Like any mother of multiple kids, I can tell you that going from one child to two, then from two to three or more, requires constant adjustment and learning. Some days are wonderful and fun, while others are chaotic and messy. To further complicate things, having three kids in different age groups pose unique challenges to parents.

There are many reasons why parents decide to wait before having their next child. For me, the reason was deeply personal. My first and second daughter are 20 months apart. This meant I was breastfeeding, then pregnant, then breastfeeding again without a break.

Raising two babies under 2 took a mental, emotional, and physical toll on my body. I came down with postpartum depression (PPD) when my second daughter was only 1 month old. It was the most isolating, confusing, and traumatizing period of my life. It dampened my confidence as a mother.

Therefore, despite my childhood dream of wanting three kids, I took a step back and reevaluated my life and priorities. I knew I needed some time to recoup, find my passion outside of motherhood, and reclaim my equilibrium before even considering a third child.

I needed that time not only for the sake of my family, but for my own internal happiness.

Fast-forward many years. I’m now a mom of three kids, ages 12, 10, and 16 months old. Frankly, I was a little nervous about having another child almost a decade later and starting all over. I finally discovered that balance I was seeking. How will I nurture another child? And because I had PPD after a previous birth, I’m more susceptible to having it with future pregnancies. What if it happens again?

Many uncertainties and questions hovered in my mind, but I remained positive and tried to figure things out day by day. Today, I’m happy to share that third-time motherhood has been an absolute blessing. My youngest baby brings so much joy, fulfillment, and balance to my family.

I want to share with you some of the secrets I’ve discovered to raising multiple kids in different age groups. Each child and stage are different, of course, but what follows are general tips that may help you on your journey of motherhood:

1. Be flexible and know it won’t be perfect

Parenting can feel more like survival than growth at times. Babies and kids are highly unpredictable by nature. It’s important to always remember that being flexible is essential, especially as a family grows. Know that plans will change and can even go wrong, and you may not find yourself to be the parent you envisioned. This is normal and expected. Embrace the chaos and know parenting isn’t meant to be perfect.

2. Educate yourself about different stages

With that said, it’s important to educate yourself regarding the different stages of babies and kids. As a third-time mom, I’m knowledgeable about a baby’s milestones and development, but a newbie when it comes to raising tweens.

What worked with my kids when they were in preschool won’t work when they’re in kindergarten — just like the discipline methods that worked during the elementary years won’t work when the kids reach junior high.

Therefore, it’s important to stay updated on latest research regarding child development and different parenting tools. Know that being a successful parent means always learning, always improving, and always adjusting to new ways.

3. Teach older kids understanding and empathy

When parenting children in different age groups, it’s crucial to teach older kids the value of understanding, patience, and empathy. This means they may have to be involved in activities they don’t find amusing, or learn to keep certain things away from the younger ones. For example, there are times my older kids have to accompany me to baby’s birthday parties or listen to toddler music in the car when they really want to listen to Taylor Swift.

When they express their unhappiness in certain situations, I explain to them that this is what others did for them when they were babies — that raising each child takes work and sacrifice from the entire family. Kids are smarter and more adaptive than we think. If we model understanding, patience, and empathy for our older children, they find it easier to model the same attributes for the younger ones.

4. Set aside one-on-one time

As important as it is to do things together as a family, it’s also important to spend quality one-on-one time with each child. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s so important to fill each child’s love tank so they carry enough love to give back to others.

Whether you’re baking cookies, going to the movies, or attending a playdate, quality one-on-one time reminds them that they’re valuable to the family and loved.

5. Instill core family values

At the end of the day, the most important part of successful parenting is instilling core values to every member of the family. Every child has their own place in the family. It’s crucial to acknowledge and praise their unique role, whether it’s as the oldest, middle, or youngest child.

Every child is special with unique strengths and weaknesses. As long as we respect their differences while acknowledging collective values such as kindness, respect, healthy boundaries, and empathy, managing kids in multiple age groups can become easier.

Parenting isn’t a destination, but a process. Enjoy the journey, be flexible, and remember that perfection is overrated.

Angela is the creator and author of the popular lifestyle blog Mommy Diary. She has an MA and BA in English and visual arts and over 15 years of teaching and writing background. When she found herself as an isolated and depressed mother of two, she sought genuine connection with other moms and turned to blogs. Since then, her personal blog has turned into a popular lifestyle destination where she inspires and influences parents all over the world with her storytelling and creative content. She’s a regular contributor for TODAY Parents and The Huffington Post, and has partnered with numerous national baby, family, and lifestyle brands. She lives in Southern California with her husband, three kids, and is working on her first book.