Life with Three: What's Different
So far, life with three kids isn't much different than life with two. The girls are fairly close in age (22 months) so they've been their own little unit for quite some time now, and mostly share the same schedule and interests. People have said to me that after three you can have any number of kids because you go from man-on-man to being outnumbered, but as a stay-at-home mother, I feel like I've been outnumbered since Mimi came along. The transition to three hasn't been that big of a deal (although I might be singing a different tune once George is mobile, or once preschool is out for the summer).
I've actually had two or three other mothers observe that I seem really calm, and I do feel like the extra dynamic that a third adds has brought more calm to our life, ironically. Now there's just no way to have control and keep track of all the things at all times, and it has calmed me. I think with my personality, I would be no good at being a mother of one. Three has humbled me more and helped me surrender my agenda, and helped me be more present and joyful.
Either way, there are some tweaks we've been making around here to make life go more smoothly, and I thought I'd share here in case you can benefit from it, too.
Do things early. The theme of our life is early. When we do things early, everything goes better for everyone. We wake up early, I prep dinner early (to some extent, even if it's just setting the table and getting out whatever pots/pans/cooking utensils I know I'll need), we lay out clothes the night before (kids and parents), I drink my glass of wine early (in the 4 o'clock hour, don't judge, because the 5-6 o'clock hour is just too busy and I either don't get to finish it or I don't get to enjoy it) and we put everyone to bed early, including ourselves when we're being smart.
To aid in this, Nick has tweaked his work schedule, which used to be longer days in exchange for every other Friday off. Now he works on those Fridays in exchange for shorter days, and so far it has been great. We weren't really taking advantage of that day off (and truthfully those were some of the harder days for us because it threw off our routine), and now we have him home almost an hour earlier every day. Some days he even cooks dinner now which is the BEST.
Lean on help. This is another thing that I've really felt the need to do, even before George came along. I used to try and prove to myself how much I could do WITHOUT help, and now I've put my pride aside and try to get help whenever I can because, why not? My mom comes up a couple days a month, sometimes more, which is tremendously helpful and usually the only times each month I'm truly productive; we've had cleaning help for most of the time since before Eloise was born; and since we don't live right around the corner from family, I've also felt the need to build our arsenal of babysitters for things other than just date nights. It really does give us so much more flexibility.
Examples: Eloise has begun tee-ball and her games are all at 6 or 7pm, and George goes to bed around 5:30/6pm, so I hired two different sitters to cover the bulk of the season (which is thankfully only 6 games) so that I can attend most of the games. Last week Mimi found out who the sitter was--a beloved former preschool teacher of hers--and she actually wanted to stay home too, so it was a win-win for all of us. I'm even getting fancy and hired a sitter for an hour one afternoon last week so I could get a pedicure, and the girls couldn't have been more excited. I also see this being a great option to hire someone for just George if Nick and I want to take the girls to do a bigger kid activity (skiing next winter, for example) since as the girls grow I don't want them to resent a younger sibling holding them back.
Outsource groceries. This has also changed. I just don't grocery shop anymore. Our grocery routine has gone from me taking one child to the store to shop, to taking two children to the store to shop, to leaving two children at home with either my husband at night or my mom on her days here to shop, to heavily utilizing the Shop from Home service and ordering our groceries online and picking up at the store with child/ren in tow, to out latest iteration of ordering them online and having Nick pick them up on his way home! I'm either getting smarter or lazier.
It would still take up almost our whole morning to load up child/ren, get to the store to pick up the order, come home, unload everyone and everything, and put groceries away while feeding toddler/s lunch. Nick passes the store on his way home so it's much more seamless now, even if it's a little hectic to unload in the dinner hour. It's a trade-off that is serving us well.
For naps and bedtime, separate them. This is how I'm managing to get a little bit of rest/sleep/downtime. Now that the girls share a room, it has highly benefited us to separate them during naptime--Mimi in their room napping and Eloise in our guest room with a lap desk (great investment), a cup of colored pencils, paper, scissors and tape. That girl amazes me with the creations she comes up with with just some simple supplies. I set the nap timer for an hour and a half on her clock (BEST investment--it turns green when she can come downstairs, and we also set it to turn green at 6:45 each morning and although the girls are often awake before that, they know they can't come downstairs until it's green which gives Nick and I some time to drink our coffee and brace for impact) and she happily amuses herself, gets some downtime, and I try really hard to time one of George's naps to happen during this time so that all three are upstairs and I get 30 minutes to an hour to myself to recharge and sometimes catnap. I have become a champion cat napper.
At nighttime, this has looked like a 1.5-2 hour process of putting everyone to bed one at a time, but what we have lost in time we make up for in doability (I think I made that word up) and parental sanity. When the girls get together in the bedtime hour, they get WACKY and BAD. It just can't be prevented. By separating them, it calms the process down. George usually gets put to bed before dinner or midway through dinner, then I bring Eloise upstairs immediately after dinner and read to her/put her down by 7ish while Nick cleans up the kitchen and spends time with Mimi, and then he's reading to Mimi on the couch by the time I finish with Eloise and both of us usually read with Mimi for a few minutes, and then he puts Mimi down last, around 7:15/7:30, since she still takes a 2-3 hour afternoon nap. Usually Eloise sleeps through Mimi getting her quietly-whispered song and this has prevented some of the end-of-night shenanigans we used to deal with when they were getting put down simultaneously.
NOW, this has only been possible since Nick is around to tag team this process, and I have a feeling it will all fall apart when he has a business trip. But so far it's working.
Go to the short church service. I'm sure this will change with time too as kids get older and nap schedules shift, but for now as we have eased back into attending church, we are bagging the full 10:15 service complete with Sunday school and singing every hymn, and we bring everyone to the abbreviated 9:00 service. I was hesitant to do this because the kids stay in church with us the whole time, but with the right arsenal of snacks and activities (and our church also has cute "busy bags" at the door that the girls are finally old enough to enjoy and stay occupied with), we haven't been the worst church attendees so far.
I also care a lot less about my kids making a certain level of noise, since that's what kids--and babies--do. I used to go into a blackout panic when anyone would make a peep, but so far I've found that the other church-goers are amused by little noises here and there, or at least they pretend to be. God looks at the heart, right? We're not trying to raise robots; we just ask that everyone try to whisper if they need to say something, and if a baby is truly wailing then we of course take them out of the sanctuary until they're calm again. (And once when both girls were younger and were just not having it, we straight up and left.)
Last week after church was the first time I was asked, "Are they all yours?" by an older woman, and it turns out she and her husband had 7 children of their own, so of course I asked her if she had any tips! And I love the advice she gave me. "Just keep plugging away." I think this is so true.
I think the generations before mine were much better at having this mindset, and now it's much more often about a quick fix, a product to buy, or at least an ear to complain to. When I just keep plugging away, I don't allow myself to dramatically die on the cross of motherhood. The put-your-head-down mentality doesn't come naturally to me, but it's often what I need to do. I used to be really good at remembering every single detail of a bad day so I could relay it all to Nick when he got home (doesn't that sound like a good time?) and now I usually forget most of it, drink a glass of wine, go to bed early, and start fresh the next day.
Last night we were eating pasta dinner on a rainy night, Nick was home extra early, we lit the candles, listened to the girls' days, and the baby happily squirmed and squeaked on his "playmat" next to the table (third child playmat=a blanket with one or two toys if he's lucky). It's ordinary moments like those that overwhelm me with joy and make me feel truly undeserving and grateful for being entrusted with these blessings. I love this family!