Three is stressful, not four; but why?

Check this article out first:

So having three kids is way too stressful, but four or more is perfect bliss?  What gives?  Logic would seem to dictate that the more children you have, the more stress there will be; each child multiplying the stress caused by the previous.  Other than not having any children at all, it would seem that the least amount of stress is caused by having only one; any more than that and you are either a glutton for punishment, or you truly believe that children are a blessing, and you desire to multiply that blessing in your home.

To be honest, even though I do not have children, I agree with the idea put forth in this article.  It makes perfect sense in my mind that having three children would be very stressful, but when you get to child number four and beyond, the stress level goes down dramatically.

What I do disagree with is the cause for that decrease in stress levels.  The reason the article puts forth is that (a) parents are more experienced at handling children and thereby are more prepared to the typical events that will come up in childhood; and (b) parents realize that much of the fuss they went through with the first children was largely uncalled for, and are more relaxed about things.

I am not saying that either of these reasons is wrong, but I am saying that they are not the prime reason.  If either of those reasons were the prime reason then the second child would be the most stressful, not the third.  Surely after being through the process of pregnancy, child birth, infancy, toddler, and ultimately school age twice, you would know what you are doing by the time you get to child number three.

The third reason given is that a parent only has two hands, and cannot do with three what she could with two (i.e. holding hands while crossing the street).  But that reason feeds into what I believe the true reason is as to why having three children is far more stressful than having four and more.

Using the example in the article, the woman with three children had them at two year intervals; so when the third was born, the older two were two and four.  At this point, the reasons stated as to why three children are stressful is certainly true: newborn, two and four year olds demand a lot of attention, and none of them are old enough to entertain one of the other two, let alone take care of.

But let’s assume in another two years the mother had a fourth child, now the ages are newborn, two, four and six.  While a six year old can hardly go to the store alone, the child can be trusted to play with the others unsupervised, while the parent is in another room with the others.

Now let’s add a fifth child in another two years; now the ages are newborn, two, four, six, and eight.  The oldest is now far more capable of helping with the others, and now the six year old can also aid in more ways than prior.

As a pastor, I have visited with countless members who helped rear younger brothers and sisters; and not just babysitting for an afternoon, but feeding, changing, bathing, playing, all things that you would normally think to be sole responsibilities of the parents.

Why does stress go down as the number of children increase?  Because barring having twins or triplets, by the time the fourth, fifth and sixth child are born, the ones who were born first can help with many of the responsibilities that the parents were originally the only ones old enough and tall enough to do.

It’s not that the parents have learned some new trick, nor is it that they don’t care anymore if the kid puts their finger in the outlet or not.  The parents have through words and actions taught the older children what to do, so they are no longer just more little people causing chaos, they have simply become mid-level management.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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2 Responses to Three is stressful, not four; but why?

  1. Meagan says:

    Absolutely, totally true.

  2. Rev. Robert Riebau says:

    You figured it out. I was pretty surprised myself. I came from a small family, but married a wife from a large family. Three was the most difficult number. Four and up weren’t as bad. With three, it’s a juggling act, especially three under four. With four and up, you are just a more seasoned parent. It’s just easier. Sure, we have stresses, such as, “What car do you buy?” “Can we get a larger home?” “What about college?” You know, the general worrying-about-tomorrow that Jesus assures us is unnecessary. But solutions abound. We bought a 15 passenger van. We’re working on the house, and besides, we feel guilty knowing that most of the members in our church over 80 came from larger families raised in smaller houses. Many of them went to the bathroom outside. We’re just light-weights. For college, we’re giving our children vocational education alongside their academic education. They’ll pay for college just like we did — by working. Boyfriends? No comment. But in all things: One day at a time. God is good.

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