One of my friends recently posted on facebook something about how she wondered how on earth those with three or even more kids managed -- saying it was taking all her patience and ability to handle two.
Reading that took me back in time. I recalled going over to roast marshmallows with a couple from the first ward we attended as a married couple. We had only Abe at the time. As I recall, they had two and were expecting a third. I remember thinking, almost claustrophobically, "How on earth will she ever do anything at all when her third comes? How can anyone have three small children? Life feels totally all consuming with one!"
And yes, when my second came along, I found that two was more difficult. But, to be honest, I don't know that I could say there has ever been a "hardest" number of kids. To me, each new baby meant -- hard; harder -- for a time. I mean it was a baby for crying out loud! (Which they often were). But, each time I just seemed to adjust to a new norm. And, each time, the dynamics changed in our family to the point that while I could see some things had definitely become more difficult (for instance, simply having another set of feet needing shoes on before going anywhere, another little body needing bathing at night, another seat belt needing buckled, and another potential waker in the night) other things actually did get easier -- or, if nothing else, readjusted to a new similarly easy (or similarly difficult) normal.
For example, with three, true, Mike and I were finally outnumbered, but I loved that when I was feeding Goldie and bathing her, I knew that Abe and Daisy were playing and entertaining each other. With two, I sometimes felt I had to neglect one to take care of the other. Of course, I won't deny that it was with babies three and four that I first discovered that, sometimes, a baby just had to cry for a minute. With Abe and Daisy I always rushed to immediately fill their every need. With later ones, sometimes I really couldn't feed them or hold them the second they began to whimper -- sometimes I was in the middle of getting an older child out of a bath or cleaning up a cup of milk spilled on the floor, and all I could say to my crying baby was, "I'm sorry! I'll be there when I can!!"
But, on the "easier" side of things, Penny and Jesse are far more likely to want to follow around the older three siblings if they are doing something fun than cry for my attention. With my first two I felt that I spent so much time trying to entertain them, but with my later ones, while I am still their primary resource for comfort, I am definitely not their first go to when it comes to being entertained. So, in some ways, I feel like I get more done around the house with five kids than I ever did with two or three . . . of course, one might point out that there is a lot more to be done around the house -- which is certainly true. Even just bringing the kids home from school means that, even if the house were totally spotless when we went out the door (which of course it wasn't), there will suddenly be ten little shoes, five coats, three crumb filled lunch boxes, and the needing-sorted contents of three backpacks (plus the three backpacks themselves) strewn about the house. When I think of that, coming in the door with only one or two little pairs of shoes and coats to put away seems like a dream.
Anyway, as I thought about my friend's question, I thought, "Well, two IS hard! You are entitled to feel overwhelmed. But, don't worry that that necessarily translates into meaning that three (or four, or five) will then be impossible." I don't know that, looking back, two felt any easier to me then than five does now. And, the trade offs make it slightly difficult to discern exactly what was more difficult. Part of the problem with your first few little ones is just that -- they are all little ones! By the time you have number five (heaven forbid), even if you have them dreadfully close together, your oldest ones won't be needing the same types of care and attention those needy littler beings need. They will put their own clothes on (that will hopefully even match), they will -- with a little training -- be able to take their own shower and even get their own breakfast. What's more, they will entertain those other later little babies a very great deal. And yet, I can think of days where I feel like I've been pulled a million different ways -- days where all five kids seem to be fighting, or breaking things, or getting hurt, or needing help with different things, or throwing up. And, on those days, I'll think, "How could I have ever thought one was hard! How dreamy to know that I would only be dealing with one bout of flu -- as opposed to FIVE over three weeks time! How easy to have met their needs!" But, in truth, there are other times when the older ones have come up with some fun plan or activity and the younger ones are all thrilled to be a part of it and they are all content and happy and together and entertained with out my having so much as lifted a finger, and I find myself not envying at all those who are in those first stages of one or two small ones, but finding my current life so much easier.
Still, that's simply the taking care of them -- physically and emotionally. And that is where I really can't say for certain that more has been (at least consistently) harder than less. I do worry about more in other ways -- ways that have become apparent only as they got older. There are simply more people whose lives matter VERY much that you are trying to balance. More people to help with homework, more people to teach alphabet letters to, more people to be reminded to practice instruments, more people to try and spend quality time connecting with each day, more people to have health problems and every other kind of problem. And that does worry me. I admit I do feel envious of those who can make sure that their two kids easily stay on top of everything for school, can focus on the needs of only a very few. However, part of me is willing to concede that maybe even there some trade offs exist -- maybe there are more problems for me to worry about -- but with more siblings, maybe there will be more support and help for each individual, etc.
Anyway, I don't really know. Somehow her comment just made me think about and evaluate child numbers and "easy verses hard" -- and it surprised me somewhat to discover that I couldn't clearly say that I found two to be any easier than my current five.