As Big has gotten older I've realized how poorly we parented Eight.
It's a steep learning curve and your first gets the worst of it.
In that sense, I can certainly see how having three or four becomes easier at the same time that it gets more complicated.
In a recent Slate article, Alan Kazdin discusses how parents expect way too much from their kids. If this is true generally, it is tripl-y true for our firsts.
A reliable body of research shows that we expect our children to do things they're not yet able to do and that we judge and punish them according to that expectation.
Overly simple age-targeting is one main culprit. We all know that children develop differently, but it's natural to underestimate the astonishing variability among and within individuals. A child may be the first in her class to ride a two-wheeler but the last to learn to read; she may also grasp addition and subtraction well ahead of others but lag behind in achieving the self-control to short-circuit a tantrum. We also tend to parent subjectively, setting the behavior bar with a too-small sample group drawn from personal experience: our own first child, a neighbor's child, or our own unreliable childhood memories of how our parents raised us.
I think this is true, and in particular, with your first, I think you just have no idea what kids are all about. You expect too much, you haven't given in yet to parenthood (read: you still think you can maintain some semblance of your non-kid life) and you think that whatever situation you're in NOW will last forever, so you put too much weight on EVERYTHING. If she has some cocoa today, will she be sugar addicted for the rest of her life? If I let her watch a half-hour of television, will she be lazy and never finish the seven Harry Potter books?
For me, with Big I've learned to let some things go. Maybe its because he came with a whole new set of challenges that makes Eight, in retrospect, seem like a relatively easy three-year-old.
I always wonder how my aunt (Cousin's mom) raised seven and retained her sanity. I suspect that part of her trick was that she realized that Cousin (the seventh of seven) would grow up, inevitably, with or without cajoling or incessant hovering.
I wouldn't put down my aunt's oldest in any way, but maybe that's why Cousin turned out so great.