This is a tricky question. Every family dynamic is different and what works for one may not be the ideal for another. But how do you decide something so big and personal? I don’t know about you, but the amount of children I think I want changes about every other day. I used to think I wanted 5 but after having my second baby recently, I feel like maybe 3 kids would be my limit. So what contributes to a person making such a huge choice?
Here are a few things I think generally factor into the decision for parents:
How much you feel you can handle: Some women are cut out to be perfect, Pinterest-worthy moms and love it. Others, like me, struggle with the-calling a bit more. If you started your family thinking you wanted more kids, then began and realized you don’t think you can handle more than one or two, there’s no shame in stopping when you feel you’ve hit your limit. For me, I’ve recently realized I don’t think I can split my attention between any more kids than what I already do. I struggle with my own irrational guilt for not having the time to focus on each child like I want. When I think about having more kids, I worry I won’t be able to give them all the attention they need and deserve and I’ll be a bad mother. However, some moms give encouragement, saying that after having so many kids, you reach a point where the first few are old enough to help out and lift some of the load you carry. So maybe you can eventually split your attention better and not get so worn down. Don’t compare your situation and what you can handle to another mother’s abilities. We all have our strengths, regardless of family size.
What pregnancy and childbearing does to your body: Postpartum Depression has reared its ugly head after both of my pregnancies. After having my daughter, it was the typical sadness, numbness, loss of interest in things I used to love, etc. With my second, I’ve been dealing with it in the form of managing my inexplicable and instantaneous anger. Based on my track record, signing up for more kids is like willingly signing up for more PPD. Not to mention all the other normal things a woman’s body goes through for pregnancy and caring for a child. So it’s no surprise that taking into account my own physical and mental health adds to my decision for having less children. However, a lot of women report that once they started having kids, they found their love growing and they just wanted to keep going. One mom described it to me as a feeling that there were more children just waiting to come to her. More children may mean more of the negative health consequences, but it also means more of the positive and love, as well. So take what having children does to your body into account as you make your decision.
Financial stability: Let’s face it—there’s never a “good” time to have kids. Children are expensive and, no surprise, having a lot of them means spending even more money through the years. Many parents choose not to have a big family because they don’t feel their financial situation can handle more mouths to feed. On the other hand, I’ve known many women who take a leap of faith and grow their families despite the scary dollar amounts they will face. Once again, discuss this with your significant other as you decide how many children to add to your bundle. With a little faith added to all your hard work, it’s amazing how things somehow tend to work out, one way or another.
Relationships among siblings: Many moms want to have more children because they want all their kids to grow up with a companion and built-in best friend. I’m the youngest of 9 in my family and I really do enjoy having so many people to love and who love me unconditionally in return. But on the flip side, because there are so many siblings, there’s a significant age gap between the oldest and me. 15 years apart means by the time I was old enough to really remember my interactions with this brother, he was already moving out to serve a mission for our Mormon church. All growing up, I was proud to say I had so many siblings and loved when people’s mouths would drop after hearing how big our brood was. But in reality, I don’t have much of a relationship with my oldest brothers beyond the blood we share because so many children spaced us out far enough that this disconnect makes sense. Luckily, in adulthood, it has become easier to reconnect, but growing up, my built-in best friend was really just my next oldest sibling. I’m very grateful my parents didn’t stop at only 4 or 5 kids so I could still make it into this world and have so many to love, but I take my perspective as the youngest of so many kids seriously when deciding what I want to do with my own kids.
Cultural/Society expectations: The average American family has about three children. The popularity of having big families has fluctuated throughout the years. It seems that, right now, to have more than 3 kids is considered having a large family, but that really depends on your perspective. For example, I mentioned my Mormon faith. Mormons tend to have large families so to us, three kids isn’t “large” at all. Since I live in Utah where there is a high concentration of Latter Day Saint (Mormon) families who typically have 5 or more kids, I feel incredible pressure to also procreate over and over. How society (and the individual cultures we live within) view number of children could affect how many you end up wanting. Though it’s important to remember that the choice is up to you and your spouse. If people disagree or comment negatively on your family size, ignore them and their rudeness. Haters gonna hate.
Age: My husband and I had our first baby when I was only 22 years old, which was a lot sooner than I anticipated. But when it feels time, nothing has to hold you back. Not even your age and what you used to think you’d want to do. Many parents today are choosing to wait to start their family until other factors have lined up, such as their financial stability or career opportunities, which makes sense. Having a baby is a huge responsibility and many mothers also want to feel more mature before starting to bear offspring. On the other hand, it’s important to consider by what age you’d like to be finished having children. If you want to be done by age 40, how many kids can be born between the time you start and that end age? How will you space them out then? Many older moms describe bearing and parenting children while older was harder than when they were younger. So age plays a big factor in deciding how many children you will eventually have.
I know more kids = more love. You’ll never hear a parent say, “I love my kids but man—I wish I had stopped before having Peter.” But for me personally, I don’t feel I’m cut out to raise a bunch of kids. This is okay because my husband and I have talked about it repeatedly, prayed and have felt peace with our decision. This decision may change over time, and that’s okay too. So the next time I am asked this question, if I’m still not sure, I’ll just smile and say, “We’ll see!”
**While all of these situations tend to be considered for deciding your family size, some women don’t even have a choice in the matter. Infertility makes the decision for her. These women have a whole other struggle to figure out when they get asked, “How many children do you want?” Keep this in mind to avoid asking someone the insensitive question, “Don’t you want children?”