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The Great Second Child Debate

motherhood, parenthood, familyLindsyComment
The Great Second Child Debate

I have heard a lot of parents voice this thought, and you probably have, too.

Should we even have a second child?

After all, we’ve started sleeping all night again! We can leave the house without an hour of prep time for feeding, blowouts, and three outfit changes. I’m done with pumping/bottles/baby food/diapers. I have my body back.

We said these things, even though we’ve always planned on two.  It also somehow seemed significant that we had such a good baby. How could we have another baby and come away unscathed? Surely the next child will not be nearly so easy, and then it will be Game Over.

Plus, it won't be like doing it all over again. It will be like doing all over again, with a toddler underfoot. My father-in-law likes to say that two kids aren’t twice the work, they’re triple. Furthermore, how could we take this special time of babyhood away from Hunter, starving him of attention? He’s still so little, how could we do this?

Of course, if you told us to wait until he was older, we would say we don't want the children to be spaced far apart. This was our conundrum. So. Onward we go, to the research.

Research is my thing. I’m an infoholic, and gathering all the research makes me feel calm, informed, and productive. When we were just considering trying to have a baby, I read books of essays about having kids, not having kids, not sure if one would have kids, etc. It didn’t really matter; I knew I wanted to have kids. Somehow, though, it made me feel less chicken about the whole thing.

The research began with Babycenter, because they are usually the first search result for anything baby-related. The “expert” advice to have another baby before your first is two or after they are four was useless to me. My casual observations of families (and as a children’s librarian, these are many) have shown me that almost no one does this. Most people seem to go somewhere between 2 and 3 years apart, and that was kind of what I was feeling myself.

On I went, to The Alpha Parent. This was more helpful, sharing the pros and cons (yes!) of spacing your children 1, 2, 3, or 4+ years apart. What I learned from this was that it doesn’t really matter how the children are spaced. There will be positives and negatives with any spacing; you just have to choose which ones matter to you most.

Finally, I found a book called Twice Blessed by Joan Leonard. This one was interesting. In the first chapter it lists common reasons for wanting a second, explores the issues of timing and birth order, and then delves into age spacing. This is where I got the two best pieces of information about when:

This obvious yet insightful bit of advice gleaned from many parents of adult children: “Think about when you and your husband are emotionally and financially best ready to have another child. It will be better for you, your marriage and your children.” (p. 10)
This beautiful nugget of data: “Parents with closely spaced children wished that they had spaced them farther apart, and parents of spaced children wished they’d spaced them closer.” (p.10, cited from the book The Second Child: Family Transitions and Adjustment by Robert B. Stewart. I am planning to find this study because no parameters or percentages were cited. Context is key! I’ll update you with what i learn.)

In conclusion: it doesn’t matter how they are spaced, as long as you, the parent, are comfortable with the spacing. And you will later wish you had tried for the opposite, anyway.

Tried is the imperative word here, because let’s face it, we really don’t have that much influence on when (or if) the second child will be born.

                                            Age spacing: the closer, the better? Shown here with my brother, circa 1987.

                                            Age spacing: the closer, the better? Shown here with my brother, circa 1987.

Despite the lack of control, it is something I obsess over. Since Hunter was about six weeks old, I’ve been thinking about when we would try for baby number two. Not because I was ready; I just wanted to be prepared. About once a month, I would ask Stephen, when do you think? Every time, he would say, I don’t want to talk about it. Hmmm, okay. I would remove all barriers: If we had plenty of resources - time, money, help - what would the ideal child spacing be? He would say, Doesn’t matter, because we don’t have all those things.

So I began to think it would be later. Perhaps Fall 2015. This was my opinion.

December 2014: Having a conversation about...something. The context of this conversation is now forgotten. All I know is that out of the blue, Stephen said, “We should start trying right now.” Um, whaaaaat??? He went on to say that he didn’t want Hunter to spaced as far apart as he and his brothers (three years) because it always felt like they were never in similar stages of life. Well, thankyousir, for answering the question I’ve been asking for a year.

So I took some time to think about this, and to be honest, I felt the same as he did. My brother and I are eighteen months apart. This was great for us, although I suspect it was not so great for my mom. However, life was beginning to get easier, I was feeling more capable, and we felt that letting nature take its course was the easiest way to make a non-decisive decision.

Since then, it’s been a lot easier to wrap my brain around the idea of having two. It also seems that the longer I’ve been a parent, the more I realize that it’s not worth all the analytics. For instance, you get used to the roller coaster of child development. Every month or two, life takes another turn and you learn to adjust your routine, your technique, your opinion. This kind of hard-core adaptability training makes planning and research and what-ifs seem pretty inconsequential.

I’ve also begun to let go of the other (unfounded) fears: that Hunter will be robbed of his babyhood, his alone time with us, and that since he is so easy/good/wonderful that there is no chance we will be so lucky a second time. Remember what I said above, about the roller coaster? It turns out that Hunter is not always so easy/good/amazing, especially not right now as he is embracing toddlerhood. Screeching, stubborn, into everything. So maybe it will all balance out.

As it stands, we are letting things happen naturally. We don’t want to put it off, and yet there are times when I wouldn’t be disappointed if it took a little longer. For example, if it happened after our vacation, so I could enjoy the wineries and breweries and the hot tub. Or if it happened after my cousin’s wedding, which happens to be at a winery. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) Of course, there is never a perfect time, and we know that - that’s why we’re just giving it a go.

However it shakes out, it was meant to be.