Thursday, May 21, 2009

How Many is Too Many?

Sometimes it humors me when people ask my opinion about how to decide how many children to have. I have four children. I mean, isn't that kind of like asking a drunk man how he decides when to stop drinking? I guess it must seem like people who didn't stop at two offspring must have some good reason why they kept going and people new to the parenting job want to know those reasons. The question has been thrown my way many times through the years and my answer has changed about as many times as I've visited that hospital delivery room.

When I was in college I still believed in fairy dust. Surely that's how you knew which boyfriend should turn into the lifetime mate. When the engagement question was on the horizon but the fairy dust was nowhere to be found I sought the advice of a friend who was a decade older than I was.

"There's no fairy dust, Judy," she said flatly," there are just good life choices and bad life choices. You have to be compatible, but beyond that you need to weigh the benefits versus the drawbacks and make the best choice you can for yourself and your life goals."

Her words were life changing. They helped me make the right choice for a husband and then the advice slowly oozed over into our decisions about family planning. When the time was right we dove in headfirst, greeting our daughter Meredith one cold day in January. Just after she turned one we went back to the same hospital room and brought her home a brother. As our doctor said, "Matched set. Girl and Boy. The million dollar family."

We took our time, raising them as Irish twins and enjoying every step along the way. Our days were full of Fisher Price and potty chairs and everything seemed very balanced and comfortable. One parent for each toddler when we roamed the zoo trails and no need for a big minivan when their car seats fit well in the back seat of our Mazda.

But both Jeff and I knew we were not done. We both came from families with five children and knew we would have a bigger than average brood ourselves. We had agreed on that before the engagement ring even went on my finger. Sooner or later we had to decide that it was time to start over.

Meredith and Michael were four and five when Isaac joined our family. They were old enough to not feel threatened by his arrival and took to their older sibling roles with ease. We quickly settled into a new routine with one baby in the house who had four people meeting his every need.

By this time we could see that we might not match our parent's bravery. Five kids seemed like a lot. Probably too many for us and the life we imagined for our kids. But in many ways having three didn't feel like quite enough. It was good, comfortable, balanced in its own way. But we had reservations about saying we were completely done.

Isaac had been born with some medical problems that were genetic and put any future children at risk for the same problems, and possibly more dangerous ones. It made the decision even harder. In the weeks and months that we weighed the question, my mind kept coming back to a sweet note I had gotten in the mail when Isaac was a newborn.

An old friend of ours, who had two teen age children, sent a gorgeous baby card and in her congratulatory note had said, "I am so happy for you! I always wished we'd had three but we never got around to it." Her words spoke to me deeply. I didn't want to write a version of that card to a friend someday…"I wish we'd had four, but we never got around to it." It helped me see very clearly that I really did want one more baby. Medical risks or not, I knew in my heart I would always regret not having that 'one more'. I would always feel like one of us was missing.

It took longer than we expected but finally, finally, Samuel joined our family, when Isaac was gearing up for kindergarten. He dodged the medical problems bullet and our grateful little family felt complete.

The decision is different for every woman, for every couple. We have friends who are very happy and content with their one child. We also know many families who chose to have a van full, like we did. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Numbers don't determine their quality, love does. Being wanted and needed and loved is the most a child could ask for.

So when friends ask me, "How do we decide how many kids we should have?" my long answer can go on for hours. But my short answer is simple. No regrets. Look at your life, your dreams and realities, and make the decision that is right for you. But never make a decision that you know will have you looking back, years from now, and saying, "I wish I'd had just one more."


GoddessLibrarian said...

I'm delurking to just say thank you. Whenever I tell people we want 4 I get the looks like I'm crazy and the questions asking me to justify it. As if I need to! I took both kids to WalMart the other day and the clerk at the register asked if they were both mine (no, I stole one?) and then looked at me and said "Oh, and another one!" like I was insane. Sure, it's kind of scary to think of not having enough hands to drag my children around, but at this point I honestly can't imagine us NOT going for that 4th child. Not next June like Lukas would like, but in the next couple of years. ;-) Anyway, thanks.

JewJewBee said...

I think this is a beautiful post... Thank you for putting it out there that some (in fact, many) people put a lot of time and thought into figuring out how many kids they'll have... It's a personal choice... [or a wish, in some cases] But, every family has its own rules, so why wouldn't every family have its own reasons for becoming the family that it is? Geesh! People need to "keep their noses in their own business," as my gramma used to say!

Sarah @ Momalom said...

Thank you so much for pointing us to this post. I think that my sister (with whom I share the blog) is complete with three children, but I often feel that I am not. I feel a missing part. That said, I'm nowhere near ready at this point to go looking for it. And, when the time comes, I may not be after all. I may just be content with my three boys.

Your post is so full and so complete. It leaves no question unanswered in its simple message. And I do so love simplicity.