So there's apparently this thing called third-child-style parenting. I can't be bothered to Google it because I have three children and I stopped reading parenting articles about two kids and eight years ago.
But from what I understand, the idea is that as a parent, you sweat the small stuff so much less by the time you have your third child. I have a friend who is trying for her third, and I was telling her I thought three was a great number because it means there's less attention for everyone which I think is a positive thing.
The great news is that you can be a third-child style of parent even if you only have one child or two, although admittedly it's harder. Third-child parents are that way by necessity. We have less time and we give fewer shits.
Here are two examples of third-child-style parenting from my life in the past week alone.
I'm lying in bed with my Third Child (TC), who just turned 8. I know he just turned 8 because one of the other mothers in his class emailed me a couple of weeks ago to ask whether he would be free on a certain date to attend her (firstborn) son's 8th birthday party. This date was a long way away at the end of September (it was August). I realized with a start that my son's birthday was in two weeks and I'd organized nothing. Cue: mad scramble to hastily organize birthday party. I think I pulled it off. Just.
So anyway, I'm lying in bed with TC and he's reading me a story (I've been reading stories to my kids for 18 years, I figure it'll do him good to practice his reading), and I sniff his hair, in that way you do with your kids. I like to sniff my kids very much. It bothers my teenager but the younger ones still let me. TC's hair didn't smell bad at all, but it didn't smell even vaguely of shampoo.
Which made me wonder when he last washed it.
So I asked him.
And he couldn't remember. Over the next few minutes we established the following:
- He had definitely washed it since we moved into our new house, which was 18 months ago.
- He definitely washed it at some stage when he was 7.
This gave us quite a large window of time in which to guess when shampoo last touched his head. Anywhere from a week ago (highly unlikely) to a year ago.
This is third-child parenting.
TC also lost a tooth this week. His second. The first one he'd swallowed and I kind of lost track of what happened after that.
"Did the tooth fairy come?" I asked him, genuinely interested.
"Nah. So either she forgot or she doesn't exist because it's just your parents. Which means you and Dad forgot."
Right. When my first child lost a tooth, the world stopped turned. Grandparents were called. Many photos were taken. There were wild celebrations. The tooth fairy left a trail of glitter from the window to his pillow, under which there was an elaborately written tooth fairy note complete with short questionnaire ("How many times do you think this tooth has been brushed?"), flower petals from the garden, and a fresh $5 bill.
The great thing about your third child (or any child of a third-child style of parent) is that they have really low expectations. I find this enormously helpful. My kids set the bar so low for me, I can glide over it—although sometimes I still manage to trip.
TC didn't even bother to put his tooth under his pillow, and honestly didn't seem fussed when I crept into his room at 6.30 a.m. the next morning (when I remembered I'd forgotten to leave any money for the second lost tooth in a row).
"Hi Mom," came a voice from the dark.
"Oh, hey dude," I replied sheepishly.
"You've come to be the tooth fairy, right?"
"Yeah. I have."
And then I handed him $10 (for two teeth) and we got on with our morning.
I like to think third-child-style parenting builds resilience in kids. It's also much easier and more pleasant for parents. And third-child-style parenting really is a much nicer term than Benevolent Neglect, don't you think?