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When our new neighbors moved in a few years ago with their only child, I remember them looking at our three young, wild kids and saying, “I don’t know how you do it!”
As a parent of three, I get that a lot. I also get, “You have your arms full!” and “That’s a three ring circus you have there!” and, since we live in Texas, “Bless your heart!” which pretty much translates to “You poor thing!”
Most of the time, I just smile and nod. On this occasion, I told my new neighbor, “It helps if you lower your standards.”
He thought I was joking, but it’s the truth. When I was a parent of one infant, I put a ton of pressure on myself to not only be the best mother that I could be, but also keep all the other plates spinning. I did ridiculous things like have full meal spreads for play dates with a group of three-month-olds who didn’t eat anything yet. I felt guilty if I wasn’t making my own baby food or if we didn’t have enough enrichment activities scheduled each week. I told myself I only had one kid! I should be able to handle this! That didn’t stop me from drowning in my own parenting expectations, perceived failures and loneliness.
Things changed when I got pregnant with our twins. It wasn’t that some magical clarity was now bestowed on me. It was meeting other moms of multiples. For that first year of their lives, I was lucky if everyone was dressed, fed and out the door in any sort of reasonable time frame. The other multiple moms were candid with me about what to expect and insisted that I give myself grace while I adjusted to parenthood of infant twins and a toddler. Just surrender that year of your life, they told me. Say yes to help when it’s offered. Ask for help when you need it. It will be hard, it will get better and it will be worth it.
While that first year of our twins lives was extremly difficult, it was also surprisingly freeing. I didn’t even try to maintain the façade that I had it all together. It was immediately apparent that I didn’t! We let family and friends come to our rescue with meals and childcare. It was trial by fire, and the crucible burned away much of the things we didn’t need, but left me with some newfound parenting clarity.
We embrace our messy lives, and have found friends who share the same (somewhat) organized chaos. Instead of trying to be the chairwoman of everything, we take risks and get to go on more adventures with our little family. We go to the zoo and scavenger hunt for murals in our city, and sometimes I volunteer at the kids’ schools. I’ve started hearing comments like “You’re super mom!” but that’s not it either. For every “cool” thing we do, there are five other things that didn’t get done that day. And I’m starting to be ok with that.
This parenting gig is hard no matter how many kids you have. But for me, making the shift from one kid to three kids forced me to be gentler with myself. If I had stayed on my same path of attempting to be the best at everything, say yes to everything and do it all with a smile with the kids in tow, I would have lost it. I am sure of it.
“Lowering my standards” doesn’t mean that anything goes in our house, or that we don’t have goals, structure and rules. It just means I am more forgiving of myself when we stumble. I’m more realistic about what we should be trying to accomplish in any given week.
I remember reading an article a few years ago that said having three kids was the most stressful number to parent. I disagree. For us, three was the perfect tipping point to give up on our illusion of control, surrender to imperfection and allow us to live in the “hard.” If I can continue to practice these lessons, then I think we will be okay at this parenting thing. And after all, being okay is a good enough outcome for me.
Photo credits: Amanda Sorena
Originally Published on Mommy Nearest