I remember the first time I heard a mum say she had “three under three”. I sipped my latte and eyed her suspiciously. What did that mean? Three cocktails in under three minutes? Three lip glosses for under $3? Three hook-ups in under three nights? I was childless and lived in a state of ignorant bliss.
At that stage of my life, children were nothing but messy and somewhat cute little beings that I said hello to – and then proceeded to ignore. I didn’t not like them, but I didn’t love them either. They were invisible to me.
So, when I found out that “three under three” meant having three kids in under three years, I scoffed.
“Is that a badge of honour or something?” I asked my equally childless friend. “I don’t understand why she needs to tell everyone how quickly she popped them out.” (I’m not actually a judgemental cow in real life, by the way. I’m trying to add some dramatic effect.)
From zero to three … under three
When I met my now husband a short time later, he asked me straight up whether I wanted kids. I mumbled, “Uh, yeah, I guess, yeah, someday I think.” Real convincing. He told me no kids was a deal breaker for him, so I smiled and said, “YES.” I was 30 after all, so it was probably time to start thinking about it. Right? *sips cocktail*
We were married three years later and had our first child nearly two years after that. And then twins two years after that. If it sounds like I’m skimming over the details, that’s because I hardly remember anything – it’s all been one big sleep-deprived blur.
I remember a moment when I was trying to breastfeed two howling newborns and my toddler was loudly whingeing for my attention. I burst into tears and howled, “I can’t doooooo thiiiis!” It was so. freaking. hard. I was so. freaking. tired. I thought back to that poor lady I’d judged all those years ago and I howled even louder.
Having three kids in under three years will literally chew you up and spit you out. Now let’s be clear: I’m NOT saying that my life is harder than yours because you only have two kids. Oh, HECK no. Everyone has their struggles and there’s no comparing them. It makes me super-uncomfortable when mums tell me, “Oh, I shouldn’t complain to you, I only have one.” No way, Mama – your hardships are just as real and valid as mine.
But I can say that having three under three stretched me to my absolute physical and emotional limits. For the better part of three years, life felt like a battle every day. The worst part of it was the extreme exhaustion caused by my sleep-averse offspring. It made me feel loopy and physically unwell on most days. And then I had to juggle my children’s needs, my marriage and my freelance writing career through the brain fog. It was bloody difficult.
That’s when I started saying “three under three”
I finally understood why that woman had shamelessly bandied about her “three under three” badge. It’s kind of like war vets who proudly wear their medals (apologies if that’s an insensitive comparison, but I’m trying to make a point). We’ve been through hell and all we have to show for it is a bit of wee in our undies when we laugh and a pathetic label that makes us feel a little better. It’s all we’ve got to hold onto in our times of despair.
So, mamas of none, mamas of one, mamas of four under five, mamas of two under 10, mamas of angel babies who didn’t make it, and all the other amazing women out there who are fighting your own battles, I ask you one thing …
Don’t judge me when I say I have three under three. I’m not trying to throw my label in your face or make you feel like less of a mum or a human than me. It’s just that I’ve struggled a lot in the past few years and I need to talk about it. I hope that’s OK.
In exchange, I promise to never ask you if you’re planning on having a second. Or if you’re making your own football team. Or why you left such a big gap between your kids. Or why you never had kids.
Because all those questions are judgemental and humiliating. They put women down rather than lift them up. And if there’s one lesson I’ve learnt, it’s that women need each other’s support no matter what their motherhood status. So, let’s agree to leave our judgements at the door. We’re all in this together.