Hi Shawni!  I have been following and loving your blog for about six years now. I need your advice.

I have two kids 20 months apart and I just barely found out I’m pregnant. The gap between my 2nd and 3rd will be 18 months. This wasn’t my plan at all, we were trying to prevent pregnancy and my husband will be starting his Anesthesiology residency training this summer. I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. How did you do it? How did you have Max and Elle so close together? Do you have any tips for me? I need some advice from a seasoned mother! Thank you so much!

Oh I am sooo excited for you!! (And I’m so sorry I just barely got this…maybe you’ve figured it all out by now!πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰).  I didn’t have three that close, but I will admit that having three littles was one of the trickiest adjustments for me.  But as I look back on it, it was the BEST. 

(But then, I keep getting more and more “bests”)

My best advice would just be to remember to breathe. 

And while you’re at it, breathe those babies in with all your might.

I know, so difficult to do in the middle of a tantrum and three babies needing different things at the same time and juice sticking to your feet and laundry sprawled all over the place and being bleary-eyed from lack of sleep.  It will be tough, there’s no cushioning that little fact.

But it all passes. 
It passes so quickly that you will look back and just wish with all your heart that you could snuggle those sweeties just for even a minute. 
How I wish I had a “rewind” button!
You will look back and cherish even the toughest parts.  
I know, I’ve been there.  
And oh how I would love to wrap my arms around those little babies one more time and kiss those chubby baby cheeks off.  

But for the real, practical advice, my main tips would be these:
1) brace yourself.  
Brace yourself for this:
and this:
(you may wonder why I have so many crying pictures of Lucy, and the answer is that that was how she looked 24/7 for what seemed like a long time)
…and this:
…and remember when you’re in the deepest trenches that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  
And with your patience and love you are creating that light, even if you can’t see it.
2) You, as the mother, set the attitude and spirit in your home.  That’s kind of a lot of pressure, but it’s true.  So pray for patience.  God will give it to you.  And it will make all the difference.
3) watch those babies sleep at night, particularly after crazy days 
4) become a “durable object” when the tantrums come.  (lots more about that over here, last question: https://71toes.com/2011/07/friday-q.html)
5) remember that it’s ok to go slow and say no. (I’m still trying to learn that one)
6) forgive yourself when you mess up.  And forgive those babies for messing you up too πŸ™‚ 
6) use Johnson’s baby lotion.  Ha!  but seriously, that smell…
Every mom does it so differently, but with prayer and seeking guidance from above (I’m not just saying that, I do believe this is the strongest key…whenever I remember to pray for patience and attitude adjustment it really does come, and makes all the difference in the world), you will do that mothering-of-three-littles the best way YOU possibly can.  
And your best will be the best for them.  
It won’t be perfect, and in many ways it won’t be pretty.  But you can do it!!  
Good luck, and give them extra snuggles from me…wish I could be there to hold them for you when it gets hairy!  
For one more post to help “cherish the moment” even when the moments don’t seem like they deserve to be cherished:), click HERE.
Lots more “concrete mothering” ideas HERE.
I’m sure this reader with the question would love to hear other reader’s ideas of how to best handle babies who are close together in age (I know there are lots of mothers out there who have gone through this phase).  I would love to hear the ideas too so share if you have particular things that have worked for you!

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  1. I had three, ages three and under, starting our first year of med school. Newborn baby on a massive city 3,000 miles from home was a lot. But my biggest adjustment was changing my schedule. I love schedules, and they motivate me. Taking away a schedule (like people recommend with babies) just made me feel unaccomplished. Having a schedule, but learning to be okay with all the last minute changes-that was my game changer. Also. Sometimes you really want to get all those groceries in one trip, trust me, even with Miami traffic-it's not always worth it. When you start to feel overwhelmed, call it a day and head home with whatever groceries you have. Or however much of the zoo you saw. Better to change plans then plow through with three babies. πŸ™‚ good luck!!!

  2. You can do this! It will be really hard and you can do it. My best advice is to have 1 "thing to do" out of the house each day with the littles. When they are super little these things could be super simple like attending storytime at the library, meeting a friend at the park at a designated time, going to a toddler tumbling class etc etc. Also make sure you have a nice chunk of alone time EVERY WEEK to do something for yourself. Start this week. Could be when your husband is home to care for them or could mean hiring a babysitter. Even if you have no money do it and consider it part of the student loans for med school. You need to go get a pedicure, browse a bookstore, go swimming, whatever just for you. Also, if you can find a gym that has solid babysitting this is a great way to get in an relaxing shower even if you don't get a work out in.

    Lastly if you are frustrated they aren't napping well get them outside in the morning to run around. Outside, physical play (90m minutes or more) is the key to good napping.

  3. We are just coming out of the other end of residency with 5 kids in tow now. Don't wait around for your husband to show up to have some fun with your family. Have the expectation that you'll be a one-woman show, and if he's able to make it that's bonus. It's totally possible to take 3 littles swimming and on other outings by yourself. Be grateful that he's taking the full brunt of performance pressure and satisfying an employer, while you get to focus on sustaining and nurturing life. It will get easier with practice!

    1. That's so true! And remember to focus on the quality of time your husband spends with the kids, not the quantity. It will make you resentful if you just look at the hours/minutes your husband spends with the kids and it gets you nowhere (he can't change his training!). Took me 5 years to learn that!
      One day at a time.
      Tomorrow's a new day and you can always have a "redo"! Kids are so forgiving (forgetful??) like that!
      I have 3 under 4 years and our neighbors (their girls are in college now) had 3 in 3 years–she tells me they were the best years of her life but she doesn't remember them well! πŸ™‚

  4. I have 9 children so I have had to get creative for those times when you don't have enough hands and everyone wants you to hold them and you are feeding the baby…My kids will ask me…Can you make a nest? Which means I have to lean to the side (nursing baby) while laying on the couch and make one or two "nests" with my legs. They crawl in the little space with my leg snuggling them in. Sometimes I even had snacks that I would feed my little baby birds while they were in the nest. I know this sounds dumb and corny but they loved it and they learned to be content in my legs sometimes instead of my arms. haha πŸ™‚

  5. We just finished a residency three years ago. I whole-heartedly agree with Shawni. Cherish those moments.

    One thing I wish I had accepted was that "This is my current happy." No, things will not be perfect, there will be times that you feel overwhelmed a lot, but give yourself permission to say, "I have done the best I could, today and I accept that." Your children may look homeless for awhile, trust me, my little one changes out of her clothes almost as fast as I lovingly wrestle them onto her I have four, but my first three were pretty close together too.

    Every time there is a smile or a comment that makes you smile, cherish that moment. When your child uses the bathroom on the playground equipment, don't take it too seriously. Clean it up and laugh it off (don't be offended if other people are laughing because they are totally relating and understanding). If "well-meaning" people give you their sharp feeling opinion, accept that, in the long run, their opinion means little or nothing at all. You'll be guided as you pray for help. You have a loving Heavenly Father (and Savior and ancestors gone before you) cheering you on. Sometimes it helps to envision that when you have little victories amid a lot of setbacks. Hugs to you! You can do this!!!

  6. I had a whole, long reply typed out and I pushed something and now it's gone. But, I had 5 under 5 with a semi-work a holic husband. I'll be honest, it's hard, BUT, it's the most rewarding job in the world. The other ladies have given GREAT suggestions. I totally agree with the advice of starting the day with prayer; both personal and family. I could tell a difference in the mornings that I did this. It wasn't perfect but it was better. Take time to pray over each child specifically. Ask Heavenly Father what that particular child needs and then wait for the answers. He'll give them to you.
    Make sure you take care of yourself. Self care is so, so important. Sometimes we feel guilty for doing something for ourselves instead for our family, but this is what they need you to do. I had a friend who was in a similar situation who got a gym membership so she could put the kids in daycare and then go sit in the sauna. It was her 2 hours of quiet.
    You can do this!

  7. I had a whole, long reply typed out and I pushed something and now it's gone. But, I had 5 under 5 with a semi-work a holic husband. I'll be honest, it's hard, BUT, it's the most rewarding job in the world. The other ladies have given GREAT suggestions. I totally agree with the advice of starting the day with prayer; both personal and family. I could tell a difference in the mornings that I did this. It wasn't perfect but it was better. Take time to pray over each child specifically. Ask Heavenly Father what that particular child needs and then wait for the answers. He'll give them to you.
    Make sure you take care of yourself. Self care is so, so important. Sometimes we feel guilty for doing something for ourselves instead for our family, but this is what they need you to do. I had a friend who was in a similar situation who got a gym membership so she could put the kids in daycare and then go sit in the sauna. It was her 2 hours of quiet.
    You can do this!

  8. This is us! We had two biological children thirteen months apart, then adopted twins, then found out I was pregnant! We will soon have five in 3.5 years. Ack! But we love, love, love it! Though for me, lowered expectations is where it's at. What's truly important? Clean house? Sometimes. Loved kids? Always πŸ™‚

  9. This is us! We had two biological children thirteen months apart, then adopted twins, then found out I was pregnant! We will soon have five in 3.5 years. Ack! But we love, love, love it! Though for me, lowered expectations is where it's at. What's truly important? Clean house? Sometimes. Loved kids? Always πŸ™‚

  10. I loved this! I'm in the trenches of 3, 3 and under right now. It is INSANE and AWESOME all at the same time. I wonder how I'm surviving, but I am. Thanks for all the advice!

  11. Love this advice and the comments! I had three boys in three years. The youngest is now 18 months old and I feel like I'm finally out of a fog I was in. My biggest advice is to put on a happy face. The spills, the missed naps, the failed attempts at the grocery store are minimal things and won't change anything. So be happy through the chaos and try to find joy in the journey. Also, don't let other people's comments weigh you down. I can't tell you how many times people will say "Oh my, you've got your hands full" and I just smile and answer back that "my hands are full of things I absolutely love". Have a happy pleasant comeback for the people who might say hurtful things because I believe we need more mothers who are not afraid to make the case for the happiness and fulfillment that mothers have when children are brought into our lives!! My frequent thought that always came to me during the hardest times was that I am not the first person to do this, so I need to just take a step at a time and keep chugging along.

  12. I had 4 under 4 with an 14 month age gap between 1 – 2, 12 months between 2 – 3 and 18 months between 3 – 4. One of the best tips I was given was pour cereal in a plastic bowl and cover it with a grocery bag (or freezer type bag that you use ties on to close it up) and set it up each night. Have small bottles of milk in the fridge ready for the older kids to "serve" themselves breakfast. (I used pop top juice bottles I washed out and refilled with milk.) With the older kids being able to get them breakfast it was a life saver for me. Especially when you need to shower/toilet/nappy change etc.

  13. I had 3, ages 3 and under. The youngest is now 2.5 and I still don't know how that happened! Anyway, two things that I learned along the way were 1. Your mood sets the tone for everybody, including dad. The days I remembered this and I put that smile on my face, even when I REALLY didn't want to, always went out so much better and by a short while into my day I always realise that my smile isn't fake anymore, it's there because I'm happy and number 2 was learning to stay at home. I felt so lonely at home and felt like I had to go out at least every second day, even every day, but then we moved way out of town and I didn't know anybody and it wasn't feasible to waste money on petrol for some made up reason to go out and I decided I needed to figure out how to be happy in my own space and I did and it worked.

  14. As a mother of 5 (my oldest two are 10 1/2 months apart) I say don't be shy to ask for help. Need to go to the library or the park? Find an 11 year-old to go with you and help you buckle car seats and hold hands in the parking lot. My husband was required to sit on the stand during our church services when my kids were little – I always asked a teen to come sit with me. Single women who have never had the opportunity to have kids and seniors are also great people to ask for help. Also try to get all your kids napping or having a quiet time at the same time – and then try to take a nap with them. A mother who is well rested (as much as she can be) will be more patient with toddler tantrums.


    1. I second the nap suggestion! I try to schedule that into my day as well, because I can function so much better and happily, when I have a bit more sleep, even though my nights are interrupted.

  15. As someone who is on "the other side": Don't be too scared, embarrassed or proud to ask others for help. I'm sure you get some babysitters (friends or neighbours) so you can concentrate on one child, your husband, yourself or the house or whatever, if you ask. I know I would be a willing sitter whenever my friends/neighbours asked me.

  16. I had five children in eight years, including a set of twins (#4&5), all while my husband was going through medical school and a very difficult residency in general surgery. My heart goes out to this momma because I know SO WELL the feelings of terror and inadequacy that I felt, especially when I learned I would be having twins during that difficult time. I echo much of what has been said already, but I wish I could sit this young mom down and give her a hug and say, "You can do it." And then I would say: Take it one day at a time. Lower your expectations for what you can take on outside your family and also for what your husband is able to do (because he just can't be around much, and it is out of his control, BUT IT WILL get better one day–I promise!!) Don't be afraid to eat cereal for dinner. Get out of the house every day. Find something to laugh at every day–often this will be a CHOICE, when you are faced with yet another tantrum or mess–but it makes a huge difference. Try to take a thirty-minute nap every day; the laundry will wait. Short naps were the key to my survival. This is a very fleeting period of your life, and I promise that it will be totally empowering. You will rise to the challenge and look back and amaze yourself with what you've accomplished & what you're capable of. My kids are now ages 8-16, and I can't believe how fast it went. When you're in the thick of it, you think it will never end, but it will. The days are long but the years are truly so short.

  17. If you can afford it, have someone clean your house! Teenagers trying to save for college are the best! Plus for them, it's untaxed so they feel like they are making better money.

  18. I heard a saying once… "When your kids are little a day can feel like a year and a year can feel like a day." For some reason that saying always gives me a little peace. (I have 3 littles, they are 19 and 24 months apart, my oldest just turned 4.) My advice is- don't be afraid to take a time out. 30 seconds in the bathroom to splash some water on your face and take some deep breaths really helps. If you can't leave them for safety reasons- close your eyes and deep breath for 10 seconds. My other advice is use Amazon prime- it is infinitely easier then getting 3 kids in and out of carseats and through a busy store!

  19. Try feeding your kids a meal or snack ever 2 1/2 hours. My kids don't have tantrums or arguments when they are well-fed. In terms of media, don't let them watch or listen to anything you don't want them to copy — prescreening is key. Reading and explaining a few verses of the Book of Mormon to them every day and bearing testimony will help them feel the Spirit and bring peace to your home.

  20. I have four kids 7 and under and it helps to ask myself when I feel overwhelmed 'Is this an expectation I am putting on myself?' It reminds me that I don't have to make a Pinterest worthy birthday cake (my kids don't care what it looks like) and that its ok to sometimes give the kids cereal for lunch or dinner.

  21. Had 2 in med school and 2 more in an ortho residency and I would like to add . 1) buy a great big expensive stroller and get out of the house at least once a day. 2) you need friends, talk to women at the park, at church at a playgroup and find at least 1 who is in a similar situation- they will become your rock and lean-to and emergency backup. 3) find a babysitter, one who can come on short notice and use her for you to get out of the house- ALONE!!! 4) go on dates, I cannot stress this one enough but you guys need to make it through this, right! I know it gets expensive but it is worth it, it is even okay to rack up your credit card for this one (what is one more drop in the bucket?) But your marriage and mental health are the most important things to keep intact during this very trying time. Good luck and prayers to you!

  22. My first 2 babies are 18 months apart. It's hard. My little girl is about to turn 2, and the little mister is almost 5 months.

    We live in an apartment, on the 3rd floor. It sounds so silly, but the hardest part so far in parenthood, is carrying these 2 babies from the car, around the building, and up the 2 flights of stairs. I would DIE for a garage. Some day. πŸ™‚

    Thank you for the advice Shawni, I am going to read the posts you linked to.

  23. I had 4 kids, 5 and under. They are now 18, 17, 15, and almost 13.:) I wholeheartedly agree with all 6 of those bits of wisdom, especially 6! πŸ™‚ I still love baby lotions.

  24. I had 21 months between my first two, then 17 1/2 months till #3, then 17 1/2 till #4, then just over 2 years till #5. . . All while we moved through residency and two fellowships. Life felt a little bit like a hampster wheel every day when they were all really little.

    Along with the things Shawni said, I think the thing that has helped me keep my sanity are naptimes (when they grew out of naps, I still had them have "quiet time" for at least an hour in their rooms. . . you can use a nightlight hooked to an outlet timer if they grow out of naps before they read numbers on a clock) and consistently getting the kids in bed by 8 pm. Hiring a babysitter wasn't feasible in our position and there was no time for dates, but by sticking to naps/quiet time/ and early bedtimes kept my sanity with some me time. Also, when my husband was actually home we had some time to talk after getting the kids to bed. Now that my kids are older, they still know that they have daily quiet time, which is great for Saturdays and the summers to have an hour of peace and quiet in the home! They all go to their rooms and read for 1 hour (as a great benefit, my kids all LOVE books and are really good readers!)

    One other thing was making sure that I got enough sleep, which isn't possible when you have little babies, but whenever possible making sure that I got to bed on time. It is much easier for me to be happy when I'm getting enough sleep.

    I also liked the comment that one of the hardest thing is getting the kids in an out of an apartment and in and out of the car. . . especially when you have done grocery shopping. I still remember all the things I tried to do in order to get the groceries and kids into the apartment when we lived on a 11th floor of a building. So, from a purely logistical standpoint, I would say try to find a home/apartment to rent or buy that you park right by where you go in.

  25. Please excuse my spell and grammar, I have a brain injure
    As a mum off four grown up and left the nest and a surprise nine year old, my advice is to just enjoy it. It takes almost a paradigm shift; instead off thinking off eatch stage as one to be got threw; teething, sleepless nights, toddler tantrums, enjoy being in every stage. We don't have children to enjoy them as adults but to enjoy them now. If you have the choice between chores and play, choose play. I remember sitting with my feet in the splash pool watching other mums herd there children on to the next thing, I wish I had done more off that. I am extremely bless to have my little nine year old with the knowledge that in the blink off an eye it will be gone. I have been able to enjoy every part with her, drink it all in. Relish the night feeds where you can hardly keep your eyes open because no one died from lack off sleep. Forget about a bedtime routine unless thats what works four you, I let Grace sleep in my bed until she was eight knowing that one day she wood not any more. Now by her own choice, she sleeps in her own bed and there was a last time she slept in mine. I didn't no it was the last time or I wood have held her tighter. Children grow up, feed themselves, use the bathroom on there own, sleep in there own beds. We don't need to worry about those things, they just happen in there own sweet time witch is diffrent four every child. As you look about you at the mess, the unwash dishes, the chaos, remind yourself that you will look back and remember that one day you will miss this. I promise you that one day you will. One day you will be fifty three like me and long four those chubby baby faces to kiss. You will miss everything, even the laundry. Hug them, get down on the floor with them, tel them you love them every second
    I'm sorry this has turn into an essay rather than a comment, I'm just so passionate about it. I am blessed to get that extra little one who I could enjoy from a different perspective, not everyone is. I love my adult kids but I miss my babies. X

  26. My dear girl. YOU can do this holy work. Start the day with prayer and if your day gets going and you didn't get the chance remember that He hears your prayer when you mop, when you drive, when you brown the ground beef, … always He knows your heart and wants your joy.

    I have eight grown children now and some were very close together. So much good advice has been offered here. My husband traveled a lot and I felt the responsibility of important decisions and sometimes the loneliness of living so far away from my family. I remember feeling the need to dig deep and grow my testimony. The money was scarce, I was sleep deprived, and having moved four different times made it challenging to build meaningful friendships. Here's the thing; God always heard my prayers. Always. I learned how to grow my confidence and be capable. I read the newspaper, good books, listened to fun music, and just hunkered down. I also had a vision for my little dears. Not many specifics really. I just wanted them to feel loved and know the workings of the Holy Ghost. I think I have been successful as I now look at the fine men and women they are. But, oh how I would love to squeeze those little dears once again and have them curl up on my lap.

    Fresh courage take…all is well. YOU can do this…YOU were chosen just for this day and very hour. How blessed are your dears to call you mama. How blessed am I to call you mine.

  27. It seems like most people are telling you how absolutely WONDERFUL it is to have a bunch of littles all at the same time — and it is, but I had three kids in less than four years and the truth is sometimes it is AWFUL. It's ok to say that out loud. Lots of great advice here — one thing I'd add is that the more you do to encourage them to love each other and help each other the easier your job will be. Don't blame things you can't do with the oldest on the youngest. If the reason you can't get #1 a cup of milk is because you are nursing #3 do not say, "I can't do that for you because I'm nursing the baby." Instead, say something more generic like, "I'll be able to help you in about 10 minutes, love. Can you please go get a book?" Redirect! Don't blame one child for why you can't help the other. Also, I've found the most joy in helping them learn each other's favorite things, sharing, etc. Really, seeing them be sweet to one another (especially when they are doing something you taught them to do) is the best reward for giving them siblings — so it's worth the time and effort to teach them that stuff! Hang in there, sister! Some days it's just super hard.

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