Q: I thought I was super excited to start trying for a second baby, and my husband was on board, too. We planned to start trying in June. But lately, my daughter has been going through the terrible threes (so much worse than the twos), and I feel irritated and stressed all the time. Plus, I have to admit that the thought of paying for a second round of day care, college tuition, etc., makes me want to say we are one and done. Life seems so much simpler with one. But I do love being a mom, I loved the pregnancy and baby stages, and we both really wanted a sibling for our daughter. If we’re going to do it, we want to do it now rather than wait any longer. But I change my mind literally every day about this! And my husband feels similarly — he would be happy with just one but is willing to have a second. How do other people make this tough decision? It seems like most people want at least two.
A: To your essential question — “How do other people make this tough decision?” — you and I both know the answer: a million ways. Whether it’s an “oops” pregnancy, planned down to the minute, in vitro fertilization, adoption, surrogacy, not having any choice or having every choice in the world, parents make the tough decision of having a second child the same way they (hopefully) make every other complicated decision in their lives: with planning and faith.
Because when you take something as out of control as conception and pregnancy, you have to acknowledge that you are letting go of the perceived reins you had on your life. Career goals, money, space and marital life — they all change. So don’t worry about other people and their decisions. They are not going to help you with your decision.
(Also, let’s just get that “It seems like most people want at least two” thing off the table: According to the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of women at the end of their childbearing years report having two kids. Meanwhile, the number of mothers at the end of their childbearing years who report having just one has doubled from 11 percent in 1976 to 22 percent in 2014. Although you do see two-child families everywhere, the one-child families are out there — and growing.)
What will help you is sitting down with your spouse and starting a conversation, away from the 3-year-old and the house (if you can manage this). You want to separate your fears and fatigue from your deep desires, and that takes time and space. You might surprise yourselves by agreeing that you both thought you wanted a second child, but no, really, you are happy with where you are. You might get all of your fears on the table and find a way to alleviate the worries with concrete plans. Or you might come to a place where you just don’t know and where you get comfortable with that uncertainty.
Meanwhile, allow me to arm you with some information about 3-year-olds to help your conversation: Yes, 3 is tough. Really, really tough. Everyone talks about the “terrible twos,” but 2 is (mostly) an enchanting age for children. Yes, there are tantrums and frequent and inexplicable bouts of crying, but most 2-year-olds love their parents and are delighted to discover the world. Two-year-olds want to be just like their parents, and the charm factor can be through the roof. And then the 3-year-old comes marching in, arrogant and pretty darn uncooperative. You say, “Hurry,” and the child slows down. You say, “Don’t throw that,” and the child looks at you and throws it. As annoying as this behavior is, it is developmentally normal, and if we don’t make it worse, the child will grow out of it. Easy, right?
This is where having another child comes into play. If you are going to wait for things to be easier, that day may never come, because although 3 is pretty tough, most ages in childhood bring some good and bad. There is often a respite around 7, 8 and 9, but then we are right into the preteens. Don’t mistake me — I love every age. I think every child is a developmental marvel, and I love to watch children emerge into themselves, warts and all. It is fascinating, and tiring. So, if you want another child, know that the road will always be bumpy. It is messy and beautiful and full of adventure. There is no escaping it.
Assess the realities of your life, age, health, finances, home, expectations, emotional health and hopes. And then, at the end of that conversation and assessment, you will have three options: not decide and revisit the decision in, say, six months; hold hands and jump into it; or decide you are happy with your family of three. Biology and time will force your hand, so open your eyes, try to see past the fatigue of raising the 3-year-old and listen to your heart. Don’t worry about what other families are doing.
If you are really burned out, please get support. Groups such as the Parent Encouragement Program in Maryland or a good parent coach can bring so much ease to your life. And if it is you who needs the self-care, look at a coach such as Pleasance at lilomm.com or Mara at maraglatzel.com in the Washington area, or check out Renee Trudeau’s books and coaching circles available all over the United States.