Friday, January 24, 2014

How many kids to have

One of the main questions I always want to ask anyone with kids, or who has been married for a while without kids, is "How do you decide how many kids to have?" Almost always I resist because I realize that this is a really sensitive topic for many people. There can be a lot of disappointment and heartache associated with not having the number of kids one would like to have (sometimes too many seems even more tragic for some people than too few).

I can't think of any more complex moral question than whether or not one should bring another fully human little person into the world. We, as a society almost always place the highest value on a person's individual identity and personal experience of being alive. And every time we have a baby, WE MAKE A WHOLE 'NOTHER PERSON! That just blows my mind. Every time I am able to see my children clearly enough to realize that they are an actual person and not a bottomless pit of terror, I stop in amazement. Just kidding on the bottomless pit of terror part (mostly)... I don't often see them this way. But I do think of them much more in terms of how they affect my life than in terms of them being fully human individuals in their own right.

It seems that almost always, the full implications of having a child is just too big for anyone to fathom, and so we default to some very simple decision-making processes in order to help us make the decision. "I had my kids close so they could be playmates" "I kept going because I really wanted a girl" "I wanted to wait until I was done with school before having kids." These are all, of course, very legitimate reasons for making a decision on whether to have kids. I want to be very clear that I am not judging anyone for when they decide to have kids. I've gone so wildly back and forth on the decision, or at least my 50% part in the decision, and use such simplistic reasons for trying to convince myself that I have reached a conclusion, that I don't often find myself trying to make a moral judgement on someone else's decision (although I have to admit that I sometimes do and then feel bad for it). Mainly I am just really fascinated by how people make really complex moral decisions and how often the reasoning becomes remarkably basic or utilitarian.

Is anyone else fascinated by this? Anyone willing to share how they make their decision? I promise to very actively not judge anyone for any reasoning at all. 

29 comments:

  1. Deciding to have kids is SO hard. And I feel like it gets harder with each kid. Aaron and I are both from families with 3 kids so that was just sort of the logical number for both of us. But then we got to 2 and kind of...stalled. Kids are hard. And expensive. I don't have any great insight but I think most people have a vague idea of how much they can handle and that is a big factor in family planning.

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    1. Totally true. "How many can we handle" seems to be a really common consideration. But what does that say about our steadily shrinking family sizes as a society (both in and out of Mormonism). Probably something to do with parenting styles and what we expect out of ourselves as parents, plus more dual-income homes. Fascinating.

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    2. Also general expectations of parents. We're expected to helicopter our kids through childhood and adolescence. I think in the past there was more of a "live and let live" attitude when it came to parenting. You could have more kids because less was expected of you as far as supervision and whatnot.

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  2. You know, coming from a family with 10 kids, I always thought I wanted a "big" family. I quantified that around 6ish kids. After having a really hard pregnancy and getting PPD after my first, I was sure I would never EVER have another child. After a time, I began having very strong spiritual promptings that I needed to have another, which I eventually came around to after a lot of tears and yelling at God. And now we're on our third, so...

    The answer to your question: How do I decide how many to have? I just wait for God to tell me it's time.

    Being a mom is hard, and I don't think I'm very good at, so if I didn't have faith that spiritual promptings are real and following them brings the most happiness, I probably wouldn't have had any after Rachel.

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    1. Thanks for sharing Anna. I think one of the hardest things about losing my testimony has been not having this kind of trust anymore in a spiritual prompting to guide child-having decisions, but I totally respect this as a source of decision making guidance.

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    2. Yea, I have been thinking more about this post. (Sorry if my thoughts were random and sporatic (and not really answering your question)- that's how my brain works.

      Honestly, I married young. Way to young. Way to immature. I don't regret the person I married, I regret the timing (does that make sense?) I think we were both caught up in the BYU/Provo Utah marriage bandwagon, and we jump on, head first. Looking back, I would have been happy to date Devin a little longer to get to know him better, but it's ok. So I told myself that after we got married, I wanted to spend time getting to know my husband. I think bringing a baby into the world shortly after marriage would have taken away our time as a couple, still getting to know each other. I'm glad that I had five years to get to know my husband. I mean we still are getting to know each other, but I think that time was much needed for our relationship with one another to grow. So I am glad I personally waited because, having said being you and immature when I married, I don't think I would have been as a good of a mom as I think I am know, say if we had Emma four years ago. Plus I was still working on a undergrad degree and I don't think I could have handle both. I am much more mature now, ha kinda, and feel like I have a better grasp at life and am more grounded. So I am happy I waited, because in doing so, I feel like I am a better wife and mom because of it.

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    3. But that is just speaking personally on behalf on just my relationship. Not a generalized, "I think this is how it should be for everyone" kinda statement!!!

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    4. But for me I think it's hard to put an exact number to such a deep, personally, and ever life changing question that I probably ask myself way to much. I'm just going to roll with life and take it one step at a time. I know that I would like to have at least one other child, and I always liked to idea of them being pretty close so they could be play mates (thats how it was for my older sister and I, and I loved it) so I think the hard part for me will be deciding what to do next after number two. But it seems like a lot of people's decisions come from personal experiences in the enviornment they've grown up in. I know of some who came from big families and hated it, so they vowed to not have a big family themselves, and for others the exact opposite. And for me, having a older sister close to me, I think has helped aid in my decision of favoring the idea of having two kids close in age. I don't know. Just more random thoughts for ya! ok I'm done, I promise!

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  3. An excuse for navel-gazing. Yay! We were actually just talking about this with our kids (ages six and eight) at dinner last night. My daughter asked why both sets of grandparents have six or seven kids, and we only have two (my parents have five, and Tony's have six, but I guess it seems like more to her). We had a nice little discussion with her about all of the things that go into deciding how many children to have. I didn't share the following with her, but this was our thought process:

    Tony and I originally planned to have about as many children as our parents, but life didn't work out that way. In 2008, just as we were contemplating getting pregnant with a third (I actually fantasized about having twins), the economic downturn caused our business to collapse, leaving us with a trail of financial, marital, and health problems.

    And a few years later, we both went through a faith transition and began questioning some of the religious beliefs we'd previously held, such as the belief that God would be disappointed with us if we didn't have as many children as possible. We've emerged from most of our serious challenges, and life is great now. But meanwhile we've had our two children for quite a while, and we've discovered that we actually love the dynamic of our four-person family. Both my husband and I are able to spend regular one-on-one time with each of our children, as well as each other, something that was in short supply in both of our houses growing up. We've also both done stints as the primary caregiver, and neither of us is particularly keen on adding a new baby now that we've been out of the diapers stage for several years.

    Almost without our noticing it, we somehow moved from the baby/toddler stage to the having-rational-conversations-at-the-dinner-table stage, and we don't necessarily want to go back now. Maybe we just don't want to be outnumbered by kids. Anyway, I guess the main reason is that we love our family the way it is, and have no desire to add to it further.

    In addition, speaking as the woman in the relationship, I had uncomplicated pregnancies and two lovely home waterbirths without complications, but pregnancy and childbirth were still a huge physical and emotional drain for me, and I cannot even begin to think about psyching myself up to do it again. I fully enjoyed pregnancy/birth/nursing/babywearing, and I even miss it sometimes, but I have zero desire to do it again. My husband feels the same about newborn sleep deprivation/diapers/toddler supervision, etc.

    That said, we are both open to potentially adopting/fostering older children at some point, both because we are done with the baby stage, and because we are aware that older children have a much harder time being placed.

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    1. Yeah, I think that is something that happens fairly often, that once the pattern of having a kid pretty regularly is broken, it becomes pretty difficult to get back in the pattern.

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  4. A friend on facebook liked your post or something, so I'm a random person you don't know dropping by. This very question was so difficult for me for many years, so I'm happy to expound on my decision.

    My husband and I have two kids. His family had 6 while he was growing up (7 now) and mine had 3. I became slightly more open to the idea of more than three during college seeing roommates who truly loved having grown up in large families. When we married I thought I could maybe handle 5. Severe PPD after the first that went undiagnosed, followed by a faith crisis for myself and then my husband, contributed to a pause in having kids. It took me about three years before I could look at a baby without feeling disgust and almost another year before I actually felt jealous of a pregnant friend and then we decided we could try for another one. Our two kids are 5 years apart. The difference between post-partum experiences with them was night and day. But, despite how well things went the second time, we're done.

    My husband and I are quite honest with each other (and sometimes with family) about the fact that we're selfish. We have things we want to do with our lives - things that are impeded by many children. We strongly feel that we would go from pretty decent parents, though neither of us is naturally gifted at it, to not-so-great parents if we had a third because we'd start to feel resentment for what the kids were keeping us from. It's in everyone's best interest that we have no more kids.

    We're no longer religious, so we don't have any religious angst about our choice, which we were more likely to have if we were still Mormon. I'm incredibly excited to be an empty-nester at 46. And then you look around and see other advantages. We live in Seattle, which is expensive, renting a 2-bedroom house. Our kids (same sex) will always be able to share a room so we can stay in a small house forever. I prefer driving small cars, which is possible to stick to with just 2 kids. I'm able to go back to school for a new career now, which I feel would be even more difficult if we had more kids. We're able to give them more attention and will be slightly more likely to be able to help at least a little bit with education costs down the road. Things like that weren't driving factors in our decision, but for us they certainly sweeten the choice after the fact!

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    1. Welcome to the blog. I think the idea of still being young when the kids are gone is a big thing for us too. But our plan B is to have another set of kids when these ones are gone, so that would ruin that plan.

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  5. Devin and I's numbers have defiantly fluctuated over these past five plus years. 8, 5, 6 (after Emma's birth), 4. But even now it's hard to really know for sure, so I kinda just roll with what life has given me thus far and take it one step at a time. I am in no rush. I have plenty (well hopefully) fertile years ahead of me. I'm enjoying the one on one time I get to spend with Emma almost every day. And my pregnancy and mostly the delivery and recovery was pretty textbook. The recovery was harder than what I was anticipating, but I healed in due time.

    I just wish society at times wasn't so, I don't know, telling others how to live their life? And if for some reason you choose other wise you are making the wrong choice? Not sure where I am going with this.

    I just remember after what seemed like barley two years of marriage, and at a very tender age of 22, I was being asked in all sincerity, so when are you going to have kids? Even my parents, who were much older when they married and had kids, started asking us. I remember my brother-in-law joking made a comment to me along the lines of "so you know your eggs are only good for so long...", hinting that at only 23, you better start getting on the baby wagon or else you'll miss out? Please, my former boss just delivered healthy twin boys at age 41. At first, I would stop and actually let myself believe for one minute, that maybe they are on to something, maybe they have a point.

    But nope. I really don't care what other people think, about anything really. I used to, but I've come to realize that life is so much more enjoyable when you're not wound up in obsessing over what others think, and am I doing it (whatever that may be) right?

    There is no right way to do something. Just do something, and be happy with it! And don't let others tell you otherwise.

    So going back to the number of kids topic. Honestly, I have no idea. And I'm okay with that. But what I can say is, that I had Emma at almost 25 years old, for me. Not to please anyone else. I'm personally glad we had Emma the time that we did, and I'm sure Devin would say something similar along those lines.

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    1. Yeah, I think the times we hung out with you after marriage, but pre-baby, the pressure that was put on you guys to have kids was almost palpable. Not to comment on anyone else's decision, but I'm proud of you guys for waiting.

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  6. Oh geez, just the hardest decision ever, Tim. No big deal. I really don't know how people make this decision. I don't even know I make it. With Felicity, I just felt I was ready to become a mother. When to have the second has been a major source of anxiety, but I always knew I wouldn't prefer for Felicity to be an only child. Lately I've noticed that the families I look at and admire and envy the most are slightly larger in size, and I'm not really sure what the source of those feelings is. I haven't been able to pinpoint it yet.

    I just worry a lot about having regrets. And maybe it's the Mormon in me (it assuredly is. maybe), but I always associate the greatest regret with feeling like I didn't have enough kids; that someone is missing--as opposed to the other way around. So maybe this means I'll have a big Mormon family some day; more likely it means I'll have kids until I feel I've reached my absolute limit, and that could come soon with how awful my pregnancies are and how high-strung a parent I tend to be. I JUST DON'T KNOW.

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    1. jen's comment sums up exactly how i feel. in so many ways. one thing we have thought of is living around and having close relationships with other families with kids so our kids can have a siblingish relationship with them. lately our kids have been so into babies, they love babies! and my mormon guilt has been reborn anew after i thought i had routed it all out. jon has none of these feelings and thinks two is perfect. he would get a vasectomy tomorrow.

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    2. The really tough things about making decisions about having kids is that it is one of those decisions where a non-decision has the same amount of consequence as actively making a decision. There are lots of decisions like this, but having kids seem to be an especially poignant example of it.

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    3. Tim and Jon can go get a vasectomy together! And we can have like a spa day or something.

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    4. Wait, we have to clipped and YOU get the spa day? I don't think so.

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    5. Tim I am pretty sure that when you have kids surgery almost equals a spa day.

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  7. Wait people plan when and how many kids they are going to have? Dr J and I always hypothetically plan to have children eventually, just not at the moment but in a lust induced moment we loose our minds and nine months later we have a baby. Weirdly enough our kids are all 2 1/2 years apart. After cheetah was born we sort of felt like maybe it was time to be done, but like clock work we found ourselves due with number five due the same week as #1 and #3. We were a little surprised but decided that would be it for us. We'd do something permanent after that. Then we lost the babe. It is hard to know what to do now. We both grew up the oldest of large families and we like the noise and bustle of a full house. Plus we figured we could afford it. Pregnancy is so uncomfortable but there are some awesome bits. (Tmi I know) but we have great sex when I'm prego. I like the feeling of growing a baby, wondering who they will be. Childbirth at least before the c-section was amazing. Nursing is sort of up and down for me but I love not having a period for two years. Baby smell is delicious and the kids are just so fun to watch growing, but you can't have kids forever right? Now we are kind of unsure of what to do. Stick with four? Have one more? Only time will tell. I agree it is hard to know how many to have and when to do it and then sometimes bodies won't cooperate.

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    1. This sounds strangely familiar -- "hypothetically plan to have children eventually, just not at the moment but in a lust induced moment we loose our minds and nine months later we have a baby" -- that is pretty much what happens to us too. And our kids are 2.5 years apart.

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  8. In addition to what I said on Facebook, I promised myself before I had children that I would not let myself talk myself out of having 4 children b/c I had heard far to often people get to two and say... this is too hard we are done... It was a naive promise... one made before I had actually been through it... but I'm stubborn and competitive with myself so I'll probably still push through to at least 4 b/c I have it in my head that way. BUT that being said... Norah's birth was pretty traumatic, I ended up in an emergency C-Section under general anesthesia after a grueling 22 hours with no epidural. I had no spiritual feelings I can recall after her birth b/c I was so "doped up". I knew I would have another kid just b/c of my sheer determination but there was no spiritual moment telling me so. Then I had Lucy, it was smooth, I had an epidural (such a beautiful thing), and after she was born I had a very special moment where I felt so strongly that I couldn't ignore it that that would not be my last time in a delivery room holding a new baby. It was pretty remarkable and yes 2 kids has been quite a challenge and having a 3rd right now seems nuts but I know I need to... and I want to. So, I guess I feel lucky I had that moment. I'm glad I'm not just going off my naive promise to myself before I had kids. I've realized now that yes a big family is important to me (4 is big now days right?)... having the kids I'm supposed to have is more important, so I think I'll work on building my family from that angle. So there you have it, that is how I decide now... and like I said on fb I'm kind of addicted to the idea of making humans... it blows my mind that I can do that and I'm glad I have a husband who brings me back to earth and reminds me that its not just about making a humans, you have to then raise it as well... haha.

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  9. Funny you should ask this question. Lately we've been telling our engagement story and it goes like this:

    I'm from a big family (6) and I love kids. I've always wanted a big family but never really had any preconceived notions of that would entail except that it be more than one kid. I figured we'd get married and I'd let God/nature decide just how many and when.

    My (then soon to be) husband has always wanted kids but not too many and my idea of letting God decide terrified him. So we discussed many things as we contemplated marriage and one day when we were walking by a stream, he broached the subject of kids. We're both great negotiators and soon we had pinned down the terms. We could have a max of 7 kids (because I wanted to beat my mom) but we would wait at least 1 year to start (so that he could be mostly through school). So my husband said, "Ok. So you're cool with that? We're set on no more than 7 and we wait a year?" I said, "yes". And then he knelt down and proposed!

    So that's the story of our proposal and how we decided on how many kids to have.

    I'm a very 'go with your gut' kind of person, so we didn't start trying until 2 years later when it felt right. But after having the baby, I know we will have at least 1 more because it's very important to both of us that he not be an only child but... adoption is sounding really nice...

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  10. We need to have another one so I do not have to talk about our kids in the dual during Arabic class. I actively avoid the topic, but my professor loves to hear about them. You would think I have mastered the dual conjugations... I haven't and will never.

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    1. Best reason for having another kid ever.

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  11. Being an only child, I have always been set on having a big family, and I still am. I've always liked the number five. Almost two years after the first, however, I have little desire to go through pregnancy and childbirth again, even though I cried after he was born because I missed being pregnant so much. I definitely rely on spiritual impressions on this matter, and so we're kind of just taking it from there.

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