n-1 is easy

As a father of six, I feel qualified in saying that however many kids you have, that number is hard. Take one away, and life is so much easier.


We were at a friend’s house recently for games, and the topic of kids came up. They said they wanted to learn from us how to handle their four children. Their youngest is a year and a half now, and life feels overwhelming at times. They thought we would have some answers since we have been through the phase of having four children.

This is a situation we have encountered many times over the years. People seem to assume that because we have so many children and are still alive, we must be experts on how to parent perfectly. They seem incredulous when we sympathize with them, as if we are patronizing them with their paltry number of children. The truth is that we have found reality to be exactly what we tell them. No matter how many children you have, that number is hard to the point of being overwhelming. If even one child is removed from the situation, whether at a friend’s house, or staying with relatives, everything feels much easier to manage. Put another way, n number of children is hard; n-1 is easy.

Because we have so many children, this results in us saying things to each other like, “What do people do with only four children? This is so easy!” We try to be careful to only say this between ourselves, so that we don’t offend people who are barely getting by with their four children. In reality, we are not more any more accomplished than they—we are just conditioned to a harsher reality.

The human body, including our mind, has an amazing ability to adapt. We see this when we are working outside on a snowy day and find ourselves sweating despite freezing temperatures. Whatever we routinely do becomes our new normal.

We have to be so careful of comparing our situation to someone else’s. We have a societal obsession with comparison that almost always results in a sense of defeat and despair. We never live up to what we see in someone else, especially when we compare our unedited life with their highlight reel.

The most important lesson I have learned from these n-1 moments is that what is hard for me is always different from what is hard for someone else. I need to exercise compassion, both for other people as well as for myself.