Why having three children is the new two

With Kate Middleton expecting her third child, Andrea Mara wonders if three is the new two

Andrea Mara with her three kids, Elissa, Nia, and Matthew.

I BUMPED into an old friend last week, someone I hadn’t seen in 20 years. We compared notes — three kids each. “Three is the new two,” said my old friend, and indeed, anecdotally at least, it feels as though this is the case. Kate Middleton will join this cohort of parents early next year, breaking the royal mould by having a third child. So what’s great about going from two to three, and what are the challenges?

For me, the biggest change was being outnumbered. With two children, I could hold each child’s hand, but not so with three. This still causes occasional strops, although my kids are nine, eight and five. (Mostly I’m just relieved they still want to hold my hand.) It’s also more difficult to have one-on-one time with the kids. When we had two children, sometimes my husband took one on an outing (OK, it was usually the supermarket) while I took the other somewhere else. When my youngest came along, our divide-and-conquer strategy no longer worked, and even now, it’s difficult to make sure they each get occasional undivided attention.

Parent blogger Sinéad Fox (BumblesofRice.com) had a similar experience. “With two, it’s one-on-one combat; with three you’re outnumbered plain and simple. If they run in three different directions when you’re out, you’ve got to decide which child is more likely to make wise choices and which needs immediate following.”

Vicky Gregory went as far as setting up a blog called ThreeistheNewTwo when she had her third baby, having noticed that many of her friends were having third children. So would Kate Middleton fit in here in Ireland? “Absolutely. I started the blog because I was posting small snippets about life with three kids and got a good response. It was great to know I wasn’t the only one. The amount of physical and emotional support you get from mums of three or more is amazing — on school runs, keeping an eye on kids on the street while you hang out the washing, that kind of thing.”

Vicky, who recently took redundancy and now sells sand art from home (SandasticArtVickyKidsBeeHappy), says there’s one drawback. “The thing about writing about having three kids is that you don’t have time to write because you have three kids.”

In theory, going from two to three is more challenging than from one to two, but this depends on many factors, particularly age-gap. When I had my second baby, her big sister was just 20 months old, and I found having two-under-two extremely challenging. By contrast, my second child was already a walking, talking toddler when her brother was born, and it was much easier. Unconfirmed reports suggest the Duchess of Cambridge is due her baby in March 2018, which would mean big sister Charlotte will be almost three – an age-gap that could help the transition to three children.

Blogger Lucy O’Connor (LearnerMama.com) also felt two to three was easier. “I found going from one to two hard, because you have to start juggling. When you go to three, you already know how to juggle — you just need to juggle faster. Though now they’re older and have lots of activities and parties it becomes insane. We need to be in three different places but there are only two of us!”

The juggling starts before the baby is born — even a third pregnancy can be more difficult, simply because you’re trying to look after two small children too, and Kate Middleton has the added challenge of hyperemesis gravidarum — severe pregnancy sickness. (I just had age to contend with, at least according to my GP who reminded me I was older and the pregnancy would be tougher.) And of course, three is an odd number, which can have practical impacts on everything from hotel rooms to boxes of French Fancies. It also means one child may be left out during playtime, as Sinéad Fox discovered.

“They tend to pair up, then one of the three is complaining that the other two are excluding them. But there’s always someone to play with, there’s rarely a dull moment, and there are plenty of hugs. Three for me is the perfect number. But everyone is going to say that about the number they have.”

Third children can be very chilled out —possibly because they have no choice but to slot in to the family.

There is also a tendency to loosen the reins and lower standards with each subsequent child. I remember when my youngest was two, I discovered he didn’t know any nursery rhymes — because we just hadn’t had time to teach him.

He ate food off the floor, and we didn’t wrestle it from his mouth. He slid down the stairs on his belly and we all laughed. He watched TV and ate cake and the world didn’t end.

Whether he will turn out to be a screen-addicted sugar-fiend or a well-adjusted adult who can take life in his stride is not yet clear, but one thing’s for sure — being the third child made him the centre of our universe. We forgot to teach him nursery rhymes but perhaps third time round we worked out what’s really important.


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