How do I know if I should have more children?

 How do I know if I should have more children

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are late-in-life parents. Pregnancy wasn’t easy for either one of us, with lots of scary complications and a somewhat traumatic birth. Our daughter is here, though, and she is wonderful, cute, and surprisingly easy. Now I’m torn, though, on the question of having another child. My husband says he’s perfectly happy with just our daughter. And I really am not looking forward to another pregnancy. Adoption probably isn’t an option for us. So for all of these reasons, I think we may be one and done.

On the other hand, I always pictured myself having a larger family. What if something tragic happens to our only child? Would we just live the rest of our lives childless? And I keep thinking that having a sibling would enrich our daughter’s life, teach her important lessons about sharing and taking care of others, and someday, when my husband and I pass on, she’ll have someone to share that grief with—she won’t be alone. How does anyone decide whether to have more children?

—One and Done?

Dear OaD,

I could fill a column—two or three columns—with versions of this question, which readers often ask us. Often the letter writers are also older parents (as I was, too). Often their only children have no, or few, cousins—or only cousins to whom there’s no expectation the child will be close, because the parents aren’t close to their siblings (or because the cousins are much older, or are awful). They have asked if there’s “any possibility” their lone child will be happy if they don’t have a sibling.

As the parent of an only child who was not an only child herself—and who was edging toward 40 when she had her daughter—I am sympathetic. I wondered and worried too, and so I get where everyone is coming from, although I came at the question of do-we-stop-or-do-we-not differently from any of the letter writers. I was always sure I wanted just one child. I ended a long-term relationship with someone I loved very much because we could not agree about this (indeed, we were very far apart on this matter: I wanted the one; he wanted six). And later, when I had my daughter, I was over the moon. My husband and I were absolutely sure we wouldn’t have another child.

And then my daughter turned 2, and I was filled with longing, suddenly, to hold a baby in my arms again. I knew enough not to trust that longing, to wait and see if it stuck. And since both my husband and my 2-year-old were appalled when I brought it up, I decided to give it a year and see how I felt then. It didn’t stick, in fact (are there hormones that kick in, at least briefly, when one’s baby becomes a toddler?). But as she turned 3 … and then 4 … I started thinking about some of the things you and others are wondering about. Was I depriving my beloved daughter of something that would enrich her life? I had not enjoyed being a big sister growing up. When my brother was born, my nearly 4-year-old self was furious. And we did not become close—we were not even friends—until after I moved out and was on my own. But I so enjoyed having him in my life now! How could I consign my child to a life without that pleasure? I also worried that I was laying a terrible (future) burden on her, when her father and I aged and inevitably became ill and she was left in middle age to deal with all that responsibility and decision-making and grief on her own. Was it selfish of me not to provide her with a “team member” she could count on? What if I were able to give her a sister—the sort of superfriend I mentioned in last week’s column.

I looked around at friends whose sisters were their best friends, and I both envied them and wished this for my daughter. It didn’t help that my own (non-blood-related) best friend had abandoned me when my daughter was a baby, that I was pretty lonely and wished desperately for the sort of relationship some of my friends had with their sisters. I spoke about this at length with friends, some of whom had very private, complex thoughts about their own decisions to move forward with having more children for the sibling reason. The kernel of truth that I came away with is that you should never have another child unless it is what you want. Don’t do it for your child—for her childhood or for her future—but ask yourself if you are happy as a mother of one, and if you believe you will continue to be. Sit with this for a while, and make sure you feel certain of the answer.

The fact is, you never know what’s going to happen. Siblings may like each other, or they may not. They may make one another’s lives easier, or they may make them harder. As for the question of whether another child will help if tragedy befalls your family? No one and nothing could ever replace the hole in a life that a lost child once filled, and you cannot live in such fear of a tragedy. The reason to have another child is that you want to. That you believe it will fulfill a longing deep within you. Don’t make assumptions about your children’s future lives. If they don’t have siblings—or cousins—they will create their own families, either with partners and their own future children or with groups of friends. You are not consigning them to a life of loneliness. And there is definitely more than a “possibility” of happiness for them.

P.S. My long-ago ex-boyfriend did have the six kids he wanted. They are all great, and they are great friends to one another. And my daughter has always had close friends who are very much like sisters to her—and her boyfriend has brothers and cousins he’s close to, and she very much enjoys being in the midst of that large extended family when she visits his parents. There are plenty of ways to construct a life that’s meaningful. We each have to find the right one for us. 

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from Human Interest - Slate Magazine 

How do I know if I should have more children?  How do I know if I should have more children? Reviewed by streakoggi on December 29, 2019 Rating: 5
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