Three Kids Under Five
June 26, 2020
My wife and I have three kids under five years old. Here’s the lineup:
- Boy, 4 - plays Risk and Minecraft and tries to convince everyone we meet to join him in the next battle. Excited about racing - cars and people. A bit of an expert on natural disasters. Eats fruit and dessert like it's his job, and the only thing he loves more than Star Wars is being silly.
- Girl, 2 - sings (only loud) and loves to dance. Carnivore and connoisseur of ketchup and olives. Of course she loves Frozen but also Tangled and The Sound of Music. She usually has a few spoons or other trinkets to carry around with her for pretend play.
- Boy, infant - wide toothless grins. Sturdy and strong. Loves The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald. Fascinated by the sheer volume and activity of his older siblings.
There are sides of them that clearly come from us. But we underestimated how interesting it would be to see the side of them that is all new.
It’s a busy and noisy household, to be sure - but it’s a magical time. Every day brings big fun and BIG emotions. The kids are learning, growing, and figuring out how they fit in the world.
And so are we as parents!
Here’s what we seem to have gotten right so far and what we (ahem - I) had to learn the hard way.
What went right:
- Built a strong foundation. We dated for four years and then were married for seven years before having kids. This allowed me to deeply understand my wife’s strengths and allowed her to come to terms with my weaknesses before we brought anyone else into this family.
- Made big plans, but not all at once. We talked early in our relationship about having kids and how important it would be to us. This was surprisingly easy. We also talked about how many kids well before we were ready to have any. Once we were ready, I tried to take some pressure off by introducing the mantra “Let’s start with one”, and later “Let’s not talk about a second baby until our first baby turns 1.” We found this to be helpful in not getting caught up in things beyond our control.
- A healthy dose of unconventional. I introduced the idea of homeschooling our kids. She came to me one day and asked how I felt about cloth diapers. Some things that seem strange at first can be a great fit if you keep an open mind and trust your spouse.
What I learned the hard way:
- Simply observe and mirror emotions. Not easy - I’d rather judge or fix. Overcoming that instinct takes time. But it is surprisingly powerful to just restate what you see and hear, what it seems like someone is feeling. Even repeating words works! For a small person, knowing that a big person understands you - sometimes that is enough. And then kids have the space to work through what’s going on with your support.
- Problem solve together - parent and kid. Mistakes and misbehavior are inevitable. But toddlers aren’t really capable of willful malice. Can everyone be united against the problem, instead of against each other? Starting sentences with “the problem is” can help make things less personal. When things go wrong, write down the problem, followed by each person’s suggested solutions. Put a checkmark next to those you want to try, and that your child wants to try. Circle the ones that have two checkmarks. If this doesn’t work, try it again!
- Invest regularly in each 1:1 relationship. When we were just a married couple, we had to work on our relationship, as all couples do. In a short time, the number of one-on-one relationships has skyrocketed. Since I’m a math nerd, the combination 5 people choose 2 is of course a fun factorial 5! / [ 2! * (5-2)! ] = 10… now that deserves an exclamation point. TEN one-on-one relationships can lead to jealousy and ill will without some careful nurturing. Setting aside “special time” for each parent to be truly present with one kid at a time is so important. And then when kids are relishing time together, try not to interrupt!
We are still in the early innings here. I can only hope to learn future lessons faster.
What have you found to be most helpful? Please share your experience and lessons with me.
Some of the resources I’ve learned most from are: