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Having 4 Kids: What It’s Really Like

Are you on the cusp of a major life change and wondering what having 4 kids might be like? Or maybe you’re just curious what it’s like for a friend or neighbor who seems to have their hands impossibly full.

I’m here to give you the scoop on what having 4 kids is really like.

What it's like having 4 kids

I was in those shoes once, trying to picture the daily life of a larger family when 4 kids seemed like such an unimaginable number. I’d only met a few families who had gone the distance, and none of them were very close to us.

I had no one to ask myself. I knew I wanted another child, but what would it be like to bring our family to that level? My personal experience was limited, because I’m an only child.

Though no two families’ experiences will ever be the same, I’m going to share with you my honest reflections after nearly 2 years of having 4 kids.

Don’t miss my companion article on the advantages of having a big family.

Having 4 Kids: It’s Chaos

To start, let’s get this part out of the way. Yes, having 4 little ones running around is noisy, messy, and on average pretty chaotic.

There are frequently competing demands on the parents. The baby needs a snack while an older child needs help with their homework, and 2 others are arguing.

You get used to saying, “in just a minute,” or for my older kids, “you have arms,” encouraging them to help themselves.

The mom guilt can creep up on you when you feel you don’t have time to give everyone enough attention; in particular, finding moments for 1 on 1 time can be challenging.

And speaking of arms, you won’t have enough of them. I’ve had nightmares about what if there were a fire in the house—how would I carry all of the kids out?

That’s an extreme example (thanks anxiety brain), but even schlepping in and out of the grocery store can be an ordeal.

You have to build a good amount of time for getting out the door into your schedule or risk being late everywhere. There are more shoes to find and more kids to buckle.

A house with 4 kids is not often quiet. If you’re an introvert like me, you’ll need to find some small moments to recharge so you don’t end up a frazzled mess.

Numbers Work Against You Sometimes

The amount of stuff can become unmanageable if you aren’t very careful. Just think about if every person in the house left out 5 items a day without putting them away. That’s 30 extra things lying around to trip over or clutter surfaces.

You can make yourself crazy trying to pick up after everyone. It’s one of the reasons I’ve adopted minimalist principles and follow simple clutter-busting rules to stay sane.

Still, my house isn’t spotless, because this would be totally unrealistic for our family. I frequently have to remind myself to have reasonable standards.

The laundry is basically never-ending, and I’m always wiping up something.

There are finger smudges on my windows and crumbs on my floor. The minivan practically becomes a wasteland between its major cleanouts.

On another note, it can be hard to find a sitter for 4 kids, let alone if you want to get away for a weekend or trip without the kids. There just won’t be as many opportunities to make that happen easily.

Our date nights and getaways have gotten less frequent and often involve complicated logistics of splitting our kids up to different family caregivers.

The world is pretty much designed for a family with 2 parents and 2 kids nowadays. Vacation packages, ticket packages, and more seem to go by this annoying standard that you just won’t fit into.

I remember getting a free baseball ticket package once, which seemed like a great win. But how do you pick which 2 kids to bring when you only have 4 tickets?

Transitioning From 3 to 4 Kids

With all of this said, you get used to the chaos pretty quick. I found the transition from 3 to 4 kids a lot easier than expected.

If you’re going from 3 to 4 kids, you’ll already be used to not having enough time or hands, and you’ll likely have some good strategies in place.

It’s only an incremental increase in loudness, stuff, and needs. You will have gotten a pretty good taste of large family living and likely be ready to tackle 4 kids with minimal adaptations.

Plus having 4 kids is getting your family back to nice even numbers and won’t make much difference if you’re going out somewhere.

For us at least, the shift really wasn’t bad. I think once you get into the big family mindset, a baseline amount of chaos is your norm and doesn’t bother you.

You just have to up your mental headcount of children when you go out, and you’re set 😊

Having 4 Kids: It’s Wonderful

Now on the brighter side: I think having 4 kids is totally amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I loved having 3 kids as well. In fact, we were a family of 5 for 8 great years.

Adding our fourth child only multiplied the love in our house and everything I enjoy about our wonderful big family.

Some people may not even consider a family of 6 a big family! (I think it counts.)

The number of kids that feels good to you is of course totally up to personal preference, your parenting style, and a lot of other very individual factors.

For our lifestyle, I just love having 4 kids around. An Australian study found that parents with 4 or more kids were the happiest. You could probably find just as many studies showing 1, 2, or 3 kids are best.

For me, I think the greatest benefit of having 4 kids is seeing our family interactions. I particularly enjoy the sibling interactions, because I never got to have that as a kid.

Having siblings has many benefits for kids, including teaching interpersonal interactions, empathy, and more. Siblings can have about as much influence on a child’s development as parents.

I just love seeing them play together and do kind things for each other. It’s one of the things that makes me the happiest, knowing they’ll always have each other.

Yes, there’s some arguing, but that comes with any relationship.

I really enjoy our time together, no matter how crazy it can be sometimes. Watching my little ones’ personalities develop and laughing together has given me enough joy for a lifetime.

Kids Become More Self-Sufficient

Another thing I think is great about having 4 kids is it teaches kids to be more self-sufficient. Mom and dad aren’t going to be doing everything for you, so you’ll need to learn at an earlier age how to become more independent.

Our kids also learn to help each other. From the age of 3, they can wake up and get their own breakfast.

I don’t rely on the older children for unpaid babysitting, because I don’t think that’s fair (aside from “play with your sister for 15 minutes”). But there are many ways for kids of all ages to help out.

That never-ending laundry I mentioned? I teach my older kids to do their own laundry. Everyone contributes in our household in a way that’s appropriate for them.

Is Having 4 Kids Expensive?

I think money is one of the biggest determining factors when it comes to family size. Sure, having 4 kids isn’t cheap, but a lot of it depends on your lifestyle as well.

There are some things we have to make sacrifices on or learn to live without. Our family vacations are most often road trips and camping trips. We’ve never flown on a plane all together, because it’s too cost prohibitive.

This style of vacationing isn’t a favorite for all family members, but we still have a good time in our own way.

We also eat out a lot less, because it’s not practical or affordable. When we do eat out, it’s often got to be a fast casual restaurant that can please our large family and not hit the budget too hard.

Our kids are allowed a single extracurricular activity each for scheduling and budget reasons, which may be much different from some other children.

We use hand-me-downs and enjoy yard sales. I don’t think our kids go without; it just may look different than some other families. We don’t have the newest video game consoles, but we enjoy the ones we do have.

When it comes to paying for college, we are saving and plan to contribute, but likely won’t be able to foot the entire bill.

My husband and I definitely buy a lot less for ourselves, because we prioritize the children and family activities, but we’re fine with this.

After our third child, one of us has been a primary home caregiver for the kids, because the cost of child care did not make sense.

However, I think there is an economy of scale once you get to the “big family” size. Your health insurance rates typically don’t go up once you hit “family size.” A regular minivan will still fit a family with 4 kids, and you can share or pass down a lot of items between children.

Still, buying 4 sets of shoes adds up! There will be copays, medications, diapers, groceries, and more that all increase.

These are all factors that go into play when considering your family size.

Expect Some Judgment

One other negative I should mention is that being a big family can come along with some judgment. Only 14% of American mothers have four or more children so we tend to stick out wherever we go.

We get some interesting comments. Even some family members don’t seem to understand why we keep having more children and like to put in their 2 cents.

I feel like we also get less invitations to houses or events, because there are so many of us. Some people just aren’t ready for the chaos of a family of 6.

This means we often end up congregating with other big families or having get-togethers at our house.

Honestly, I don’t really care about other people’s opinion of my family size. It’s just something I wanted to mention so you would be aware.

Having 4 Kids: A Summary

I hope I’ve given you a nice window into life with having 4 kids. It’s busy and exhausting at times, but also wonderfully rewarding.

There are many advantages of having a big family.

There’s nothing that quite feels better than being in a group hug with all my little ones or seeing the smiles on their faces when they experience something new.

I feel so lucky to have had the chance to parent my 4 kiddos, and our big family feels just perfect. It’s not without some challenges, but that comes with any parenting adventure.

If you have any questions for me, just ask in the comments!

Or if you’re a big family parent, feel free to share your experience.

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Jamie C

Saturday 29th of October 2022

We have four boys and it is just a BIGGER family and our family is our everything. Love seeing them interact and learning and laughing. Our house gets hammered by them but we will tidy it up later. I sit and smile when I think of these beautiful kids will grow up and be adults, and knowing them in the years to come. I agree, most people would like to have more than 2 kids, but the cost is just too much nowadays. Also, having more than 2 kids is a major investment in time and energy that most people don’t want to invest, and that is fine. My advice, if you have 2 kids and you’re not sure that is enough, then go again until you are sure you have enough.

Teri

Friday 21st of October 2022

I have four kids and it is all of those things written in the post here! Definitely a lot of chaos, but I think that makes it fun and exciting. Family is always happy to send us home, but I think they enjoy the dynamic of all the kids. Neighbor kids love playing at our house because there are lots of kids to pick from even if one sibling doesn't feel like playing. The one thing that does get me down is always feeling like I don't have enough one-on-one time (as mentioned in this article) and the amount of clutter of toys, clothes, shoes. It does wear you down ... so yes, less is more! Donate those toys and move on.

Charlotte

Sunday 27th of March 2022

Thank you for this! I have a son who is 2,5 years old and twin girls who are 16 months. I am now 30 weeks pregnant and still not sure how I will manage everything. The pregnancy was unexpected (failing IUD) and at times I still freak out about it. The fire nightmare is very familiar! But the other things you mention reassured me we can do this.

Danielle

Thursday 25th of August 2022

@Charlotte, thanks reading all this has really make me feel a bit better just found out am pregnant with my 4th av got 6 year old and 2 year old and 9 month old my emotions are everywhere finding out was so unexpected and overwhelming knowing my kids will all be so young 😭😭

Ashley

Sunday 16th of January 2022

This has been really interesting to read, I have just found out that, I am pregnant with my 4th (not planned). I have had my 3rd is just over 18 months old. Whilst my eldest two are 5 and 8 years old. My partner is the stay at home parent, and I am the working mother. I always knew I wanted a big family, despite most of my family now not wanting anything to do with me anymore, as they don't agree with me continue with this pregnancy. I can see why they say what they say. I was unsure but my partner has reassured me time and time again that we would manage and cope, we both know it's not easy but my eldest 8, has gonna so excited, already turning into my home midwife despite it being alone early days. My 5 year old has autism and ADHD so dealing with noise, tantrums, is all second nature now. My biggest fear is not having that 1 to 1 with them and working most of the time so hardly having time with them. (Yes I would refer be a stay at home mum, but I love my job too, and my partner became a stay at home parent after he was made redundant, thanks to Covid) it hasn't been easy to adjustments but we are now finally stable. Its nice to know that they are other people out there with 4 kids.

Ashley

Wednesday 26th of January 2022

@Ashley, my heart goes out to you! My kids are almost the same ages as yours (9, 6 and 16 mo.). I am so sorry your family is making you feel guilty for having a 4th baby. No one should ever tell another person how to run their life, especially if they are self-sufficient. I think it’s great that one of you can stay home and you don’t have to rely on daycare. I’m glad you have a supportive partner who cares. Your kids are lucky to have you both! Much love for a healthy pregnancy.

Thank you @Chrissy for writing this. I SO badly want a 4th, but trying for our third was tough as I’m older and had a miscarriage. We were blessed with our rainbow, but I fear going down a similar path again. I thought I was truly done, but my heart tells me otherwise in a huge way. My husband is done and pregnancy stresses him out, so it’s been an uphill battle. I come from 4 girls and I’m the eldest. So, here I am, trying to weigh the pros and cons. Thank you to all the parents who have commented and shared their thoughts! It’s helped to make me feel less crazy for wanting a 4th.

Cass

Thursday 9th of December 2021

I’m a single mom with four kids age 6, 5, 4, and 1. I work full-time and study after they go to bed. I don’t live near any family and have few friends.

I’ve opted for after school extra curricular activities because it gives them an outlet for energy, allows me time to rest for a bit, or respond to the endless emails.

It is daunting, yes, but praising them when they help has been a life-saver. They are encouraged to help around the house and with each other.

If you don’t keep up and prepare for the next day, you will easily be overwhelmed. It’s like running on a treadmill. Don’t stop. It’s not easy, but completely possible. Even with a pandemic.

As for 1-on-1 time, it helps that one child is an early bird and one is a night owl. Then I spend time with another while the baby sleeps and the other two are having quiet time (either napping or crafting). The youngest already demands a lot of personal time, so that’s easy to accomplish.

Time for yourself? After you figure out the basic routine of laundry, dishes, and a quick pickup, sit and veg out for a bit before doing the extras. Enjoy your cup of coffee or tea and take a quick shower before the kids wake up. Unfortunately for single parents, you will feel like you’re running a marathon every day, trying to make the most out of each minute, so if you can, take pictures to remind yourself now of their smiles and for later when you will miss these days.

Hectic as it is, I think I’ll miss the dog piles and being their favorite person in the world. I appreciate it very much when they ask for cuddles. It’s rather satisfying to see them helping each other. So despite the OCD, I’ve learned to lower the threshold for complaint. Just a little bit.