Is Your Family Ready for Three Kids?

Sure, they’re cute, but can your family handle another baby? Four things to consider before breaking the two-kid mould.

Photography by Carlo Mendoza

Photography by Carlo Mendoza

On the days when everything has gone smoothly—there have been no school-related issues, no tantrums and she’s enjoyed a calm bath time with sons Sebastien, 8, and Oliver, 2—Jacqueline Morrison (name has been changed) dreams of having a third child. “When I look at the big picture, I think it would be nice to have three kids,” says the 37-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont. “I’m 75 per cent sure I want to.”

What’s holding her back is the financial aspect. “I definitely want to keep my same lifestyle,” she says, adding that a third child could put her career on ice, forcing her to stay home to save on child care costs. She’d also have to put off buying a new car and going on a family vacation, plus seriously curb her little indulgences—a trip to the salon here, a new pair of pricey shoes there.

And there’s the little problem of her husband. He’s 50-50 on the idea of a third child, knowing a third baby will require more energy—and more cash. “He says to me: ‘I’m going to lose my hair.’”

While it’s difficult to know what this says about family size, Statistics Canada data from 2011 shows the number of kids under four grew 11 per cent for the first time in 50 years in every province and territory. Couple this with all the talk that three kids is becoming “the new two” and it’s clear many Canadian families are at least pondering a third. Some, like Morrison, think longingly of their childhoods in three-child families, growing up at a time when monster-sized car seats, $60 kids’ running shoes and seemingly endless program registrations didn’t exist.

But raising kids has changed. “It’s very hard to put a third car seat in the back of a small sedan,” says Alison Griffiths, a financial columnist and author of Count on Yourself: Take Charge on Your Money.

1. Be Honest: Can You Really Afford Another?

Griffiths says parents considering a third child need to assess their finances. “[Today’s] families are the worst savers in Canadian history,” she says, pointing to recent statistics that found we have a debt-to-income ratio of 161 per cent (which means we owe $1.61 for every dollar earned). “Financial stress on families is huge—it’s the second leading cause of marital breakup.”

For a 2011 report in Moneysense, Camilla Cornell, a financial journalist, spent two months crunching numbers with the help of a demographer to determine just how much raising a child actually costs. Starting with the oft-cited 2004 figures compiled by Manitoba Agriculture — which estimated that raising a child to the age of 18 cost just shy of $167,000 at that time — her team came up with the updated figure of $244,000.

That said, there are economies of scale in bigger families. Hiring a nanny can help save on per-child daycare fees, and many things from clothes to bicycles can be handed down. The same article found that in families with three or more kids, parents spent 22 per cent less per child—changing the average to $190,320 each.


Read more: How to Survive the Maternity Leave Cash Crunch


Still, if those figures are right, it means three kids could set you back nearly $571,000. It’s easy to see how the numbers get up there when you do the math on diapers (approximately $900 a year for disposables plus wipes), snowsuits ($45–$80 each, times three), a nanny (from around $1,200 per month for a live-in nanny to $2,700 for a live-out) or daycare ($784–$1,600 per child per month), formula, kids’ sports registrations and equipment, family vacations for five, a new car and a reno or home upgrade.

Suzanne Sharples, a 39-year-old Toronto mom of three (Emmy, 13, Malcolm, 10, and Nolan, 5), is well-acquainted with extra costs. “You definitely need a minivan,” she says, adding that she also had to carve out more space in her home. “We had an unfinished basement, so we had to put a bedroom and a bathroom down there.”

Then there’s the future costs to consider—cellphone plans, sports fees, post-secondary tuition and even residence.

“Everyone thinks of babies, but what about when you have teenagers?” says Sharples, who already spends $900 a month on groceries. She’s still reeling from another unexpected side effect of having three kids: “My kids just went to 16 birthdays in one month. It’s expensive.”

But there can be cost-savings, too.

For Alyssa Zeidel, mom of Ashley, 6, Zachary, 4, and 16-month-old Mackenzie, from Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., hand-me-downs are the name of the game. “When the third came along, I didn’t buy any of the stuff I bought the first time,” she says. “You realize you don’t need it.”

Lifestyle adjustments can also curb costs, according to those families who number five. Most are deal-hunters who know how to get the costs of diapers and baby food down. Many cut corners by cooking more at home, curbing restaurant outings and scaling back vacations. And they say the sacrifices are well worth it.

“I make a lot of my food,” says Felicity Gration, a part-time substitute teacher in Terrace, B.C., who’s mom to Frankie, 4, Georgia, 2, and eight-month-old Keaton. “They’re eating machines.” But she loves preparing wholesome meals for her brood. And a third child hasn’t meant much more work—just more contentedness. “I always wanted three. There’s no love like sibling love.”

2. Where to Look For Affordable Vacations For Five

Though it can be challenging to find hotels in the Caribbean that will accommodate three kids, some tour operators — Transat Holidays and Sunwing, for example — do offer vacations for families of five or more. And there are numerous other travel options available to bigger families. Disney resorts and cruises offer suites to those with more than two kids. And while many North American hotels will require you to book two rooms — a costly endeavour for a family that just shelled out thousands for five plane tickets, rented an SUV or minivan and paid for five sets of travel health insurance — suite-only chains do exist. Contacting a travel agent can help you find one. There are also sites like sixsuitcasetravel.com or vacationkids.com that specialize in family travel.

You also have the option of renting a cottage or condo with multiple bedrooms from a private owner through sites such as vrbo.com, a popular choice for longer stays. And, of course, choosing destinations within driving distance makes an enormous difference in cost.

3. How Will Another Child Change Family Dynamics?

In addition to lifestyle changes, “as each child comes into a family, the whole dynamic shifts,” says Marion Balla, a psychotherapist and president of Adlerian Counselling and Consulting in Ottawa. “Our work as parents is to create that sense of space for each child.”

She says that third kids may look around, asking, “‘What’s left for me?’” But this perspective can actually be beneficial, helping them to forge their own unique identity.

And different factors make for radically different outcomes. For example, a large age gap between the youngest and middle sibling can create an only-child effect for the new baby (translation: lots of attention). If siblings are all the same gender, they may become competitive, says Balla. But if the first two siblings are of one gender and the last child is another, it can lead to attention for the youngest and a protective stance on the part of the other kids. As for middle kids, many feel they have to try harder to get attention.

Zeidel says that her biggest delight has been watching her middle child become protective of the baby, and her eldest help out at home. It’s also strengthened her bond with her husband. “We’re complete with the three,” she says, noting the “nice groove” they’ve had since rounding out their family.

Sharples says an added bonus of having three is that her kindergartner has prolonged her older kids’ childhoods. She enjoys watching her 13-year-old daughter happily colour alongside her brother. Plus, her husband has helped out more than ever since their third child arrived, enjoying attending the kids’ activities and organizing annual family camping trips.

But Balla has this advice for parents considering having a third child: “Parents should ask themselves ‘Why now? What’s this third baby about?’” If they go ahead with baby number three, it pays to plan ahead to minimize disturbances to the family routine. To reduce kids’ stress, she suggests making dates with each child. Down the road, make sure to play to each kid’s strengths and avoid making comparisons between siblings.

4. How to Work Out The Logistics of a Big Family

Christian Kerr, a Toronto-based father of two boys, Quinn, 4, and Hayden, 2, says he’s very familiar with how three-child families work, having been the youngest of three. So when his wife, Jill, jokes about having a third, he’s more pragmatic. “One kid is a power play,” says Kerr. “Two kids means you’re man to man. Three or more means you’re on penalty kill all the time.”

That certainly goes for the day-to-day operations, such as putting your kids to bed. “If you’re with one of your kids, and your husband is with the other, there’s still another wandering around the house,” says Sharples.

Then there’s dentist and doctor appointments, and parent-teacher interviews, which can get ridiculous, she says. Her solution: booking her kids all on the same day for dental and medical exams, and ensuring parent-teacher interviews follow in quick succession.

But with dinner parties and dates, things can get a little hairy, so many concede. “We take up a lot of space in people’s homes,” laughs Zeidel. “That’s why everyone comes over here instead.”

As for romantic nights with the husband, those often get short shrift—the result of her son’s 5:30 a.m. wake-ups. That’s where date night at home comes into play. “Often, after the kids go to bed we order sushi.”

Regardless, those with three certainly aren’t complaining. “Generally families do amazingly well,” says Balla. “It’s definitely a lot harder to juggle three kids on your lap. But love stretches.”

Sharples agrees: “It’s the best thing we ever did.”

Considering a third, or recently pregnant? Mark the occasion with our creative pregnancy announcements.

One response to “Is Your Family Ready for Three Kids?”

  1. The Summer Kitchen blogger says:

    Three kids are wonderful. As far as dynamics goes, I find that when one goes off balance, somehow the third becomes the fulcrum that adjusts. There’s always one, and never the same kid, that becomes the voice of reason.

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