Is three the new two?

Maybe it's just us, but we're seeing a lot of bigger families these days. Here's a look at the pros and cons.

The first time the topic of kids came up, my husband, Rob, and I agreed: Three was the magic number. I grew up in a family of four siblings, and one of us was always on the attention short list. And with visions of one kid poking me to entertain him every time his sister was at a sleepover or playing soccer, I couldn’t imagine stopping after only two. Nope, for us, four was too many and two just wasn’t enough.

When we announced our third was on the way, though, we had to answer to our share of naysayers who gaped, “Are you nuts? You already have a boy and a girl!” And yet, looking around, I found we weren’t alone. Many of our friends were also crazy (or brave) enough to have three kids.

For the last couple of decades at least, the two-kid family was the norm. But these days, more and more parents seem to be considering going for the third. Just google “having three kids” and you’ll see the Internet teeming with three-kid thoughts, insights and advice.

Which raises the question: When it comes to baby making, is three the new two? (See Trend or no trend?.)

Trend or not, Statistics Canada’s latest census shows that in 2006, almost one million Canadian couples had three kids living at home. With so many families growing to the point where children outnumber their parents, there are bound to be some unique parenting challenges. So read on for some insight into Parenting 1-2-3.

Imbalance of power

Transition from two to three kids and the first thing you’ll notice is that there are more of them than there are of you. To put it in sports terms à la Rob: Now you’ve got to employ zone defence instead of simple man to man. Whereas before, one of us paddled with Seth in the deep end while the other taught Rachel to swim, now someone had to deal with Aaron’s tantrums on solid ground. With three kids, there just aren’t enough of you to go around.

And the middle child syndrome is real. Just as the self-help books warned, I found myself gushing over my Big Boy who kept surprising me with firsts like his brand new penmanship, and I couldn’t get enough of goo-gooing with my newest Babyface. But if I wasn’t on guard, I might miss the fact that my former Babyface, who was unceremoniously bumped from her special place, needed some fawning too.

As excited as the older two were to welcome their little bro, they too were affected by the sudden division of parental attention into what are invariably unequal parts. Instead of being able to count on hearing our footsteps every time they called, they were hit with many more shouts of, “Just a minute!” And they quickly learned that a minute is a lot longer than 60 seconds.

Parenting my trio brings new challenges as they grow. The older two figured out that they have an extra body around to gang up on, align with, or simply leave out. Having that extra body along also means we are now on the hook for two hotel rooms when we travel. And this year I have arranged carpools for three different schools, not to mention an activities schedule that resembles a Ph.D. statistics table plastered across my fridge.

Finally, we’re going to have to come up with a new way of negotiating family issues, such as bedtimes or choosing a movie to watch. That’s because recently the kids clued in to the fact that majority rules means that to get their way, all they have to do is get along.

Insta-family

At least, having planned on three kids, I knew (pretty much) what I was getting into — unlike Tara Wong, a mom in Aurora, Ont., who found herself pregnant with twins when her daughter, Nyla, was still a toddler. “I had always wanted three kids, but having them so fast was a shock,” says Wong, who spends much of her days nursing Ava and Jack, while trying to keep Nyla happily involved. “The biggest challenge is my eldest. She wants to do everything for her siblings — change their diapers, get them dressed. It’s hard to have the patience to let her help while making sure she doesn’t crush them!” Wong says.

Living her own life — working as a massage therapist, even answering emails — is basically on hold for now because “having three close together is more than busy,” she says. And yet her husband, Jason, is already talking about a fourth. “He says there should never be an odd man out,” Wong says. “Easy for him to say. Right now, I’m doing all the work!”

Kidding aside, Wong says that three kids just feels right — especially since they cover both genders. “I feel like my family is complete,” she says.

Toronto mom Ashley Gryfe agrees that a trio brings a “wonderful big-family feeling.” Gryfe was set to stop having babies after her two boys, Harrison and Cooper, when — oops — the plus sign appeared on the pregnancy test stick. “We had just renovated our house and life was hectic,” she says, recalling how she sent her husband, Steven, back to the drugstore to buy a second, more expensive test. But the addition of her daughter, Quincy, was a delight. “I had given up on the idea of a girl, but when she appeared, we couldn’t imagine life without her,” Gryfe says.

Moving from two to three kids under five wasn’t a big jump in the chaos department, says Gryfe, who works in jewellery sales. It certainly wasn’t three times harder than one. “Once you’ve got your hands full with two, the third just adds dimension,” she says. And her daughter seemed to balance the dynamic between the two boys. “As usual, they still fought with each other, now it was just over her instead of toys.”

Sticking together

Of course, you can’t overlook the cost of that extra child, especially if you hire help, or send your kids to private school. Theresa Jarvis of Oromocto, NB, admits to spending almost $200 a month on milk alone for her family of five. But Jarvis just laughs when she hears the argument that having three or more kids is eco-unfriendly because you’re hogging too much of the planet’s resources. The way she sees it, her sister has no kids, so it all evens out.

Jarvis, a full-time mom of Jordan, 14, Emma, nine, and two-year-old Fionna, always envisioned a full house. But having her three widely spaced brought challenges. For one, the family plans carefully when they’re thinking of eating out. “The older two like to sit down and order off a menu, but the youngest is bound to have a temper tantrum before we get our food,” Jarvis says. “For us, buffets are ideal.”

It’s also hard to find family activities that everyone can enjoy when one child is all about Xbox, another, Littlest Pet Shop toys, and the third Strawberry Shortcake dolls. “Our way around this problem was to invest in a swimming pool,” Jarvis says. “We add toys for every age: silly floats, beach balls, floating disco fountains.”

While at times, the age gap seems wide, Jarvis enjoys the alone time she spends with her youngest while the others are at school, and often reminds her kids that one day, it won’t matter who is older. But for now, she says, there is at least one valuable perk: “I always have a built-in babysitter.”

Trend or no trend?

Are we having more kids?

Well, yes, but it’s not as simple as a jump from two- to three-child families.

FACT: There were 939,325 three-child families in 2001 and, by 2006, that number had actually dropped to 913,465. However, more families are having kids. The birth rate per 1,000 population across Canada has been climbing each year, from 10.6 in 2004 to 11.3 in 2009.

FACT: The increase in the number of births also reflects a rise in Canadian women’s fertility rate (the average number of children per woman aged 15 to 49). In 2007, that number sat at 1.66, up from 1.53 in 2003.

Besides having more kids, Canadian women are having multiple births — twins, triplets, and more — in record numbers.

FACT: Between 1994 and 2004 the multiple birth rate increased by 17 percent.

FACT: Twins, triplets and other multiple birth babies accounted for three percent of all births in 2005.

Take the twins test

What are your chances of having twins? Take the test, says Gail Moore, chair and communications director for Multiple Births Canada.

Are you over 30? Multiple births are more frequent among women in their 30s and 40s, and many more women are delaying having kids. In 2002, approximately 55 percent of multiple birth babies were born to women over 30.

Taking fertility drugs? About 35 percent of multiple pregnancies result from fertility treatments, and it is estimated that more than 80 percent of higher-order multiples (triplets and more!) result from these treatments.

Loving those late-night snacks? The heavier you are, the greater your chance of having twins. Women with a pre-pregnancy body mass index of 30
or greater are significantly more likely to conceive fraternal multiples.

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