Two to Three Child Transition: Tips for Success

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Find out what it is like to add a third child to a family and get 15 tips to be successful with the transition!

3 kids: McKenna, Kaitlyn, and Brayden

My whole life, I have heard that the number “3” is the hardest number to have with children. I heard this from moms with three kids and even more than three kids.

Even my friend’s mom, who had 13 children, said three was her hardest number. In fact, for a while, she was absolutely done at three. 

Needless to say, I was a little nervous at adding a third in some ways. I had thus far found two easier than one, but if people found three that much harder than one, I was in big trouble.

Initially for me, adding a third child was not difficult at all. For one thing, Brayden (almost 4) and Kaitlyn (almost 2) played really well together.

This made those spontaneous times I needed to care for McKenna (like during growth spurts) that didn’t fit into my normal plan a lot easier. I wasn’t leaving one child alone to go care for a baby like I had when adding my second child. I had two little ones who loved to play and were happy to do so while I took care of the baby.

Another thing that made it easy initially is that McKenna was a super easy baby. She slept well and ate well, which are your two main concerns with a baby. In the first few months, I often found myself bored and doing things like scrubbing down my refrigerator really well because I was out of things to do. Who does that with a newborn?

When McKenna was 5 months old, we remodeled a house and moved. Still not a big deal. Busy, sure, but not hard. I could easily juggle everything I was needing to juggle.

The transition was easy for me, and I know that is not true for everyone. 

As McKenna turned two years old, I found three children more difficult. I don’t know if I can blame it on three children or just the ages of my children.

Like I said above, a baby is not a big deal if she eats and sleeps well. You don’t have much to worry about. 

As McKenna turned two, however, I had a Kindergartener with homework, school functions, friend worries with the kiddos, piano practice, and soccer games.

I had a four year old with playgroup and dance class.

I had a busy two year old who only took one nap, and would happily entertain herself if I was helping a sibling, but did so in a tornado fashion (though to her credit, I must say I have was working with her on this and she was improving). 

I was concerned about teaching my children various things from ABCs to work ethic. Add normal life concerns on top of that, and the best way to describe it is my brain was full.

My brain was full of things to keep track of and remember, much more so than it ever was when the three were two years younger than they were when McKenna was born. 

I absolutely do not want to discourage anyone from having three children. I am just always honest about things.

You get to a transition period with your oldest child. You have new things to keep track of. Transition periods are always a challenge for me as I learn the best way to manage my time.

I remember in college, the first few weeks of a semester was tricky as I learned to balance studies, work, and extra-curricular. I had to write everything down and plan out projects. But as the semester progressed, I didn’t need to write anything down anymore because my brain could do it. 

With that information out there, I will talk some details about my experience with adding the third baby to our family.

McKenna as a newborn

How Hard Was it Really?

Not hard at all, like I said. I was adept at balancing three schedules of three young people. So this might be different based on different ages of children.

It might be harder to add a third baby with an older child because of meshing baby’s schedule with older child activities, but when McKenna was born, we are all just home all day every day anyway.

How Do You Nap?

This is something that I must say was actually difficult with three children. It was hard to get all three napping at the same time long enough to allow me to get a nap in.

When I had the two, I could get a nap every afternoon. But Brayden was old enough when McKenna was born that he didn’t nap consistently every day, so I couldn’t always get a nap in. He was old enough to not nap but not so old that I felt comfortable just going to sleep with him awake.

I actually think naps were a rarity for me when McKenna was a newborn.

Do You Have Time to Yourself?

When McKenna was a newborn, I didn’t have much if any time to myself.

I had time to do silly things like clean the fridge, but not time to just be with me (I obviously could have chosen me time over the fridge).

Before baby three comes along, you can have your first two in independent play at the same time while you do something else (cleaning, relaxing, blogging…whatever). But when baby 3 arrives, that time is now used to take care of baby.

I think this is rather normal for having a newborn, though. Your time does come back, though you are now attending to three different people, and it isn’t any less demanding as children get older. It is different, but still time consuming.

Even teenagers consume a huge portion of your time. This is motherhood. Every person needs a fair chunk of your time each day.  

Would You Do It Again?

Absolutely! Not only because I have this spunky McKenna that I can’t imagine life without, but I would absolutely do three children again.

It is definitely more challenging to manage three than two–my brain seems to be able to divide in half, but thirds is harder for it. Even so, I have found three children very fun. 

Clearly I wasn’t scarred because we had a fourth child later on.

What Are Unique Challenges to Three Children?

I have talked about some of them. Dividing yourself up three ways is a challenge. Tracking three with your brain is harder than two. 

Some people say three is hard because you are no longer one parent on one parenting.

I haven’t found that to be a real issue. I think having children who are obedient is a helpful thing when adding another child.

No child is perfect; you will have those moments when the child pushes her limits beyond your enjoyment, but things will be much easier if you have first-time obedience worked out before baby arrives.

Any Tips?

Oh yes. Here are some tips to make it easier.

Have a routine in place before baby arrives

I like to have our schedule set at least a month before the next baby arrives. That way, baby comes and joins the family flow and it is less of an impact on the children.

Baby is joining family rather than taking family over.

I want things like naptime/rest time and roomtime to be a normal part of the day so it isn’t like the baby’s presence is taking over mommy and making it so naps/rest time/roomtime have to happen.

>>>Read: Prepping Siblings for Baby Tip: Establish Consistency

Have a tentative schedule for 3 written out before baby arrives

I wrote this in the 1-2 Child Transition post, but I think it is equally as helpful here. I recommend having a target schedule written out before your baby is born. I also recommend having your older child/children in that schedule for at least 2-4 weeks before your baby comes.

When Kaitlyn was born, I had no plan. I made the plan when Kaitlyn was between 1-2 weeks old. 


With McKenna, I had a plan from before she was born. In fact, I had two plans.

I had two different plans written out. I had a plan in case she was a naturally early waker like Brayden and one in case she was a naturally later waker like Kaitlyn.

That way I could go with her personality. I wanted to be prepared with a plan, especially since I would be juggling three.

It was really nice doing it that way because in the hospital, I was able to start feeding her at the times I planned on feeding her at home.

This worked because she was one of those sleepy babies you have to wake up for every feeding.

Now, it needs to be said that you must go into this flexibly.

One, you need to be prepared to adjust your schedule if your baby doesn’t naturally fit with that schedule. Don’t kick against the pricks.

You also need to be ready to adjust like crazy when a growth spurt happens. Growth spurts were probably the hardest thing for me–they were the times of unpredictability. They were the times I need to improvise big time.

You do get better at it–it was not an issue for me when McKenna was a baby because I was adept at it at that point, but it is hard to juggle two young children on a whim when your plans don’t work out.

Just push through and you will get used to it.

>>>Read: How to Set Up a Daily Schedule for Three Kids

Let children help prepare for baby before baby arrives

We let Brayden and Kaitlyn help paint in McKenna’s room. Let your kiddos help decorate and set out clothes. They can help choose toys and organize the nursery.

It will help get them excited for the baby’s arrival. It will also be them serving the baby, and service always helps you love those you serve.

Let children help with the baby, but be careful

This is a place you need to be very careful in.

You want to let older children help with the baby, but you don’t want them to get a sense of authority over the baby. They are the baby’s siblings, not the baby’s parents.

Something I find effective is to ask the children to help you, not to ask children to do things for the baby. This gives them a “serving mom” perspective rather than a “caretaker of sibling.”

I think you can also make it be a “serving sibling” perspective. Children are naturally bossy enough over younger siblings without you giving them more reason to become wise in their own eyes and be “large and in charge” inappropriately.

Have one-on-one time with children

This is a tricky balance. You want to make sure you give each child individual time with you, which just further takes away from your personal time.

I know it can get tiresome. I don’t want you to spread yourself too thin. But be as strong as you can and remember the concept of seasons.

It is a season of life to sacrifice a lot as a mother–especially a mother of young children. Don’t do it to the extreme that you totally lose who you are, but know it won’t last forever.

See if you can find a simple way to connect with each child each day. You don’t need to worry about the new baby. They baby gets enough attention from you naturally.

But you could read books with one child. Play a game with another child. Have a child help you make lunch or bake cookies. Go for a walk with one child after your spouse gets home.

Just find one simple way to connect each day.

Find unique ways for your older children to love the baby

Some children are natural baby lovers and it will be love at first sight, just like for some parents having a baby is love at first sight.

But also like some parents, some older siblings develop a love for the baby. If your child is like that, ponder and think about ways to help your child love the baby. 

Be prepared for stressed children

Adding a baby to the family is stressful on everyone. It will take your child some time to adjust, just like it takes you time to adjust. I think older children can have a harder time with the new baby than younger children do.

Older children are more aware of what is going on than toddlers. Brayden got a little stressed after McKenna was born. It manifested itself in not sleeping as well, but after a month or so, he was totally fine.

Have patience with your stressed kids.

This is one reason the consistent schedule before baby arrives is so valuable. It gives your older children something consistent and reliable to cling to during this huge life transition.

And remember my advice to not blame things on the baby

Don’t say you can’t do something because of the baby. I am not saying to lie about it, but see if you can attribute things to another equally correct reason.

A simple example off the top of my head is when you are pregnant. If you can’t run and be as active as you used to be, don’t say “The baby in my tummy makes it hard to run.” Say, “My body is tired and I can’t move really well right now.”

Send the older child to grandma’s (or somewhere you trust)

When McKenna was born, the older kids split time between both grandma’s houses so that my husband was able to be with me at the hospital and so that we had the first couple of days home without any other children–just us and the baby.

It helped give us time to get everything in order and get to know the baby McKenna. I had no one else to worry about.

We were very anxious for our kids to come home by the end, but it was great to have the peace and the lack of mess that kid make. 

Nap if you can

Getting a nap in daily can be really hard with three children. I honestly couldn’t get it in very often with three.

If you can do it, absolutely do it. Really work it in to your day daily for at least the first month. You will heal faster and you will be nicer.

It is one thing to be patient with one other child, but two children require twice as much patience.

>>>Read: Falling Asleep Tips for the Sleep-Deprived Mother

Work the Schedule Right

Work out the schedule so you can devote full attention to the baby and also attention to the other children–at least for the first 4-8 weeks.

You will have a feeling of urgency to incorporate the baby into the activity of the family, but at first, the baby needs quiet, food, and sleep. As your baby gets older, baby will wake up more and be able to handle the craziness. Before you know it, your two little darlings will be making larger messes together than you ever dreamed possible.

>>>Read: How To Calm Your Overstimulated Baby

Keep Baby From Overstimulation

With two other children running around, it is very easy for baby to get overstimulated. As I just said, you don’t need to have baby present for every activity initially.

There were many cycles McKenna was in her room the entire waketime in the early days. Today, there is no sign of McKenna being left out because of it.

Once she got old enough to join in, she ran along after her siblings just like you would expect her to.

Keep Life Simple

This is one of those moments in life when you are experiencing turbulence. Accept the help people offer. Accept the offer from people to pick up your slack, whether in church, work, or home.

I remember after Kaitlyn was born, I wanted so much to jump into life full speed ahead. I wanted to demonstrate that I was capable of handling two children just fine.

At the time, I had a very demanding calling (responsibility) for church. The president of the organization I was in the presidency with was fabulous. She really encouraged me to just take time off. She took over all of my duties and told me to just enjoy those moments.

I really wasn’t great about this with Kaitlyn, but after McKenna was born, I really took things slowly. I now tell people to just wait. You don’t need to jump back into the full swing of things right away–no one in their right mind expects you to. But as soon as you start taking back all of your responsibilities, you can’t give them back. So let yourself get in the new groove of life before jumping back in the deep end.

Have Another Adult with You

This is advice I give but have never been able to enjoy myself. My husband always went right back to work and my kids were all born during “foaling season” so my mom is pretty much unavailable from March-June sometime.

But I have a friend whose husband stays home the first week or two after a new baby was born. I think that is completely fabulous. That way mom can do as I recommend in above easier.

She can also more fully get to know the baby and slowly get used to managing the house and kids on her own. It would also make napping each day a possibility. 

But I will say, most babies are highly sleepy the first two weeks of life, so you might find it a bit more advantageous to have dad take that time off around 3-4 weeks old instead. 

In our modern-day, paternity leave is more and more common. Take advantage of the help you can get.

All Other Newborn Tips Apply

All newborn tips still apply because you still have a newborn. Honestly, it is harder to take care of yourself if you have more than one child.

You have less time in the day available to you. Most of it is taken by baby and older kids.

It is definitely more of a challenge. But not an impossible task! It can seem daunting, but you can do it!

Conclusion

I think the reality of the transition here is different for everyone. It will depend on your baby and on your personality. There are things you can do to make it easier on yourself, especially having a routine in place with older children, accepting help when offered, having first-time obedience in place before baby, and taking things slowly once baby arrives. 

Related Posts

This post originally appeared on this blog May 2011

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10 thoughts on “Two to Three Child Transition: Tips for Success”

  1. yes, Rich stayed home the first two weeks which allowed me to not only heal, but focus on the baby. It is fabulous, and hopefully he'll always have a job which allows him to do this! You don't find adding more children to your family because you're just plain fabulous and amazingly organized! Which is why in two years you'll get preggo with twins 😉

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  2. I enjoyed reading your post. I'm expecting baby #3 and our other two are under 3. I know it will be difficult at times, but I loved your suggestions and encouragement written here. Thank you!

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  3. Great post! My 2 are only 18 months apart so I don't feel the transition from 1 to 2 was bad at all because mine were so young and there weren't really older sibling schedules/activities to deal with at this age. Now with #3 due when 1 will be close to 5, one over 3, I think it will be a different ballgame. I think the main challenge will be juggling the activities of the older,etc….right now we don't have much but just things like school runs,etc are an added factor. So I feel like we will be in the situation you are now where you feel 3 is more challenging. So we'll see:) I know I'll have 2 real helpers this time and it's a great tip to focus on them serving me instead of big sibling role…….I could see how easily that would happen and that could have unintended consequences, so that was a great thing to point out!

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  4. Great tips, I'll have to refer back to this when we finally have a third, though a lot of it is applicable to the 1-2 transition. I certainly couldn't nap once Peter came. I actually gave up trying because I'd end up tired and in tears by 3pm so instead I had DH get the kids up for me and I slept in an extra 1-2 hours in the morning. He also takes 2 weeks off when we have a baby and another week of half-days so he can come home early, leave late, or whatever to help out.

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  5. I recently had my fourth child and have found that the transition from 3 to 4 kids hasn't been much different than transitioning from 2 to 3 kids. Transitioning from 2 to 3 children was the most difficult for me, but I think it was mainly because our third was our first boy. What I find hardest about adding another child to the family is how to best plan my day and schedule around my newborn's feeding times and how to juggle my kids' schedules and my schedule of charity and fundraiser commitments and meetings. My third oldest, who is 2 1/2, has had a hard time with the transition. His tantrums have become an all-too-familiar occurrence in our home. What I've found most effective to help my 3 children adjust to the newborn is spending one-on-one time with each of them. My husband takes my 2 daughters on breakfast and "movie" dates, and they absolutely love the quality time with dad. And it gives me the chance to spend some alone time with my 2 1/2-year-old son. Also, never feel guilty about having someone help you out! This is hard to do for some new moms because they may feel the need to want to get it all done on their own. If you have family members or friends around who want and offer to help you out, take them up on their offer! My in-laws live close by, so my mother-in-law often babysits and picks up my oldest daughter from school. It helps tremendously! I also use checklists to help me and my family stay on schedule. For example, I created a "going to bed" checklist on my website as a tool to help moms encourage their children to practice establishing a night time routine.http://www.vidacoco.com/home-and-work/organizing/helpful-checklistsI think it's important to remember that being a great mom can be done in so many ways and it never means perfection.

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  6. Michael and Yvonne, I think you are right. I think the older kid activities are very tricky to work around. Best of luck to you!

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  7. Manda, that is nice your DH could take the kids in the morning. That was the most stressful part for me (morning) because DH wasn't there, and newborns can be very predictable in the morning. The most stressful time was when the baby was starting to STTN and you never knew if she would wake up during breakfast with the toddler. That wouldn't be bad at this point–Brayden could easily take over breakfast.

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