While I was in labor with our second son I told my husband, “You are absolutely right. Two children are enough.” Later we had two miscarriages and three more live births. No major decision should be made in the midst of a crisis such as labor. Never, never make important decisions in a HAT. H.A.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Tired. All of these could happen in labor.
What criteria does a couple use to decide how many children they should have? For some, like my sister and husband it was reality. Before having any children they thought they would have a dozen. After having two children they stopped. Parenting is very hard work. Parenting has very big rewards. Parenting is ever evolving and changing and continues for a lifetime.
There is the “how many can we afford” dogma. It usually sounds something like this: We can only afford one or two children because we only make ____ amount of money or we are choosing a particular lifestyle or we have certain plans and goals. This thinking tries to measure expenses and potential income. Its focus is monetary. It is an extremely realistic, but extremely narrow view of family. Yes, raising a family is financially costly and requires self-sacrifice. Frequent evaluation of real needs versus wants is revealing. Most of us do not need much of what we think we need. Fifty years ago bigger families fit in smaller houses because they had less stuff.
A guideline I often wrestled with is the “this is all I can manage well” argument. I felt that I managed three boys really well and was ready for a fourth child. But after the fourth child was born I felt I really had my hands full enough. In fact, I clearly recall asking myself what in the world was I thinking. I was homeschooling and wanted to be sure I was doing my very best at it. I still think this argument has merit. However I have since learned a few things and had a fifth child.
Some people follow what I call the blessing ideology. I agree with them that all children are a blessing from the Lord. They also believe they should not hinder conception. These families usually have many children. Hooray for them.
These are my own brief synopsizes of these principles of which books have been written. The crux of the matter is that every couple must decide for themselves what is best. They need to pray about this matter and seek God’s guidance for their family planning. Equally important is the need to be totally in agreement. If they are not in agreement there will be resentment and anger and other marital issues.
This is not a decision to be made once and never considered again. I think the issue needs to be revisited every few years. Couples need to continue to be in agreement or at least in a mutual compromise. The issue needs to be reconsidered in view of major circumstances such as parental health changes.
Believe it or not I have met people who wished, too late, that they had had more children. I have never met anyone who wished they had less. Of course, there are those who are disappointed with their children’s lives.
I recently discovered comedian Jim Gaffigan who has five children. He answered the why so many children question like this. “Well, why not? I guess the reasons against having more children always seem uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money? A few more hours of sleep? A more peaceful meal? More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life. I believe each of my five children has made me a better man. So I figure I only need another thirty-four kids to be a pretty decent guy.”
I like his perspective. Yes, our children impact our lives in almost all positive ways. Yes, they are a lot of work. It is work worth doing. It is work with an eternal impact. As we do it we are learning and growing and becoming better people. If two children can provide a lifetime of education and meaningful relationships, imagine what four or more will do.
Here is my crazy advice for your family. Have two children close in age, then wait 3-5 years and have two more. Repeat as often as you care or dare! Even with this formula you will eventually not have anyone in diapers and you will eventually have an empty nest. Don’t rush through your children’s childhood. They will be grown and gone before you know it.
This picture was taken on the last Easter that all our children lived at home. 3.31.97