To Moms of Only Little Kids: psst, the magic number is ten

by | Jul 14, 2013 | Catholic Living, From the Trenches, Homemaking, Open Letters, Parenting, Things I Think, What I Wore Sunday | 54 comments

Dear Mom With Two or Three or More Small Children,

Your life is hard right now. I know, I’ve been there. You wanted these children, or maybe you didn’t at first (oops) but you do now, and you love them like you never imagined you could love anything, but also they frustrate and overwhelm and scare you.

You are, or at least you think you should be, grateful to be able to stay home with your kids, but you also fantasize like a junkie about where your next shower is coming from and sometimes you think maybe when your husband comes home from work you’ll just hand him the baby and run out the door and keep running for a long, long time. (Maybe your husband is awesome and sometimes lets you actually do it.)

You are a good Catholic, which means you want to/think you should/are resigned to the fact that you probably will have more. But right now you can’t understand how that could be possible because even though it is great, mostly IT IS HARD.

Well, I’ve got good news and bad news for you: It’s going to get better. But not really, really soon.

I’m not sure the rule applies to smaller families, but I can tell you from my own personal experience and that of friends who also have many children . . . Your life will become unimaginably easier when your oldest child turns ten.
And if you’re thinking “Um, that’s great, but my oldest is two, so this does not help me…”

Well, then you’re where I was when I first found out.

We were guests in the home of the husband’s college mentor, who has eleven children (plus one in heaven). The kids were aged 3-21 at the time and the family was (and still is I’m sure) uh-may-zing. They ran like a well-oiled machine.

MY kids were 2 months and 21 months old on our trip and we had already made one emergency room visit for what turned out to be a mild case of swimmer’s ear and my son had peed in their easy chair. So, pretty standard vacation so far. 

And, kind of out of the blue, the dad of all these polite and good-looking children who did things without being asked, looked at me and said, “It’s hard now, but things will really calm down when your oldest is ten.”

So, I’m thinking: How badly must I be doing this if he feels like he needs to volunteer this information? And, seriously? I have EIGHT MORE YEARS of things being hard and not calmed down? 

But, he was absolutely dead-on right. So for better or worse, I’m telling you: It was hard for ten years and now it’s not nearly so hard. Sometimes it’s downright easy.

I had a hard first baby. He never slept voluntarily or in a crib or swing or car-seat, ONLY on me or moving in the stroller (even in the middle of the night). He was a terrible napper. Some things he did while he was supposed to be napping: ate about a quarter of a board book, threw all of his clothes out the second story window. Not the clothes he was wearing, ALL OF HIS CLOTHING. As a toddler, when I gave him a popsicle after he got sick, he started throwing up every night at dinner until I figured it out and stopped giving him popsicles. I once had to drag him by the foot out from underneath the exam table at the pediatrician’s office so they could give him his shots.




Two kids was hard, not because my second baby was hard but because I now had to look after my challenging toddler and a perfectly nice baby who needed to eat and have her diapers changed. 

My third was the easiest-going of the bunch, but my now three-and-a-half year old was busy pulling the above stunts and my hands were full of younger siblings so it was really hard to stop him.

Overall, three kids under four was hardest for me. I cried at the kitchen table when my parents went home two weeks after the baby was born. I was outnumbered. But what I didn’t realize was that I was getting the hang of this baby thing. With my third baby, I finally knew what to expect, I knew what was coming, I wasn’t caught off guard by everything. Maybe the rest of it was still out of control, but at least I knew how to mother a baby.

And, somehow, four kids was easier than three. By the time my fourth arrived, I felt like a seasoned veteran of babies. But I was still trying to do everything in the house myself. My oldest was almost six, and I was only just introducing the concept of chores. There was considerable resistance. But it had to be done, because I could not physically accomplish everything that needed doing in a day around my house. I had to teach them to help. So I did. Once I put in that work, things really turned around.


When babies five and then six arrived, we had chores all sorted out. Our home had a rhythm. People knew what needed to be done and occasionally even did it without being asked. I knew how to parent so that my children would listen to me. I knew how NOT to take it personally when number six turned out to be just as challenging a baby as my first one had been.


And then, a magical thing happened: My oldest turned ten. And the same kid who once intentionally dropped a full cup of orange juice on the floor of an airport restaurant because it “felt funny” in his hands could now make scrambled eggs for breakfast for all of his siblings (not to mention care for the hens who laid those eggs). My second was now an eight-year-old girl, and eight-year-old girls and babies are a match made in heaven. Even my easy-going-to-the-point-of-lethargy third child was much more useful as a six-year-old than the older two had been, because I had taught him how to be.

I wasn’t the only one in the house who could clean up a spill, or buckle a car-seat, or change a load of laundry, or read a bedtime story. It was no longer me vs. the kids. Now we were a team.

I no longer had to worry about where my next shower would come from. If I needed a moment, the big kids could take the little ones out to play in the yard, or out for a walk in the stroller. I was no longer a slave to nap-time. If I needed to run to the grocery store for a few things, I could do it, because my big kids were perfectly capable of getting a snack for the little ones when they woke up. I could even send the two big ones off on their bikes to pick something up at the store for me!

For ten years, I felt like I was at least somewhat underwater the whole time. But then, even in the midst of my hard baby, I felt like I broke through the surface again. I had time for personal side projects like writing my book and starting this blog. And I’m not sweating the arrival of baby number seven in November, because we have this under control.

It’s not always easy, but it is much easi-er than I ever imagined it would be back when I had two under two and three under four. Seven under twelve can be nothing compared to that.

So, while I wish I could give you a magic formula to make it easy now, I hope you’ll remember (as I always did) that light at the end of the tunnel. Because it will come eventually, and just think how clean you’ll be then. 


And because you deserve a professional segue . . . Look what else big kids can do: My nine-year-old daughter took these photos! So in case anyone’s interested, here’s What I Wore Sunday.

Shirt: a Costco roadshow impulse buy
Skirt: Ann Taylor (from my sister via our shared maternity box)
Shoes: Target
Accessories you’ve seen before: Anthropologie earrings, etsy necklace, super-cool hair elastic bracelet
Bump: 21 weeks (Hooray for Texas!)

Thanks to the ladies at Fine Linen and Purple for hosting the What I Wore Sunday blog link-up!


  1. Mary Lenaburg

    You look beautiful Kendra. I love the orange. Such a happy color. Those shoes rock!!

  2. Cat

    Thank you for your insight into parenting. We're still on kid #1, and I think my husband is scared to death of having more than 2! He needs to read this because I'm thinking we just might end up with more than that.

    That shirt is really beautiful!

  3. JennyU

    I loved this, though, I can already picture my 2-weeks postpartum self weeping at my mom's kitchen table in January. I'm hoping that nothing can be worse than my colicky #2.

  4. Kris

    Oh, this is SO true. What a great post. I felt like I had it SO much more together when #4 and #5 came along, because my older 3 were 13, 6 and 4. And my oldest is my only girl, so teenage girl + baby = excellent helper!

  5. Beth (A Mom's Life)

    I love the orange and the brown together! What a nice combination.

    I only have two kids. For me, it got easier when they were 5 and 6. But now that they are 9 and 10, it's a cake walk. Seriously makes me wish I had more, but alas, it was not meant to be.

  6. Ashley Sue

    I have three kids like your first and I really needed to hear this. My husband's gone right now and it's hard to see how beautiful these souls are! I know I am called to have more but I just feel exhausted at the thought. I did catch a break with the third ( she actually sleeps for at least an hour at a time). So go us! Thank you again!

  7. Angela

    Oh my gosh, I just stumbled across your blog (umm, must be the Holy Spirit!) and I think I love you! Hahaha! This post was such a relief…and yes, I only have 3 so far (4 more in heaven), and baby number 3 is my hard baby! I'm so glad to hear that other people have hard babies…I'm not just making it up in my head that she is really different than my other two were! 😉 Everything you wrote in this post rings true to me! I'm so thankful you were inspired to write this. 🙂 Look forward to reading more!

  8. Anonymous

    I love that shirt…you look beautiful.

    And, it definitely get easier as your kids get older. My oldest was 10 when my 4th child was born 10 months ago, and things are much easier with her than with my others (although she is definitely NOT an easy baby), because I have 3 little babysitters who adore her and will pull her away from something dangerous (like stairs) or pull stuff out of her mouth. Having older ones does make a big difference.

    And, it seems that each younger child hits that "capable of doing more stuff" at an earlier age, so it does get easier.

    • Kendra Tierney

      That's a really good point. My two and three year olds now are capable of things I never would have dreams my first couple could do at that age.

  9. Lisa

    Thank you, Kendra! Great post, and good to know 10 is the number. I have 8+ years, but at least I know at what point it'll be easier. 🙂

  10. Deltaflute

    Totally emailing to hubby. He doesnt believe me when i say it gets easier (only child). Hes put his foot down but i know its stress from small kids, sick-ish wife, and career building. Too much for him right now.

  11. Rosalie Shiffler

    Thank you for writing this! We only have one so far, and I know that he's been an easy baby, but there are times when the idea that a kid could be harder to handle than he is scares me… It's good to be reminded that it gets better as they get older!

  12. Colleen

    We found when we had our 5th child, and our oldest was 8, that it got a ton easier. Now, he is ten, but I would never let him cook in the kitchen or leave him home alone…I think it might be a regional thing, but I would fear someone would call DSS on us!!

    • Kendra Tierney

      California law leaves the age at which a child can be left home up to the discretion of the parent.

      I certainly wouldn't advocate someone giving responsibilities to their children that they don't believe that the children are ready for.

      But that being said, with my own children, I think long and hard before I tell them they are not capable of doing something. I want my children's self-esteem to be based on actual responsibility and actual usefulness (not some everyone's a winner, trophies for everyone, fake self-esteem). In order for them to develop that I have to be willing to trust them in real situations.

      Obviously, I have assessed my children individually and taken the precautions that I feel are necessary to minimize the risks.

      My seven year old son makes an excellent fried egg. He's the only one of them who can flip it without breaking the yoke.

    • Colleen

      I wish my oldest was more, how do I say this, trust-worthy? Not that he's a bad kid at all, he just is so forgetful, always has his nose in a book etc. But my second in line will be able to do a lot more to help our family out (I think and hope!)

      We can't even leave our 10 and 8 year olds in the car while we literally run into the gas station to pay without someone calling the cops. It is so crazy here. I wish everyone could be more relaxed about it.

  13. Rosie

    Whew, only 6 more years!

    But seriously, I really appreciate this – it gets a little annoying hearing, "Oh it gets better when [insert xyz]" without really SEEING any evidence besides the line of perfectly behaved children at Mass. But knowing that where I am right now (4-under-4, but only for one more day, although I'll still have 3-under-3…) is about as hard as it gets really is helpful.

    Because it is HARD HARD HARD right now!!! And it actually is getting a little easier as the twins decide they DON'T need to be held all the time and the "big" kids (2 and *almost* 4) are overly-cautious of what the babies might be putting in their mouths. Now it's just a matter of making sure they all survive to reach their 10th birthdays…

    Also, that popsicle anecdote made me laugh out loud. What a little stinker!

    And I love that shirt! What a great early pregnancy/postpartum top!

  14. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    I'm just going to print this off and hang it all over my house for those days…you know those days 🙂

  15. Christy from fountains of home

    Aw, only four more years for me Kendra! I definitely agree with you that going from two to three is a big difference and so very hard. But after that things seem to get easier, but more work! With the fifth baby I found she simply fell into our family and that I didn't feel as overwhelmed or out of control as I anticipated. I think after 4 babies you really get in the swing of mothering babies. But I'm very excited for having some older children, I sometimes fantasize about the day I won't have to supply everyones water cups and cut up everyones food for every single meal. I like to hear from moms of older kids, it gives me hope! Thanks Kendra!

    And whoa, you look ridiculously gorgeous in all those "I've just given birth" photos!

  16. Anonymous

    Love, love, love this!!! It's been showing up all over my newsfeed and I'm so glad I clicked on it! Thanks you for sharing!!!

  17. Anonymous

    IDK I think my life is SUPER HARD right now and I have 0 kids 🙁

  18. Melissa Milhon

    THIS GIVES ME HOPE!!!!!! LOL!!!! We have a 2 year old and 4 month old. New to your blog…thanks for sharing!!

  19. Nichole @ Yackity Shmackity

    I really enjoyed reading this. We're at an easy number two after a challenging number one right now, and reading your story gives me hope for the future!
    And I love your shirt! I find random awesome stuff at Costco occasionally, too.

  20. Erin Pascal

    This is amazing! I am so happy for you! Thank you so much for sharing this. God has definitely blessed you with a very beautiful family. Take good care of the family and continue to be hap-hap-happy! 🙂

  21. Abby S.

    This post brought back such good memories of my oldest kids as babies! As I type, my 4 oldest kids are playing shoots and ladders (not my suggestion and without my help!), organized by my (soon-to-be-10!) oldest daughter. The baby is napping, and everyone is happy, and no one needs me to be entertained. It's a far cry from being home alone with two or three little ones. Hang in there everybody!!

    And I'll see your all-clothes-out-the-window, and raise you an entire tube of diaper rash cream on the rocking chair – and hair. (Thanks, two-year-old John!)

  22. Laura Rose

    Great post. My oldest is 4 and we've got 3, so it's a busy world around here (in fact this morning I almost lost my cool at the library…20 times) 🙂 But it is nice to hear the encouragement. Oh, and I totally love your outfit. It is really adorable.

  23. Steph

    Thank you for this post and congratulations on your pregnancy. You look great, by the way! I'm also 21 weeks pregnant, expecting baby #2. My first is semi-difficult (was up every 2-3hrs to nurse at night until about age 18 months. Thank goodness he finally sleeps well!) so I'm hoping #2 will be easy-going. I already know that it will get harder before it gets easier. We want a big family in theory, but I find it hard to imagine how I'm going to handle 2 children, let alone 7! This post was very reassuring–realistic, but without being too negative. I can't imagine my not-yet-2-year-old as a useful 10-yr-old, but I look forward to those days!

  24. Kara Warme

    Glad you like the skirt, it looks wonderful on you! You forgot to mention borrowing older nieces and nephews as a wonderful reprieve during the wait for a 10 year old of your own. That's a favorite at our house – see you soon!

  25. Sheila

    Ten? TEN?! That doesn't make me feel better at ALL!

    Other people have told me the third child is easier than the first two (it better be) and that kids are much more rational after four, or five, or six, but I simply can't wait till ten for things to get better. I'll be ten years short of sleep and twenty years older by then. (Because I age twice as fast with no sleep, obviously.)

    But I'm afraid you may be right, because last year I was telling everyone that two is the magic number, that two-year-olds are easier than one-year-olds and two kids was shockingly EASIER than one, once I got past the three months of adjustment ….. and then my older son turned three and the baby learned to walk and I take it all back. Is it just going to be back and forth between somewhat-easier and completely underwater for seven more YEARS?

    • Claire

      Yes, it is back and forth, but you are getting better at it! I totally hear ya about the little one walking and life getting harrowing again! Keep praying throughout the day and finding ways for you and your husband to give each other the little breaks you need for catching your breath.

  26. Michelle

    I don't have a ten-year-old yet, but I will say that for me it got much easier last summer when my kids were 4 and almost 2. They walk on their own, eat real food, and mostly follow directions. There was a watershed moment when I realized that my daughter could shuffle lunch out to the table for the three of us, and wait for me to be ready and I could SIT DOWN to eat while they were eating instead of them being ready to go before I got my lunch. A year later both kids are even more capable, although they do have their irrational moments. They are currently playing with duplos together while I work up the motivation to take us all to the grocery store. We will have another baby in a month or two, and while I certainly won't have built in babysitters, I'm looking forward to having someone else who can entertain the baby for a few minutes and fetch my water bottle.

  27. Caitlin

    Thanks for showing us the light at the end of the tunnel! I have a 16 month-old and a baby on the way. My toddler has been cutting her molars this week and has transformed into a little terror. Right now, I'm just looking forward to her being able to talk. It'd be a nice change from the near-constant whining!

  28. Mrs. K

    I love this post. I just had my fourth, and I have three under four years old, plus my darling seven year old (who seems to think she is ten already because of her awesomeness in all areas). My little ones are awesome, too, and my three year old is totally smitten with new baby. I just love the way you are sharing this message that at age ten it all gets easier. It is so inspiring. Love your blog.

  29. Vicki

    I just smile when I read this. My oldest was five when my twins arrived. They were our fourth and fifth babies, and those young years were so hard in so many ways. My oldest turned ten the day our sixth was born and this year of having a baby with the other five so much bigger has been such delight, and yet there are hard times even at this stage with school and six kids who need so much teaching and love and discipline. But I always try to encourage moms of little ones that it's so normal to be SO tired and weary and that it won't always feel that way. I remember crying and feeling so overwhelmed and wondering if I was the only one that felt so drained by these little babies that were supposed to be precious to me, but I just felt exhausted and numb emotionally. It did get better, and long before the oldest turned ten!

  30. sonja

    I've been reading your posts from the beginning (I am trying to get the courage up to homeschool!). Our parenting method is also quite similar. Thanks for this post — we have 4 under 4 (actually they're all the same age …) and two of them have ASD and "under water" is a good way to describe it. My two without ASD have recently started to be pretty well behaved and can help out more (parenting with authority has really sunk in!) so it has gotten easier lately but it's good to hear that there's a point at which things really turn around! 🙂

  31. Corrie

    oh I love this post!! my eldest is only 8 and our 6th arrives in just over a month but even just having an 8 year old is better than having 3 under 3:) 🙂 that really was the hardest time when I had a 2 year old and twins and I knew I wanted more. I think the more I've had the more efficient I've become, I don't make 2 or 3 sandwiches for lunch I make a big huge plateful and I don't just bath 1 or 2 kids I run a bath and shower and bath 5 all at once. Definitely becoming more efficient! You know you look the freshest and happiest in the last photo with baby number 6:)

  32. Anonymous

    Hmm I wonder why my oldest is going to be 10 mentally… I'm on a different system I think. Lol

  33. Claire

    Oh my gosh, how hard did I laugh when I read "the magic number is ten"! I thought you were going to say that you heard parents of large families say that ten kids was the breakthrough number!
    I have six, ages 9 mos to almost 13, and I agree with everything you say here! I am dreading when my three oldest kids go to camp in a couple weeks and I will be home with our darling youngest three without my big helpers.

  34. Rosa Patterson

    This makes me feel better with two littles… But you made me feel so much better that I actually almost feel like I have an excuse to be lazy and not get stuff done! Like when my husband comes home and the place is a mess I just want to say, Kendra says I'm allowed. 🙂

  35. Monique LeBlanc

    You are so right! When I had three under 4 I thought I was hit by a truck. Every day was hard and I fantasied about never coming back from the grocery store. But now I have an 11,8,6 and three year old, one in heaven and one expected in Dec. And to be honest my life is a breeze. I have even been known to play Ipad games in the middle of the day!

  36. Anonymous

    Oh my gosh, you are so right about all of this. I feel this way with my 9 year old oldest, and while I still joke about waiting for the day when he can not only make the pot of coffee but also get me a hot, steaming cup of it when it's ready (because I have an irrational fear of children walking while holding hot cups of liquid), he is (and has been for a while now) such a big help to me. And because he is, my 8 year old has learned to be too. My 6 year old is coming along just fine, and my 5 and 4 year olds are great with the "baby" (who is almost 2, and, sad for us, our last). The older children always help with the younger because it's natural that they should. I tell them all the time God doesn't just drop us here, fully formed and alone. He puts us in families to help us learn how to live and be good. — Bridget Green

  37. Allison Howard

    Wow. This was EXACTLY what I needed to read in the 3-under-4 world I'm in. I've heard it said over and over that four kids is a much easier leap than three and I pray we find that our for ourselves soon! I am so thrilled I found your blog! Also, my husband grew up in PB (I know people think no one actually grows up in PB, but he did) and we go to St. Brigid's when we are visiting. And I've thought about going gray naturally. e-besties, you and me. Keep raising those saints and inspiring us moms a few years behind ya!

  38. MKdubs

    This post was just what I needed while I'm chasing after my 18 month old and in the throws of a rough pregnancy. I sent this over to my mom who has 5 grown children now, but we were all close together and she sent me this text. Thought it was cute! "Just read the post. Brought back many of the same memories. Such a beautiful blog. I just want to tell her hang on its going to get a little rocky again when they are teenagers. But again magic number is 10×2=20!"

    • Kendra

      Hah! Duly noted. Eight more years to go on my oldest . . . again. :0)

  39. Brooke Hulsey

    I just stumbled across your blog, and I desperately needed to hear this today. I have three boys under three: twins that will be three in January and a little brother that will be two in April. It's been a long week and I was just texting my husband saying I don't see how we'll ever get to the point of being able to have more with how overwhelmed I get with the ones we have now, regardless of how much I'd like to have more. It's helpful to know that not only can it be done and it has been done, but that it will get easier in the process. Thanks for sharing!

  40. susanna whitford

    Kendra, thank you for posting this beautiful article! So happy to see it is still active after two years of the post date! How helpful it is to find other women who are open to God's calling and give Him their fertility. My husband and I are both converts to the Catholic Faith and are practicing NFP. I knew it was the Church's teaching, but I had no idea what a wonderful blessing it would be to our marriage! We are now expecting our second girl due in February and I can not wait to meet her and have her be a little friend to her older sister who is now 16 months old. I pray for the blessing of a large family not only because siblings are wonderful gifts to my children, but because they will be the reason I hopefully attain Heaven. My little girl has taught me an immense amount of patience, love and kindness in the past year and a half and I never knew my heart could grow this much. I am excited to see how God will change me with each little addition. My husband and I have come closer to Christ because of our daughter and we love each other more because of her. Thank you for being an example to all of us and allowing us to learn from your life. I can't imagine how busy you must be with 7, but I appreciate the posts! May I share your article on my blog? I am sure my fellow NFP mommies would appreciate it too!

    • Kendra

      Thanks Susanna! You are welcome to share an excerpt from the post with s link back to the original post here, or just a link.

  41. Mia Jude

    Thank you for this post. I've read it a few times before and it always makes me feel a little better. I have three under 5 (soon to be 4 under 6), and it makes me feel not totally alone and scared that you thought that three under 4 was the hardest. I hear from a lot of people that going from two to three was the hardest transition (it was for me) so it gives me hope that I won't go totally insane when baby number 4 is born.

    Our 4 year old is actually very helpful with a lot of things and we know that soon we will be able to trust him with bigger chores. Our problem child is our almost 3 year old. She is a happy spunky thing, but the thing she is worst at is listening and obeying. Getting her to clean up a few toys is such a challenge, whereas when our oldest was two, he was cleaning up an entire playroom by himself without fighting us! Different personalities I know, but I often wonder when/if my daughter will ever comply after the first time I ask her to do something (and not the tenth or twentieth time) *sigh*.. Ok, said child is asking for dinner. Thanks again for this post!!

  42. Linde

    Thank you so much for writing this post. It’s the little perspective I’ve needed to hear for weeks. My oldest wasn’t even three when our baby was born three months ago, and we have a one-year-old as well. The business of keeping everyone alive is crazy.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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