Do you think there is a perfect number of kids? How many kids should you have? Is there some perfect number? (You can take a quiz at Scary Mommy to find the “answer.”) Here is my take on this question.
I grew up with one sibling, a brother named Geoff who is almost six years younger. Now we have a lot of fun, but back then, I had to adjust from being the first-born only child to sharing. Let’s just say I wasn’t the nicest. A four letter word might be in order: BRAT.
My husband, Rob, grew up as one of seven—let me repeat, SEVEN—children. He was number five, and the baby of the family for a while. David came along seven years later, and then Daniel a few after that. I think that if one word could describe the younger years in Rob’s household, it might be CHAOS.
Suffice to say that we have different backgrounds. Slightly.
I went through my crisis of wondering if I even wanted kids. Good thing I figured this out before we began dating, as he pretty much told me straight up he wanted like ten kids. I didn’t sign on for ten, but I knew that I wanted more than two. Dinner with his family now is still chaos, but I’m learning about the beauty and joy there.
As you may have noticed, people seem to disregard all boundaries of appropriateness and politeness when it comes to pregnancy, children, and anything related to either. I’ve had women tell me about their eggs upon first meeting, been subjected to advice in parking lots and checkout lines, and been insulted more times than I can count. (Ex: “You’re huge! Your doctor must have made a mistake. You’re definitely too big to be having only one baby.”)
One question in particular that people feel passionately about sharing: how many kids should you have?
Whether that number is the even pair (boy and girl, preferably) or a full quiver (however many you could possibly have), you will hear about this from family, friends, and perfect strangers. Because it’s CLEARLY the business of other people to decide on the perfect number for your family.
I have heard so many judgments in person and read just as many online in the great offspring debate. Here are a few things that I have heard, usually lobbed at those who have more than two kids:
But she’s so tired all the time–she wants MORE kids?
HOW many kids does she have already?
Let me again point out that I’m not talking about my own experiences with people giving me a hard time. (Trust me, I’m not thinking of any of YOU.) But even if I haven’t heard these comments directed at me, they dig a little bit. Because I am sitting here, one often-tired mom with four kids and a pretty tight budget.
Here are a few thoughts I want to lob back about family size and choice. Lob is a bad word; consider this more a nice, easy shot down the middle of the court. A friendly shot that you can return just as easily, I hope, in the comments.
Though it is logical to look at your finances when planning your family, children can’t be reduced to a dollar sign.
People talk about the cost of raising a child from 0-18. It is a pretty wicked number. (Read this article for an interesting take.) While there is the ridiculous cost of actually having a baby (we have paid essentially for six births since I had two home-birth-transfers-to-hospital), Rob and I have found that it doesn’t have to make a huge dent in your bottom line. We used cloth diapers, accepted hand-me-downs, and researched to find the most affordable preschool program. The preschool, even, is a luxury that we could do without if we had to. Sports have not been on the radar much because of the high cost, and they are definitely more on the back burner. Strip things down, and those early years don’t have to be crazy expensive. You can make choices and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses, whoever they actually are.
I know down the line our food bills will explode and we have college to think about. If it sounds naive to say that we will worry about that when we get there, we are doing what we can to prepare and be wise. But no matter what the financial bottom line is, children are more than a bottom line. Much more. Scroll back up and look at the photo. Do you see dollar signs? Nope. I see family, joy, life, and wonderful chaos.
You can’t estimate the cost, emotionally, fiscally, or otherwise, on your life. The truth is that kids will cost probably more than you could ever estimate. They will take more from you than you think you ever have to give. You might be worn down and broke and emotionally spent. But they are worth every penny and every heartache.
I can say that after seven years of parenting. I can say that without knowing what tragedies might lie ahead, or in what ways my boys and girls might break my heart. I can say that if I end up wearing the same three shirts for the next twenty years because I can’t afford new ones.
Yes, it is a good idea to think and plan ahead, to consider the costs. It is also good to remember that children are people, not simply a line on an itemized budget. Before criticizing someone for expanding their family (no matter what the financial situation is), consider that framing children in those terms is too narrow a view.
In the same way, being stressed out by the kids you have does NOT mean you should be done having kids.
Having one kid is stressful. Having four is stressful. There are only brief periods of time where having a child or children of ANY number does NOT push you to an uncomfortable point. I know that I have been taken way past the point of what I thought I could bear—and I made it through! I found strength I didn’t know I had, was forced to rely on God in new and wonderful ways, and lived to tell the tale. Or, at least, blog about it.
I’ve known moms who seem like they are barely hanging on, yet they light with joy talking about becoming pregnant. Children are exhausting and yet there is such joy in the process and the relationship. This joy transcends and runs underneath the struggles. That doesn’t mean parents won’t struggle, often very hard, but I think that each family is capable to figure out the balance of how much is too much. Or, rather, how many is enough. As an outsider, you probably can’t judge that. You can’t estimate the cost (or the benefit) of children on the heart.
On the other hand, parents: if you are getting a lot of comments about this, maybe it’s time to do a little self-evaluation and see if you are complaining too much. Maybe you need to remember the joy and start focusing on that rather than the hardship. Maybe you need to temper your words with some thanksgiving, or even take some daily time to give thanks, a la Ann Voskamp. If people think you are too stressed to have more kids, that might be their preconceived notions, or it might be because you only talk about the hard stuff. Think about that.
SUPER IMPORTANT NOTE: I want to be clear that there is a real difference between the mom who is worn down and the mom who is struggling with something like postpartum (or other) depression. There are some really sad cases where women have continued having children when they were clearly not in a good place. Often in hindsight, friends and family will come forward and say that they knew something was wrong. This is an exception to my words about parenting being exhausting, and I would like to say to friends and family–if you suspect a real issue, do something. Don’t wait. If you find yourself struggling, maybe get a friend or counselor to help you figure out if you are experiencing the normal challenges of parenting or something above and beyond where you might nee more help.
Maybe we should all stop thinking that we have the right to jump into people’s lives when it comes to making, having, and raising babies.
I’m not sure why this arena is one where the boundaries between private and public get lost. I’d like to think that it all stems from people caring and being interested and to the connectedness that we feel in a universal sense to one another.
But maybe that’s being generous. Maybe people like to be nosy and judgmental, and with kids they feel they have the right to be both.
Whatever the reason, let’s all take a step back. When you see a pregnant woman at the bank, think about whether or not it’s appropriate for you to rub her belly or ask about her birth choices. When you see a mom feeding her child with a bottle, think about whether or not it’s your business why she is or isn’t breastfeeding. When you see a mom practically in tears with her four kids in the grocery store, think about offering a kind word or a hand rather than clucking your tongue or wondering (or commenting on) why she had so many kids in the first place. Tell her she is doing a great job.
Birth and child-raising is so personal. It is also communal and does sometimes take a village. That does NOT mean that we all have the right to pass judgment on choices other families make. Especially if we are giving opinionated and unsolicited advice.
I’ve seen moms who couldn’t breastfeed cut to the heart when someone offers stats on the benefits of breastfeeding.
I know moms who are utterly exhausted with the children they have, yet are still broken-hearted after suffering a miscarriage.
I have friends who aren’t sure if they will have kids and no, they don’t want to talk about it or have you give them pamphlets on adoption.
Have you been on the side of receiving such advice? Do you think it is okay for us to weigh in on this for other people? You can share your opinionated thoughts here—because I’m asking for it.