Three children most stressful, according to survey

 Everyone warned us: “Three will do it to you. If you’re not already crazy, three kids will nudge you over the edge.”

I must say, I didn’t believe them at first. Three? How hard can ONE more be? I already have two. And they’re old enough to play together, get their own food, go to the bathroom on their own (well, one at least) and generally manage to stay well-behaved and relatively obedient.

For 4 and 2 years old, that is.

But then I had my third. And while initially I think I got back on my feet quicker (out of pure necessity), the weeks and months of balancing three kids under 4 has worn me out: physically, emotionally and most definitely mentally.

“On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most stressed, the average mom in our survey puts herself at 8.5,” according to

The other day as we were getting out of the car at Costco, I noticed some chocolate milk splattered on the bottom of my spandex running pants (sometimes I wear clothes that make me look like I exercise. I don’t. But the pants are very motivating.)

Sighing loudly, I muttered, “Oh great!” as I started unbuckling the first of three boys. I may think I’m slowly falling apart, but don’t necessarily want to advertise it by way of an old Happy Meal beverage.

“Are you done being a mom?” my 4-year-old piped from the backseat.

“What?” His question caught me completely off-guard. Why would he ask that? Had I said that out loud in a moment of pure frustration and exhaustion?

Jokingly, I smiled and said “Yes. Today I’m done.”

“OK,” he responded. “Then are you going to be a Dad?”

I laughed even harder, grabbed him in my arms, and gave him a kiss on the head.

“I’m never done being your mom, buddy,” I reassured him. Even if that thought had crossed my weary mind a time or two.

My sweet sister-in-law recently posted an article on my Facebook page from the TODAY Moms section that asked women what the most stressful number of kids was.

Survey says: three.

Jill Smokler, 35, “Scary Mommy” blogger and author of “Motherhood Comes Naturally (And Other Vicious Lies),” agrees.

“Going from one to two was an easy, breezy transition,” said Smokler, a Baltimore mom whose children are 5, 7 and 9. “Two to three, everything was turned upside down. I do not feel like I have it together. You only have two hands! Just crossing the street and not being able to physically hold all their hands I find tremendously stressful.”

That’s exactly why I wear my “hippie wrap” (a Moby — a MUST for any new mama) constantly. I strap one to me and grab hold of the others. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the store window with my little men tottering beside me and think, “Man! I’m such a MOM!”

An online survey of 7,164 U.S. mothers, conducted the week of April 17 by and Insight Express reveal more about the stress mothers feel:

  • 46 percent of moms say their husbands/partners cause them more stress than their kids do. (I cannot relate to this. My husband is the only sane thread holding all of us together.)
  • 72 percent of moms stress about how stressed they are.
  • Biggest cause of stress: 60 percent say it’s lack of time to do everything that needs to get done.
  • 60 percent of moms say raising girls is more stressful than raising boys. (Ha! Thank heaven I only have boys, then!)
  • Nine out of 10 moms stress about staying fit and attractive.

New York and TODAY contributor Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist, said mom stress is a problem she sees daily in her practice.

“Moms are acutely aware of the fact they do not have the time to take care of their own needs,” Taylor said. Forget reading a book, exercising or fun hobbies: Some moms barely have time to shower.

“There’s just not enough space in your head for perfectionism when you get to four or more kids,” Taylor said.

For example, she recalls how with her fourth child she didn’t bother with things like obsessively covering all the outlets with safety plugs. “It just gets to be survival!” she joked. Plus, she thinks moms hit a groove once they get past the outnumbered phase of having three kids and into the seriously outnumbered territory of four or more.

“The more children you have, the more confident you become in your parenting abilities,” Taylor said.

The other day at the grocery store, I was frantically trying to find all the items on my list, calm a screaming baby on my chest, and chase down two exuberant toddlers who kept running down the next aisle over (I found them near the meat department, unraveling a roll of plastic bags as fast as their chubby hands could spin it.)

They’ve never done that before in their lives. It was at that moment when I thought, “How does ANYONE have more than three children? Not possible.”

But according to Taylor, going from three to four isn’t as stressful as that third addition. Why?

“Each child has a built-in playmate; they tend to pair up so no one is left out,” writes Dube.

For Taylor and her husband, going from one child to two was a big adjustment; transitioning from two to three, “you’re outnumbered,” and adding a fourth child was “not as big a jump.”

Right now, I can’t even imagine chasing around four kids in the grocery store. At least one mom had sympathy on me and said, “I’m just happy to be entertained!” as our little tornado swirled by.

Me too, lady. Me too.

And I think I’ll hold off on that fourth one … for now, at least.



  1. mom

    I wonder how old the children in the survey were. Did they only survey mothers of young children? I personally thought four was harder then three. One of my sisters who also has seven, also thought four was her hardest number. However, we both had our children very close together. My oldest was only 5 when I had number 4. I a four year span between numbers 4 and 5 so by the time I had number five, life was getting much easier. My three oldest children were in school. All of the oldest four were old enough to be a huge help.

  2. I agree, says mom of three

    I like how the mom of four takes credit for it being less stressful. We moms of three just haven’t figured it all out yet and bring it on ourselves, apparently. Here’s my take … from a mom who, in the beginning, had three children three and under: Maybe by the time the fourth child comes along, the oldest is able to help out, even just a little bit. “Hold your little sister’s hand” and “Would you hand me your baby brother’s bottle?” and “Keep an eye on the little ones while I grab a shower” could have reduced my stress by a fraction, for example.

  3. Robin

    I have five kids ages 12, 10, 8, 5, and 3. I agree that adjusting to #3 was hardest. Not only by the numbers, but also her personality. I’ve heard other moms say the same thing about personalities of their #3. The other thing I’ve never understood, though, is laundry math. It somehow doubles with each kid. With 4 kids, I could get all the laundry done in one day. Add #5, and I had to sort all the dirty laundry twice a week instead of once and wash multiple loads every day to have a prayer of keeping up.

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