Three is the Magic Number

Just in case you’ve been living under a pile of back-to-school laundry for the last few days, word on the street/front page of every national newspaper is that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting baby number three. Presumably there’s enough help on hand in the royal household to take the edge off the worst of the outnumbered chaos but what about the rest of it? Will they be able to fit all the car seats in the back of the Land Rover? How will Princess Charlotte take her relegation to middle child? Who’s going to bag the last cherry bakewell when they crack open a six pack after tea?

Like the Duchess, I grew up in a family of five so I know that there’s much to love about a childhood with two siblings in tow. Yes it means double the disagreements, power struggles and fights over the remote control but it also means double the fun. With two siblings there’s always someone to play with, hatch plans with or take your side in a curfew debate. And beyond childhood, it means two allies who understand exactly where you come from, what you’re about and how crazy your parents are.

So far, so good for the Cambridges, then. In fact, researching this piece I found it difficult to find anyone with anything negative to say about growing up in a trio.

“I am super blessed to have grown up with two partners in crime and best friends,” says mother-of-one Clare Sanders of her youngest-of-three childhood. “There are two people in the world I can always turn to and I often do. No one in the world can wind you up as easily or make you laugh as hard as your siblings. I’m not sure I am as brave as my mum though!”

For Lianne Buiting, mother-of-two and owner of online boutique The Pippa & Ike Show the experience was similarly positive: “There was almost always someone to hang out with, board games designed for more than two were an option, and as the baby sister with two older brothers I was allowed to go out late when I was only 14.”

Of course, for every happy youngest or eldest child there’s a middle sibling without whom none of this would be possible. I can’t speak personally for the middles (like the Duchess, I was the eldest) but the comments on my Facebook research pleas don’t contain a tirade of anti-family-of-five rants (*briefly wonders if they are all so used to being ignored they just didn’t bother responding*) and my younger ‘middle’ sister concedes it’s not all bad: “There always a sense of being overlooked when you’re in the middle but on the plus side you have someone to look up to AND someone to boss around – best of both worlds. Plus when you’re all adults those issues don’t matter so much anymore.”

So the kids are alright, but what about the parents? What does the leap from two to three mean for family dynamics, your relationship and the state of your washing machine?

“We had three under three and a half,” says Sarah Smith. “They couldn’t eat, dress, wash or go to the loo on their own so we just ended up going around in a circle trying to get them all through the day dressed, clean, fed and without any accidents. On the plus side you get to watch three fantastic human beings become their own person. We have a chaotic, noisy, life-filled house that is messy but I love it.”

For Sarah Payle chaos also reigns: “I love the noisy craziness but having three under three was insanely tiring and it’s also hard being suddenly outnumbered! I once left my youngest at a friend’s house in his Phil and Ted’s cocoon. My hands were so full I felt like I must have them all with me. The most annoying thing about being a family of five, though, is that everything from chicken breasts to holidays is packaged for families of four!”

Many parents report actually finding the leap from two to three easier than the jump from one to two. “There’s always an extra pair of hands to help,” says Maggie Davis Westhead. “And even if two them are tired and grumpy, there’s usually one perky enough to cheer us all up. For us it changed the dynamic for the positive. And although there are moments of chaos and mayhem, I wouldn’t have it any other way!”

The changed dynamic also worked in Lottie Clarke’s favour: “Three works better than two for us. It’s more balanced and there’s less tension. We do have a huge age gap but it has made our family even happier. We don’t have much time for ourselves but it’s worth it to watch their relationships develop.”

It goes without saying that larger families mean more individual relationships to deal with but most people don’t think (probably because they’re too damned tired) about the true maths involved. Mother-of-two and writer Lottie Storey (Oyster & Pearl), whose partner has three children, describes it as the difference between being squared and cubed. “When there are four of you there are six individual relationships, when there are five of you there are nine and so on and so on…” she says. “It’s like a whole different dimension.”

And as if that wasn’t enough to deal with there’s a new level of organisation required with a family of five. William and Kate might have Norland nannies on speed-dial but for blogger Hattie Harrison (That Mum Blog) dealing with the logistics of three children is a daily challenge. “Car seats, different pick up/drop offs and conflicting schedules are a complete mindf**k. My best advice is to get a family planner even if it’s just to make you feel organised,” she says. “The other thing is that the world is geared up to families of four. We had to split up on the rides at Peppa Pig World recently because they were all designed for four. And I wasn’t allowed to take the kids swimming yesterday because my ‘ratios’ weren’t right!”

Organisational gripes aside everyone I’ve asked about having three children has nothing but nice things to say about the camaraderie and chaos of adding a third dimension to their tribe. So will the new royal baby spark a trend for families of five?

Steph Douglas, founder of gift box boutique Don’t Buy Her Flowers is currently pregnant with her third baby and thinks there might be something in the air. “I’m from a big family myself (one of six) so two seemed a bit too neat for me. I think I’ll like the chaos of more people,” she says. “And lots of women I know are pregnant with or considering a third at the moment – I don’t know if it’s a trend or we’re all just crackers. Ask me again in three months!”

And if all that’s convinced you that three really is a magic number, good luck to you. Just be warned, as one friend (and mother of four) rightly pointed out: “Sometimes that leap from two to three, accidentally turns out to be four.”