The other day I took my 3 year old out shopping. She was starting preschool and needed a book bag and a few other supplies. I have 4 kids all together and it’s a very rare thing for me to have only 1 of them out with me at a time. While out with her I was reminded of how much different parenting is when there is only one child. My oldest is substantially older than my other 3 and as such, was an only child for a long time. I remember being upset at times when people would tease me with comments about how I wasn’t a “real” parent because I only had one. Little did I know how right they were.
With one child, you can accurately dole out consequences for wrong doing because you always know who committed the act. When there are multiple children there will come a time when you punish one child, or all of them, for something one of the other children did. In addition, you are more likely to dole out appropriate consequences. When you walk into a room and a glass is shattered and the 4 year old is standing there, you have the luxury of dealing with the child first, and calmly explaining what the child did wrong, and maintaining the time out if the child gets up. When there is a glass shattered but there are 3 children in the room, you must first determine who broke the glass, and then attempt to issue and maintain the appropriate punishment, while at the same time calm the other children down and simultaneously attempt to clean up the glass so that the baby doesn’t try to eat it.
When there is only one child, you will never play referee. One sibling will never antagonize the other. One sibling will never hit another. One sibling will never be jealous of the other. Now that I have multiple children I spend a substantial portion of my parenting time simply managing sibling interactions. I think back to when I was a kid and would call for my mom to force my younger sister to stop looking at me. When I was parenting an only child, I never had to do that, but now, I do that and more for most of the day.
When I parented an only child there was never a scheduling conflict between children. I never had to run from one child’s activity to another. There were some conflicts between my child’s schedule and my own, but when you throw in the schedule of a second or even a third child, and there will be a lot more conflicts. Whether it’s doctor’s appointments or dropping a child off to spend the night with grandma or something else, having multiple children increases these scheduling conflicts much more than I could have ever imagined.
When I took my 3 year old out shopping, it only took a moment to get her out of her car seat, when I have them all, it takes a good 5 minutes to get everyone out of the car and arranged. I walked her across the parking lot and was able to talk to her about watching for cars, instead of trying to keep one of the kids from running away. When we were in the store, I could hold her hand when she got a bit wild, because my hands weren’t already full with 2 other kids. I could talk to her about what we were buying instead of placating a screaming baby.
But, when we got home, it wasn’t me that the other kids were happiest to see, it was their sister. Parenting more than one child might be more difficult, but it’s certainly worth it.