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Carolyn Hax: How do they decide if they should have another child?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have a beautiful baby girl. She’s an easy baby, as babies go, but it’s been a tough year.

We’re starting to think about whether we want another child — or at least, I am. He says he’s fine with one and has many reasons, mostly logistical and financial.

He’s not wrong, but I also look around at nearly all of my friends and family who have two kids. I know that shouldn’t be anything like a factor in my own decisions, but it’s really hard to not think, “They all did it, why can’t we?” We’re both pushing 40. How can I either accept we are complete as a family of three, or decide we’d be able to handle the physical and emotional stress of becoming a family of four?

— Deciding

Deciding: If all you see is stress, or if your husband’s fine-with-one settles into a hard no, then it’s a no.

If you can envision good outcomes either way, though? I won’t pretend this is true of everyone, but I think, in general, people grow into the lives they create for themselves. So if you have another child, you will adapt and manage the physical and emotional stresses of becoming a family of four. You will find ways, because that will be the life and the to-do list you wake up to every day. If you decide not to have another child, you will adapt to having a family smaller than the one you once envisioned. Because that’s what you’ll wake up to every day.

Barring something bigger that takes over and decides for you — something like a health issue or a relocation or any tail that wags the dog of your family — the most say you have in your satisfaction from one experience to another is through self-acceptance. If you can get yourself to a point of confidence that either choice will work out fine for you, in different and not entirely predictable ways — or will run its own course, good or bad, either way — then the pressure’s off, and you can let the answer come to you. Thinking there’s a wrong answer might be what’s tripping you up.

Re: Kids: Consider your personalities when you take family size into account. I have a cousin who’s a single child and was quite miserable, because her parents were introverts and she felt lonely a lot. My husband has a cousin, also a single child, whose parents actively involved his friends in play dates, vacations and so forth.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Fair point, thanks. There can be sub-possibilities here that are hard to predict, though. The only child can be introverted, too, and/or content not to be very social; the first and second children can have different social tolerances or not get along.

So maybe all parents, but particularly parents of only children, need to be mindful of their obligation to support their children’s social needs, even if it goes against their own tendencies.

Re: Kids: I’m one of those families you see with two kids. I wish I just had one. I knew it in my gut that I only wanted one, but my husband wanted another and: “Hey, everyone else did it. I’ll regret not having a second.” Do what’s best for your family, not what you see others doing. You don’t always know what’s going on inside the heads/hearts of these other families.

— Knew It in My Gut

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