Deciding When to Have Another Child
Until her son turned 1, Amy Rice had a fairly easy time fielding questions about adding to her family. "What was nice that first year - there were questions about having another, but I was able to easily squash that by saying, 'We're still adjusting to being new parents,'" says the Raleigh mother of one. "But after the first year, it was like, 'OK, you have this parent thing down now, so when are you having another?'"
Rice isn't alone in her experience. Expanding the family to two, three or more children is a decision most parents face at one point or another, and though family, friends and even strangers are apt to weigh in with their opinions and unsolicited advice, it's a highly personal choice. So how do you know if you're ready?
The cost of care
"When my son was about a year, we started having the discussion of whether to have another child," Rice says of her family's plans to expand. "He's 18 months now, so we've been talking about it for a while."
For Rice and her husband, Brad, age was one factor that fueled the conversation. At 39, Brad didn't want to have children much after 40.
"We decided if we're going to do it, it's going to be this year," Amy says.
The other factor, which Amy says was probably the biggest influence, was the cost of day care. Amy and Brad pay $1,300 a month now for their son's child care. Adding another baby would raise the cost to $2,500 per month.
"Spending $30,000 a year on day care is just insane, so that put a little bit of a delay on the conversation," she says. For a while, that meant the couple considered having only one child. Eventually, it meant looking at other options.
"There are other day cares, at-home day cares, at-home nannies. ... We love our son's day care, and I'd love for another child to go through the same experience, but at the end of the day, I just can't justify paying $30,000 a year for day care," Amy says.
Another baby, another pregnancy
For Lissette Pareja-Morel of Raleigh, the discussion didn't start until her daughter, now 7, was 6 years old. "For me, it was a
major decision to make, and for my husband, he would've wanted another when our daughter was a toddler," she says.
During her first pregnancy, Pareja-Morel was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarium, often defined as severe morning sickness, which made her first trimester particularly difficult. Unable to eat or drink, Pareja-Morel went to the hospital at least every week to get hydrated. She became weak and couldn't perform normal functions, such as taking a shower, without help.
"The thought of being so incapacitated while having a child to take care of took away any desires [to have another baby] that crept up along the way," she says. "Adoption was the only choice for us at that point, but the financial aspect of it kept stopping us from starting the process."
Although there's a chance Pareja-Morel could experience the same condition during a future pregnancy, health professionals are quick to remind women that experiencing the same symptoms is not a given.
"Every pregnancy is different, and that can be surprising to many women," says Tanya Moore, a family nurse practitioner with Duke Women's Health Associates.
Physically, planning for a second or third pregnancy isn't much different from planning for your first. Moore's recommendations include maintaining a healthy weight/body mass index (try to lose the weight from the previous pregnancy), continuing an exercise routine, taking a prenatal vitamin, and talking with your OB-GYN about medications/supplements, medical problems and risk factors. It's also wise to discuss recommended timing between pregnancies, which may vary depending on previous deliveries.
Minding the gap
Although there's no perfect answer for when to have another child, experts point to various pros and cons for different age gaps between siblings:
* One to two years: A recent University of Maryland study found that children ages 2 and younger have the easiest time adjusting to life with a new sibling, likely because they're too young to understand how their lives are going to change. On the flipside, however, parents deal with sleepless nights, potty training and tantrums in close succession.
* Two to four years: This age gap, experts say, leaves more time and focus for parents to navigate each sibling through
various development stages, while leaving kids close enough in age to enjoy similar toys and activities once they're past the infant stage. The downside: The rotation from baby to toddler means an endless stream of diapers.
* Five or more years: Waiting five or more years to add to the family means ample opportunity for one-on-one time with older siblings. It also means navigating back and forth between the baby/toddler and school-age stages, which brings its own set of challenges. Older siblings can be a big help, though. Financially, you may need to replace some outdated baby gear.
We'll make this work
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the majority of women report that they want two children, which closely reflects the 2011 average rate of 1.89 births per woman. Interestingly, however, the number of families with three or more kids has grown in recent years.
A 2002 study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that 12 percent of upper-income women had three or more children, compared to 3 percent in 1995. In fact, the highest earning segment of the U.S. population saw a 1.3 percent increase in families with three or more children during that same timeframe. Although two children is still the average, that number often is swayed by the way parents grew up.
"We [my husband and I] both have one sibling, so I think that's the frame of reference we both had," Amy Rice says of their decision to try for another baby. "We felt like two was a good number for us."
Similarly, Pareja-Morel considered her upbringing when thinking about her future family. "I have three siblings, and my husband has three siblings as well." she says. "We always wanted to have something similar - a total of four kids close together in age."
As her daughter continued to grow up, Pareja-Morel began to rethink her views on another pregnancy. "My daughter became more self-sufficient, more understanding of the world around her, and my maternal instinct became overwhelming," she says. "I don't know if it was how much time has passed since my pregnancy or seeing my 'baby' grow up, but having another baby is a definite option for us right now, as well as adoption."
As for Rice and her family, their plans to give their son a sibling outweigh any trepidation they've had. "Whatever happens, we'll make it work," she says. "It sort of seems like pie-in-the-sky advice, but I think part of it is true. At the end of the day, we want this family of four."
Katrina Tauchen is a freelance writer, editor and mother who lives in Durham. She blogs at splashofsomething.com.
Only-child myths - debunked
Single-child families have doubled since the 1960s, to about one in five families, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Yet a recent Pew Research Center study found that only 3 percent of Americans believe one is the ideal number of children to have in a family. Many researchers attribute this statistic to the "myth of the only child" as being spoiled, bossy, lonely and maladjusted when compared to their peers with siblings. In reality, however, the facts don't back up the myths. Here are a few of the most common myths of only children, debunked.
Myth: Only children don't like to share.
Fact: Even if only children don't learn to share to the same degree or as early as kids with siblings, they learn quickly and at a young age the same lessons that others learn from their brothers and sisters: Being bossy and refusing to share isn't a good way to make friends.
Myth: Only children are spoiled and selfish.
Fact: Being spoiled is much more a reflection of society than the number of children in a family, according to Susan Newman, psychologist and author of Parenting an Only Child, and it's not specific to only children. In fact, Toni Falbo, faculty research associate in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, found that rather than overindulge their children, parents of onlies push them toward higher achievement. Parents' education level, finances, parenting styles and genetic predisposition, she says, affect children behavior far more than family size.
Myth: Only children are lonely.
Fact: Because most young kids, including onlies, spend at least a portion of their childhood in day care, play groups and school, they have plenty of chances to socialize and interact with their peers.
Behind the Numbers
1.89 - The average number of children per U.S. family.
1.75 - The average number of children per N.C. family.
Up to age 2 - When children have the easiest time adjusting to a new sibling, according to a study by the University of Maryland.
The average American parents spend more than $250,000 to raise a child to age 17, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.