I’ve only been a mother to a third child for six weeks (well, technically about eleven months,) but I’ve long known about the stereotype of the third child. Really, it’s the stereotype of any subsequent child— that parents kind of care about each one less and less. Or at least, that each one receives less and less attention. Here’s what I have to say about that: if less attention means slightly less photos taken and less new clothes and less time spent one on one with parents then, sure, the third child may receive less attention. But here are some things the third child receives in return:
1. More relaxed parents. I was worried about everything the first time around. I legitimately held my hand on my baby’s chest while he slept in case he stopped breathing. Which meant I didn’t sleep during the rare moments when he actually slept. Now? I don’t hold my hand on my baby’s chest while he sleeps. I hold HIM while he sleeps. Just because I want to. And I smell his head and bask in his warmth and his peace.
2. More experienced parents. When we first came home from the hospital with our first son we brought him up to his bedroom and just kind of stared at him. Then we decided to change his diaper and he proceeded to pee all over the very special wallpaper. I panicked and began frantically wiping everything down. How in the world would we adjust to this chaos?! Suffice it to say I’ve been peed on quite a bit more and it doesn’t phase me in the slightest. Not to mention, soothing a fussy baby has become almost as second nature to me as breathing.
3. Lots of cool things. Sure, a lot of his clothes have been worn already and the toys well loved and played with. But he gets the benefit of all the great material finds and discoveries over the past five years. When I first became a mother, I didn’t know where to shop for babies. Now, I’ve got my favorite local boutique and my favorite online brands and baby number three gets to reap all the benefits.
4. My divided attention. It’s true that baby number three has to share me with his brothers. But even my divided attention is better now than it was five years ago. Because the longer I’ve been a parent the more I’ve really accepted being a parent. I don’t constantly feel the push and pull to get things done every moment I get a moment. I’m much more okay with just spending the day tending to my relationships. I’m more willing to linger and just “be” with my kids, even when I don’t have to.
5. A home that’s more of a home. There’s something very sweet about that first married Christmas or that first baby’s Christmas in a fresh new home when you really have no idea what you’re doing but you make an adventure out of figuring it out and making it work. There’s also something very sweet about being a more established family with developed traditions and habits. There’s something very sweet about a lived in living room, about worn board books, and walls decorated with art created by family members. Baby number three gets to come home to a cozier home.
6. More people to love him. Because of his big siblings, my new baby now has constant entertainment and loads of affection (I can barely keep his two brothers’ hands and kisses off of him!) He also has many years of guidance, protection, adventure, and friendship ahead of him.
Why do I list these things? Because ever since I found out I was pregnant with my second child I have worried over birth order and jealousy, especially being an only child myself and not ever experiencing the possible perils of siblings. But I’ve since learned that there’s no possible way to give each child the same exact displays of love. They are each born into unique circumstances— they will all have different childhoods and they will all receive different gifts. The problem comes, not when we have “too many” children to love, or when we love one child a little differently from the other, but when we fail to love each child in the specific way that he or she needs to be loved. Now, I’m not saying that’s an easy task. Loving each child the way each child needs to be loved requires patience, open-mindedness, humility, and every other virtue there is. But it’s not impossible. And the most important thing we can give our children is the reality that, with each of them, we tried our very best.