Our world has been rattled lately by announcements of third children. It used to be that we knew many more families with only kids than with three. But in the last several weeks, our Facebook feeds have been popping with announcements of third kids. Two nearby couples with kids roughly the same age as ours (4½ and 6½) both just told us they’re expecting babies, too.
This influx of third babies has jolted us back into a land we thought we’d finally left behind – considering whether or not to expand our own family. We both like the idea of more kids, but we haven’t been able to wrap our heads around the reality of it. The fact that so many friends and acquaintances are now making that leap has left us wondering – what do they know that we don’t? What have they figured out that we’re missing? Do the things that weigh on us not concern them? Or have they figured out the answers, and if so, what are they and how do we get them?
Assuming we could even have a third kid – and that’s not a given since our first was so hard come by – there are a million and one (mostly emotional) reasons to go for it, chief among them the joy of a big, messy, chaotic family. We love kids, and we love being parents. We’d love for our kids to have more siblings to play with when young and rely on when grown. But there are also a million and one (mostly logical) reasons to not – including cost, the fact that D would be in his 60s before we became empty nesters, and the age gap between kids (even if we got pregnant tomorrow there’d be a 5+-year age gap between the newborn & its siblings, which means the newborn likely would grow up more like an only child than a sibling-ed one). We’re not in sync on many of them, either. For example, D frets about having enough energy to spend focusing on each kid and the limitations that being bound to diapers, naps, bottles, and baby food would place on our family’s newfound ability to explore and travel together. B worries about the risks of having a kid with a chronic health condition more debilitating than our firstborn’s (which, despite being quite minor, has required a lot of time and effort to manage), and what that would do to our lives and our kids’ lives.
But one thing that keeps stopping us in our tracks is that we can’t figure out how we could both keep pursuing our careers if we added another kid to the mix. We both derive great meaning and satisfaction from our careers – B in social impact, D in tech start-ups – and the thought of stepping away or giving them up makes our toes curl. Already we’ve both orchestrated our jobs to be quite flexible, so that we can both be involved in the day-to-day nuts and bolts of parenting. But our careers aren’t 9-to-5ers, and never will be. Our careers require that our lives also be flexible, that each of us be able to attend off-hour events or travel with little notice, that we be able to switch off primary parenting – sometimes multiple times in the same day. It’s hard enough juggling all 4 of our family members’ schedules as it is. We just haven’t been able to wrap our heads around how we could add another kid to the mix without our already-precariously balanced house of cards tumbling down. Apparently we’re not alone in this. Multiple studies (like these reported in The Atlantic, HuffPo, and the Having Three Kids survey) suggest that three-kid families are much more likely to have a stay-at-home parent. Our own anecdotal experience bears that out – in most of the more-than-two-kid families we know, one parent has shifted careers to something highly flexible and/or part-time or left the workforce altogether.
One way around this could be a nanny – a path chosen by a few of the more-than-two-kid dual career families we know. But even in many of those families one of the parents still has gone part-time at work. Anyway, a full-time nanny isn’t an option for us. Since both of us traded cash for flexibility in our current jobs, we can’t really afford one. Plus, neither of us really likes the idea. As hard as it is in the moment, most days we relish the nuts and bolts of parenting that we would be paying a nanny to take off our plates – school pick-ups and drop-offs where we get to see our kids in their “natural environments”, talk to their teachers, joke with their friends, chat with other parents; homework time, where we learn what they’re learning and get to see how their brains work; bath time where we get to observe or participate as they make up wonderful games; etc…. While it would be great to have more consistent help with these things (without family nearby, we currently juggle 4 babysitters to cover gaps), we don’t want to give them up altogether. We are acutely aware of how precious and fleeting this period in our kids’ lives is, and we want to be there and in it with them.
So where does this leave us? Somewhat uneasily holding at two. Is this the right choice for our family? Only time will tell.
Have you struggled with how many kids to have? How did you make your decision?