In business there is a phenomenon called the tipping point. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a whole book about it. In the book description on Amazon they describe it like this: The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.
There are tipping points in parenting too, I’ve come learn. Sometimes these tipping points are small and personal. I’ve heard many a parent discuss having their third child as their tipping point; going from man-to-man coverage to zone defense. There can be a gender balance tipping point; boys to girls, or having twins. For my family however, the tipping point was when we had our fourth child.
When we merely had three small people in tow, people used to politely comment on our children when we were out and about. We’d see them glance our way, smile, talk quietly to one another. Sometimes they’d nod, or say hello before moving on with their day. End of interaction.
Then we had Willie.
Cue the open-mouthed gawking, pointing, head shaking, and direct approach commenting. Suddenly the scale had tipped, and social behavior crossed a threshold. We had become the sideshow.
Mind you this wasn’t due to misbehavior or a wild ruckus ensuing on our part (don’t get me wrong, those do happen, but typically not in public, and not in the context of these interactions.) These reactions were simply from our entering a room, walking by with our grocery cart, or sitting down at a restaurant for dinner.
Many comments are complimentary; many heartfelt. Often they express the sentiment “better you than me”. Some are outright judgmental. I’ve even had more than one person ask me if all of my children have the same father (Yes, they do).
The most interesting thing however is that we’ve suddenly crossed into a previously unknown fraternity of families with 4+ kids. Guess what? They’re everywhere! I now see them at the zoo, Ruby Tuesdays, the holiday celebration at the Gaylord hotel, at the grocery store. These are the interactions that I most enjoy. I leave these conversations energized and understood. Because they get it. They too could send all of their many children to college if they had a dollar for every time they heard the phrases “Are they all yours?” “Boy, you sure have your hands full.” and “Bless your heart.” These fellow mommas and dads of many are able to celebrate where we are, because they too are there. Those that have already launched some, or all of their babies into the wide world are there to tell us that we will make it through to the other side. Because they have.
One of my favorite jokes goes like this: Your first child eats dirt and you call the doctor. The second child eats dirt and you wash their mouth out. The third child eats dirt and you wonder if you have to serve them lunch.
And after that? I guess we are making it up as we go.
Each of our journey’s takes a different path. What my family is called to is different from others. It doesn’t make anything easier or harder, just different. It is nice to know, however, that on these paths we are each walking, we are not entirely alone.