Everything is a balancing act. I've said before that having 5 is not much more energy than having 1, because if you really care, you're going to give your kids all you've got.
I think I'm finally able to admit that having 5 can be, at times, more than having 1 :–)
But it's always about more than just the numbers.
It's about the individual kids. It's about the parents.
How much energy do I have? How much energy do they have?
I've got some neurodiversity in my brood. Which I sometimes feel makes it harder for me than for other parents of 5. That perhaps having 1 kid on the autism spectrum is harder than 5.
And yet I know that there are places far away on the spectrum, where one kid would be wayyyyy harder than my 5.
Long story short, it's really hard to compare your experience to ones you haven't lived.
Breathtaking. I know.
But no matter where you are in your experience, you always have to balance. How much to give, how much to reserve.
That's what I mean by 1 is the same as 5. Certainly the neediest times make it harder to find time for yourself, but there is always a question of “How much should I care right now?”
At the dinner table when one kid gets up without clearing the plate... is it worth calling them back to remind them?
When one kid puts out their foot to trip a sibling... but nobody falls... is it worth it to chastise?
What if it is the 20th time since lunch?
It's always balance and context.
And, for the most part, everyone tries to do their best.
Short side tangent
There's a saying “Kids do well if they can.”
My partner has a much improved version: “Kids do well when they can.” Which is a reminder that if your kid is having a hard time making the best choices right now, there is likely something inhibiting them right now. Maybe it's hunger, or Covid-19 induced fever hallucinations about napkins being living creatures whose bones you broke by unfolding it... whatever it is, kids generally don't LIKE to cause trouble.
I like her version so much better because everyone has times when they are able to make great choices, and when it's harder.... Which leads me to
Parents do well when they can.
Well the less frequent reminder is that “Parent's do well when they can.”
And that's where the balancing act comes in.
As parents we're constantly focused on our kids' present experiences. Their present behavior. Unanticipated accidents around the corner. Their future behavior. And (when we're lucky) our own experience as well.
It's a lot to think about, and to try to find the optimal place to put your energy.
Multiply that by however many kids you have.
Factor in the opinion of your coparent (should you be so lucky).
Add the judgement of other parents nearby,
And fuck the opinions of the non-parents watching you,
And you are solving a ridiculously complex equation just walking out the door.
Nevermind trying to enter a public place, or have a meal at a restaurant.
And so the real choices end up being: Do I intervene in my oldest calling my middle child an idiot? Or try to stop the twins from hitting each other with straws? Or take the second oldest to the bathroom? Or try to look at the menu to order? Or maybe I should just drink the coffee in front of me, so I'm not quite so tired so that I can do better.
What choice makes the smallest scene right now, makes my kids feel safe and protected, what will make them the best people, and what will make the next restaurant outing easier?
And how can I make it all sustainable?
So, moving the world is a balancing act. My choices depend on what I ate, how I slept, how my kids are treating eachother, and me. Sometimes we fall. But sometimes we're a family of 7 dancing on the high-wire.