The Unique Challenges—and Charms—of a Third Child
As Kate and William get ready to welcome baby number three, one been-there mom reflects on the special resiliency of the youngest child.
As a mother to three boys, ages 7, 4, and 2, I’m often asked about my family dynamics by moms with two kids (especially ones who are considering adding a third child to their brood). “Does the baby get ignored?” “How do you help three kids when you only have two hands?” “Isn’t it hard for you and your husband to be outnumbered?”
In order, my answers are always “No,” “You don’t,” and “Yes, but let’s be honest—it felt pretty hard before, too.”
As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will soon find out, having a third child is not as complicated as it sounds. Yes, it disrupts the evenly-paired balance of a family of four. It gets harder to share bedrooms and fit around a kitchen table (though clearly not an issue in Kate and William’s palace!), and trying to arrange age-appropriate car seats for three kids in your vehicle is not unlike playing the world’s worst game of Tetris.
The fears about third children getting the short end of the stick aren’t completely unfounded. As a baby, my son was stepped on and tripped over nearly every day, rolling his way across the living room floor toward what he wanted or needed. He was forced to breastfeed through his brothers’ tantrums and, sometimes, have his own cries momentarily ignored if there was a more critical problem (like a potty-training toddler) for me to address.
Now that he's 2, not much has changed. My son’s nap time is interrupted every Monday so we can pick his big brother up from school. Most of his clothes, toys, books, and stuffed animals are hand-me-downs. His brothers remind him frequently of his position in the family through a never-ending series of abuses, and he is always sporting a lump, scrape, or black eye as a result. Toys are snatched away as quickly as they’re obtained. He almost never gets to decide what color snack cup he wants or what TV show to watch before dinner.
That might all sound miserable, but I promise it isn’t. Growing up third has taught my child something that neither of my other sons learned by way of their birth order: the valuable skill of resiliency.
My third son is the epitome of flexible. He’s laid-back, unfazed by chaos, and able to roll cheerfully with the punches. Once, at a friend’s birthday party, I saw another kid approach my son, point to the object in his hand and shout “I want that!” Without missing a beat, my son smiled and said, “Sure!” like this other kid was doing him a favor by taking it off his hands.
When you grow up with two older siblings, you get used to being bossed around. On the other hand, you also get used to protecting your assets: At that same party, I caught my son possessively guarding a blue hula hoop like it was The One Ring to Rule Them All. He is interchangeably easygoing and stubborn, adept at picking his battles. He knows when to stay and fight, and when to simply go home. I can’t say that about my other sons.
Being third in line has its drawbacks, but so do all the birth orders. First children are hard on themselves, carrying more of their parents’ expectations. Second children struggle for attention and wrestle with the weight of comparison. Third children, by contrast, can’t be bothered with either of those burdens. Life in a family of five moves fast—if you want to thrive, you have to be adaptable.
When the new royal baby arrives, he or she will likely slide right into the family routine without much fanfare. What I remember most about the fuzzy newborn days with my third son was how easy it all was—much easier than welcoming my first and second sons. He nestled into our family like he belonged there all along, and continues to navigate the complexities of our home life with ease.
Now, if he could just find someone to give him the red snack cup and press play on Paw Patrol, he’d be good to go.