Tactical Parenting – The Three-Child Conundrum

My previous blog, from which this site spawned, was entitled Diary of a Handful. It was a playful poke at the fact that whenever I met someone for the first time and reported that I was a dad to three children, they inevitably replied “Wow, that’s quite a handful”. Other less frequent responses included terrified stares or laughing. Sometimes I got the sort of pitiful gaze that you usually might give a man if he was trapped in a room quickly filling with radioactive smoke and you were the other side of a thick glass partition.

The point being, overall, that being responsible for maintaining the lives of three whole humans is quite an undertaking and in many ways they’re not wrong. Parenting three kids is no walk in the park (except when you’re walking in the park, then it is a walk in the park). The complex, burgeoning personalities of three vibrant young minds are enough in their own right but when you combine them all in the same place, it becomes exponentially complex to help them rationalise each other’s presence.

Let me explain.

Child 1 – Codename: Motormouth

Motormouth is an 8 yr old boy with an infinite capacity for rapid-fire conversation and enquiry. In all the time I’ve known him he’s never once started a sentence at the beginning, choosing instead to jump in at the important bits and catch up with pleasantries later. He is seemingly very ‘dad-focused’ and of the three is more likely to come to me for comfort or to ask one of his 276 pre-prepared questions. I love him but he has no filter or speed adjustment meaning you often have to throw his brakes on mid-stride to enable him to focus on eating or going to bed.

He loves all the usual 8 yr old boy stuff that a geek parent would encourage; primarily video games, Pokemon and fart jokes. He is easily the most sensitive of the trio and very thoughtful.

Child 2 – Codename: RandomFactor

RandomFactor is a 5 yr old boy on the autistic spectrum. He can immerse himself in his own world (usually via an iPad) or play with his brother/sister but group activities have been known to escalate him into over-excitement which can either be hugely positive or suddenly pinwheel down into dissatisfied rages or physical disagreements and a need for self-isolation. RF is very sociable but always on his own terms.

RF is very attached to mum and seeks her out for comfort regularly as familiarity is very important and she constitutes a larger part of his daily routine while I’m at work. His condition means he can take a lot of work and when he’s upset can pull focus from the other two.

Child 3 – Codename: Firework

Firework is a 4 yr old girl with seemingly endless energy and no capacity for understanding ‘inside voice’ or any type of personal risk. Ever since she started walking she’s been building speed, to the point that now we often lose sight of her in the house only to find her later (tracked down via a trail of discarded clothes) bouncing around the bedroom in only socks and a pirate hat. She is equal parts adorable and argumentative leading us to believe she will probably either end up prime minister, CEO of Google or a criminal mastermind. She could tip either way.

Firework is also very mummy-focused and is testing the boundaries of the things that we are willing to do for her which she is perfectly capable of doing herself.

These three unique personalities interact in complex ways that can either be highly co-operative or almost explosive. Our parenting style depends heavily on being able to spot the early warning signs and intervening before they combine and detonate like a child-shaped hand grenade metaphor.

Child 1 + Child 2

‘Motormouth’ and ‘Random Factor’ are both boys so they share a lot of similar interests. This is sweet but as the older brother MM always insists on leading activities and dictating rules which, if they don’t fit with what RF wants to do, quickly irks him into a cross mood. Unable to see that this is upsetting RF, MM continues until RF escalates into a physical altercation, at which point we intervene and separate.

Child 2 + Child 3

Due to Random Factor’s developmental delay, he and ‘Firework’ are synced at about the same emotional frequency. This occurred quite recently and we realised quickly, like the scientists at Jurassic Park, that they have begun working as a pair to test weaknesses in our defences. One will distract us whilst the other steals bags of crisps, sometimes one acts as a lookout whilst the other floods the bathroom or eats all the toothpaste. It’s adorable to see them harmonise but they are getting very good at it.

This partnership, though, is about as stable as a house of cards in a hurricane and it’s not long before they de-sync and irritate each other into a screaming match over literally nothing. At which point we intervene and seperate

Child 3 + Child 1

MM dotes on FW as his little baby sister. She leverages this to get him to fetch her Jaffa Cakes. MM likes to take on the ‘big boy’ role and try to teach his little sister how to act like a grown up. This works a lot of the time but her inherent chaotic nature is often a source of great frustration for him. FW is incredibly astute for a 4 yr old and is already learning where MM’s buttons are which, considering how he wears his heart on his sleeve, is something that can find him at a disadvantage.

So these three scenarios are continuously played out across the day. Partnerships are made and broken on a whim. There’s a constant stream of foot traffic from room to room as they abandon each other in favour of new alliances. Sometimes they all congregate in the same place and attempt to get along. We call this configuration ‘The Trifecta‘.

The Trifecta is a tenuous alliance, usually supported by FW and MM doing what RF wants to do, or by all of them staring at the same cartoon or series of YouTube videos. When it works it is adorable to see them all getting along. I’ve even seen them all cuddle up together on the sofa or engage in the same imaginative exercise. When this happens my wife and I dart out to get cameras to capture this rare moment of sibling contentment. By the time we return one of them has usually got an elbow inside the other’s mouth.

It’s noteworthy that each of them sees the bond the other two share and wants a piece of it. FW wants to be part of ‘boy club’ (and often insists she is, even when trying to pee), MM wants to be part of ‘little club’ and… okay RF has no interest in joining MM and FW and often uses their absence to get more iPad time in.

As time passes, they are all beginning to blend into a more-or-less co-operative group and this is becoming noticeable as it’s been a while since we got stared at in Sainsburys or tutted at by an elderly woman because we’re disrupting the piece in a Costa coffee.

So we as parents remain carefully hopeful that, this will eventually reduce down to at least a couple of handfuls. It’s not easy to worry not just about behaviour, but also about the happiness, contentment and intellectual progress of three very different individuals. Switching focus to make sure they each feel appreciated and cared for in a unique and special way. Now that’s a real handful.


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2 thoughts on “Tactical Parenting – The Three-Child Conundrum

  • 17th July 2017 at 7:30 AM

    Aah that’s a really lovely post! It’s wonderful discovering them through your words.
    Very well written. ????

    • 18th July 2017 at 8:16 PM

      Thank you!


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