Originally published by Ten to Twenty
When I was pregnant with my third child, a stranger walked up to me on the soccer field and gave me the most compassionate, rudest, wisest advice I’ve ever received. She said, “I’m going to tell you something nobody else will tell you. Having a third child changes EVERYTHING. You’re going to have to get a new car, a new house, and people will stop inviting you over.” And before I could respond, she walked away.
That quickly I was left less glowy, stunned, and speechless, unable to tell if I’d just been insulted or nurtured. But considering my haze of pregnancy idealism, illustrated by the “I want it sassy!” moment of horrific judgment at the hair salon the day before, I had it coming. It turns out she was exactly right. Several months later after the blissful delivery of that third fat, fat baby (his nickname for the first two years), we quickly graduated to a midsize SUV, a bigger house, and became the lepers of family barbeques.
The fat, fat baby happened to be the easiest of all of my kids. It wasn’t his behavior that ousted us. It was the number “5” on the RSVP card. It did our social lives in. But we didn’t actually care, because the truth was, three kids also made even the simplest of outings completely exhausting. We now had a sulking tween, a giddy toddler that could run into the elevator and hit close before we could catch her, and a fat, fat baby that strained every caregiver’s back he every had. True story.
So now, I’m that mean stranger lady giving you unwanted but sage advice. Here it is. Unless you’re one of those magnificent manicured mothers that can effortlessly quiet a sobbing baby and frantic toddler throughout a plane flight and then rest without resentment in the hotel room during naptime while everybody else tastes the exotic delicacies of your most recent vacation destination, then this article is for you.
If you’re having your third baby, vacations as you once knew them are now gone. Plane flights will be chaotic, exhausting, and outrageously expensive. One hotel room will no longer cut it, doubling your vacation budget. And forget about pleasing everybody in the family. Somebody’s going to be miserable (like adults and tween), because you will be catering to the youngest child by necessity.
At nine months pregnant due to the inspiration from that blunt soccer mom, I had the foresight of a bedraggled not-sassy shaman. I detonated any hope of a near-future vacation budget and remodeled the kitchen and put in a pool. I painted the bathroom walls a soothing citrine and sprinkled the living room with China Pear scented tea lights. The master bedroom became a Moroccan-inspired Mommy escape and the backyard was swiftly littered with genius distractions like a trampoline, hoola hoops, and a zip line. During this frantic survivalist outfitting, I also surrendered my insistence of sorted pencil drawers and matching socks. In a sentence, I transitioned our home into a constantly cluttered and littered with fishy-crackers staycation paradise.
Now that my kids are older (21, 13, and 11 years old), we can occasionally venture out of the house for fun. And we do. But no longer does the pool and hoola hoops cut it in regard to keeping them happy at home. And, once again, I employed big home structural strategies to keep us balanced. In a sentence, I identified each child’s passion and exploited it!
What do I mean by “exploit?” I mean that in order to take respite from entertaining the kids myself or allowing them to vegetate in front of screen media for too many soul-killing hours, I deliberately sprinkle their passions throughout our home so they nourish themselves with a variety of healthy activities. Here are three examples from my three kids:
My oldest daughter lives away for college now. From a very early age, she was a chatty, social child and an only for her first eight years. Little could distract her from following me around chattering incessantly. Other than her telling the grocery store clerk our most embarrassing moments, repeatedly, her chirpy little prattle was adorable. But a mom needs a break on occasion.
My secret distractor for her was crafts. When her friends helped her sort through her room before she moved out (sob), they excavated 2.4 tons of half-complete crafts kits. These projects may have only distracted her for short moments, but they were necessary moments indeed. Although she doesn’t half-craft anymore, she is a senior in college and still talking to me. So that’s a good endorsement.
My middle daughter LOVES animals. She got this from me, although I’m not allowed to say that, because she will sassily say, “I’m my OWN person.” We have miraculously held off horse ownership despite weekly begs, because we don’t have those kinds of riches. But animals are the number one way to keep her happy and compliant with screen media restrictions.
Our four-legged/two winged bribes have expanded into what apparently looks to others like animal hoarding. For us, it’s heaven. We now have two dogs, a cat, three bunnies, seven chickens, two pigs, and two goats that leisurely graze on top of a pet cemetery of critters long lost. I highly recommend this strategy. Although it may not be for you if you’re like my gal-pal Val with her self-described “OCD’s.” She never leaves my house without the comment, “I NEED to go home and take a Valium.” It’s the poop that takes her over the edge, so be sure to realistically assess your limitations.
My youngest son (aka fat, fat baby)…he’s the hardest to distract. He wants video games like his perimenopausal mother needs meds. We’ve had to patchwork his nonvirtual reality with a climbing tree, hip-hop, and his Golden doodle, Reggie. I wish I could show you videos of he and Reggie playing hide and seek. It’s adorable. He throws the ball as far as he can, then frantically runs giggling to some hidey-hole as Reggie tears around whining and frantically searching for his boy. Each reunion is a woofing squealing delight. They will play this for hours. Even though these two smelly, dirty, and now svelte beasts are catastrophically noisy and tail-waggingly destructive, it’s the cutest thing ever. He also swims, climbs trees, listens to loud hip hop, and follows me around whining.
The key to great parenting is obviously staying engaged and connected. But in order to sustain our homes and personal lives as adults outside of just parenting, we must encourage our children’s independence and unique journey to find who they truly are. The trick is staying engaged in a way that is sustainable in a warm, vibrant home, recognizing that a sense of humor and flexibility is the key to family harmony.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetYourKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty GetKidsInternetSafe.com