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Carolyn Hax: How to know if you can handle having one more child

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: A friend frequently says she should have stopped one child sooner. (She has four.) Indeed, she seems stretched very thin, and her older kids’ quality of life has diminished since they had their youngest baby.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot as my husband and I consider adding to our family one more time. We have two; this would make three. Things right now feel manageable and routinized. How do I know whether that feeling means we have the perfectly sized family vs. we could handle one more?

— Thinking

Thinking: I’ve answered a lot of different forms of this question over the years, and over time, I’m thinking less of the details of each situation and more of this:

If you’re not at yes, then it’s no.

Besides, answering you more specifically would require clairvoyance. I’m sorry. There are just too many variables — including the fact that your friends’ older kids might someday look back on their diminished qualities of life post-sibling as the best thing that could have happened to them, if they learned independence or bonded with their sibs. Or not. Or you may have multiples, not “one more.” Humility in the face of life’s mood swings is your best bet right now. That and trusting your own eyes.

A reader’s thought:

· I’m your friend who is so frazzled with four kids that my marriage is on the rocks, my mental health is disintegrated and I feel so guilty about how little time I have for my older kids. It’s so personal, but if you are asking Carolyn and it’s not something you really want, then follow Carolyn’s advice. If you realize you really want three, then you probably can make it work, despite the challenges.

Dear Carolyn: Every time I visit or call my mom, one of her first comments is she hasn’t seen me or talked to me in so long. We chat several times a week and have spent a lot of time together the past 18 months. I find myself so put off by her statement that I want to get up and leave immediately, and I find it sours the rest of my interactions with her for that visit or phone call while I try to remain pleasant. Any suggestions for how to handle this?

— Put Off

Put Off: Either say it out loud the next time it happens, or write it in a letter to her, or bring it up at a different time when you’re not upset: “You may intend it otherwise, but when you say, ‘I haven’t seen you in so long,’ it comes across to me as criticism, as if I can never do enough to please you.”

The other subtler mechanism at work here is also important: You’re in touch with your mom because you want to be, and such comments subtly flip that dynamic into your being in touch because she wants you to be. So you feel negated and probably a little defensive, all because you just wanted to talk to your mom.

You do need to let her know this. People generally notice when someone has to “try to remain pleasant” with them, and sensing that can stir up people’s insecurities, and insecurity can lead to “YOU NEVER CALL ME”-itis on steroids. So it’s in both of your interests to interrupt the cycle soonest.