As excitement over a third royal baby mounts this spring, Becky Dickinson reveals why three is her perfect number
As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge eagerly await their third child, the nation will be watching to see how Kate and William cope with the jump from two to three children.
Because while having two children is regarded as fairly standard, there is something a little less textbook about having a third. Although it’s not exactly unusual to have three children – unless they happen to be triplets – there is a sense in which you are stepping over an invisible line of symmetry.
I remember the moment I discovered I was expecting my third baby. As those blue lines on the pregnancy test revealed themselves, my elation was accompanied by a sense of ‘What have I done?’ As if I’d boarded a plane without really knowing where I was going.
Of course, nothing compares to the life-changing enormity of having a first baby. But once you’ve got used to having one child, having a second is often a natural progression. For many, the question is when, rather than if. Moving on to number three, however, may involve more of a decision-making process.
Like the Duchess of Cambridge, I already had one of each sex, so I wasn’t desperate for either a boy or a girl. But somehow, I felt that my family just wasn’t complete. That I wasn’t done. So, even though my third pregnancy was very much wanted, it didn’t make it any less daunting.
There were the practical issues: time, money, the prospect of yet more sleepless nights, and the physical limitations of having only two hands. But there were deeper concerns, too: would I be able to give them all enough attention? And how could I avoid ‘middle child syndrome’?
Like Princess Charlotte, my daughter Daisy was about to lose her seat as the baby of the family to assume the less desirable role of ‘middle child’, whereas her big brother got to retain his position as the eldest. Not quite heir to the throne, but at least he wasn’t being nudged out of line.
But clinical psychologist Linda Blair says middle child syndrome – where the middle child is assumed to feel marginalised – is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than anything else.
“We notice mainly what we expect to notice and ignore conflicting information. Middle child syndrome isn’t inevitable, particularly if the middle child is a different gender from the older child, because then in a sense they’re also a first born.”
Even when the middle child is the same gender as the first born, Linda adds that being in the centre of the family can stand children in good stead. “Middle children are generally very good at getting on with their peers and coming up with compromises when there are disputes, because they grow up surrounded by others close to their own age.”
This is certainly true for Daisy, who is better at sharing and more diplomatic than both her siblings put together. Other mums have found the same. Amy, who was herself a middle child, says: “I spent most of my childhood being the peacemaker between my bickering elder and younger sisters. I now have three girls of my own, and am always struck by how the middle one is diffusing situations.”
In fact, many middle children look back on their birth order with gratitude. Thirty-five-year-old Rebecca says: “I loved being a middle child. My sister went through all the difficult stuff – exams, inviting boyfriends home, starting uni – first. Meanwhile, my brother was always getting dragged around to our music and ballet lessons, and often got into trouble because he was the little one. I felt cushioned by a sibling on either side.”
This seems to be a common feeling. Middle child Claire reflects: “My parents got so tired of enforcing everything with my big sister, like when she could get her ears pierced, that they were a lot more relaxed with me.”
Contrary to popular opinion, it seems many middle children actually appreciate being sandwiched between their older and younger siblings, which is one less thing for Kate to worry about with Princess Charlotte.
For me, the real shock about becoming a mum of three was all the extra washing, cooking, cleaning and general rushing around it entailed. Instead of just going up by a third, the madness seemed to rocket exponentially. This is possibly because while doing two things at once is sometimes manageable, it’s generally impossible to do three things at once. Although, no doubt the Duchess of Cambridge will make it look far more effortless than I have ever managed.
My advice to anyone contemplating a third child, or already expecting one, is take all the help you can get. Secondly, I’d recommend lowering your standards – skimp on housework, ditch the iron, and keep a supply of fish fingers in the freezer, for when needs must.
The more children you have, the harder it can be to give them all individual attention. But Linda says it’s important to try and make this a priority. “One idea I recommend is to take each child for a special outing, on their own, say for pizza or tea, once a month so parents can focus entirely on that child.”
This is something I try to do with my own children – for my benefit as much as theirs. It’s amazing how much easier it is to entertain one child, when you’re used to dealing with three. But I also treasure the times we are all together. Despite the chaos and tiredness, I adore having a trio of children – simultaneous meltdowns and triple outbreaks of norovirus aside. Yes, the laundry basket is always full, someone is always hungry and we’re usually running late. But really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So if you’re tempted to follow in the Duchess of Cambridge’s footsteps, my advice is to follow your heart.
Power of three – Psychologist Linda Blair shares her tips for parenting three or more children
- Take good care of yourself – particularly try to get enough sleep. If you’re more rested you’ll make better parenting decisions.
- Ask family and friends to help out, or hire help. Even a few hours a week or half an hour in the evening will make all the difference.
- Try to make time to give each child his or her own nightly bedtime routine, even if it’s brief. Those few moments will reassure them that they’re loved because they’re special.
- Try to offer regular, wholesome meals and snacks. Both low blood sugar levels and sucrose overload in a child are likely to lead to emotional outbursts.