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I'm Actually Not So Good At Raising 3 Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

I made a cake with my three children today—from a box, mind you—and it was freaking stressful.

I say "made" and not "baked" because it was more like a custard thing you pour into a crust and chill in the fridge for 2 and a half hours, seriously challenging the limits of a 2-, 4- and 5-year-old's patience.

I am more of an outdoors variety of mom, believing that anything is better than having three kids stuck in the house all day—even walking through town as they ride their bikes beside me, my nasal American voice echoing through the streets of the Dutch city where we live, directing them to "Stop!" "Go!" "Get back here," "Get up here" and the like.

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I hear often that with three kids you don't have enough arms, and that's somewhat true. More to the point is that with three kids, things take a longer time—getting them bathed and dressed, getting them to bed, getting them to school, making their lunches, for starters. None of those things I mind.

What I was thinking today, as I tried to make a fairly rare activity in our home—"baking" with mom—a fun activity for all, was that the difficulty with any number more than one kid is in making children with different characters, energy levels, emotional buttons and development levels enjoy any activity other than TV and running around a sandbox is really very hard.

But so young, most things—puzzles, books, boardgames, conversations, going to restaurants—my kids do at their own sometimes very different rate, each wanting your full attention.

I asked my eldest to count to 60, while I used the mixer for the one minute designated by the instructions on the box. At about 25, my middle child started counting along, but missed a number, setting my eldest off into a frustrated fit. He doesn't like to make mistakes and doesn't like to lose count.

My middle child was in charge of pressing down the crust we'd made (by adding melted butter to a mix), which my youngest immediately stuck her hand into, leaving her mark. Again, a row ensued.

They are each capable of and interested in different things. Were I to spend the day with my son, I'd probably be helping him sort out the early stages of reading or playing goalie as he works on his soccer skills. With my middle child, it'd be all about finger-painting and dressing up. My youngest still wants to walk through town and climb up and down every stoop and point out every bird in the sky.

In not too many years, their closeness in age will mean they will all move at approximately the same ability level. But so young, most things—puzzles, books, boardgames, conversations, going to restaurants—my kids do at their own sometimes very different rate, each wanting your full attention.

When they go to bed, and I see a cake with my child's handprint in it and wonder if I couldn't just manage things better.

Aristotle wrote a lot about happiness and said people who use their abilities to reach their fullest potential find enjoyment in developing their capacities. Something like that. And the mom I expected I'd be—fun, relaxed, creative, teaching, engaging—is not the mom who told everyone this afternoon to get out of the kitchen or there'd never be cake again.

That's where feelings of failure and disappointment in self kick in for me. When they go to bed, and I see a cake with my child's handprint in it and wonder if I couldn't just manage things better.

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At the same time, when we decided to have more than one child, it was precisely so our children would learn to have patience and empathy for their siblings, to learn to share and be tolerant. To learn to deal with personalities that may be other than theirs and to accept people who may not always be the easiest for them to deal with. To be assertive, to disagree respectfully.

All things any single child can and will learn, but things that three children fewer than three years apart living under one roof can't avoid. And the learning process for them (and for me) can be very trying at times.

Looking at my children one at a time and imagining how things would be different if they were the only one, it's easy to see what possibilities are, for now, limited. But when I think about how we operate as a unit of five, I know this is actually my best, even if it at times doesn't feel that great.

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