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

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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.

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Did you hear that? That was the sound of Nordstrom and Maisonette making all your kid's summer wardrobe dreams come true.

Nordstrom partnered with Maisonette to create the perfect in-store pop-up shop from May 24th-June 23rd, featuring some of our favorite baby and kids brands, like Pehr, Zestt Organics, Lali and more. (Trust us, these items are going to take your Instagram feed to the next level of cuteness. 😍) Items range from $15 to $200, so there's something for every budget.

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

Maisonette has long been a go-to for some of the best children's products from around the world, whether it's tastefully designed outfits, adorable accessories, or handmade toys we actually don't mind seeing sprawled across the living room rug. Now their whimsical, colorful aesthetic will be available at Nordstrom.

The pop-in shops will be featured in nine Nordstrom locations: Costa Mesa, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Bellevue, WA; Seattle, WA; Toronto, ON; and Vancouver, BC.

Don't live nearby? Don't stress! Mamas all across the U.S. and Canada will be able to access the pop-in merchandise online at nordstrom.com/pop

But don't delay―these heirloom-quality pieces will only be available at Nordstrom during the pop-in's run, and then they'll be over faster than your spring break vacation. Happy shopping! 🛍

This article is sponsored by Nordstrom. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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For decades, doctors have prescribed progesterone, one of the key hormones your body needs during pregnancy, to prevent a miscarriage. The hormone, produced by the ovaries, is necessary to prepare the body for implantation. As the pregnancy progresses, the placenta produces progesterone, which suppresses uterine contractions and early labor.

But a new study out of the UK finds that administering progesterone to women experiencing bleeding in their first trimester does not result in dramatically more successful births than a placebo. Yet, for a small group of mothers-to-be who had experienced "previous recurrent miscarriages," the numbers showed promise.

The study, conducted at Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research at the University of Birmingham in the UK, is the largest of its kind, involving 4,153 pregnant women who were experiencing bleeding in those risky (and nerve-wracking) early weeks. The women were randomly split into two groups, with one group receiving 400 milligrams of progesterone via a vaginal suppository, and the other receiving a placebo of the same amount. Both groups were given the suppositories through their 16th week of pregnancy.

Of the group given progesterone, 75% went on to have a successful, full-term birth, compared to 72% for the placebo.

As the study notes, for most women, the administration of progesterone "did not result in a significantly higher incidence of live births than placebo." But for women who had experienced one or two previous miscarriages, the result was a 4% increase in the number of successful births. And for women who had experienced three or more recurrent miscarriages, the number jumped to a 15% increase.

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Dr. Arri Coomarasamy, Professor of Gynecology at the University of Birmingham and Director of Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research, said the implications for that group are "huge." "Our finding that women who are at risk of a miscarriage because of current pregnancy bleeding and a history of a previous miscarriage could benefit from progesterone treatment has huge implications for practice," he said.

It's estimated that 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. And while even a spot of blood no doubt increases the fear in every expectant mother's mind, bleeding is actually a very common occurrence during pregnancy, Coomarasamy said. Still, first trimester bleeding is particularly risky, with a third of women who experience it going on to miscarry.

So for women who have been through it multiple times, Coomarasamy's findings are an important avenue to explore. "This treatment could save thousands of babies who may have otherwise been lost to a miscarriage," he added.

The study is among a number of recent groundbreaking discoveries made by doctors looking to further understand what causes miscarriages and what can be done to prevent them. While about 70% of miscarriages are attributed to chromosomal abnormalities, doctors recently learned that certain genetic abnormalities, which exist in a small group of parents-to-be, could be discovered by testing the mother and father, as well as the embryo.

Doctors have also discovered that even knowing the sex of your baby could predict the complications a mother may face, thus helping medical professionals to assist in keeping the pregnancy viable.

But while there is no sweeping solution to stop miscarriages, for some couples, the use of progesterone does offer a glimmer of hope. "The results from this study are important for parents who have experienced miscarriage," Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy's said. "They now have a robust and effective treatment option which will save many lives and prevent much heartache."

Brewin added that studies like this one are imperative to our understanding of how the creation of life, which remains both a miracle and a mystery, truly works. "It gives us confidence to believe that further research will yield more treatments and ultimately make many more miscarriages preventable," she said.

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Every mom has her own list of character traits each of she hopes to instill in her children, but there is one that stands out as a big priority for the majority of millennial mothers.

Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood survey revealed that kindness is incredibly important to today's moms. It is the number one trait we want to cultivate in our children, and according to stats from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this emphasis on kindness couldn't come at a better time.

In recent years kids and parents have been straying from kindness, but these Ivy League experts have some great ideas about how today's moms can get the next generation back on track so they can become the caring adults of tomorrow.

Between 2013 and 2014, as part of Harvard's Making Caring Common project, researchers surveyed 10,000 middle and high school students across the nation. They found that no matter what race, class or culture the kids identified with, the majority of the students surveyed valued their own personal success and happiness way more than that of others.

Why do kids value their own success so much more than things like caring and fairness? Well, apparently, mom and dad told them to.

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Eighty percent of the 10,000 students said their parents taught them that their own happiness and high achievement were more important than caring for others. (So much for sharing is caring.)

The folks at Harvard say that valuing your own ambition is obviously a good thing (in moderation) in today's competitive world, but prioritizing it so much more than ethical values like kindness, caring and fairness makes kids more likely to be cruel, disrespectful and dishonest.

So how do we fix this? Here's Harvard's four-step plan for raising kinder kids.

1. Help them practice being nice

Giving kids daily opportunities to practice caring and kind acts helps make ethical behavior second nature. They could help you with chores, help a friend with homework or work on a project to help homelessness.

All those tasks would help a child flex their empathy muscles. The key is to increase the challenges over time so your child can develop a stronger capacity for caregiving as they grow.

2. Help them see multiple perspectives

The researchers want kids to “zoom in" and listen closely to the people around them, but also see the bigger picture. “By zooming out and taking multiple perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are too often invisible (such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn't speak their language, or the school custodian), young people expand their circle of concern and become able to consider the justice of their communities and society," the study's authors' wrote.

3. Model kindness

Our kids are watching, so if we want them to be kinder, it's something we should try to cultivate in ourselves. The Harvard team suggests parents make an effort to widen our circles of concern and deepen our understanding of issues of fairness and justice.

4. Teach kids to cope with destructive feelings

According to the researchers, the ability to care about others can be overwhelmed by a kid's feelings of anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings. They suggest we teach our kids teach that while all feelings are okay to feel, some ways of dealing with them are not helpful, or kind (for example, “Hitting your classmate might make you happy, but it won't make them happy and isn't very kind. Counting to 10 and talking about why you're mad is more productive than hitting.")

While the folks at Harvard are concerned that so many kids are being taught to value their own happiness above all, they were also encouraged by the students who do prioritize caring and kindness. One of the students surveyed wrote, “People should always put others before themselves and focus on contributing something to the world that will improve life for future generations."

If we follow the advice of Harvard researchers, the world will see more kids that think like that, and that's what future generations need.

[A version of this post was originally published November 8, 2017. It has been updated.]

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These days more women are having babies into their 40s, but the idea that women are facing down the biological clock is pretty pervasive—once you're over 35, you automatically receive that "advanced maternal age" classification, while your male partner's age may never even be mentioned. The pressure on older moms is unfair, because according to new research from Rutgers University, men may face age-related fertility decline too and America's dads are getting older.

It's a new idea, but this finding actually takes 40 years worth of research into account—which, coincidentally, is around the age male fertility may start to decline. According to Rutgers researchers, the medical community hasn't quite pinpointed the onset of advanced age, but it hovers somewhere between ages 35 and 45.

The study which appears in the journal Maturitas, finds that a father's age may not just affect his fertility, but also the health of his partner and offspring.

Based on previously conducted research, the team behind this study found evidence that men over 45 could put their partners at greater risk for pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Babies born to older fathers also have an increased likelihood of premature birth, late stillbirth, low Apgar scores, low birthweight, newborn seizures and more. The risks appear to exist later in life, too: Research suggests children of older fathers have greater risk of childhood cancers, cognitive issues and autism.

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There's been plenty of studies surrounding advanced maternal age, but research on advanced paternal age is pretty slim—scientists don't quite understand how age correlates to these factors at this point. But researchers from Rutgers believe that age-related decline in testosterone and sperm quality degradation may be to blame. "Just as people lose muscle strength, flexibility and endurance with age, in men, sperm also tend to lose 'fitness' over the life cycle," Gloria Bachmann, director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, explains in a release for this news.

As we've previously reported, more and more men are waiting until later in life to have children. According to a 2017 Stanford study, children born to fathers over 40 represent 9% of U.S. births, and the average age of first-time fathers has climbed by three-and-a-half years over the past four decades —so this research matters now more than ever, and it may represent the first step towards setting certain standards in place for men who choose to delay parenthood.

The biggest thing to come out of this research may be the need for more awareness surrounding advanced paternal age. This particular study's authors believe doctors should be starting to have conversations with their male patients, possibly even encouraging them to consider banking sperm if they're considering parenthood later in life.

Women certainly tend to be aware of the age-related risks to their fertility, and many regularly hear that they should freeze their eggs if they're not ready for motherhood. And while it's still too early to say whether we'll ever examine paternal age this closely, this research may set a whole new conversation in motion.

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In many homes, especially those where both men and women are present, the battle for control over the thermostat is very, very real. If you find you're often the one cranking up the heat or turning down the air conditioning, there's a reason for that, mama.

According to a study published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, women think better in warmer temperatures, while men get sharper when the air conditioning kicks in.

Researchers recruited hundreds of college students, both men and women, and put them in rooms where the temperatures ranged from 61 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the students took tests. Their math, verbal and local skills were evaluated. It was pretty simple stuff, like doing addition without pulling up the calculator on your phone or making as many words as you can from a bunch of letters within a set time limit.

For every 1.8 degrees that the temperature went up, women performed better on the math problems by nearly 1.8%! Basically, when the room got warmer, the women could think clearer. As for the men, when the temperature went up by 1.8 degrees their math performance suffered by about 0.63%. They were not as impacted as women, but still clearly did better when the rooms were colder.

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The researchers were thinking about offices when they set out to do this study, and suggest that many air-conditioned office spaces are too cold for women and should be less chilly. But the research also makes sense within the context of many homes where disagreements over temperature are a common occurrence.

The study proves that those of us who are shuffling around the house in slippers and sweaters in May while our partners are walking around in basketball shorts and t-shirts may have a point. As Paul C. Rosenblatt, a Professor Emeritus of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota wrote for HuffPost, "in heterosexual couples the woman was three times more likely than the man to be the colder one," and "that for couples with real differences in temperature preference, there is problem solving to do."

Part of that problem solving may involve compromise or different temperature settings in different rooms when possible. "There are couples who battle for years about thermostat settings — thermostat wars in which each sneaks to the thermostat to set it up or down when the partner isn't paying attention," Rosenblatt writes.

That's not ideal, but neither is having brain freeze all time or wearing three pairs of socks in the house. A 1998 study out of the University of Utah found women usually do have colder hands and feet than men, by about 3 degrees Celsius.

Maybe it's time for everyone to comprise. If the house is just a couple degrees warmer we might all be happier.

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