In many ways, deciding whether to have another child is even harder than deciding on having the first one. It’s a lot more complex than asking “Do we want more children and do we have enough money? Okay, go!” Adding another child is almost like creating a whole new family again. Here are some things you should consider as you ponder this difficult choice.
To be fair, many people don’t struggle with this. They know how many kids they want or they just go with the flow and have as many kids as they’re going to have. That’s great for them. This, though, is for the vast rest of us: The parents who are on the fence about having another child or who may be facing the prospect of calling it quits forever on having any more kids at all. (When that biological clock is ticking, deciding not to have another child can feel like slamming a door shut.) So let’s tackle this internal tug of war.
Consider Your Current Family Dynamic
If you’re anything like me, your first child turned your life upside down. It took a couple of years before I got the hang of parenthood and my family became this other, new and improved cohesive unit of three. After finally figuring out each other’s quirks, we’re insider-y in a way all of the best families are. To consider bringing an outsider—albeit a newborn—into this is a very big decision.
Each additional pregnancy and child will challenge the relationships and the routines you’ve already established. The question is: what are you ready for and what is your family ready for? You have to consider both your kids’ personalities and your own.
One of my friends said he felt like he “won the baby lottery” when his son turned out to be a naturally well-adjusted, happy boy, and having another would be like tempting fate, so he was afraid to even consider it. But I think in his case, this was a good argument for considering another kid (if he wanted one)—he already had the parenting practice and was ahead of the game with an easy-going baby.
On the flip side, if you have a child that demands a lot of your attention, adding another could cause more stress that you have to consider—stress that affects not just you as a parent and an individual, but your relationship with your partner and your other children.
The truth is, adding another child is going to be stressful and more work, period. Everyone I’ve talked to who’s had more than one child has confirmed that having two children is much more than double the work.
But more children can definitely enhance your family as well. It’s double (or triple, etc.) the giggles and experiences and surprises, and, hopefully, love.
Rookie Moms offers this exercise to make a realistic decision about adding on another “baby”:
I would also think about what each unit of five years might look like with or without another child – the under 5 years, elementary school, high school, college – because it’s easy to focus on having another “baby” and forget that you’re signing on for another person in your family.
Another good tactic is to have playdates or overnight visits with kids younger than your own. How long before the kids turn into unrecognizable tyrants? How long before you go batty? The more you and the other individuals in your family can tolerate noisy and unpredictable situations, the better you’ll probably be able to handle more children.
Take Into Account How Many Children You Have Now
The number of children you have now may play a big part in your decision too. I live in a neighborhood with mostly families with multiple children, so I often get asked questions like “Is she your only?” and “Are you planning on having other children?” at the playground. I know they don’t mean to be rude, but there’s an expectation there—as if one is not enough and I am not producing enough (or I need a backup child).
As someone who grew up with two siblings and wouldn’t be the same without having them in my life, I do worry about raising an “only” (even though she is adamant about not wanting to share me with a sibling). I worry about her being lonely when she’s older, about being a burden for her when I’m old, and, as Tracy Moore says on Jezebel, about even making this sort of decision that influences her so much. Despite my worries and the stereotypes of the lonely only child, though, research suggests only children are as healthy and happy as anyone else and there are benefits to being an only child. (There are advantages to having an only child as well, such as not having to hear kids squabbling and having more money.)
According to Gallup polls, most people say the ideal number of kids is two and according to the Census, most parents have two kids. In today’s economy and with the cost of childcare so high, two might be the affordable family limit. Your children’s relationship will add a whole new dimension to your family and you will likely love your second child as fiercely as you do your first. Although in the first two years your happiness and finances will be strained with two kids (especially for the mom, according to research from the General Social Survey), in the long run, you might appreciate the second go-round more. Carla Wiking says on Mom.me:
With your second baby, you are so much more relaxed. You didn’t kill the first one, and you have a pretty decent grasp on what to expect. After witnessing your first child grow and thrive because of (and in spite of) you, it is easier to enjoy each stage of babyhood without worrying over every little thing. And you are much more prone to really soak up each stage because you know, with an ache in your heart, just how quickly they pass.
Hopefully they will be the best of friends growing up, but because you can’t guarantee that, experts suggest you don’t have a second child solely for the sake of giving your first one a sibling.
If you’re considering having more children, a Today.com survey suggests three children is the tipping point for the most stressful number of kids to have. Going from one to two is more manageable than going from two to three. This makes sense, considering we only have two hands and now you and your partner are outnumbered by the kids. Now there’s a middle child and fun fights to break up like “two against one.” (I’m not sure of the math for adding additional children. There must be a peak children-to-parental energy formula out there, but I couldn’t find it via Google. It seems like once you get to four or five kids, the older kids start watching the younger ones—or you’ve become a multi-tasking parenting pro by then that it’s just like having a couple of kids.)
The right number of kids is also a matter of perspective: Kidspot points out that research shows parents are happiest with just one child, but Bryan Caplan, author of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, says “once you’re 60, you are more likely to prefer 10 sons and daughters to keep you company and keep the grandkids coming.”
Think About the Timing and Mom’s Health
Pregnancy and childbirth are naturally stressful for the mom, even when everything goes smoothly. If you had previous complications during pregnancy or childbirth or you’re older than 35, you might have more doubts about having another child. Although there might be more risks with having a baby in these cases, those are just things to discuss with your doctor. Many women in those cases go on to have healthy kids. It’s still a consideration and I know several moms who swore off having additional children because of medical reasons or difficulties with previous pregnancies. Sometimes just trying to get pregnant takes its emotional toll.
Also, for a lot of moms, it takes about two years or so to feel like themselves again, physically and in all other respects. After enough time, many women might simply want their bodies back and not go through that childbearing and early childrearing again. (For the record, let’s just all agree here that it’s not “selfish” for moms to base part of their decision on this.) Some people decide to have children close together for this reason, consolidating the diaper-changing and nap-timing years and “getting it over with,” but that takes more hands-on work than having kids farther apart in age.
Babycenter has some research on the best time to have another baby. In terms of the family relationship: when your first is under 1 year old or over 4 years old. But in terms of the health of the baby: two or three years before you get pregnant again.
Remember Your Financial Situation
Finally, money’s not the only consideration, but it is one of the biggest ones. As a parent, you already know how expensive having kids are (but just to remind you: it can cost more than $ 10,000 a year to feed, clothe, shelter, and otherwise raise a healthy child). Some expenses are lessened with a second or additional child because you already have baby gear and the like, but others—especially daycare—are huge expenses that you’ll have to plan for. It’s another child to save for college for, at a time when you’re also trying to save for your retirement and possibly care for your own aging parents. According to USDA estimates, two-parent households with one child spend about 27 percent of their income on the child, while two-parent households with two children spend 41 percent of their income on the children.
An additional child might also have a greater impact on your career if it’s harder to keep up with full-time work when the second or third child comes along. Would you be able to go part-time or one parent quit for a few years if needed? If you’ve gotten out of the workforce temporarily to raise your children, how much will delaying your career further cost?
It’s a lot to consider. Like having the first child, there will always be doubts and “what ifs” to trip you up. Try imagining how you would feel if you found out you were pregnant today or consider meditating to figure out this decision. In the end, the idea of “complete” is different for every parent and every family, so after all the deliberation, you’ll have to make this very personal decision from your heart.