I'm a Mom of Four, and Here's Why Having One Kid Is Harder Than Any Other Number of Children

Studies may show that parents of three are more stressed than those with any other number of children, but this mom of four disagrees.

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Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Willets

According to a 2013 "TODAY Parents" survey of more than 7,000 parents, three is the most stressful number of children to have. But as a mom of four, that has not been my experience.

Don't get me wrong: Going from two to three children was not a walk in the park—with a double stroller. And adding a fourth child means I'm on 24 hours a day. I literally run around my house to try and meet everyone's needs.

Still, I found the most challenging number of kids to have was one. That's right, going from no kids to one child rocked my world more than finding out I was having a fourth. Let me explain.

From 0 to 1: The Biggest Adjustment

Before I was a mom, my life was all about me. Then, my first daughter was born. My life was not remotely about me for another second from that day forward. Like all new parents, my day started when my baby wanted it to, not when I felt like rolling out of bed. No longer did I have time to put on makeup. I was lucky to get an opportunity to shower, let alone watch an eyebrow grooming tutorial on YouTube.

Nights out turned to nights in. Sipping wine at a bar with friends became guzzling coffee at 5 a.m. Hosting dinner parties? Try hosting play dates. The life I knew before kids was gone, and I was utterly unprepared for that reality.

To say I had a difficult time adjusting was an understatement. I remember walking around Target with my husband and young daughter one Saturday night, crying because this was as exciting as things would get that weekend. Look, I loved being a mom, but I'd had no idea how life-altering it would be—that I'd spend my days playing with puzzles and pretending in a play kitchen. Sometimes I desperately missed the stimulation of adult conversation and having goals other than doing baby laundry during nap time.

I was also very hard on myself, like Gordon Ramsay hard. I wanted to be the best mom since June Cleaver and enrolled my little one in swim lessons, storytime, and Salsa lessons (OK, just kidding on that last one). But I put a lot of pressure on myself to get everything right. For example, I stuck to a rigid sleep schedule and probably didn't put my daughter to bed later than 7 p.m. a single time before she was 3.

From 1 to 2: Things Got Easier

Then, I got pregnant with baby number two. Friends warned that the transition from one child to two would be brutal! So, I prepared myself for the worst.

But there was a major difference in welcoming our second daughter versus when our first was born. For example, I already had no life of my own, so my expectations for having any "me" time weren't high. It had been two years since I'd languished on the sofa enjoying a cup of coffee instead of reheating it 12 times over three hours.

Since I'd become far more accustomed to mom life, this time around, things were actually easier. I knew what to expect from my new baby like I wouldn't sleep much the first year. On top of that, I could let go of my iron grip on perfectionism because it was no longer realistic. Instead, keeping two small children healthy and safe became my objective, and when that happened, I wanted to raise a glass (of whole milk) to myself.

Life got even more manageable when my baby was old enough to play with her big sister. My firstborn had a built-in playmate for the first time in her life. I was no longer the defacto fort builder or evil queen to her princess. When I got pregnant with our third child, occasionally, I'd park my exhausted rear end on the couch and supervise the "playhem" rather than yawning my way through constructing a Lego city. Again.

From 2 to 3: A New Perspective

Parents often say that things get out of control once your kids outnumber you. We have had those moments, but overall, I honed my ability to laugh off the chaos once our third daughter arrived.

Maybe my standards were lower, but I like to think I just relaxed into motherhood. I could appreciate small things much more, like my baby's first smile, instead of obsessing over bedtime routines. The perspective that everything was a phase was what helped most. No, my baby wouldn't wake up at 3 a.m. every night for the rest of her life.

Having three kids meant I always had a little helper on hand. Even little kids can assist in small ways, like handing mama a diaper for the baby. As the girls grow, they take on more responsibility, making parenting a large brood slightly less daunting. All three girls are old enough to pick up their rooms, make their lunches, and whip up linguine with pesto for dinner (OK, maybe not that one quite yet).

From 3 to 4: Embracing the Chaos

As you can imagine, by kiddo number four, I have wholly embraced the pandemonium. Now that my kids are 10, 8, 5, and 7 months, I accept our house will always be loud and slightly disorderly, and I won't have time to eat a meal sitting down for a decade. And rather than trying to be the world's most perfect mom, I now operate on the theory that as long as most of my kids are bathed, they like the dinner I made, or aren't crying, I'm winning.

Our big family is a team, and we are there to support one another. Recently, my third child didn't make the school play, and her big sisters lifted her spirits with jokes and encouragement for the next time. Sure, we're a loud and boisterous bunch, but there is so much love here. Whenever being a mom of many kids starts to feel overwhelming, I remind myself how lucky I am that we're all healthy (most of the time) and happy (or at least half of us are, depending on the moment).

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