One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is: “What is harder – the transition from one to two or from two to three?”  Usually these moms are asking because they are contemplating adding a third child to their brood.  There were others; however, whose intentions are less wholesome, who want me to be a bit miserable in order to validate their decision not to have any more children.  Perhaps, it was my first encounters with those people that made me stifle my feelings and edit the authenticity out of my response.  In either case, I usually respond with:  “I’m the wrong person to ask.”

I wish people would walk away at that point, but this response is often met with a blank stare forcing me to elaborate.

“My second born was kind of a breeze until he became mobile so the transition from one to two wasn’t earth shattering. Having three kids is a challenge.  But it is better now that my daughter is almost three, the boys are in school….<<Sigh>>”

My voice trails off and I muster a polite smile.

For me, having three healthy and average American kids is really, really hard. Like, devastatingly, overwhelmingly, soul crushingly, hard.

To some people that may be an obvious statement. I am often told:  “I don’t know how you do it with three.”  When I rattle off their ages, barely four years between the three, I am met with the standard:  “Wow.  Good for you!”  And while these statements may be intended as compliments, they make me cringe.  Frankly, I rarely feel like I’m doing “it”.  It only feels like I’m struggling – yelling too much, not laughing enough, falling victim to distractions to help me avoid the tough moments.  My inner dialogue reminds me of my disappointing behavior on the daily.  As soon as I leave the house in the morning I’m questioning at least the last half dozen parenting decisions I made.  Once my head hits the pillow at night, all the instances throughout the day when I couldn’t muster the patience my children deserve circle through my head like a carousel.  I’ve been on this treadmill for a while.  Why am I not faster?  Why is keeping up not getting easier?  And although, I do not know if I’m doing anything right, I do know that I’m trying.  My best.  I hate to burst the bubble of those telling me that I make it look effort less, but this, this is not easy for me.

There are other moms – moms with one, two, three, four children, who feel the way I do. Knowing that I’m not alone brings me a small amount of solace.  There are moms with trickier home/work/life situations than I have or children who are more demanding, but this isn’t about comparing war stories, it’s about admitting that we all have them.  What’s helped me work through my anxiety of inadequacy is conceding that my reality can be grueling.  To keep my head space in check, I have to continually re-evaluate where I spend my time and energy to avoid being inundated with people, places, and things that suffocate me.  Granting myself permission to own these challenges, admit that there will always be new (and old) tests to navigate, and ask for help when I need it (Every. Single. Day.) has changed my outlook and allowed me to make more positive choices for myself and in turn, my family.

I don’t for a second doubt our decision to have three children.  When I push the bull shit, negative self talk out of my head I recognize how in love I am with my life; especially our babies.  The dynamic between them is sweet, playful, supportive, sometimes competitive, and often loud.   My family is everything I dreamed it would be.  It’s taken me a while to admit how hard it is for me to manage my world.  Now that I’m being honest with myself, I can help myself.  I can do hard things, g-damnit!  Instead of feeling like a failure I feel empowered and ironically, by asking for and accepting help from the people who love me I’ve gotten a bit more control back of my mind, body, and soul.

I have hope that while the daily routines of a family of five will always be complex, I know it will get better.  I am committed to my role in making genuine changes.  And the next time someone asks me what it’s like with three kids, I just may have a different answer.

This post is part of a week-long CT Working Moms blog series.