GOOD ENOUGH PARENT
Should I Have A Second Baby? I Have No Idea How To Decide
Carefully mapping every possible outcome is less likely to deliver you an answer than it is to trap you in the question for all eternity.
The Good Enough Parent is an advice column for parents who are sick of parenting advice. Romper writer and educational psychologist Sarah Wheeler answers your questions about parenting with humor and humility — and without the guilt trips.
Dear Good Enough Parent,
My baby is only 8 months old, and I’ve already put a strange internal pressure on myself to decide whether or not we should have a second kid. If I were to make a pro/con list, there are very few logical reasons to have another kid and a whole bunch of good reasons to just keep it to one. Then there’s a few big emotional reasons to have two: Who is going to take care of me when I’m old? What might it feel like to not feel so alone in the world? (I’m also an only child.) How did you make this decision? Do you ever regret it?
In every life moment, no matter how open-minded your community, people — especially women — are reminded of what we should be doing next. You finished school? You need to land a job. You found someone special? When are you gonna put a ring on it? You rent? You must hope someday to buy. As soon as my first kid could say “uh-oh” and scoot across the floor, I, too, steadied myself for the next one. No matter that I was a shell of a person, poorly rested, professionally miserable, adrift from my partner. You ask me if I regret having a second child, and without hesitation, I can tell you that I do. I don’t wish my second child away, but I also don’t feel like it was me who really made the decision to have her. The decision made me.
And still, I’ve pined over my own indecision about having a third. It is nice, but also horrifying, to have choices. You are an only child yourself, and you probably have your own hang-ups about what that means, and things about your own childhood that you want to give your kid.
My mother had four children, two years apart. My siblings mean the world to me. I don’t think I would have survived my childhood without them. But, also, there must be some scientific phenomenon that describes a point when the solution is also the problem. If there hadn’t been so many children in my family, perhaps there wouldn’t have been the level of chaos that required solidarity.
Everyone has an opinion about the ways other people structure their families. They are eager to tell you about the only child who lived next door to them growing up and could only interact with squirrels, or the parents who wished for a second child and instead got triplets. The message is that it is audacious both to think that you can raise one child or to think that you can raise more. But, really, parenthood is all audacity, any way you slice it.
You don’t get much of a say in who your kids are. But that doesn’t mean that they are completely beholden to cultural, social, historical narratives either. I’m tempted to comfort you with the tale of the only child I know who moved to Spain with her parents, instantly learned a new language, traipses around Madrid carrying her own bag and saying “por favor” and “gracias” without reminders and generally makes my two children look like needy dirtbags. But your child, or your children, will be who they are. And they will be yours. And no one can tell you much more than that.
It may actually be helpful to listen to the thought processes of other mothers in the same position, not for prescriptions but for companionship.
Sure, there are some factors, like your age and fertility history, that provide helpful bearing on whether to act now, wait, or move on. But with major life decisions like these, carefully mapping every possible outcome is less likely to deliver you an answer than it is to trap you in the question for all eternity.
You can make a pros and cons list, but we all know that human decision-making, in most cases, is more arbitrary and emotional than that. You know this. You can play out doomsday scenarios, like what happens if your only child is somehow unable to care for you in your old age, will you regret it then? Maybe you will. But also, simulations have infinite possibilities; you could have 10 children and still not be well taken care of. It may actually be helpful to listen to the thought processes of other mothers in the same position, not for prescriptions but for companionship.
Or perhaps all you need is a spark in one direction. Or, simply, a lengthy enough period of indecision to set you on one course or another. And I’m here to tell you that that’s OK. Someone before you has felt it was their duty to have more children. Someone has been ambivalent, and then gotten off of a particularly moving call with their sister and decided it was time. Someone has let time pass, until there wasn’t any time left, and maybe felt the loss, and filled it up with some other kind of love or simply let it nag at them forever.
It’s confusing to be in a situation like this, where you are in charge of which horse you hitch your cart to, but you really have no idea where that horse will lead you. There is also something very annoying about being told to live in the present. And especially when your present involves the daily insanities of caring for a baby, it’s nearly impossible. But maybe a more palatable version of being present, of accepting that there is no right answer to this, is actually just giving yourself permission to let go of focusing on the next thing. If your moratorium is a way to trick yourself into doing that, go for it. I often have to tell myself I will only make some life change, or give up another, for a month or two, to be able to stomach such a big decision. I am imagining you filling your head with something else, like trashy novels or the names of obscure insects, and giving yourself some quiet credit for all that you have already done.
Let Sarah answer your questions about the messy realities of parenting! Send her your questions via this anonymous form or by emailing her at email@example.com.