I’m sharing my tips and tricks on How to Survive 3 Under 3, but please note the keyword of “survive.” This is not how to thrive with 3 kids under the age of 3, but just merely survive, because really that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m surviving.
I’ve done a lot of difficult things in life. I’ve run a couple of marathons, I’ve gone skydiving and bungee jumping, I’ve moved to another country by myself, I completed law school in 2 years and passed the California bar exam, and I carried my twins to 38 weeks! But I feel like all of that was easy compared to raising three kids under the age of three!
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, parenting three kids under three years old is fucking relentless. There is always someone screaming, always someone crying, always someone whining, always someone yelling and, to be perfectly honest, sometimes that person is me. It is nonstop meals and nonstop snacks. There are so many dishes. So much laundry. And so much poop and pee. And it’s every. single. day.
But there’s also so much laughter, so much wonder, so many smiles, and so much fun! While the valleys may be really low, the peaks are also super high! We have so much fun with these three kids and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
We’ve survived the first year and while I’m barely holding it together this second year, I thought I would share some of my tips and tricks on How to Survive 3 under 3 which include:
- Lower Your Expectations
- Accept Help When Offered
- If You Can Afford to Hire Help, Then Hire Help!
- Self Care
- Baby Proof and Child Proof Everything!
- Car Seats, Cars, and a Minivan
- Grocery Delivery or Store Drive-up/Pickup
- Freezer-Friendly Meals and Take Out
- Tools to Help You Survive
- Your Village – Gentle Parenting, Online Groups, and Education Guides
How To Survive 3 Under 3
Lower Your Expectations
First, lower your expectations. Did you lower them? Ok, now lower them some more.
Seriously. Things got a lot easier for me after I gave up on a lot of things. I gave up on trying to keep the house and furniture in good shape. I gave up on perfect holidays and celebrations.
So I guess my advice is either don’t have anything nice or just don’t expect anything to stay nice and don’t expect Pinterest-level celebrations and holidays.
Our house has changed so much in the last year. My rug has been pooped on. My couch has been peed on. We put our dangerous, sharp-cornered, mirrored coffee table in storage and never even replaced it with something else. Lamps have been broken. Walls, floors, and chairs have been drawn on. Food is thrown on a daily basis.
Now, I’m just looking forward to redecorating in a few years! A new couch, a new rug, a new coffee table, new dining room chairs, new lamps, etc. If you have to get new furniture, get fabric that can be wiped down or covers that can be washed.
Don’t be like me – I purchased new dining rooms chairs. Fabric dining room chairs. First of all, we got rid of our dining room and turned it into a playroom. But also, what was I thinking ordering fabric chairs? My kids will ruin those! They’ve already drawn on them! I can’t imagine what they will look like after being used around food!
Also, lower your expectations for holidays and celebrations. We’ve celebrated Halloween in December, Christmas in February, the Easter Bunny is now the August Bunny. Birthdays are sometimes celebrated weeks late and I hardly ever take milestone photos on time. At first this stressed me out, but now I’m okay with it and I just think it’s funny and it’s kind of like our families’ tradition.
Accept Help When Offered
I’m really, really bad at asking for help. But if someone offers to help, my advice to you is to accept it. Right then. Right there! Say, “Yes, please!” And then have a specific example of what they can help with. Here are some examples:
- Yes, please! Can you please come over and watch my kids for 45 minutes while I shower, nap, eat lunch by myself, etc.
- Yes, please! Can you please bring dinner on X night. (Home cooked or pizza, either works!)
- Yes, please! Can you please come with me so I can take my kids to the park because it takes two people to watch them at this age.
Don’t refuse help because you’re embarrassed that your house is a mess. It’s going to be a mess for years and years. Again, remember to lower your expectations.
Also, don’t forget that help can come in the form of medication (antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds) or even self-medication such as CBD oil, medical marijuana, or wine as long as you’re not an addict and consuming safely.
If You Can Afford to Hire Help, Then Hire Help!
I’m lucky to be able to afford housekeepers who come every other week. While I still do all the laundry and pick up all the clutter before they come, they do all the heavy duty cleaning. And it takes the two of them four hours to clean my house. It would take me 10-12 hours to do the same level of cleaning that they do. I don’t have the time for that and I’m lucky we’re able to afford our housekeepers.
I also have a nanny for the twins who helps me on weekdays. She’s been a lifesaver! Having a nanny has allowed me to focus more on the baby, take a break when he naps, do the laundry, and sometimes I can even write a blog post! If I have to take one of the twins to an appointment, then it’s fine, she takes care of the other two and I can focus on the one I have.
Get some sleep! Sleep deprivation is used as a torture device for a reason – because it works!
Use all the sound machines! Buy all the pacifiers for their cribs so they can find one in the middle of the night without waking you up! Keep everyone on a strict routine (more on that below). Do what you have to do to make sure you get some sleep.
Want to know about the sleeping arrangements for our family?
For the first year, Cal (my baby) slept in his Nursery Nook in the Main Bedroom with me. The twins transitioned from their cribs to toddler beds (due to climbing out of the crib) right after Cal was born at 2 years, 4 months old. My husband slept in the guest room right next door to the twins’ room. When I went to bed at night, I would give him the baby monitor so he could hear the twins over the sound machines. He was in charge of the twins at night (who usually slept through the night or who would quietly crawl into bed with him) and I was in charge of the baby at night (who was usually up all night thanks to breastfeeding or his FPIES disease).
And right around Cal’s first birthday, we transitioned the guest room into the twins’ new bedroom and moved Cal into the twins’ old nursery and then my husband moved back into the Main Bedroom with me.
We moved the twins into a new room (rather than just moving the baby into what was the Guest Bedroom) because their new room has an adjoining bathroom and, since they were now potty trained (Yay!), they can use the potty at night if needed. Also, we now finish our nightly routine (final “pee pees” and a sip of water) in their bathroom rather than our main bathroom which is across the house. Also, the twins’ nursery was already fully baby proofed, so why move the baby into a new room that would then need to be fully baby proofed? Their old nursery already had everything strapped to the walls, baby monitor cameras on the wall, and a retractable baby gate installed across the door.
Hot Tip: If you’re transitioning from cribs to toddler beds or transitioning kids to a new room, remove EVERYTHING from the room. Even the light bulbs in the overhead light and closet. You can then slowly add stuff back into the room once the novelty of the room wears off.
Children thrive on a consistent routine and a consistent bedtime.
I’ve read Facebook posts from way too many moms in the 3 Under 3 Facebook support group asking for help and they usually state something about how one or more of their kids is staying up until 9, 10, 11 o’clock at night. One even said her 3 year old was staying awake until 1 am. Another said her 18-month-old goes to bed around 2 or 3 am. Maybe this loosey-goosey schedule works for these moms, but it doesn’t work for me and if a mom is stating that she is tired and overwhelmed and is asking for help/advice and her kids aren’t on a schedule or staying up very late, I would start here:
PUT THE KIDS TO BED EARLY!
Put the kids to bed early. Preferably sometime between 7 and 8pm. Every single night.
It will be a shit show for the first few nights, but a pattern will start to emerge and hopefully in a week or so a routine will be established and the kids will go to sleep. If kids don’t go to sleep right away, you may need to reevaluate your nap timing. My daughter stopped taking naps around 2 years old, but her twin brother continued taking naps for awhile. But when he was taking forever to fall asleep at night, I started shortening his naps. And that worked for awhile, but then when he was again taking forever to fall asleep, we just eliminated his nap completely.
Don’t forget, you need time for self care. That time is usually going to be after the kids go to bed unless all three kids nap at the same time (and of so, then why are you reading this blog post, you already have it all figured out you baby whisperer!) or you have hired help or someone offers to come watch your kids for you. You also need sleep. Remember, sleep deprivation is used as a torture device for a reason. Put the kids to bed. They need sleep. You need sleep.
A few months ago, my 3-year old twins’ bedtime kept creeping back farther and farther until 8pm, 8:20, 8:30, 9pm. etc. and I said enough. I was actively parenting from 6:00am until 8:30 or 9pm at night. I cannot do 14-15 hour days. I am way too fucking old for that shit. So I moved dinner up a half hour and told my husband I needed help – that the twins needed to be in bed by 7:40, 7:50 at the latest. And you know what happened? They’ve been thriving! Hank doesn’t get as hyper. He gets into bed after going through the bedtime routine, he wants me to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (or as he calls it, “Frinkle, Frinkle”), and then … he goes the fuck to sleep!
Once the baby is old enough, keep everyone on the same or very close-to same schedule. For me, the baby takes a nap in the middle of the day while the others don’t, so there’s a huge chunk of the day where the twins eat lunch and a snack at a different time than the baby, but we all have dinner together and go through a bedtime routine at the same time.
I put the baby down about 15-20 minutes before the twins go to bed so that I can read a book with the twins, do last minute pees/water cups before tucking them in and singing a couple songs, but eventually, when Cal can actually sit still and pay attention to a book, we’ll do the bedtime routine all together.
For me, the hardest part about watching all three on my own is timing everything so I can put the baby down for a nap in his crib while making sure the twins aren’t in the middle of a meal time because I don’t want to leave them with food for safety reasons. In the beginning, this was harder because Cal wasn’t on a schedule, but as he got older and a routine started to emerge, it became easier and easier. And now when I’m watching all three on my own, I simply put on cartoons before I put Cal down for a nap because cartoons are the only thing that truly keeps them occupied. Plus, cartoons don’t make a mess. And, I don’t care that they watch cartoons because they watch the good stuff – Daniel Tiger, Bluey, Puffin Rock, Storybots, Gigantosaurus, Tumbleleaf, etc.
Be sure to carve out some time for some self care.
A fucking bubble bath (with donuts and flowers) isn’t going to solve your problems, but finding some time to yourself is essential.
Friendly reminder: showering, medical appointments, and errands do NOT count as self care.
I’m definitely not the best at this advice and need to be better about carving out some regular, routine time for myself. I need to make more time for exercise and self-grooming, but I also need some time to be creative. I’m hoping that once the twins start preschool, I’ll be able to carve out some more time for me.
A few years ago, I took a few trips either by myself or with a friend just to get out and get away. To take some time for myself. To remember what it’s like to not live every minute doing “mom” things. I highly, highly, highly recommend a momcation and I’ve got a post right here on 8 Reasons Why Mom Vacation if you need any more convincing.
And I’ve just booked a similar trip with a couple other moms for a Weekend in Los Alamos, CA! I can’t tell you just how much I’m looking forward to a few days away!
As cheesy as the phrase is “teamwork truly does make the dream work!” I’m so lucky to have a very, very helpful partner. Yes, he is the one with the full time job who makes the most money to support our family, but he is still very helpful with the kids and the house. Since we both work from home (even pre-pandemic), he helps with breakfast in the morning before our nanny arrives and then helps with dinner and the bedtime routine in the evenings.
We’re not always the best at it, but communication with your partner is key. Sometimes I should probably speak up when I need help or communicate in a more articulated manner, but overall, I think we do a decent job.
If your partner isn’t helping with the kids (but is still doing other things like gaming, watching hours of television, or going out with his/her friends) then you need to communicate with them and lay out some clear expectations.
My goal is to do anything possible to make my husband’s life easier and set him up for success and I think he does the same for me. I would never want to do anything that makes his day with the kids harder.
I’ve heard the book Fair Play is helpful at learning how to divvy up some of the home and family chores so not everything falls on the partner who predominantly cares for the children. I have not read it yet, but it’s sitting in my pile of books to read and I will update soon with a review.
Baby Proof and Child Proof Everything!
Baby proof everything. If it can fall over on your child, strap it down. If there’s a cabinet you don’t want them getting into, lock it up. Don’t battle repeated messes that can be avoided by baby proofing. Child proof your house so well that if your child is out of eyesight, you are not worried about them.
But just to quickly explain how much baby proofing we did, we have baby gates on all the tops and bottoms of stairs, we had deadbolts and hook latches installed on the tops of all outside doors and gates (so my kids can’t reach and unlock them), and we do not keep any toys with choking hazards (such as legos or toys with easily breakable pieces) in the house. I’ll either donate them, put them away until the baby is older, or we keep those toys at their grandparents’ house.
Here’s a link to my in-depth Baby Proofing post. (Coming soon).
I made a “Safe Baby Play Space” for the twins using our dining room and it was a lifesaver. We didn’t take down the gate that blocks the dining room off (thank god!) and we were still using the area as a playroom when I got pregnant again, and it came in handy to use again as a “Safe Baby Play Space” for Cal.
And, here’s the link to my in-depth Safe Baby Play Space post in case you need ideas.
Minivan and Car Seats
When we were pregnant with the twins, we traded in one of our cars and bought an SUV, but once we learned we were pregnant with the littlest man, we quickly made the decision to become a minivan family.
I don’t love owning a minivan, but it truly is the best car for our family. There is no way I could have functioned with 3 car seats across the back row. I’m too old to lean across another kid in a car seat and pull the strap to tighten the seatbelts on another car seat. My back hurts too much for that. The minivan has been a lifesaver.
After doing tons of research, we went with a newer model of the Honda Odyssey because of it’s Magic Slide 2nd Row Middle Seat. We figured we could take out the middle seat and one of the larger side seats to give us a ton of room so we could buckle the twins into their car seats in the back row. We also keep a Diaper Changing Pad in the minivan and we put it down where the seats are missing so I can easily change Cal’s diaper without breaking my back.
Eventually, once the twins no longer need help buckling their car seat belts, we’ll probably add the other seat back in so give us room for another passenger, but for now, having those seats removed has been a lifesaver.
And the reason we went with the Odyssey rather than the Toyota Siena is because when one of the Sienna’s middle seats is removed, the plastic/metal seat tracks (that hold the seat into the floor of the car) are right where I need to put my knees when kneeling in the back to buckle the twins seat belts. We spent about 30 minutes looking at the Sienna and after discovering that, it was a quick “Nope!” for me!
And don’t forget to keep the kids entertained in the car! We don’t do tablets yet for our 3-and-a-half-year-old twins (I’m not judging if you do, remember, the name of the game is survival! We’re just trying to put it off as loooooong as we can!) so we love our Raffi CD (Baby Beluga calms everyone down), Casper Babypants CD (Stompy the Bear!), and Melissa and Doug Water Wow Activity Books! (Pro tip: We keep a little sports bottle filled with water in the pocket of one of our seat back protectors and use it to refill/rewet the Water Wow pens when needed.)
Remember, lower all of your expectations … except for laundry and dishes. Expect to do a shit ton of laundry and dishes!
I do 1-2 loads of laundry a day. Everyday. Just to keep up.
It’s usually either kitchen towels (from the kitchen because we don’t use paper towels, you can check out my Zero Waste Kitchen Swaps blog post to learn more about transitioning from paper towels), kids’ clothes, my clothes or my husband’s clothes. And then there’s the bathroom towels, sheets, blankets, preschool blankets, and cleaning rags that I wash on cleaning day which means an extra 7-10 loads of laundry that day.
I do NOT like letting my laundry baskets pile up with clean laundry, so if I only do 1-2 loads of laundry a day, it isn’t overwhelming. I don’t like to let clean laundry sit longer than overnight simply because then it will sit for a week or more, so I try to fold and put away that same day. I also have help from my nanny who helps fold and put away the twins’ play clothes and the kitchen towels/rags.
My tip for washing kids clothes is to use the presoak option if your washing machine has one. I presoak the twins’ clothes for 30 minutes before a wash and sometimes set the “soil” setting a bit higher to try to get any stains/dirt out. Otherwise, I just figure their play clothes are going to have stains and I’m fine with it because … I’ve lowered my expectations (of them ever having cute spotless clothes ever again).
We also run the dishwasher every night, but sometimes on meal prep days, I have to run it during the day and AGAIN at night. I also sweep the kitchen floor nightly and … I should probably also mop them, but I don’t.
Always wash dishes and clean the kitchen every night before bed so you wake up to a clean kitchen. There’s nothing worse than screaming, hungry tiny kids and having to clean before you can even make breakfast. If you want to go a step further, you can also fill up water cups and milk cups and store them in the refrigerator overnight so they’re ready to go in the morning.
Here’s a few other items that help make cleaning faster or easier:
Grocery Delivery or Store Drive-up/Pickup
Prior to the pandemic, I never used grocery delivery or store pickup services, but they are an absolute game changer! Most store pickup and drive-up services are free, but grocery delivery has a fee, but saves you some time if you can afford it.
I’m honestly probably not going to go back to regular weekly grocery shopping ever again.
I do grocery delivery every week. We were doing grocery pickup, and I may return to doing that soon, but because of a pandemic surge, the grocery store just wasn’t able to keep up with orders and we were sitting in the store parking lot for 30 minutes to an hour at 9-10 o’clock at night. I may try it again and go back to that method since it’s a lot less expensive than grocery delivery thanks to the delivery fees and tips.
And as much as I enjoy wandering the aisles of Target, I also utilize store drive-up offers so I don’t have to get out of the car with the kids in tow or so I’m not tempted to purchase items I don’t need.
Freezer-Friendly Meals and Take Out
Freezer-friendly meals and take out will save your life. I’m not talking about meal prepping dinner meals only. I meal prep and freeze everything! Breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks!
Here are some links to my favorite freezer-friendly meals. These are the recipes I use every week or every two weeks in order to keep my freezer stocked with healthier meals so I don’t turn to expensive, calorie-dense restaurant take-out or delivery.
- Freezer-Friendly Blueberry Banana Oatmeal
- Freezer-Friendly Meatballs
- Freezer-Friendly Cheesy Broccoli Turkey Meatballs
- Freezer-Friendly Breakfast Tacos
- Freezer-Friendly Hard-boiled Egg Quesadillas
- Freezer-Friendly No Sugar Added, Blueberry Apple Muffins – if you’re ever in a rush for a snack or meal, just heat a few up in the microwave and serve with cheese or yogurt and fruit.
We also order takeout or delivery on extra hard days when I don’t have anything on hand that we can quickly reheat. If you’re on a budget, takeout or delivery can be expensive, but you can usually get pre-made meals at the grocery store cheaper than takeout from a restaurant.
Tools to Help You Survive
Get a good stroller. Or two. Or a wagon. We have the Baby Jogger Citi Select Double Stroller for the twins and I also got a single version of the Baby Jogger Citi Select Stroller for the baby. And then I recently splurged and purchased the Wonderfold Wagon.
I got the wagon because my husband recently had surgery and can’t pick up any of the kids. My youngest is getting too heavy for me to carry in the Ergo while also pushing the twins in their stroller. I’m not in good enough shape for that! So I’ll be able to put all three of them in the wagon and push them around town or the zoo or the park if needed all by myself.
I’ll update this post later on with a more thorough review of the Wonderfold Wagon after I’ve used it for a bit.
Also, get a good diaper bag. I actually prefer one diaper bag for the twins and a separate diaper bag for the baby just to keep all the sizes/stuff separate.
Here’s the link to my What’s in My Twins’ Diaper Bag Post.
You can also color code your kids. For example, the 1st kid’s color is blue, the second is pink, and the third is orange. So the 1st kid’s shoes, cups, plates, utensils, backpack, etc. are all blue. This way they know which ones are theirs. I don’t do this, but it’s a good idea.
Here’s a list of other helpful items:
- Baby Carrier – my favorites are the Solly Baby Wrap for newborns or the Ergo Omni 360 for older babies
- Safety Leashes – especially for twins. Don’t call it a leash, call it a backpack.
- Fisher Price on the Go Baby Dome – some moms highly recommend this. I didn’t use one, so I can’t personally recommend.
- Portable high chairs – we used the IKEA Antilop
- Screentime – Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime
And here’s some toys that can give you some quiet time with older kids:
- Bristle blocks
- Train set
- Water Wow notepads
- Playdough – Link to homemade playdough and then just use some plastic cookie cutters and plastic kid knives to play with it.
- Splash Pad
- Coloring books
- Bounce house
Your Village: Online Support, Gentle Parenting, Education Guides
Let’s face it, your village is on the internet these days. It’s been a long time since my mom or my MIL had a baby, so any current baby advice is going to come from online experts.
Plus, I’m in several Facebook groups where I pick up tips and tricks and it’s where I can connect with other parents of multiples or 3 under 3.
All in all, being an older mother (I’m currently 39) with three kids 3 and under has been hard on me physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s really fucking hard. But the joy and fun these kids bring makes it all worth it! I love all three of them so very much and I can’t wait to have more fun with them as they grow up!
But I’m also done having kids and my tubes are tied tight!
Are you expecting another baby? Will you have 3 under 3? Do you have any other questions I did not address here? If so, please leave me a comment or send me an email!
Looking for more baby or twins tips? Check out some of my other blog posts: