Ten years ago when I announced my fourth pregnancy I was met with the expected congratulatory response.
In the midst of the "how lovely/nice/wonderful" responses, two distinct camps began to form on the fringes. The first camp was slightly alarmed and asked, "Are you a glutton for punishment?" And the second, much calmer, camp was the "Don't worry dear, the fourth child raises itself".
The glutton for punishment brigade I understood. Raising children is hard work. They are the most efficient time-suck in the known universe.
On the other side of the spectrum is the 'fourth child raises itself' brigade, which seemed to suggest that nearly no time would be spent on this fourth child. This notion was interesting to me. Would this child need less attention than the first? That didn't sound right.
So for the last 10 years I have been observing how the experience of life has been different for my fourth child than my first.
1. Teeth are more capable than I imagined
When my first-born wanted an apple I painstakingly peeled off the skin and removed the core just to make it was easy as possible for her to digest but goodness how times changed! Well times didn't actually change, just my awareness of what children with teeth are capable of.
My fourth child would just open the fridge grab an apple and start to gnaw at it. Teeth, it turns out, are quite strong and can handle piercing apple skin. I didn't even need to take out the core. He just kind of knew to not eat that bit. Carrots, cucumbers, pears can also be added to that list.
And they don't always need to be walked into school, help washing their hands, finding some clothes….okay I'm starting to think I may have overdone it with the first child.
2. When to copy and not copy your older siblings
How do you think the fourth child knew where the apples were? With three older siblings constantly opening the fridge the fourth child sure learned quick. However this insight extends beyond simply knowing that the fridge has apples or following the tribe to the table when it's dinnertime.
The fourth child gets front row seats on how to behave. They get to watch older siblings constantly pulling each other into line but crucially they witness the boundaries parents have put in place. The fourth child soon learns which pitfalls to avoid.
3. Powerful problem-solving skills
Clearly the fourth child is not being raised in isolation nor are they growing up in the lawless Wild West, but they quickly learn that there is more than one person to solve their problems.
Need help pouring a drink? Grab the closest person to the kitchen. Something is out of reach? Ditto. How do you spell this word? You can scream that question out into the universe and without a doubt a voice from the distance will respond.
No wonder the fourth child seems less needy and/or clearly a genius. Already knows how to spell words! I had to spend hours with the other children.
4. You rarely hear "I'm bored!"
It's clearly not hard to find company in a house with four children. Watching a movie, playing a game, or playing outside it really doesn't matter. It's probably harder to find alone time to be honest.
But let's not forget that those three older siblings just always seem to have lots of stuff. You could say they have really good stuff. Game consoles, music, movies, books…whatever you like fourth child, it's all here. What will amuse you today?
5. More responsibility placed on them
Time is a very different concept when there are four children. With my first child I most likely would have put her shoes on myself purely to save time. A kid learning to put shoes on is cute and all, but a massive time suck when that is all you are waiting on to get out the door.
However, with four children there is every chance that something else has my attention and I'm going to challenge that fourth child to put their own shoes on…or at least try. And if they fail, you guessed it; they'll find an older sibling to help until they finally work it out.
Admittedly with the first child we don't quite know how capable children are. By the time the fourth comes along, you have a better gauge and sometimes your hand is forced to let them be a little more independent. It's not that they need less attention, because that's simply not true.
They need help and attention no matter where they fall on the birth order.
The key difference between kid number one and four is about where the attention is coming from. The older three siblings literally become the village that helps raise the child. So when I see my fourth child with a skill that I didn't have to teach it's easy to see why "they" say the fourth child raises itself.
My takeaway message is this: if you've raised the first couple of children right, then they can take over raising the fourth one. That's a sound plan, yeah?