“I want to see!”
“I didn’t get to see!”
“I can’t see!”
Three kids. Three anxiety-fueled complaints screamed at my partner and me within a second of her showing me something on her phone. They didn’t care that it was an email that had nothing to do with them. I don’t think they even knew what was on the screen. But as the three of them sat at the kitchen counter, falling off their stools to see text they don’t know how to read, I was convinced they didn’t even want to be included in what my partner and I were talking about. They sure as hell didn’t want to be excluded, though.
My oldest is five and my twins just turned three. They roam the house as if they are in a “Hunger Games” arena. Everything is a resource, and they must fight to the death to gain it. They survive each fight unscathed, but my patience, sanity, and will to intervene dies with each argument over who gets to play with the maple syrup jug with the green lid. Three kids, three empty maple syrup jugs in the play kitchen; one happens to have a green lid, while the other two have brown. Two children are perpetually unhappy.
Before you jump to conclusions, I could hand each of them the same exact thing and they would still want the object—the same exact object—in their brother or sister’s hands. This is a tested and proven theory. And it’s not like they don’t have plenty to play with. In fact I often tell them they have too much stuff, which is probably what some experts would tell me is the problem.
Someone somewhere is telling me I spoil my kids. I overindulge their desire for things. I’ve chipped away at their happiness and all of the important things in their lives because I can’t tell them no when they see a box of plastic toys marked $.50 at a yard sale.
I stupidly buy three different colors of toothbrushes so we know which one belongs to which child, but then there is always, always, a fight between two children who want the same color. I stupidly buy three toothbrushes of the same color to avoid a fight and tell myself I will use a Sharpie to write their initials on the handles to avoid ownership confusion. But always, always, there is a fight between me and two children who refuse to use the ugly color I selected, the color that took me 12 minutes to decide upon in hopes to avoid this exact fight.
There is no winning in the war on resources. I am constantly trying to balance my desire to teach my kids lessons about appreciating what they have, that life isn’t always fair, with my urge to spoil them a little and provide them with things that are just for them and not their siblings.
Mostly I just want the fighting to stop. Is it better to throw one **insert toy of your choice** into the yard and have them figure out how to share it, or should each child have their own **insert same toy of choice** so they can find individuality and feel independence?
I have tried both approaches; the jury is still out on which was more successful. I also know that my three kids are competitive, and even though there is also a lot of advice on how to raise kids without sibling rivalry, my partner and I are fine with their competitive spirit. Shit gets done when you ask who is going to be first to wash their hands for dinner or go to the bathroom before we leave the house; we use their need to be better, faster, and smarter to our advantage and theirs. As long as the competition is clean, we like to see a little fire in the bellies of our children as they fight and work to earn what they think is a win.
I also know that the greatest reward to them is my attention. I have no small amount of guilt knowing this. I do not supply my kids with things to avoid spending time with them, or to make up for time I cannot spend with them, but sometimes I wonder if their arguments and stress over feeling left out or looked over comes from being one of three kids in a two parent family. I wonder how much of this comes from two of my three kids being twins.
One child was bombarded by two new siblings instead of one and the other two have been sharing space, food, and love since they were conceived. Resources seem scarce when there are three kids, three sets of emotional and physical needs, and two mamas trying to keep up with the supply and demand elements of parenting.
I know that in any given moment, my partner and I will never be able to provide three children with equal amounts of the responsiveness they crave. Someone will likely always feel slighted, left out, or ignored. Someday, when they are done fighting over who gets to push the button to close the van door, who gets to have the first popsicle served after dinner, and who has the biggest pile of LEGOs, they will know they are three kids who were and are perpetually loved.