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Q. We have three children: 3 years, 22 months and 9 months. Are there any insights you can share regarding any unique challenges or special issues that come with having children this close together?

A. Your question reflects the tendency on the part of today's parents to think that for every "kind" of child and/or child-rearing situation, there exists a "customized" parenting program. And why shouldn't they? After all, if you go to the parenting section of any bookstore, you'll find books on how to raise the adopted child, the ADD child, the middle child, the gifted child, and every other "kind" of child imaginable.

The impression created is that to raise a child properly, you must first find out what kind of child you have. And to properly handle any given "special" child-rearing situation (children spaced close together, death of a pet, moving, handicapped sibling, and so on) you have to consult the professionals, lest you make a big parenting boo-boo and mess your child up for life.

Indeed, every child presents his own challenges and every child-rearing situation has its issues. On the other hand, there is nothing new under the sun. Through human history, parents have dealt successfully with every parenting challenge and issue, without professional help.

Today, parents tend to seek professional guidance entirely too much. So much so that typical parents have lost touch with their common sense. Professionals can serve a purpose when it comes to certain child-rearing matters, but the public tendency to consult us for every single parenting "glitch" is benefiting us more than it is parents and children.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing you for asking about children spaced closely together. I'm saying you can answer this question as well as I can.

I'm going to prove it to you.

Yes, there are special challenges that come with having children so close together. You'll have more than one in diapers at the same time. The oldest doesn't yet know how to really share, so you'll probably have to stay on top of that for a year or so, and then you'll have to do the same with the middle child until he learns to let go of his possessions. Chances are, two of the three are going to develop a love/hate relationship, but you can mitigate that by letting them resolve their conflicts pretty much on their own and holding them equally accountable when they don't. By far the biggest, most vexing problem you're going to encounter is the financial strain of having three in college at the same time.

On the other hand, having three this close together means each one has live-in playmates. In all likelihood, they'll entertain and occupy themselves better than siblings spaced farther apart. As such, there'll be no need for you to run yourself ragged driving them from one after-school activity to another. You'll be able to save time, gas, and personal wear-and-tear by simply saying, "Go outside and find something to do." They'll be able to help one another with homework -- an expectation you should establish early on. You'll have to supervise more when they're all young, but less than the average parent later on, when they can begin supervising one another.

Best of all, you have enough children already that by the time the youngest is 4, you shouldn't be doing much housework at all. A 4-year-old can wash a floor, and a 6-year-old can vacuum and clean bathrooms. Together, they can clean up after every meal. Lucky you!

See, I told you. You could have figured that all out by yourself.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at on the World Wide Web.
If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.

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