Parenting Question for Those with Children Who Are Close in Age

Updated on December 23, 2011
S.S. asks from Vero Beach, FL
11 answers

Let me set the stage for you: I am a mother of 3 toddlers. The oldest is 3 and a half, next almost 3, and the youngest is 2.
They are a handful. I was so lucky and so happy to be able to parent these little ones and the husband and I are totally enjoying them. But they are definitely a busy group. And more and more lately I am feeling like "I am just not doing it right." I think the problem comes with having 3 so close in age. Even though I stopped working to be with them and they are with my husband or me at all times, I still don't feel good about my parenting somehow. I never seem to have the time to do all the fun things that you should be able to do with little kids, and more and more I am afraid that it will be detrimental for them. Hey, I am new at this (even though I am old, lol!) and I am not sure what all the consequences will be. I wonder how it will affect their mental well-being, their speech and educational potential and how loved and cared-for they feel.
For example, today I tried to act out the 3 little pigs story with them (they love that line "I'll huff and I'll puff...") but the middle one just kept running off, and usually it's to do something he shouldn't. So I keep getting interrupted. If I sing and act out "wheels on the bus" someone starts yelling no they want a different song (and they drown my singing out) or someone runs away while the others are interested. I try to read a story and again the middle one keeps leaving or looking at other books on his own which leads to him ripping the pages if it's a paper book or else someone wants to go potty right at the time when I have the undivided attention of another one and I have to get up and interrupt. By the time I come back she may or may not be interested in continuing. And then something else comes up. We will be in the living room dancing and then the middle one runs into the other room and I have to go check on him. Going out with the 3 of them becomes extremely stressful and not fun for them because the younger two don't always want to stay with me and they don't want to hold hands when we walk.
Even if I let them color at the table together I have to supervise everyone so closely that I can't really make it fun... someone will eat or break crayons, someone will get down and start coloring on the wall, or some other interruption will happen, and in the meantime crayons are constantly raining down on the floor.
We can't enjoy bathtime because while one is in the bathroom with me the other 2 are or will shortly be tearing up a bedroom and pulling all the clothes out of the dresser. So we have to race through it as fast as we can. I've even tried bathing the 2 girls together but inevitably I have to rush and then I have to hurry to get someone dried off and lotioned and clothed in the bathroom while the other one is still in the tub, but then the one in the tub doesn't get to enjoy time wth momma while bathing and playing with the bath toys and the body paint soap and stuff. I have a brand new set of colored soaps with a floating tray to draw on from sam's club and I never even bother to open it because I just don't have time to use it. Also they don't always get to do things more independently like trying to put their own clothess on because it's just so much quicker for me to do it. They don't get to pick out what they want to wear.
I try to let someone help me load the dishwasher and then someone else starts drinking from dirty cups or making other messes.
And then when I have to do hair I strap someone down in the booster and then I have to keep running for sippy or this or that for other people or getting other people out of trouble so someone stays strapped for a lot longer than they even should. And it's not like doing hair gives me time to try to talk with the person in the seat because it's constantly "Kee get away from the ice maker! Selena I'll help you go potty in just a minute! Hey, get away from the door!!! Don't knock that down!! Stop!!!" I just feel like a mean grouch by the end of the session and I have to fight myself to avoid turning on Sesame street or something just to get them to calm down. (Because I know tv is not good for them!) And getting basic cleaning and essential housekeeping is a nightmare. I am so envious when I see moms with a single small child going around having fun, say, at a park or children's museum. And I can't really get a gauge on how they feel because they really can't communicate well enough yet. They can say a lot of things, but they really can't have an actual conversation. Maybe that is my fault too... if I could have spent more time talking to them and narrating they may have gotten better at speech. And now the middle one may have PDD and I wonder if I could have contributed to that in any way. Sometimes when he plays quietly with a car or a train by himself it's so easy to just leave him alone while dealing with the other 2, and I'm sure that wasn't always good for him.
Maybe parenting 3 children so close in age was a bad thing to do to kids. Maybe I really screwed this up. I love them so much and want to do what's best for them. The other problem is that whenever I tell them no or to stop they don't listen, so I have to physically go over to the person doing the unwanted behavior and stop it which takes me away from whatever I'm doing at the time.
I know it sounds like I'm having pity party but really I just want to find some good solutions or ways to help make the situation as good as possible for them. I just feel like I stopped working so I could give my all my time and myself to them during these critical years, and yet even though they have me I am always stressed out, distracted and not "really" spending time with them.

If anyone has any other ideas, helpful tips or solutions, please tell me!!

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for your kind words of support and helpful advice! I am hoping that things will improve with time and that the husband can work with me so we can give each child a little more one on one time. You are all great!! :)

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answers from Seattle on

Sounds like the perfect description of a 3 ring circus!!!

I am the 3rd child of 7 total.

Oops...gotta calls...will write more later....hang in there sound wonderful in every way....don't stress over it all so much ...this hectic, busy time trying to manage short attention spans will pass soon...

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answers from Seattle on

I agree w/ Amanda - change the title of your question to be "question for parents of several toddlers" or something similar.

I have only one kiddo, but I was a nanny for triplets starting when they were 8 months, and they had a surprise sibling join the group when they were 23 months. Oh my goodness, that singleton was more work than the 3 kiddos put together!

First of all, give yourself some credit. You are doing an amazing job - you read, sing, dance, color, cook, help and mother all day. It's exhausting. Here are some ideas:

If your middle child won't stay in the room where you are dancing, close the door or put up a gate.

If you need to do hair, put all three in booster seats, and let the other two entertain themselves with board books or crayons or a snack. Everyone's out of trouble and hopefully happy. If not happy, then safe.

When singing, ask each child what song he/she wants to hear. Then pick an order and say, "We'll sing Wheels on the Bus, then Twinkle Twinkle, then Old MacDonalds Farm. Ready? Wheels, then Twinkle, then Farm." and start singing. If someone doesn't like it, it's too bad. Part of being a sibling is learning to share - not only toys, but time. Continue singing over shouting and you'll eventually get to the desired song. The only exception I made to this rule is if one child melted down into an all-out tantrum. Then that child got carried to their bedroom, reminded that they were free to scream and cry as much as they needed, as long as the door was closed and I didn't have to listen to it.

Books: refer to tip listed above.

Teach this phrase: "My turn next". Sometimes MAMA gets to say "My turn next!" and then take your turn, singing a song that YOU like. If there's a struggle over who gets to go first, remind one or two children to say, "My turn next." or "My turn after that!"

I bathed all four kids at once. It was tight, but it worked. The first one out of the tub was the most reliable child (toweled off and stuffed into jammies). Then the second most reliable, and so on. The least reliable (and mostly likely to make trouble) got out last.

For teaching them how to dress, again install the gate in the bedroom door - keeping all of you in the bedroom. If one or even two kids aren't interested in how to put on pants, they are probably paying attention at some level.

Most of all: if your middle kiddo has PDD (I'm assuming you are referring to Pervasive Developmental Delay - if I'm wrong, forgive me), it's not your fault. It just happens. You can't prevent it - there wasn't anything you should have or shouldn't have eaten during your pregnancy that would change that. You couldn't have prevented it if you held him more or less as a newborn, or if you breastfed vs giving him formula, or vice versa. If you've had him evaluated, move on to the next step - OT? Speech? Inclusive preschool starting on his third birthday? My child has global delays and I know what you mean about leaving him quietly alone to play with that same toy that isn't teaching him anything, but at least he's absorbed and not stuck to my leg.

Keep reading to your children. Recite a story in the car. Have a conversation about your day - even if you are asking and answering your own questions. "Kee, did you see the big dog running down the sidewalk? (pause) Do you remember what color it was? (pause) "I think it was black. But it went by so fast I didn't really get a good look. Maybe it was brown." (pause) "If you were a dog, what color would you want to be?" (pause) "If I was a was a dog, I would like to be BLUE!" etc.

Also - don't hesitate to put on a short pre-screened video two or three times per day. Give yourself those half-hour breaks. It will make you more sane and a better mommy. Personally, I like Caillou (the newer videos w/o the "puppets" in between segments). They're calm and age-4 Caillou is very well-behaved, thoughtful, and not whiny. Again, don't bother with the earlier "puppets" versions - he's more like a real kid in those videos: whiny and downright irritating. PM me if you'd like the titles to those we watch. Or should I say: HE watches while i do something else!!

I hope at least one of these ideas is helpful. I'll be interested in reading what other seasoned parents have to say!

Edit to add: kiddo also likes sign-language videos, particularly "Signing Time". Educational, it's helped us with some of the communcation issues, and when he's misbehaving or screeching at me, I can sign "Stop." or "Later" or "Wait" and it's more efficient for us than when I raise my voice.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Omaha on

Bless your heart, momma!! You are doing great, just a little frazzled. It happens to all of us. I was a classroom teacher for 13 years and I can tell you I use every bit of my education raising my two kids, ages 4 and 2.5. Sometimes I feel like they gang up on me, so I can only imagine what it must be like with 3. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head that may help:
I put my kids to work. Let them put pillows on the bed, dust, put clothes in and out of the dryer, put trash in the trash can, sort socks, toys etc. Do things that you think they can handle. I didn't let them do much with the dishwasher just because of the glass and silverware in it.
I planned my entire day up until my husband got home from work. First we would get dressed. Choose two outfits for each child and let them pick which they would like to wear. Let them try to start dressing themselves. It's ok if they don't get it right, but usually they will have fun trying and are so proud when they do. I let my kids watch tv while they had some milk or juice. There are plenty of quality educational shows on PBS, PBS Sprout and Nick Jr. I let them watch a show or two while I got myself ready and tidy up the house. Next, we would have breakfast. I usually plan a time to take a stroller ride, play in the backyard, listen to music, read stories together, color, etc. I would only plan these activities for about thirty minutes as attention spans are short at this age.
For giving baths, I would make that an evening ritual when your husband is there to help you. Unless your bathtub is big enough, bathe all three of the kids together and join forces on cleaning them. Otherwise, one of you bathe one child at a time while the other watches the other two. This way each child can have some peaceful bonding time with you (or your husband) and can engage in those bath activities you haven't been able to get out yet.
Look into Jim Fay's Love and Logic books especially Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood (birth to 6 years). It gives awesome strategies for you to share control by giving choices, setting limits and holding them accountable. It will save your sanity! Also check into local resources like Parents as Teachers available in your community or local school district. They can give you some strategies to manage it all as well. Check out MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) in your area. This is a group for stressed out moms with kids at this age. You get some much needed adult time while your kids get to play in the childcare rooms. Also, look into Mom's Day Out programs. They are usually reasonably priced and can give you a little bit of a break too. It is also beneficial for your kids to learn social skills with other children and teaches them skills such as sitting on the floor in a group, listening without shouting out and standing in line.
At any rate, don't beat yourself up. The fact that you are trying to do right by your children and looking for strategies to help them have a good upbringing tells me that you are a good parent. Hang in there. It is tough to see what we are molding, but it all comes together sooner or later!
God Bless!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Bellingham on

You're doing fine! You have Irish Triplets. Mine are now 6,5 and 4. You are not screwing everything up, it's just that you're so busy, with your hands full you can't catch up with yourself. Things will get better. Give yourself a break, turn on Sesame Street (it's a fantastic educational resource that will help them with their letters and numbers), and take a deep breath.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Oh honey you're doing great! My mom had 5 kids in 6 years and the chaos was never ending. I'm sure it was tough for her, but it was great for us! It will get easier as they get older - really, with so many so young and so close together, give yourself a pat on the back for everyday that they get dressed, fed, and make it through the day without serious injury. Their job right now is to play, explore, and know that they are loved and learn how to give love. Play is what they do without structure - they don't need to sit down and calmly color together or go on a nature walk to learn - they are learning and growing just by your every day activities.

Having them close together will be a blessing to them. Our two oldest (14/13 year old step-twins) are a few months apart in age and share a room and share a lot of friends. We hear them up chatting and giggling until all hours of the night and are grateful that they have each other. My two younger boys are 5 & 7 and every night, they decide whose bed they'll sleep in. They sleep curled around each other and also laugh and talk way after lights out. Sure, they fight all day but at night when I check on them, I'm glad that they are close in age and have each other.

You have given your kids the gift of each other - really, that's enough! Just manage the chaos the best you can and as they get older, they'll settle down and life will be more like you are picturing things in your head.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Tulsa on

Just a suggestion, but you might want to rename the title of your question. Parents of multiples are usually parents of twins, triplets, etc. Maybe if you put multiple children or children close in age, you might get more answers.

To answer your question, I'm sure that your children are doing just fine. Anytime you get more than one child in the mix, you are always going to have one kid wanting to do one thing, another wants to do another, etc. I'd make sure you switch up the activities so that every child gets to do something they like to do each day. If the other two aren't interested, they will get their turn with a different activity a while later. I'd also try one on one activities with them on the weekends. Let your husband take the other two and you do something fun for an hour or two. A little TV for them to watch while you take a break isn't going to hurt them. I think you're being too hard on yourself. Sounds like you're doing a great job!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

This sounds about right! Your doing a great job. Give yourself a break your dealing with toddlers! Three of them, Just keep on having fun and discipline when necessary and always follow through with what you say. Say what you mean and mean what you say. It will get easier as they grow older and understand what want them to do. You sound like a great mom!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

From one Mom to another, I cried the entire time I read your post.,... I am a mom of 5 my eldest and only daughter is 8 in feb. I have a 6 yr old son, 4 1/2 yr twin boys and my last little man will be 1 in Jan... they are a little older then yours now but oh was I where you are... When the twins came along 8wks early my daughter was 3 1/2 and my son was a few months from being 2.. we had just moved to florida a yr prior and I new no one, hadn't found our church yet and let me tell you I was a bit overwhelmed... My house suffered that year not my kids... I want to say first you are doing so much more then a lot of moms do anyway in there regular days no matter how many kids they have... Don't be so hard on yourself some days we just survive... I try and used constant redirection and positive praise even when I feel like I am losing my mind which I am sure has happen a few times over the course of the last 4 yrs.. Example " Thank you for not touching/hitting/yelling/ pulling.. You are such a good listener... I watch you make good choices all the time" Sounds corny I know but eventually over time they get it... a lot of times they are doing things that aren't safe for them thats why we don't want them doing it so instead of saying NO over and over I try and say mommy doesn't want you to get hurt, thats not safe for you and explain the consequences of what might happen if they follow thru... We sound like recorders saying the same thing a million times a day, day in and day out... they are listening to you so keep up the great work. I bathed all the kids together for a long time.. Now the older two each take a shower with one of the twins and it works.. .YOU are not hurting them or ruining their mental state... You sound like an amazing mom doing the best you know how with what you have... I always tell others it doesn't get eaiser it gets different when you tackle one thing something will come next its just how it works... and not the same dicipline works for all the children they are different and unique.... there is light sweetheart and you will make it... My kids are so close yet fight like crazy all in the same hr :-).... Not everyday has to be fun and full of activities its just life...I have a rule in the house when one person wants what another has they have to ask to use it and the other has to say I will give you a turn in 3 mins... Sets them both up one to wait there turn and the other to share what they have...I am part of a MOPS group at our church I actually do hospitality and its been a savings grace... we meet once a month for about 21/2 hrs.. have brunch, discussion, craft and just get to be with other moms who are facing the same everyday challenges you are...oh I have a bucket load of things I want to say and give you.,... The most important is that you are doing a great job and sound like an amazing mom, one that a lot of kids would love to have... Don't be so hard on yourself.... T.V. is ok in moderation.. they have lots of great shows that teach our kids... my kids still love to watch the baby einstien videos and they are older LOL... I haven't had cable in over 4 years so we do the video thing... they have great selections at the library... run out when your husband is home....If you would like to stay in touch I would love to continue to be here and help you.... Good luck and God Bless you had a lot of other great ideas together you should have a few options and know that you are doing everything you can....Remember there is nothing wrong with trying to simplifiy to make it easier for you and getting thru what I consider the hardest time in motherhood cuz we are a little lost at who we are for a time... It so does get better :-)



answers from Miami on

Hi S.,

You are doing such interesting things with your children! Just a couple of ideas, your older children are still pretty young so maybe you want to invest in a double stroller for the two younger and then they can't run away - have your oldest walk. You can get the double strollers inexpensively on craigslist or look for garage sales in your area.

Only grocery shop at night - leave them home with your husband. It can be "your time" and then you won't have to deal with all of them at the store together.

Create a schedule. Preschool age children really do best with a schedule and they like to know what will happen next. You can create a pictoral chart to show your daily schedule and you will be amazed at how quickly they begin to understand it.

Here is an example:
7 am wake up, Dress, brush teeth, hygine such as wash face ect. Be careful to address hygine as a joy. you will thank yourself years later for teaching this.
7:30-8am some tv, breakfast. If your a stay at home mom/dad this is a good time to teach the concepts of cooking, like stirring, mixing or just time to talk about food.
8am until 9-10am this is what I like to think of as free time, time to craft, build a fort, color, do a few work sheets for preschoolers. This is the time kids would typically be in school. Offer a light snack during this time, juice milk and crackers, yogurt or fruit.
10-11am is a good time for the children to self play depending on age. Generally children learn then quiet down a bit to process before returning to play again. 2 hours of solid playtime based on learning will make them crave less constructive play time. This is a good time to set up thing such as playdough, doll houses, blocks, leggos, balloons or bubbles to bat around or so on. This gives the parent a few minutes to organize thoughts.
12pm- lunch time.
1pm- after lunch is quiet time again. For younger children, they should take a 1.5 to 2 hour nap. For older children, it can be quiet time for a full hour - sit on your bed with two books, a quiet toy, nothing with a screen or that makes any noise at all. You can use a timer or a digital clock for older children so that they know when the hour is over.
2-3pm is a good time for a walk. The sun is not too hot in the summer. In the winter I try to get the children out around 10-11am when the day is the warmest. I try to get the mail, do some light things around the yard, talk about animals, seasons, tree’s or plants. Maybe talk about peoples houses such as whose yard this is, what colors do they have, why they have a flag ect. talking is the most important tool you will have after imagination.
4pm- The kids again should have self play. It’s essential. I also try to have playdates around this time to encourage socialization. It is totally okay to put a show on in the 30 minutes before dinner if you need that help to allow you to get your dinner finished! I love that Sesame Street is on from 5-6 and also that it is done in increments so you can choose to just watch 20 minutes!
530- dinner time, start to finish should involve the kids.
630-730 is bath, brush teeth, read books, pj’s, making the nightime ‘nest’ for those who do not wish to sleep alone but are old enough that they should.
830 to 9pm at any age is time for adults.

Hang in there - I agree that they don't get easier the challenges just change but yes, you are spending time with them - you are there and you are caring for them!




answers from Victoria on

Ugh I cannot imagine how hard this is on YOU. I have a almost 4 yrl old and an almost 2 yr old and I think I have it hard. I am waiting for them to get a bit older when they have some sort of attention span. Dont be so hard on yoursel for one running off. And I bathe them together little one first then the older one ,i take the youner one out and get her dressed. then the older one. it works for me as my son in the tub is within ear shot. if it gets too quiet I just shout at him and he says "yeah mom i am fine" but this method makes water on the bathroom floor a regular. perhaps it would be best to get them both out and dressed at "the same time". Its not an easy time having very small ones right now but they will get older and be able to help themselves more and more. It gets easier and better. . . I hope.

BTW my neighbor has been working with her son and he is only 2 and recognizes all the letters of the alphabet!! My son is 4 and looks like I have been slacking :/


answers from Williamsport on

HA HA HA!!!! This is sooooooo how it is.
First of all, my three are a little older, 5 1/2, 3 1/2 and 2 1/2. So I was right here with you when they were all about a year or two younger.

My step sister has 7 kids at 2 year increments and comes from a large family of large families, and she told me the HARDEST TIME IN A MOM'S LIFE is when the FIRST THREE are little. It goes smoothly for NO ONE. In time, they all get a little more independent, the oldest can start to help and no longer needs help with the potty, etc. My life is seriously SOOO much easier now than when the kids were a bit younger. My husband is NEVER home, so like you, I was a constant child dresser, feeder, pottier, diaperer and everything was always interrupted.

How do these kids from huge families in my family turn out after a toddlerhood where their mom was always there, but she was busy and couldn't make each of them the center of attention all the time? Independent, gracious, helpful, loving and awesome that's how! From what you list here, you are doing many more hands on fun activities than many people try to do, and you HAVE to depend on playpens, TVs, naps, whatever some of the time. It does NOT hurt your kids to play on their own. Some of history's greatest minds were those of kids neglected in orphanges-kids are not THAT fragile! You are getting to know each other, and they are used to you "being there". It's OK to be busy. I take my three everywhere, and we flow like a team now. You'll be OK.

Some tips: what matters most is your mood. Some of our best days were when things were WORST for me, the house was wrecked, the bills were late the schedule was blown to bits, whatever, but I made the concerted effort to be CHEERFUL and LOVING while flustered. And countless times we threw caution to the wind, fled the house, grabbed a juice at the gas station and hung out at the park or walk around town to enjoy each other without the stress of home. No matter how much you clean, the mess will be there again in an hour, so why constantly clean? :)

Also, early firm discipline was key, because toddlers don't take it personally when you MAKE them behave during books, etc, and even if they're too young to sit still, they can play quietly, stop pulling hair, getting into things, whatever. Setting an early foundation for doing what you say quickly makes things EXPONENTIALLY easier as your kids get older. I had to be most diligent with discipline between ages one and 3, and now I have "easy kids" (except 3rd SUPER spirited one at 2 1/2 , she takes most of my effort). For these things, I recommend the book Back to Basics Discipline by Janet Campbell Matson, so you don't lose too much time on behavior stuff. It has been essential to enable my oldest daughter to practice piano and do school work while younger toddlers don't cause havoc-their natural impulse, and countless other times when I need my kids to behave well in order to function, so we can read books, etc -it's good for them too.

And other than that, just accept that it's hectic for now and you aren't damaging your kids. Confession: I had no idea my son was learning the alphabet (from Word World on PBS every day) until he recited it to me one day while sitting on the potty. :-0 In a few years, they'll never remember you were preoccupied, and you'll be amazed how they do remember the special little things. You're doing great, hang in there!

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