If there’s one thing that I get asked a LOT (it’s up there with ‘would you like chocolate on that?’) is “What’s it like having four children?” Often accompanied with a look of sheer horror or what can only be described as the look of a broody mother of 3. The truth is that I only know what it’s like to have my four children. Someone else with four will undoubtedly have a completely different experience. Hell, someone else looking after my four children will have a completely different experience to me, so with that in mind, this is what I’ve learned….
Whoever said that you won’t know the difference is LYING.
There’s no way around it, four is a lot of children. Not compared with 6 or 10 or that crazy family who have 19, but generally 4 is on the cusp of being a ‘big family’ and you do notice the difference – the washing, the food, the sheer number of bodies to be counted, another person to worry about… Did you ever watch Home Alone and think pah! Forgetting a child, that would NEVER happen. Well, I can tell you with 4 I can DEFINITELY see how that could happen. Perhaps you don’t notice the difference if you have 3 nannies on 24-hour call or if you have really large age gaps and your eldest has left home, but with 4 under 6, you notice. How could you not?
‘The 4th just fits in’
So, this is true. From the moment he was born, my youngest just fitted straight in. In fact, he went straight to the top of charts as the household’s new favourite thing. I’ve been lucky that none of my children have ever been jealous when a new one has arrived – in fact, it’s kind of the opposite with everyone wanting to hug, kiss, feed and cuddle the new addition. Things will undoubtedly change when he starts to crawl and steal toys, but for now, he has just slotted in. For us, it’s also evened the balance a little. My eldest two are as tight as twins and I was always worried that my third would be left out. Obviously, that was partly to do with age, but I hope that now, there’ll always be someone to play with.
It was more a case of Why not? 4 isn’t unusual among my friends and family, and 3 is positively the norm. I can’t say it was a particularly thought-out decision (not much in my life is), but I have always thought that 4 is a good number – in good times for fun, in bad times for support. 2 was too organised for me, 3 had that ‘odd one out’ thing, and well, 4 just kind of felt right (although I’d be lying if I said I don’t occasionally look at people with 2 children and think how much easier/cheaper it would be). I also thought I’d rather do it than look back and think ‘I wish we’d had another’. I’ve been blessed with very easy children whose company I genuinely love (don’t barf, they definitely have their moments, I shout more than I’d like and mealtimes are enough to turn you to drink) – if they’d been trickier, then it might’ve been a different story – although ask me again when they’re teenagers, I might regret EVERYTHING then.
Holidays are expensive
EVERYTHING is expensive. Meals out, clothes, after school activities, hobbies, life – with more bodies, it’s more expensive and nowhere more so than when it comes to holidays. Unless you are Jamie Oliver or Angelina Jolie or someone for whom money isn’t an issue, you’re probably going to be holidaying in the UK A LOT. Which, actually is ok, because who the hell wants to take 4 children on a plane anyway?
There’s a lot of poo
So, this week I’ve changed about 25 nappies, washed poo out of a two-year old’s pants THREE TIMES and spent five days investigating a four year-old’s poo for a still-not-appeared swallowed marble (yup, he’s a genius). You can deal with lots of bodily functions? Congratulations, you’ve got the job.
Music classes go out the window
And baby gym. And baby sensory. And baby massage. And new baby clothes. And anything remotely baby-related. My fourth is learning about life through the medium of watching his mama drink coffee. Although to be honest, I only did anything like that with my first. The others have just learned on the job. And ps the classes stuff is only for the mothers anyway….
We never go to the park
Are you kidding me? The only time I’ll be heading to the park with all four of them is when they’re wheeling me around it in a chair.
You’ll feel old and young.
Old because you are so TIRED and your body is definitely not what it used to be and because there are so many young, unlined gorgeously plump faces around, your craggy old one stands out like a sore thumb and by the time your last goes to school you could, in theory, be old enough to be their classmates’ grandmother. Young because you are still in that very special time of having a newborn, because you have that youthfully magical chance to discover snow/stars/fireworks for the first time FOUR TIMES, because the only people you hang out with are your children and so childish pleasures become your own.
You’ll need help
Whether it’s your husband, your mum, your nanny, your au pair, your childminder, your nursery, your friend who will walk them to school, your in-laws, your neighbour, after-school clubs (and so on), you need to grab any help which comes your way. I know that there are people who do it on their own, but it would be incredibly, incredibly hard to do so. Especially if you work. Which brings me to….
You can work with four children
It’s hard, bloody hard at times, but if you have a flexible job, then it is possible to work with four children. You’ll probably have to cut out the social life, but then you may have already done that with two or three. You also may find yourself getting up early to work in the morning and working after they go to bed at night, but it can be done (I’m writing this while two are napping, a stack of washing sits on the floor by the washing machine and the house is a tip). You’ll feel like you’re always ten steps behind and have a to-do list as long as your arm, but if you have the right job, then it can be done. Part-time is easier, full-time would be mind-bogglingly tough, but depending on their ages it can be done (just look at Nicola Mendelsohn, VP of Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Facebook). Kirsty Young once told Natasha that you can have 2 out of the 3 – family, social life and work. You just have to choose which one you’ll miss the least.
It’s harder to do something ‘just the two of you’
Finding someone to look after 4 children is like winning the lottery – rare, but not impossible. It does, however, make going out a lot harder than it is with one or two children – and weekends away just a distant dream – but you just have to think out of the box. Do a day ‘date’ – we went to the Savoy in the afternoon and watched a matinee performance of Groundhog Day in London rather than an evening show – and were back in time for bed and bath time. Ok, it lacks the craziness of drinking cocktails to the wee hours – but quite frankly, who on earth can manage that these days?
This, like all things, will pass
Quite possibly, my favourite ever saying. Everything is a moment and everything passes. So, what it’s like having four children now, when they’re young, will be very different to what it’ll be like having them in two years, ten years, twenty years time. I think it’ll always be expensive, it’ll always be noisy (even when they leave as that’ll be the sound of me wailing) and I hope, it’ll always be full of love. And on that cheeseball note, excuse me, I’m off to deal with some poo.