Painting by Donny Hui, my brother. No, we don’t have four kids.
The most common question/comment my wife and I get is, “I don’t know how you guys do it with three kids. How do you??” And at first, since most people we knew were still childless, it was, frankly, an annoying question. And it’s not because I mind the question, but the underlying vibe I got from most folks was that we’re crazy for having three kids; we’re freaks. Or there was this sense that kids are such hassle, a burden, almost like asking how we could manage to have our lives so ruined.
But now that more and more of our friends are having kids, especially for the first time, the question sounds different. It sounds more like true curiosity, maybe even a little bit of exasperated wonder. And so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on “how we do it” — at least some thoughts that come to mind immediately.
But first a couple caveats. First, I don’t think we’re heroic for having three kids — so there’s nothing self-congratulatory going on here. My grandma had 7 kids (that survived) and emigrated with her whole family out of communist China to Hong Kong and eventually here to the States. That’s heroic. Second, what follows is descriptive and not prescriptive. And now on with the show…
We both come from families three. So it might seem a lot to some people. But it feels perfectly normal for us. Weirdos like us can be surprisingly well-adjusted when we think we’re perfectly normal.
We have loving & helpful parents who live close by. The difference this has made cannot be overstated. My sister-in-law’s family, for example, lives far away and they don’t have anything close to the support system that we do; so it’s much harder. Also, our parents love taking care of our kids. A few of my friends have parents who prefer not to babysit; that also makes it harder. Now, this doesn’t mean we just drop them off and subcontract out our parenting to them – – although my mother-in-law does help babysit during work hours. But we do spend a fair amount of time with them. And whenever there are multiple adults around, caring, feeding, bathing, playing with our kids is always much easier. And of course, during the rare times when we do need to run an errand or go on a date, we have the grandparents to depend on.
We’ve created pretty efficient routines. No, not everything is color-coded, pre-packaged, or automated. But between getting-the-kids-ready-in-the-morning rituals, getting-out-of-the-house rituals, to washing-them-up-and-putting-them-to-sleep rituals, my wife and I have our roles pretty down pat (sometimes there’s still hiccups). And they also know that if they slow things down, they’ll get in trouble.
Our kids are flexible sleepers. They can sleep anywhere; they’re not too fussy about that. They can also sleep late if we’re hanging out with friends (although less so now that Caleb’s in school). It’s not that we “trained” them, but we’ve always just brought them along and I guess they’ve always just been used to it.
I am half as strict as Amy Hua. Which means I am strict as hell. Three isn’t freakishly large, but three is still a crowd. And we’ve put a lot of discipline into the front end of their childhood so that all the basics — cleaning up toys, eating together at the table, washing up, going to sleep, listening to voice commands, etc. are mostly down (keyword: mostly). And once we had the basics down, home life (and even life outside the home) isn’t nearly as frenetic as it could be.
I employ crowd control strategies. There’s two of us, three of them. Much of the time, there’s one of us, three of them. And if we were to try to chase down, or get the attention of each child one at a time, it’d be nearly impossible and we’d go nutz. So I’ve found ways that I can get all their attention at once and can corral them all like cattle. I’ve figured out how to have fun with all of them at the same time — whether it be wrestling, going to the park, story time, etc. And for much of the time, if one person gets in trouble, they all get in trouble. Yeah, that latter one sounds unfair…because it is. But it also teaches them the consequences of fighting, trains them to negotiate and resolve things on their own, reinforces their bond as brothers, and most of the time, it really is everyone’s fault.
We still value each child and know what makes them tick. No, we don’t go on special outings with each child like Jon and Kate did — although I did take Evan to DC this fall. But we know when someone needs a hug, a break, or just some extra attention. We know what their favorite foods and activities are and we’ll eat and do those things together; an added bonus to that is that they learn to enjoy those things with each other. We know what they’re afraid of, the things they can and cannot do. And while we have common expectations across the board for all our kids, we also know that there are just some things that are peculiar and probably unbendable about each child. Why is Caleb so competitive, Evan so moody, and Dylan so fat? We don’t know, that’s how God made them. And we love them as they are and work with what we have.
We are lazy. We admit it. We use the TV, Netflix, Wii, iPod, iPad, etc. when we’re too tired or when they get too MMA with each other. We also have a DVD player in our minivan.
Everyone has a role. Running a house is like running a business. And since I’m Cantonese, I am a firm believer in child labor. So whether it’s cleaning up, setting up the table, fetching things for mom & dad, kitchen prep, or simple laundry, we keep them involved in the family chores. It teaches them responsibility, but we also just need the help.
We hang out mostly with friends who are good with our kids. This wasn’t a conscious choice. But we’ve always thought of ourselves as a package. So if you like hanging out with our kids, can be patient with their volume, and like playing with them too — well, we’re gonna naturally be that much more likely to invite you over. It’s more fun to hang out with you and, to go back to the adult:kid ratio, the more (helpful) adults around, the easier it is on us.
We genuinely believe children are a gift to be received with wonder and gratitude, not an intrusion into our lives. I know that sounds way holier-than-thou. Maybe it is. But if your primary disposition towards kids is that they’re troublesome, require too much sacrifice, etc…well, obviously having more kids feels that much more of a burden. But even though they can be a handful at times, we don’t think that they’re in the way of us leading a happy, meaningful life. Kids are not the antithesis to our dreams. At the same time, our kids in and of themselves are not the objects our dreams. My wife and I got married, dreamed big, and our kids are just along for the ride. We just have to make more room for them.
The grace of God. At the end of the day, my wife and I were mostly naive about having kids. We never thought it would be daunting, and so maybe for that reason, it hasn’t felt daunting. But it’s probably mostly because God has always given us everything we’ve needed — beginning with the first, then second, and now the third son.