Why moms of 3 are so stressed—but moms of 4+ are so chill

A survey by TODAY found moms of four or more kids report lower stress levels than moms of fewer kids, but why?

Why moms of 3 are so stressed—but moms of 4+ are so chill

I have one child. Just one, single child, yet it often takes me a solid hour to get out of the house. When I've finally shut the door behind us, I wonder how people with a bunch of kids do it. Then again, sometimes I'll see a very chill parent getting off the bus while baby-wearing, pushing a stroller and simultaneously directing a small gaggle of school-age kids and think, She looks way less stressed than I feel. According to a survey of more than 7,000 mothers, she probably is.

A survey by TODAY found moms of four or more kids report lower stress levels than moms of fewer kids, but they have to get over a hurdle to get there. The survey found moms of three stress more than those of us with just one or two kids, but once you get beyond three, it's smooth(er) sailing.

Perhaps it's that moms of large families learn to better cope with stress and let more things go. Or perhaps women who have an easier time dealing with stress are more likely to want more kids. But, surprisingly, four kids seems to be the magic number when stress lowers for mothers.

This isn't news to psychotherapist and author Kelley Kitley. A mom of four herself, Kitley feels that moms of large families are often unfairly perceived as more stressed than they actually are. "So many women with large families get a bad rap," says Kitley.

According to Kitley (whose children are 11, nine, seven and five) large families mean parents reap the stress-relieving benefits of teamwork and sibling bonding. "They encourage each other, hold each other accountable, help out more to lighten the load at home, and the kids entertain each other," Kitley explains. "Having more than three kids certainly hasn't been a breeze—the laundry in and of itself is overwhelming—but overall, it's a lot of fun."

There is some scientific support for the idea that it's not just the parents in larger households who are less stressed, but the kids, too.

A 2016 study of Norwegian kids found those who grow up in large families have fewer mental problems, suggesting the households in general are less stressed. The more siblings a kid has and and the closer in age they are, the more pronounced the stress-reducing effects, say the researchers.

Of course, to get to the stress-protecting factor for kids and adults as indicated in the survey, you would have to get beyond the hurdle of having three kids and moving on to four, which isn't something some parents (like me) have any interest in doing. According to some experts, three can be as hard as the survey suggests.

"For some families, three is tough, because I've interviewed parents that said they had it under control with two—man on man defense—[but] with 3 kids, they were now playing zone defense, and it was trickier," says Dr. Jennifer Wider, author of The New Mom's Survival Guide and Got Teens.

Parental stress levels depend more on the attitudes in the family than the exact number of kids, according to Wider, but in her research, the overarching sentiment was that moms felt more confident and less stressed with subsequent children.

That's a phenomenon that's been dubbed "the Duggar effect," implying that once you get passed a certain number of kids, the stress levels don't increase with subsequent children.

A 2000 study out of Sweden suggests the opposite is true, and that parental stress levels actually do increase with the number of children in the home. The study contradicts the survey, and so do some parenting experts.

"I don't agree with these survey results," says Eirene Heidelberger, the founder of GIT Mom, a parenting coaching service that helps stressed out moms "get it together."

The sheer logistics of organizing a large family can be very stressful, says Heidelberger, a mom of three boys herself, and parents can't count on older kids to make things easier around the house. "Children do not raise themselves nor should siblings be expected to raise their younger siblings," adds Heidelberger. "It takes a lot of energy, mental resources and money to raise a large family to ensure each child feels loved, special and tended to."

Indeed, parenting requires a lot of us. A recent study found parents in general are more stressed than people without kids, but it's not our kids that are stressing us out, it's things like lack of paid leave, affordable childcare and sick time.

So in a world where those things are hard to come by, how many kids is the right number for a less stressful life? It's whatever number you want and think you can handle, says Kitley (and your instincts).

She doesn't want to see moms of one shamed for not giving their child a sibling any more than she wants mothers with large families to be criticized for their choices. She just wants moms to try and see the joy of parenting, because that will reduce our stress, no matter how many children we're leaving the house with. "The more we can enjoy it and embrace it, more than feeling like [parenting] is this daunting task, the better time we'll have doing it," she says.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

Bravado Designs: Soothing sounds for a good night's sleep

With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less

Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

Keep reading Show less
Work + Money