I was speaking to a mom who has 3 children and I flippantly said that it doesn’t make a difference after 3 kids – adding one more is pretty much the same.
This is a half-truth. When they were little, I thought that a more efficient system of organization, after Chris and I were outnumbered, would help buffer the work of having an additional child. It did for awhile.
Then they grew up and started having more complex interactions with each other. Then the reality hit: the demand on attention does not increase linearly. It is exponential.
I realized the science behind this when I was teaching my block on Complex Adaptive Systems. We talked about networking and more specifically, the Dunbar number.
Have you ever wondered how a dinner party for eight people is so much more complex than a dinner party for four people? Or how at some point, you just can’t talk to one more person – it’s like you are at some abstract maximum?
Well it’s not abstract. Our brains are primed for one approximate number of human relationships: 150.
With one child and two parents, there are three interactions. But with an additional child, two children, you now have six interactions. With a family of five people, there are ten interactions.
WIth our family of seven, the interactions jump to 21!
I finally understood why my head was spinning simply managing communication between members.
(For the math nerds: n x (n-1) /2 = Number of Interactions)
People often remark on my limitless energy. I am rarely exhausted or overwhelmed. My day is full to the brim with teaching, connecting, corresponding, writing, planning, plus the full-time act of parenting and being a partner.
My secret: I adhere to my Dunbar number.
As I shrunk the amount of relationships and interactions in my life, my energy increased. I even stopped messaging my mom for awhile when I had to meet many new families to talk about our learning center.
This year helped me learn how to be intentional with every encounter. I don’t take my energy for granted anymore with my added responsibilities and of course, continuing to manage the 21 different types of interactions between the members of our family of 7.