bed to "101 Dalmatians," and a 6-year old flipping through his Highlights magazine on the floor, I did what all moms do when trapped in front of the same movie we have watched 100,000,000 times before: I grabbed my phone and started reading blogs. Well, then I switched to Facebook and started reading comments. One Humans of New York post stuck out in my mind. It showed a woman beautifully dressed for the Met Gala. She mentions how life with a one-month old is different than how she thought it would be and how she didn't let her baby near her dress. Many people commented on it saying, "Oooh! FIRST TIME MOM!" One comment has been rolling around in my mind since I read it: how snarky moms with 3, 4, and 5 kids are, how they think they are better than everyone else just because they have a ridiculous amount of kids, how they dismiss everything moms with 1 and 2 kids are going through because they "only" have 1 or 2 kids, how we are all moms and should be supporting each other instead of bullying each other, and, finally, how we all walk through this motherhood journey differently.
Whew! When I read that comment, I first thought, "Wow, this lady really does not like moms with 3+ children." Then I started thinking about it. Do moms with many really sound so judgy? As a mom of 4, I would like to think not. But then I started thinking back to a lot of comments I heard when I started my motherhood journey, how irritated I would get when people poo-pooed my concerns by patting me on the head and saying, "First time mom, eh?" I also started thinking about how my thinking has changed from my first pregnancy to our last pregnancy and from our firstborn to our last born. There has been a significant shift in my thinking and I do parent differently. I noticed it after we had twins (our second and third children), but I've really noticed it with our fourth baby. Much of what I did differently with our twins I attributed to the fact that we had twins after a singleton. However, with our fourth baby, I've really noticed a difference in my mothering than with our first child and our second and third children.
What differences am I talking about? I've actually written a couple blog posts about this topic before. One of them about "becoming my parents" and how I understand many of their parenting decisions the longer I mother; one of them about how differently I view our children's ages and my expectations of them this time around now that I'm not a "first time mom." In a general sense, the biggest difference, to me, between having my first baby and having my fourth baby is that I know how quickly the infant stage passes. Being a person that thoroughly enjoys the baby stage, I now have first hand experience that the sleepless nights, the colic, the breastfeeding, the pumping, the bottle-feeding, the baby foods, the diapers, the footie-pajamas with 100 snaps that never line up correctly, the spit-up, and the fussy evenings fly by before you even realize it. Our fourth baby (who I swear was just born!) turns one next month-- what?! There are so many amazing "firsts" that first year that are clearly marked: first bath, first time he holds up his head, first smile, first time reaching his arms up to me when I say his name, first time sitting up on his own, first time in a high chair, first foods, first time standing, first steps... I can clearly see these firsts and mark them in his baby book. The firsts after that become much harder to distinguish. One day our 6-year old burst in to the house and wanted me to watch him ride on his skateboard. Apparently he had been practicing this (with the appropriate protective gear and padding). It was my first time seeing him slowly make his way down our driveway on the skateboard, but his dad had seen him do it and he had been practicing this for years (according to him). Suddenly these tiny little babies of mine that I have invested so much of my time in are these little people with their own little lives. I feel our 6-year old and our 4-year olds moving further and further away from me with each year. I don't notice it so much in our day to day life; it is when I stop and reflect on our days that I see how much they are growing. And so, with our fourth baby, when I am elbow deep in sleepless nights and sticky baby hands pulling my hair and his snot covered face buried in my J Crew silk blouse, I know that in a blink of an eye he will be a 2-year old, that before I know it he will be a 4-year old and the next day a 6-year old. I know how fleeting it is that my baby will need me as he does now. With that lesson in mind, I can only assume that when our oldest is 12-years old, I will look back at the time when he was 6-years old and miss this time, when he needed me as a 6-year old boy needs his mother.
How does that lesson affect my day to day parenting? With our fourth baby, it is easy to see how it affects my parenting. The little things really just do not get to me. I can wake up after a rough, sleepless night and say, "Man, he slept horribly!" My day is not derailed and I just brew an extra cup of coffee. I give grace when he screams through dinner. I am able to slow us down and say, "Yeah, probably not going to get those errands done today; let's just take a walk instead." Our fourth baby loves taking walks and so we love walking him. We are able to put on the brakes and enjoy the small moments that happen each day, whereas with our oldest I felt like those fussy colicky days dragged on forever; with our twins, I felt like they flew by in a world of baby spit-up and endless evenings. With our fourth, I feel like the days are full of baby smiles and sweet moments. When I compare him to our other children, they really aren't that different, but my perspective has changed.
In my day to day parenting with our older three boys, it is sometimes harder to see how this lesson affects my parenting. For instance, with our oldest, he is our first 6-year old. I get these glimpses when I see him around other 6-year olds that the behaviors that we find so baffling (repetition, slap-stick comedy, potty humor) are completely normal. Those are the times where I say, "Hey, we need to cut him a break. When our other children are 6-years old, I doubt we will even bat an eye at this behavior yet we are holding our oldest to a very high standard that perhaps should not be this high."
With our twins, it is hard because some of the things that they are going through are exasperated by the fact that we have 2 children the same age. So this morning when one of our 4-year olds was having an absolute come apart because he couldn't find his Olaf piggy bank, our other 4-year old was having an absolute come apart because he wanted to go to My Gym right now (all while I was in the middle of feeding the baby and getting our kindergartner ready for school). I have to take a breath at those moments and think, "Would this be so annoying if one 4-year old was yelling at me right now?" First instinct is always YES!!!!!, but then I am able to step back and dig deep and think, "Maybe not... because I would be able to focus on the one 4-year old in front of me who wants his Olaf piggy bank and talk him through it." If I had one 4-year old, I would be able to approach the situation this way:
"Yes, I am feeding the baby, but when I am done I can go upstairs and help you find it. Do you know where you saw it last? What do you want to put in it? Do you think we should find somewhere safe to put it so we don't lose it again?"Instead of this way with 2 4-year olds:
"Yes, I am feeding the baby-- please stop interrupting, I am talking to your brother-- and I will help you find your Olaf piggy bank-- sir, I need one second, we are not going to My Gym right now. I need to talk to your brother and then I will talk to you-- yes, I know you want Olaf, your brother was interrupting, I will help you find it. Sir, do not yell at me. We are not going to My Gym. We will find your piggy bank. I am feeding the baby. I hear you. We cannot go to My Gym; it isn't even open right now. I need a minute and I will go upstairs with you. Okay, both of you-- time out until I finish feeding the baby. Then I will help you both. Time out. Go."With them, I find that I know what to expect from their ages-- a newborn, a 1-year old, a 2-year old, a 3-year old, a 4-year old, etc-- but that I am often surprised by how it translates having 2 children at that particular age at the same time. I have been most surprised that, while the newborn phase was super busy, the toddler phase was harder. I have also been surprised lately with the challenges we have had with 2 4-year olds. They are about at the age where pushing them in the stroller is impractical (pushing 2 30-pound children in a double stroller while wearing 1 20-pound baby in the Tula? No, thank you), so now we have 3 children out of the stroller and only 1 child in the stroller (2 of them being 4-year olds with 4-year old temperaments). Anyways, so some of my expectations regarding their ages and stages are different when handling twins than a singleton. I know this also makes me approach our fourth child, a singleton, with a softer lens as well. (For instance, before our fourth child, the last time we were doing the newborn stage, we were changing two babies' diapers around the clock, which makes changing one baby's diaper feel like a lot less diapers. The last time I had a 10-month old, I was wrestling 2 10-month olds through diaper changes and into clothes, which makes wrestling one 10-month old feel like a lot less work.)
Beyond the multiples perspective (comparing twins to a singleton), some things simply are a lot less work when I do them with our fourth baby than with all 4 children. I am surprised when I travel or go out with "just the baby" at what doesn't feel like work to me anymore. When I went out with our first baby, getting the infant carrier in and out of the car, pulling the stroller in and out of the car, loading and unloading the diaper bag... it was a lot. Everywhere I went I carried a sea of belongings. If I stood in line and he started fussing, I was exhausted and irritated, "Why are they taking so long to check out at the grocery store? Come on..." I would wrestle him through doctor's appointments, "I'm here with a baby! You would think they could move this along..." Even when we had our twins (our second and third children), I would never choose to make a stop when I was out with the children. I remember taking one of our infant twins with me to the store and he cried the whole time. I thought, "Man, even taking one child to the store is a ton of work." Then we had baby #4. Our twins were 3-years old. Our oldest had just turned 6-years old. I fully expected to have the same feelings lugging around the baby and the infant carrier as I had when our twins were born... but I didn't. I don't know if it is because I'm a baby person, but toting around one baby? I got this. If I leave the 3 older boys home (with their dad or my parents) and I am out with the baby, I'll stop at Starbucks. I'll run in to the grocery for one thing (unless they have to, moms never choose to run in the store for one item). I call home, ask if anyone needs anything else. I take him to the doctor and don't mind waiting-- one baby is a break from 4 children (Don't mind me! I brought a book!). I buckle and unbuckle him from his car seat, unload and reload the stroller, pop in and pop out the infant carrier. NBD (No Big Deal). I did not expect to feel that way and it really is a change from how I felt with our first and our twins. But it is less work going out with one baby than 4 children-- making sure our oldest is buckled in his high-back booster and buckling the other 3 children in their car seats, unloading 4 children from the van, getting the baby in the stroller and making sure the older 3 are holding hands in the parking lot, keeping an eye on 4 children at the park, etc.
For other things, like pediatrician visits and the like, it is definitely different for me the more children we have added. The things I would take our first in for were not things I took our second and third in for and definitely not what I take our fourth in for. It ends up falling in that category of, "Man, do I really want to drag 4 children to the pediatrician?" Because some one always catches something new when we go in for a sick visit. If I have one sick child and 3 well children with me, I don't want to sit in the sick child waiting room with 3 well children, but no one wants me in the well child waiting room with my one snot-nosed, coughing, feverish child. And who wants to deal with all those children in the small pediatrician's office? Children climbing all over the exam table (and falling off of it), children licking the floor and sliding all over the floor, me bouncing the sick child (or children) on my hip, the doctor finally coming in to glare at the misbehaving children who have been waiting for 20 minutes and then telling me, "Yup! He has a cold." No, thank you. If I'm taking children to the pediatrician, I need a reason. Rash? You better have that rash for days, then I'll take you. Fever? Better be high. Injury? I'll call the nurse line first. Any questions or concerns, I call my mother, who has 4 children herself (plus 5 grandchildren now).
The last thing I thought of for how things are different for me now that we've had 4 children compared to when we had one child is that I really have allowed myself more grace. My mom is always instructing me to pick my battles. Some things that were worth fighting over with one child simply are not worth fighting over with 4 children. For instance, I wrote a blog post on "toddler technology." The times that I found it appropriate for our oldest to hang out and watch a lot of movies are different than the times I have found it appropriate for our other 3 to hang out and watch a lot of movies. During this move, our oldest has spent a lot of time on his tablet playing Minecraft and Minion Rush. It simply becomes overwhelming to do it all by myself and I have to give myself grace, allow for different seasons in our life, allow for times when we do things closer to our ideal and times when we take more shortcuts. Life happens. Much like how I need to give our children patience and grace, I also need to extend that to myself.
Which brings me to the final point: patience and grace. I've written many blog posts on motherhood. This whole blog is about being a Navy family: our life, our experiences, my musings. One of my greatest parenting convictions is that we all do things differently. What works for me today, might not work for me tomorrow. What works for one of my children, might not work for another of my children (something I have definitely learned the more children we have had!). How I feel about something is not how another mom feels about it and what is important to me may not be important to you. When I write my blog posts on parenting and managing twins, that is how my husband and I have handled our situation, how we live our life. My favorite parenting advice to give is do what works for you. Treat other moms with patience and grace. It isn't a competition and we don't help our cause as women by putting each other down. Being a military wife and now mother to 4 children including twins, I feel like there is this competition to "have it worse:"
"I had 4 kids in 4 years and none of them are twins; that must have been much easier getting two out of the way at once."
"That must be so nice having such an age gap between your twins and your baby; my kids are 12 months apart and it is so crazy."
"I have a 28-month old, a 17-month old, and a 2-month old and my husband will deploy next year."
"I have 13-month old twins and my husband is deployed."We don't know anyone else's story. We don't know why someone is getting in our face about how much "worse" they have it. Maybe they are having a bad day? Maybe they aren't trying to be a one-upper and I am taking it the wrong way? Maybe they really are just a one-upper and I need to put it in a bubble and let it go? Patience and grace.
We are in this together. I know that it was hard with my first baby and it is hard with my fourth baby. I know that the challenges I had with my first baby are different than the challenges I have with my fourth baby. It was hard being pregnant with a singleton and hard being pregnant with twins. It is important to extend the same grace that I wanted as a first time mom to other first time moms. More important than that is knowing that not everyone desires or will have 3+ children and that is okay; it also doesn't make the experience of having 3+ children better or greater than having 1 or 2 children.
To whoever wrote that comment on the HONY post, I'm sorry that your experience with moms of 3+ children has been less than positive. I hope that this blog post helps shed some light on the perspective of parents who have 4 children and compare the experience of parenting their first child to their fourth child. I also hope that as parents we can uplift each other instead of bringing each other down. You are absolutely correct that we need to support each other and that everyone's motherhood journey is different.
To the first time mom sitting at the pediatrician's office first thing Monday morning because your 9-month old sneezed over the weekend and has a drippy nose, love to you. To the second time mom wiping a pacifier off on the hem of your dress, love to you. To the third time mom wondering if the baby has been bathed this week at all, love to you. To the fourth time mom popping in 101 Dalmatians for the 100,000,000 time just to have some peace and quiet in the evening, love to you. To the fifth time mom answering for the 100th time "Yes, they are all mine," love to you. To the mom of newborn twins struggling to feed one baby and bounce the other, love to you. To the mom of toddler twins desperately trying to make the house one iota more baby-proof, love to you. To the mom suffering from a recent miscarriage and desperately missing that baby you never held, love to you. To the mom balancing the children and life while your husband is deployed or away, love to you. To the mom pregnant and chasing after one or two or three children and longing for a nap or a break, love to you. To the mom of the toddler screaming through the grocery store while your fellow shoppers glare at you, love to you. To the mom crying in the bathroom while you text your mom and the children tussle and fight in the other room, love to you. To the mom sitting in the van in the driveway while your children nap in the backseat, love to you. To the mom of one child being asked all the time when you are having another, love to you. To the mom feeling you are doing it all wrong, love to you. We support you all.
Happy Mother's Day!