One of my favourite lines from the The Simpsons is when Bart complains he is having the worst day of his life. "So far," responds his unsympathetic yet correctly predictive father, Homer.
I liken that to a study by Today.com that suggests three is the most stressful number of children to have. A mom of three explains that the stress level increases when it comes to things like crossing the street, versus two kids. I would agree that getting three kids to do anything in tandem is harder than getting two kids to do it. But I have four kids, and to the best of my recollection, I don't recall sprouting an extra arm when that last child arrived. Similarly, my friends with five, six and more children have no more appendages which it make it less stressful, or easier for them to cross the street. Maybe for moms of three, three is the most stressful number of children for them to have...so far.
The study indicates mothers of more than three kids, on average, self-described themselves as at a lower stress level than their triumvirate sisters. It concludes that families with more than three children experience the "Duggar Effect", referencing the TLC reality family with 19 children. While I am 15 short of this number, admittedly older kids can, on occasion, help younger kids. But does that really offset the stress of knowing you have more children to feed, clothe, potty train, change sheets for, teach how to drive, suffer through first dates, explain birth control to and pay for their post-secondary education? According to MoneySense.ca, the average cost of raising a child in Canada is almost $244,000. Adding this expense for each child doesn't raise your stress level? Really?
I'm not saying that three kids aren't stressful for a lot of people. It can be. Just like it is very stressful for some parents of one child, two, four, five, etc. I call it the Pitter Patter Principle. (The original Peter Principle I'm referencing states that people are promoted to a level of incompetency.) Perhaps those who are lucky enough to actively choose the number of children they have, sometimes also reach beyond the level of what they would see as acceptable stress. They are not incompetent in this way, of course. They just learn when to stop.
So what comes first? The proverbial chicken or the fertilized egg? The stress of having kids or the stress level of the parents prior to having them? Since we can't give back the number of children we had past the third one to do a truly fair comparison, (I may have tried) I guess we'll never know.
This column was originally run in the Metro News.