When I was pregnant with our third child, people warned me that the jump from two kids to three was biggie. One friend even joked that her first was Daddy’s boy, her second was Mommy’s boy and her third was Nanny’s boy. I promised myself that would never be the case in our house. Our third son would have every opportunity his older brothers had. I’d spend just as much time with him as I did with the other two. He may get a few more hand-me-downs, but he’d enjoy the same programs, toys and birthday parties as the big boys.
Sure, we were more relaxed with our third son, but we chalked it up to experience. The nervousness we experienced with our first subsided with the second, and all but disappeared with the third. As a baby, he always went to bed a little later and he started certain solid foods a little earlier. He was a bit of a mystery man to the outside world, staying home with our nanny while I chauffeured the other two around. Still, I breastfed him for a year like I did with the others. We threw him birthday parties like we did for the others. There were just as many pictures and videos of number three as numbers one and two. My husband and I prided ourselves on being equal opportunity parents.
Until we weren’t.
Our firstborn enrolled in parent-and-tot swimming lessons. Our second did a water baby program while we watched poolside. Our third hung out in floaties until he learned to swim at summer camp. The oldest enjoyed a gym program with his grandmother, the middle with his grandfather and the third with me. I found the baby talk agonizing and we missed half the classes. When it came to speech, number three started speaking later than the other two, preferring some strange hybrid babble language. We were convinced it was part Tagalog, part French, as spoken by our Filipino-French nanny. Were we becoming everything we swore we wouldn’t? Yes!
We call it third-child burnout. In the comforts/confines of our own home, we’re fine. Our burnout has far less to do with who he is than where he is. In the world of ages and stages we’re cooked, spent, over it. We avoid all programs that aren’t drop-off. When his Sportball class invited us to come in for parent participation week, we argued over who would take him. In the end, we opted to keep him home.
In the carpool line at school, I listen to the moms organizing day camps and playgroups and stare at the floor. Unlike with my other two, I don’t even invest in friend-making on number three’s behalf unless the other child a) lives nearby, b) will be attending the same elementary school or, c) I’ve got great chemistry with the other mom. I’m well aware of how harsh this might sound, but I’m just being realistic. I remember being insulted when certain moms didn’t return my play date requests, but now I get it.
From what I understand it’s like this once you have more than two children. We’re outnumbered. Parents are fatigued and more lenient, and our kids are busier and more independent. For better, and for worse, that’s how it is with thirds, fourths and beyond. Not that we’ll ever know…