A Letter to a Mother of Three Small Children

Help me!  

That was the subject of an email I recently received from a dear friend.  She had just had her third child (mazel tov!), and was now juggling the responsibilities of life with three small children.  I think her oldest may be three?  Something along those lines.

Her email continued:

Okay, Rivki…you’ve been managing with 3 kids for a while now….so…yeah, tips on managing with 3 kids. Go.

I wrote about being outnumbered by my progeny a while back, and, over time, it *has* gotten easier to care for my brood (4, 2, and 1 years old!).  I was happy to share the tips I’ve learned over the past year.  Of course!  Anything for a friend.  Last week, my friend suggested that I share my advice in a post, so that’s what I’m doing today.

Since you all are the best readers out there (I was so impressed with the discussion in the comments of my last post), I would love if you would share tips and tricks you developed when in this hectic stage of life (even if you don’t have three kids close together, you probably still have some practical advice to contribute!).  What worked, what didn’t work, what would you do differently?  Looking forward to reading your comments!

~ ~ ~

Dear mother of three wee ones,

Yes, three children can be tricky to manage sometimes.  Boy, can they!  Sorry I wasn’t quicker to respond.  I was obsessing over Candy Crush Saga.

1.  Designated kid time.  One thing I’ve noticed is that when all the kids are home (my oldest is in playgroup from 9-1), it’s best when I really don’t try to do anything but be with them.  No dinner-making, no laundry, nothing.  The best is when I take them somewhere, like the library, or a playground, or various other free and somewhat interesting activities.  The zoo.  Whatever.  Then they are not bored, so they fight less, and I’m not frustrated at home, where I can look at all the domestic chores I need to be doing.  This means that the house is messier, dinners are less fancy (or from the freezer), and I cross fewer things off my to-do list.  But it’s worth it for me.  Of course, sometimes I need to be in the kitchen, or whatever, so I try to engage them.  They helped me make tuna patties today by pouring the ingredients (which I measured out) into the bowl.  Also, when I give them a decent amount of attention (10 minutes, maybe), they will play longer on their own.

2.  Get help.  If you have a friend who can watch your older kids for an hour, do it.  Or find a seminary girl who needs chesed hours (okay, it’s the summer, so that might be trickier to find).  But anything to just take the edge off for even a small amount of time.  Playdates can help, even if it means someone coming over to your apartment.  When my oldest has a friend over, he really doesn’t need my attention as much.

3.  Expect a certain amount of chaos.  Now that you are outnumbered, chances are there will just be more crying.  You can’t get to everyone, and so you have to do triage.  That’s hard sometimes, especially when two or more kids are all crying/whining/pulling on your skirt.  For me, this is the most challenging aspect.  But since they are kids, they will be crying hysterically one minute, and five minutes later, they are fine.  So just try to remember that you can only attend to one, maybe two kids at a time, and it’s okay if they have to wait.  They will learn about patience, and that’s not such a bad thing.

4.  Teach your girls to be helpers.  Maybe because they’re girls they’re already helpers, but I have really made an effort to get my boys to help.  When I was sitting on the couch nursing and I needed a tissue, I would ask my oldest to get one for me and then heap on the praise about how he is SUCH A BIG HELPER and so on.  Same thing with my younger son.  If I can ask them to help, I do.  They get each other’s shoes, sippy cups, etc.   They can get the wipes and the diapers, they can get the baby her pacifier, or a toy, etc.  It’s good for them, and it’s good for us.

5.  Take care of yourself.  If you’re really run down, it’s just harder to manage.  I’m sure this is not a revelation to you, and you’re probably better at this than I am anyways, but it’s important to get enough sleep, take your vitamins, drink lots of water, take showers (oh man, showers), and maybe go out to coffee with a friend.

6.  It may take a while to adjust.  Honestly, I think I felt fairly overwhelmed until my baby was nine months old.  Yes.  That long.  Sorry.  It’s just a lot of shlepping with three little kids, a lot of clothes to put on and take off, bottoms to wipe, etc. etc.  Thank G-d, it’s wonderful, but it’s very physically tiring, and there were many days that I just felt tired, cranky and overwhelmed.  But it does get easier, it just may take a little while, so don’t worry if it’s taking longer than you would like.  Many people have told me that this exact phase is one of the most challenging because the children are all so little and require so much physical care.  So know that it’s okay that it’s hard, and that it will eventually settle down.

I hope these are helpful tips.  If you ever need encouragement or have questions, or anything like that, I’m happy to help if I can.  You can do it!  IY”H, it should just be a smooth time for you, and all your kids should give you a lot of nachas.



28 thoughts on “A Letter to a Mother of Three Small Children

  1. Rivki: After a very difficult birth, I struggled with ONE child, so it is difficult for me to imagine having three kiddies to juggle! I’m always amazed by women who seem to manage so well.

    Best advice here? Get help. Not everyone is so great with the needy baby phase. For me, when I finally stopped hoping my MIL would come to the rescue (she never did) and hired a reliable local girl once a week, I found I had something solid.

    That said, some people — when they ask these questions — are trying to say something else. Something like: I’m falling apart. Or I’m not enjoying this. Or I feel lonely. I’m a failure. Maybe even: I’m desperate. Help me because I kind of want to die.

    Those women need to get to their doctors. For some of us post partum depression (PPD) is a missed diagnosis. We feel so sad for so long. We cry in our cars. We don’t feel joy. When we carry high expectations for ourselves (maybe unreasonably high expectations) and pair them with a hormonal imbalance, we set ourselves up for a bad time.

    So yes. Your words are good words, but if your friend feels they didn’t quite get to what she was intimating, it might be time to call the primary care doc. There is no shame in checking in to make sure everything is okay physically.

    I wish someone told me tidbit before I became so desperate. It would have saved me much heartache.

    1. Oh, Renee, what an important comment. I’m so glad you shared it. Sometimes it *is* more than just “waiting for things to settle down” and with all the pressure that mothers face, no one should ever feel ashamed in making sure that physically, everything is okay. Thank you for this, so much.

  2. I agree with everything you said!

    And, just realize that this situation is only temporary – it really does get (physically) easier as they get older (even if you have more kids). Enjoy every minute of their delicious cuteness before they are off and running!

  3. From the flip side I’d also say, that sometimes, as a friend, rather than saying “Let me know if you need anything.” to a Mama with any number of kiddos…Just go ahead and do something for your friend. A lot of people won’t ask for help because of pride or not wanting to “feel like a failure”. (Which of course is not true, asking for help doesn’t mean you can’t handle things!) Take groceries to a friend, call her and tell her you are swinging by to take the older kids to the park, drop off dinner, swing by with some laundry detergent and wash a load of laundry, etc. It’s easy to never reach out and never take someone up on their offer to help. It’s hard to refuse help when it shows up at your door. Mazel tov to your friend.

    1. It’s definitely better to just help than to offer to help. I try to make a habit of calling friends when I’m going to the grocery store, to see if there’s anything I can pick up. Having their kids over for a playdate is a nice way to do chesed without it seeming like chesed (in case they are not receptive to it at the moment, you know?). Inviting someone over for a Shabbos meal, or sending over some extra challah (or kugel or soup or whatever). If anyone wants to swing by my house and do a loud of laundry, I will not turn them down, for the record.

  4. Btw, after I hit send and read my post again I didn’t mean “you” in the sense of Rivki, I just meant it in a general way. Sorry if it came across like *you* weren’t helping your friend. Didn’t mean it like that!

  5. My first 3 are 3 years apart. Take 1 hour at a time. Get older 2 on same nap schedule so you can sleep then. Put toy basket near laundry and another one in kitchen. If the house isn’t sparkling, its ok. If you don’t have family or friends near by, even more so. Kids are going to mess up the house so a quick go over right before Shabbos is fine. Make time for yourself even if it means reading a book while the kids play on the floor. Story time at the library can be your best friend- the kids become engaged by someone else and you can both sit and rest and socialize with other moms. You may seem exhausted now, but eventually the kids get older and then they help around the house so your days don’t seem overwhelming anymore. And Mazel tov to you.

  6. Just reading this post now, but as a new mom of two (well, 3.5 months can still count as new, right?) it’s so helpful to hear! Both of my kids have been sick and my two year old is going through a tough phase of defying EVERYTHING, so add that into Pesach prep and I’m literally toast–or matzah:) Glad I’m not the only one that takes a while to get in the swing of things!

    1. 3.5 months totally counts as new!! I hope Pesach turned out good, and I also hope that your two-year-old starts agreeing to some thing. My two-year-old’s most commonly used words right now are “mine,” “don’t,” “no,” “stop it,” and “don’t bothering me.” So I can relate!

  7. Good advice…I have 4, going on 5 children (all under 8) You just have to know that life will be chaotic… but, honestly at this point, it is much easier to have all 4 kids in the house than just 2 -because all 4 entertain each other, when there are fewer children, I have to really be actively involved. Siblings are the best gift you can give your children! They will likely be there for them longer than you will be there for them. It is hard in the beginning, being outnumbered…but as they grow and get more and more helpful, it is the best. I have many helpful hands, not a handful.

    1. That is such an excellent point! And I know once my littles are a little bigger (my oldest is only 5), it will get easier (like when they can help themselves to a drink or food without needing me as much).

  8. Hi, visiting you via The SITS Girls. (A side note that might surprise you, I’m an American Christian who keeps Shabbat). Very good and practical advice, hope your friend follows it so that she will not be too exhausted to enjoy her wee ones! Wish you the best with your blogging!

    1. Thanks for visiting, and for the kind comment! I’ve heard about some denominations and movements that keep Shabbat – it’s so interesting to me.

  9. Hi, there, Rivki! I loved this. All of it. This post was unlike any “post letter” I have ever read, yet I “got it” on so many levels.

    Thank you for sharing.

    (And I’m totally LOLing over the Candy Crush Saga reference.)

    Stopping by from SITS a day late. Oral surgery yesterday. Don’t ask. :-(

  10. A small piece of practical advice from a mom of 4: wear your baby…in a wrap. Great bonding, free hands, and one less kid to fit in a grocery cart. Over from SITS.

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