Apparently 4 is the perfect number of kids to have – in what world?


I still don’t believe it – not really (Picture: Sarah Whiteley)

The other day on Facebook, an advert popped up. This is the number of children to have for a stress-free life…

As a mum of two who feels constantly stressed, I was naturally intrigued and so clicked through, half-wondering if the answer was going to be ‘It’s a trick question, of course the answer is zero!’

Thankfully, it wasn’t. But the answer was just as surprising. Apparently, a 2021 survey by TodayMoms.com of 7,000 mothers showed that having four or more children led to the least stress.

Apparently, mums of large families agreed that by that point, you have no time to worry and therefore, you found yourself going with the flow and embracing the chaos.

Dr Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist from New York, added, ‘The more children you have, the more confident you become in your parenting abilities. You have to let go.’

Now, to a certain extent, it kind of makes sense. When I had my first baby, Theo, now four, I was permanently stressed out. Stressed about the amount of milk he’d take, stressed about how long he slept for, then later, what and how much he ate, how long he was using his sippy cup for…

You name it, I worried about it.

When Immy came along two years later, I was far more relaxed. I’d spent so much time, not just with Theo, but with other babies, I knew how different they all were – and that so many of my previous anxieties just didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter if they drank all of their bottle in one go or it lasted several sittings. It didn’t matter if their first nap of the day was 20 minutes later than yesterday’s. And it really didn’t matter if they were two years old and still wanted a sippy cup every now and then.  

But what I really can’t imagine, is four children to divide yourself between, to give the right amount of one-to-one attention to

And I guess, having more children, as they grow older, they’ll play with and entertain each other, giving you more free time (by ‘free time’, of course I mean, time to make dinner, put a wash on, do the ironing, make beds, etc). Who knows, maybe the older ones could even babysit the younger ones one day, giving you and your partner a rare night off?

However, despite this logic, I still don’t believe it – not really. No matter which way you look at it, surely having four children has to be doubly stressful to just two. Surely?!

Firstly, there’s the financial pressure that comes with more children. That’s four lots of nursery fees – which would be a lot of money. Like, a lot.

And OK, even if you’re lucky enough not to need to put your children in nursery, there’s also the four lots of clothes to buy (no matter how carefully you look after them, it’s impossible to stop them all from becoming stained or stretched or shabby – they’re being worn by children!), four mouths to feed, four beds, four sets of school uniform when they’re old enough, four people to take on holiday…

When they’re young, it’s four little ones to keep an eye on – and keep out of danger and/or trouble. It’s four children to referee when they’re not getting on, four children to quieten down when it all gets a bit rowdy and raucous.

But what I really can’t imagine, is four children to divide yourself between, to give the right amount of one-to-one attention to.

I adore having two children and wouldn’t be without either of them, but I find it difficult when Immy wants to show me a picture she’s drawn, while Theo’s performing a dance he learnt at his latest lesson that he’s yelling at me to concentrate on.

When, in the morning, they both want me to help them with their cereal. When they head off to nursery and neither of them want to be dropped off first. When we pick them up and their little voices compete to tell us about their days and at night, when they both want me to read their (different) bedtime stories.

Of course, with two children and two parents, those moments, if sometimes fraught, are manageable. But with four children – I just can’t begin to understand how that works! How can it be less stressful? As you can tell, I remain unconvinced.

To any parents out there with big families, I take my hat off to you!

However, another thing the survey did reveal was the most stressful number children to have – and that was three. Being outnumbered as parents, with one child tending to be left at one point or another, now this I can well believe.

I think Tom was quite relieved when I read that to him – and has since quoted it back to me, when I made the mistake of dropping into conversation how lovely it would be to have a new baby in the house.

So I guess we’ve agreed. Two is the perfect, if not quite stress-free, number for us.

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