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More Kids, Less Stress?
Mom with a View

More Kids, Less Stress?

On being a “good enough” mother.

by

A recent article on Today.com suggests that raising three children is the most stressful, but after that, with any additional children it actually gets easier. I don’t know who they interviewed but it certainly wasn’t me! How could it possibly be less stressful? Instead of three people that you wish to shape and nudge and help grow and control your anxiety about, there are now more! More people whose lives seem dependent on you and whose present and future happiness is to important to you that it keeps you awake at night.

Less stress? I don’t think so.

What is possible, though, is that there are certain neuroses that we let go. It is impossible (certainly without paid help) to have the house be perfectly neat when you have a large family, although why the parent quoted in the column offers “with her fourth child she didn’t bother with things like obsessively covering all the outlets with safety plugs” as an example of an area to be more relaxed about is beyond me. Perhaps obsessive sterilizing and organizing and a full schedule of Mommy and Me classes could, however, go by the wayside.

Perhaps, with more children, parents set more realistic limits – for themselves and for their offspring. One mother cited in the piece allowed her children to sign up for one sport only, a sport that did not have an intense travel schedule. Now that’s a mother with some sense of self-preservation!

The psychologist, Donald Winnicott, is famous for having coined the term, “good enough” mother. Parents of larger families perhaps set that more achievable goal for themselves.

But it’s still not easier (how can 4 or 7 or 9 possibly be easier than 2?) or less stressful. Those of us blessed with larger families, I think, have instead made a decision, actually two decisions. The first is that the stress is worth it. Jobs are stressful, relationships are stressful, anything worth doing involves stress. Accepting stress and coping with stress are facts of life. And, like many other challenges, I believe, they are affected by our expectations.

One thing that all parents have in common is exhaustion, a constant state of fatigue. We are just always tired. I have found that if I count the number of hours of sleep I got, if I feel I “need” more of “should have” more, I will always be frustrated (and sometimes resentful). But, if I accept that this is the price of living a full life, if I don’t expect to always be fresh and sharp (to ever be fresh and sharp!), then I’m okay.

I’m always quoting my favorite old kick boxing ad, “You’ll rest when you’re dead.”

I think the same attitude applies to stress. If we imagine that our lives should be stress-free, that our children should pose no challenges to us, that in other homes they are perfectly behaved and everything is working out magically for them, we will be very stressed – and frustrated as well. But if we just accept some level of stress as a reality in our lives – and the lives of everyone we know – then perhaps we can make peace with it.

We need to let go of any expectation that “it’s not supposed to be like this.” Yes, it is.

The second decision is one that should have been made at the beginning of the parenting journey but hits home more with the third child. With two children, we fool ourselves that we are in charge. With three we realize that we are outnumbered.

This is the moment, if you haven’t already, to turn to the Almighty and say “I can’t do this alone; I need your help.” Of course, we always needed His help, it’s just brought home to us much more clearly now. And, of course, this is also the only strategy that can possibly ease our stress. It’s not in our hands. He’s running the show. Big exhale.

Constantly recognizing this is also a challenge but we can try. This is the best coping tool of all. And it’s got the added benefit of being true.

It’s a lifetime’s work. Sometimes I’m calm; sometimes I’m over the edge. Sometimes I’m frustrated; sometimes I’ve made peace with the situation. Sometimes I give it over to the Almighty; sometimes I rail against my inability to effect change. We just have to stay in the game.

And when times get really tough, and it all seems too overwhelming, and my favorite kick boxing slogan just doesn’t do it, I turn to my favorite prayer:

“I am ready to fulfill the mitzvah of trusting in God, and of casting my load on Him. Master of the Universe, I am casting upon You my burden which is that I need….Help me to acquire/achieve it/bring it about, and as of now I remove this burden from myself. I no longer have any worry over it since I trust in You.”

Published: May 11, 2013


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Visitor Comments: 23

(17) 4, May 24, 2013 6:45 PM

Reply to 15

You are right but only in some cases. Everyone has to know and be honest with themselves with regards to their capabilities. There are some people that can't even manage one child and some that have 18 kids and manage beautifully with happy, well-adjusted children (I personally know 2 such families). I would add that some people just decide to have a small family for convenience and not because they're incapable of raising a large family.

(16) Hana, May 19, 2013 11:35 PM

what to look for in a large family

The blessing of having more children , besides what Emuna mentions, is that there is a balance that occurs between all the members of the family. A complemetarity, the energy bounces off and is not just concentrated on 1, 2 or3. There is a diffusion and each brings something special that must be acknowleged and brought out and valued. The kids have each other in times of stress and later in life. The point is for the parents to work hard on improvingTHEMSELVESand surely the children pick up on that as role models. One of the benefits of having babies around all the time is that older kids get to be re-educated by teaching their younger siblings, like a review of basic educational concepts, in a better way the second or third or fourth time around... It is a chance parents have to redo certain things and fix passed mistakes. Like rounding the edges. It is a chance for parents to really come to a level of total dedication, selflessness, that is a very precious and rare opportunity..., to come to a high degree of understanding about what life is really about: GIVING! Remember that Beethoven was the 8th child!!!

It takes faith that G-d will help and a good network of mothers and grand-mothers...which comes with ....A LARGE FAMILY!

(15) Anonymous, May 19, 2013 10:04 PM

Some should NOT have big families

I know all the frum reasons for having big families YET I know many families that are just So dysfunctional with the house flying all the time. No kid gets the appropriate attention. Kids are of the derech, kids are confused, messes are the new normal, parents don't realize until it may be too late, to see the real problems their individual kids have.
If a couple can't afford more kids (financially or emotionally) they shouldn't!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(14) Joey, May 19, 2013 6:27 PM

Tangentially related: it took four kids for Leah to thank God instead of worrying about how they would affect her relationship with Jacob. Worth a thought.



Thanks for the great insights, and God bless!

(13) Anonymous, May 19, 2013 4:05 AM

comforting

As a mother of three little ones, this is very comforting and validating. Three is stressful! But is is good to know that is gets easier from here.

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