I Thought I Had Mastered Parenting Until My Second Kid Came Along

flickr / Lars Plougmann
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How does the time that goes into parenting time increase with the number of kids?

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Truthfully, once you get past 2 kids, you may as well have 10. Because it’s basically all the same.

When I had one kid and was a stay-at-home mom, my son would (usually) nap in the early afternoons, giving me a solid 2 hours to accomplish Various Essential Things Adults Do. For example, in those halcyon days, laundry was often folded and at least somewhat organized, there was no overflowing sink of dishes, and on especially lucky days I’d even have time to settle in and read a book or take a nap myself. Because with one kid, you still somewhat resemble a normally functioning adult in your downtime.

This is not the case once your children start outnumbering you. Someone always needs something. It’s like a game of Whack-a-Mole that never ends. There are moments of peace, sure, but those usually require blood sacrifices to the iPad or Kindle gods. Your house looks a little worse with each kid. You look a little worse with each kid.

Of course, once your kids get old enough — my elder 2 are 5 and almost-4 — they get to a point where they can entertain each other pretty effectively with minimal parental intervention. So when the baby’s asleep and the other 2 are off playing, I catch glimpses of my former self, the one who was able to peacefully fold a load of laundry or have an uninterrupted phone conversation or enjoy some Chips Ahoy without sharing. I can never get too attached to that, though, because someone always turns up to tattle on someone else, or something breaks or something needs batteries, or someone needs a hug, or … you get the idea.

The time breakdown of parent-to-kid attention looks a lot different the more kids you have, too. Sometimes we’ll do special one-on-one stuff with each kid, and sometimes it’ll be all of us. Sometimes I’ll read a book to just one, and sometimes all 3 of them pile onto my lap. There’s a whole chunk of my parenting pie chart devoted to Conflict Resolution. Essentially, you become half daycare operator, half small claims court jurist, except you never close, nobody pays you, and you pay for all the things. Sometimes you have additional staff. Like grandmas. And your challenge is to run the best, most reputable establishment you can, ideally with good outcomes, i.e. your kids aren’t psychopaths. It’s hard and it’s way more than a full-time job.

And then they go to bed at night — or not. You’ve got bad dreams, earaches, the pukes, someone pees, someone just wants more cuddles. A neverending cycle. But as a mom, I know I’m the center of the galaxy for them. You know, like a black hole. A gross, exhausted black hole that’s been wearing the same shirt for 3 days. But my life means that much more for it.

Julie Ann Exter is a therapist and publishing liasion. Topics she has written about include politics, health, and parenting. You can find more Quora posts here:

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