Have the fourth one first

I have four children. I don’t claim that this is any kind of special achievement (although every time I do a quick headcount in a crowded place and discover that, thankfully, I still have all four of them, it does feel like a small victory). I don’t claim to be an unusually marvellous parent, and I don’t claim that my parenting ability is multiplied by the number of children I have; if anything, the reverse usually feels true.

However, I’ve been doing this a long time. And over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to other parents, and have heard their tips about things that work really well for them, as well as their warnings about what has been really terrible and how they’ve survived it. I’ve spent a lot of time reading books, articles and blogs, and tried out lots of different ways of doing everyday acts of parenting, in efforts to make our lives easier and happier. I’ve done things wrong with one child, had another one, found a better way of doing things, or a different way of getting things wrong.

Sometimes I feel like I could be a brilliant parent, if only it weren’t for all these bloody children.

By the time I had my fourth (and final) child, I felt so much more relaxed: I had some ideas about what I was doing and what parenting was really like; I had a circle of trusted friends who helped me through the difficult bits; I trusted myself to get most things right enough, and my baby to tell me when I was going too far wrong. I found myself wishing that I could have felt like this eight years previously with my first baby. I wished I could have had the fourth one first, and enjoyed this feeling of contentment and confidence, without having to parent three older children at the same time.

I decided the next best thing would be to collect up all the tips I’ve gathered from wonderful parents and from my own experience over the years, and pass them on to anyone else who might find them useful, to give you some of the accumulated knowledge and experience that comes with a fourth child, to use on your first (or second, third, fourth…).