dad loved you best
December 27, 2012 9:57 AM   Subscribe

How did you decide when and if to have a second baby?

Before we got married, my wife and I felt pretty committed to being childless, a commitment that grew weaker and weaker over time until our daughter was born last year. I'm head over heels in love with her; she's totally, absolutely perfect.

The pregnancy (which followed about a year after a very upsetting miscarriage at 2 months) was healthy, but it wasn't easy, with a lot of additional screenings and ultrasounds required to make sure everything was okay. In the end everything came out fine, but I think my wife and I are both a bit traumatized by that one-two punch: I feel a bit like we lost our baby once and nearly lost her a second time, and am a bit nervous about trying to push my luck again.

A chronic overthinker, I'm also a bit anxious about philosophical questions regarding having a second kid. I understand on an intellectual level that I will love the next kid just as much as I love my daughter once he or she actually arrives -- but for now all my thought processes are along the lines of "Well, I'd like for my daughter to have a sibling or two because I think she'd like that when she's older." That seems a bit instrumentalist towards a potential new person, for one, and two, how do I even know whether my baby will like having a sibling or not? Maybe she'll hate it!

I confess I'm also troubled by my sense (along the worries about health expressed in the previous paragraph) that I may be partially thinking of the baby as a "backup" in case anything horrible happens to my daughter, which again seems like a somewhat poor bordering-on-insane reason to bring another person into the world. Again, I hope and expect I won't feel that way when the new baby actually arrives, but for now it's something I feel as though I need to fight against.

How did you know you wanted to go through all the unpleasant mess of pregnancy and young infancy again?

And putting all that to one side: what is the optimal age to do it? Will two sisters born a year apart fight too much? Will a sister and a brother born three years apart have too little in common and find it hard to play together? What age differential will be best so that the second kid doesn't feel like they're always running to catch up to the first?

My wife and I are drifting towards our mid-thirties, so time is a factor too. Thanks for your thoughts.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
We didn't really "decide" to have a second child, one day my wife said "Guess what? I'm pregnant." And life moves on........

My standard long answer to people have have worries about having kids is this - if you try to put everything in life in place before having kids, you may just find yourself childless.
posted by lstanley at 10:07 AM on December 27, 2012

I was in Redbones in Somerville MA eating dinner with my boss and the family next to us had a baby that was totally cute. I had been on the fence about #2 but that tipped it.

I am not a person that overthinks stuff.

PS We ended up with three.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:09 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Somtimes the most complex, life altering, important decisions you can make are made, well quite flippantly.
About 2 years after our first was born, the conversation went something like this:
Me: So, do you want to have a 2nd?
Her: Sure! Do you?
Me: Sure!
and number 2 came along soon afterward. Now, after that, the conversation went:
Me: So, do you want to have a 3rd?
Her: Fuck off
Me: I hear ya, sister!
And that was that.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 10:12 AM on December 27, 2012 [17 favorites]

My first pregnancy was plagued with complications and I was in no hurry to repeat it. After that trauma faded, my partner and I talked about a second baby; I grew up with 4 siblings and wanted another one - he grew up an only and didn't see the point. Then the timing was off: I was in grad school, then he was between jobs, then suddenly the kid was old enough that a sibling seemed weird and we tabled the conversation.

Then I accidentally got pregnant 10 years after baby one.

Maybe somewhere someone found the best right perfect time and the stars aligned and everything was bliss. But for us, this way seems to have worked out just fine.
posted by lilnublet at 10:16 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's no best age to start trying to have another child. People have endless debates about child spacing. So long as neither of you think it is definitely too soon, I say go for it. You have no idea how long it will take, remember.

Also, remember that these will be two distinct human beings. Imagine trying to choose two people to be roommates. Are their ages, down to the month, at all relevant compared to their personalities and habits? Not really. And of course you can't plan your unborn child's personality.

Go for it now, I say, so long as your wife and her doctors agree. (Of course I'm about 6 weeks from having my second and my first will only be 18 months.)
posted by that's how you get ants at 10:18 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

As the mother of an only child, I can't really answer when but I can answer if.

If you feel that you don't have the resources to have another child, don't. We had planned two but after we had our first we realized that we didn't have the capacity to deal with the struggles and years associated with young childhood. We wanted our adult lives back. So after deferring the question far enough past infancy to get some rest and perspective, we decided against it.

Don't worry about theory about spacing of kids. As you learned from your miscarriage, the best laid family plans may come to naught. Consider your wants and needs first. If you want a baby, and you have the time and resources for one, have one.

PS, it's good enough to have a "for now" position - neither my husband or I got fixed. I am 99.9% sure I will not have another child but I want to leave the option open in case of death or divorce.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:19 AM on December 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

My kids are 23 months apart and have always, always always gotten along with each other just fine.

My brother and I are 34 months apart and nearly killed each on a daily basis.

Every kid is different, every relationship between kids is different. There is no way you can plan out the optimum age difference, because such a thing does not exist. There is no formula to work with here, and my and every other anecdotal story you get here is just that, a story. It will have no bearing at all on how your family will be.

If you want another child, you know what to do. Likewise if you don't ;) Nothing else really matters here.
posted by COD at 10:19 AM on December 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's pros and cons to just about any spacing you choose. And your childrens' personalities will be the wrench in any plans you try to make. Really, I'd have a second child whenever - if ever - you guys feel like you're ready to try again.

This from a family that DID overthink things and DID try to space our kids out just so (30 months)... #2 changes the whole family, not just for #1 but for everybody, and it's a whole new ballgame.
posted by rouftop at 10:24 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and second kids rarely feel like they're "running to catch up to the first." They just assume they can do everything first kids can do. And they're frequently right.
posted by rouftop at 10:27 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to the when, but as to the if... do YOU want a second child? Do you have the resources (time, money, space, sanity) for a second? If so, then go for it. We personally decided that we didn't want a second, even if we did, we didn't feel we had the resources for a second, so we have an only child.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:27 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was never a "MUST-HAVE-BABY" person. Mr. Murrey was. I was okay with one--only one-- so we decided to give it a go.

I got pregnant in the second month of trying, had a really easy pregnancy and gave birth to an objectively easy son. After things went so well, I started questioning my decision to have only one child. I loved Little Murrey with every fiber in my being and the idea of having another awesome kid seemed great. But I was afraid that our second child might be really challenging and difficult and I wasn't sure I was up for that.

See, I am an introvert. Mr. Murrey is an introvert. Our awesome, easy-going son seems pretty introverted and is great at entertaining himself. So the thought of a highly challenging kid terrified me. But when someone asked me whether I would have a second child if I could be guaranteed one as easy as the first, the idea filled me with utter exhaustion and I had my answer.

It was then that I started getting rid of all of the baby things he had outgrown. We are happily a one child household.
posted by murrey at 10:32 AM on December 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

I was always pretty sure I wanted more than one kid, but when my daughter was about two she was exceptionally demanding of time and attention, and I thought "If I have to go through life being her only playmate in this house, I will be a candidate for the rubber room before she qualifies for a driver's license." It wasn't easy to get pregnant the first time, and it didn't get easier the second time; my son was born two weeks after my daughter's 4th birthday.

The age spread has been delightful, though! Lily was old enough to take basic care of herself (like, getting herself a glass of milk or a granola bar) when I was taking care of her brother when he was a newborn, and definitely old enough to, say, come and tell me if he woke up from his nap while I was taking a shower. Now they are 6 and 2 and it's still great; she's old enough to be excited when he develops new skills and to take real pride in teaching him things. They are playing My Little Ponies together as I type this.

My daughter has two very good friends who are brothers, 11 months apart. They have a very different relationship than my kids have, but I wouldn't say it's worse in any way. They are each other's fiercest enemy, but also each other's greatest defender. It was very hard on their mom when they were young, but she was also escaping a violent marriage and living in family shelters, which contributed probably the lion's share of the suck.

There's no perfect time, there's no horrible time. The day you think "Damn, I wish we had another baby" is the day to start trying.
posted by KathrynT at 10:32 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Every human is going to have his own personality, so whether or not your second child will eventually be close to the older one or constantly fight tooth-and-nails with her is a crap shoot. But chances are, especially when they're younger, your oldest will appreciate the companionship and responsibility of a little brother or sister. Even if they argue and fight as teens, they will probably also confide in one another and seek consolation from the other in issues that they aren't comfortable in discussing with Mom and Dad.

Another possible point to consider....I have a friend who is an only child, and her mother was 44 when she was born. When her parents grew older, my friend felt obligated to always live nearby no matter what out-of-state job opportunities presented themselves, as she (and her husband) were the only ones available to mow the parents' lawn, shovel their snow, and - eventually - drive them to doctor appointments and the grocery store, etc. My parents faced similar limitations as they aged, but I had two siblings who could also help out. As all of us kids grew older, odds were at least one of us would continue to live nearby and would be able to help the folks out.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:29 AM on December 27, 2012

Our plan went something like this: Let's have one, and then see how we feel. So we did. We are having so much fun with our son that having another feels like a good idea. Plus, we both want him to have at least one sibling. My partner didn't like being significantly younger than his brother; I enjoy being close in age to mine, so we figured we'd have them close together (I have the privilege of getting pregnant easily, which makes it easy to decide things like that). We're also excited about getting the toddler years over with in one big, sleepless time period, rather than waiting until we've recovered and starting all over again.

My son will be two in February, and I'm 13 weeks pregnant.

All these reasons are so very, very personal. They have a lot to do with who my partner and I are and what our family is like. I'm kind of an anxious and over-attentive parent -- it seems healthy for my son to have that attention spread out. What it really boiled down to, though, was that first reason: We like him so much! He is so much fun! Let's have another one!
posted by linettasky at 12:02 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

The single child will always envy those who have siblings. There is no substitute experience.
posted by Cranberry at 12:05 PM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

In our case we just wanted another, so it was an easy decision. You'll definitely find yourself loving he second instantly, just as with the first.

I used to have a concern about multiple children receiving less love than one until I realized my math was off. If you have two children, each person in the family loves and is loved by three other people. Instead of three loving relationships in the family with an only child, there are now six. It's a factorial not a division.
posted by michaelh at 12:08 PM on December 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

Here are my thoughts on having a second child, which are of course, only opinions.

I always thought I wanted to space my kids out a bit, like 3-4 years. We had our daughter 6 years ago, and having observed various family spacing plans close up I really really wish we had gone ahead and gotten pregnant when she was like 18 months or 2 years. At the TIME I had no interest in having a second child, being pregnant again or any of that stuff but I feel like if I'd just pulled the trigger I would have been happier with that spacing.

The families I know with two or three kids closer in age deal with squabbles and spats, but they also have very close, loving relationships. They share interests because they're at similar developmental levels, they have someone to play with. As the kids are getting older it's more acceptable to send them outside to play if they have a companion with them.

As another consideration, my daughter is pretty self-sufficient now, so the idea of going back to sleepless nights and diapers is kinda annoying. Another thought to consider is the possibility of infertility. We got hit with secondary infertility when we finally did start trying, so now we're looking at an 8 year age difference between our kids, so the longer you put off trying the longer those timelines become.

I see Murrey's response about being an introvert playing in to her decision to have one. I've got to tell you, as a fellow introvert that's one of the reasons I would love to have two - my kid is so much easier to deal with when we have friends over, even when I've kept my friends kids over weekends. I love my daughter, she is a joy and a delight - but I do NOT love playing with dollhouses, or tea parties, or well, most things that could be considered straight up "play". When I'm home alone with her that's what she wants to do most of the time, having other kids to play with for that kind of stuff is delightful and so much better than either suffering through it, or feeling guilty for never wanting to play.

The cons of having kids close in age, you will deal with more squabbling in the house, it will be loud and crazy for at least some portions, which depending on your temperament may not be ideal. Daycare is freakishly expensive, having two simultaneously in daycare is doubly freakishly expensive (you might get a 10% break, but that's not much). Those expenses will scale as the kids get older, you'll have kids in college at the same time, be trying to help out kids setting up their own household at the same time. I don't tend to put a lot of weight on money arguments personally, because I've found that the idea that money management scales to what you have/need but you know your money style, realistically is that going to be a problem for you?

We've also enjoyed a lot of pro's having an "only for now" child, we travel with her a fair amount, that would be harder with more than one, we also still have an active social life, because finding babysitting for one kid is pretty easy, if you're hiring a sitter that might not be a consideration, but it is if you're using family and friends.

Like people have said, there's not a right answer and a wrong answer. From my observations of other families if you're going to have multiple kids, closer together is more ideal, but I'm sure others could draw other conclusions.
posted by dadici at 12:18 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, FWIW, I dont' think it's crazy to have another kid partially with the idea that if one died you'd still have a kid. It sounds crazy when you write it that way, but if you follow the pieces what you're really saying is "I like being a parent, I like the idea of possibly being a grandparent in the future, if any child of mine died that would be horrifically tragic and life alteringly sad. But if my only child dies it's actually a double death. It's the death of my child AND it's the death of my life as a parent." I don't think it's crazy to acknowledge that a double loss is bad in additional ways.
posted by dadici at 12:19 PM on December 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

The single child will always envy those who have siblings.

Respectfully, this is hogwash. I am an only child and I never envied other kids with siblings. My parents will confirm that I never asked them for a brother or sister. I remain to this day very glad to have been an only child.
posted by jesourie at 12:20 PM on December 27, 2012 [13 favorites]

The single child will always envy those who have siblings. There is no substitute experience.
posted by Cranberry at 12:05 PM on December 27 [+] [!]

As a 38-year-old only child, this is news to me. WTF.
posted by Violet Hour at 12:25 PM on December 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

We have three children a total of 30 months apart. Do siblings fight? Absolutely! Do they play well together and act like best friends too? Definitely. Did we love our first any less after #2 (and #3) was born? Are you kidding? Not a bit.

Our decision on timing was that we wanted them as close together as nature would let us. We did not want to go through stages like changing diapers all over again. We felt that a family close in age would make for a close family.

The real beauty of it is that while they are very close in age and get along well, they are all three very different in terms of personality. Very different. One wants to be a Marine Infantry officer, another wants to play in a band.

I am biased, but I think single children have it harder when they get older and are forced to learn to do things that are second nature to multiple children families. For example, my oldest is in her first year of college and has a roommate. It was not a big deal sharing a small cinder block room with a roomie. My nephew, an only child, is also in his first year of school and is having a very hard time adjusting to the roommate thing.

I am two years younger than my older brother and 3 years older than my younger bro. I think that worked well for our family too. I don't think there is an optimum time spread between children. What ever works for your family works. For us, having no multiples but three in diapers was certainly a challenge, as will having all three in college at once in a few years.

I think the decision to have more than one child is also whatever fits. There are so many good reasons and some not so good reasons, but whatever the reason, if you are committed to being the best parent you can be, it will be a good decision.

Having said all that, and knowing I would not change anything, I can tell you without a doubt that having only one child would have made our lives easier. There are times I wonder what our life would have been like if we never had kids. Lot more travel and a lot more gadgets I suppose, but a lot less enriching laughter, a lot less moments of pride and joy and probably less ice cream.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:27 PM on December 27, 2012

> The single child will always envy those who have siblings. There is no substitute experience.
posted by Cranberry at 12:05 PM on December 27 [+] [!]

This is certainly not true of me, nor of any of the several only children I know well. If my own experiences and the the reports I've heard from other onelies is an indication, growing up as an only child is fun, enriching, completely satisfying, and absolutely not lonely in any way.

FWIW, I only ever hear these negative stereotypes from people with siblings, never from only children describing their own actual life experiences.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:50 PM on December 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I am not a parent, so I can not speak about that decision making process. But, I have 5 siblings. We are all more or less three years apart with the exception of two of my brothers, who are 15 months apart. We are all friends with one another and enjoyed playing together when young. However, the two that are closest in age also have the closest relationship and it is a beautiful thing to see. (We all fought like the dickens as children, but have grown up to be a very tight-knit, loving pack, so don't worry if your kids seem to hate each other sometimes too.) Based on my experiences growing up, I will probably attempt to do a two year gap, universe willing.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 12:57 PM on December 27, 2012

I know that for me, getting pregnant again, unplanned and much too soon in the grieving process after a miscarriage meant that I spent the pregnancy worrying. A lot. I lived for each milestone -12 weeks, 22 weeks, first movement, etc. I wouldn't take a pregnancy test, I wouldn't tell people, and then as the milestones passed where I gave in and did those things, I fastened my hopes on the next milestone. I had normal pregnancy discomfort and no complications and gave birth to a happy healthy boy, but I can't say I enjoyed much of the pregnancy because I felt - I wasn't over the first loss, and the prospect of an even more vivid loss felt like it would be more than I could take. I don't know if sharing that helps, but my advice would be - well, be ready for any eventual outcome so that you can enjoy the process.

Additionally, my son ended up being an only child; this was sort of the plan though I thought we might change our minds later; we didn't, mostly because he was diagnosed with autism and the chance of having another child with problems was overwhelming - and the chance of having another child who didn't felt like that child would miss out because so much of our attention as parents had to go to the firstborn. I've wished later that we had a second child, but just in the "it'd be nice for him to have a brother" way - and I don't think that's a good enough reason to have another baby.

I'm not an only child myself but I don't agree that you always long for a sibling. My brother (one year older) and I have never gotten along, never been close, and I can't say that my life would have been missing anything if we'd been born into separate families. It's all your daughter will know. If she has cousins and neighbors and friends, she'll have a lot of the advantages of having a sibling, too.
posted by lemniskate at 1:02 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, if you're on the fence, it's really up to your wife in regards to the decision to have a second child.

Never underestimate the power of biology, which tends to overrule all ration and reason.

In other words, this is something you need to discuss with your wife, and see what she wants. She may feel compelled - powerfully - to have a second child.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:16 PM on December 27, 2012

There are no unselfish reasons to have children, so why waste time worrying about whether your reasons are "good enough"?

It sounds like you're overanalyzing random thoughts that cross your mind about having a second child - "if I lost child #1, I'd still have child #2!" - everyone thinks crazy, passing thoughts sometimes and that doesn't mean that you are a bad or insane person. It seems clear from your question that the main reason you are thinking about a second child is that you love your daughter very much and love being a dad. There's probably no better motivation to proceed with your plan.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:31 PM on December 27, 2012

For me it comes down to one thing, and one thing only: do you want another child? I don't, so the question is simple. It's difficult in conversations with people (my mother-in-law was a lonely only child for example) but it is the only truly defensible position. Questions of money, time, emotional ability, all of those things can be argued with in some way (for AND against, it has to be said) but want? Want can't be argued against.

Also, I have rarely been around other babies, or families with more than one child, and felt anything but secure in my decision. Which sounds really douchey if I ever say it out loud but it certainly makes me feel better about it.

It is a point of contention, mildly, in my relationship - luckily he is happy with only one, and multiple nephews and soon nieces, but for him it will always be 'only' and something he would happily change if I weren't as certain as I am.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:43 PM on December 27, 2012

It took us 5 years and lots of help plus two miscarriages before we had No. 1 son. After we got over the initial shock of having a real live baby, we decided that we would not employ any heroic measures to have another, but if it happened it happened. I got pregnant within 3 months of pulling the goalie. Our second child is now 6 weeks.old. So, mother nature kind of made the decision for us.
posted by Leezie at 3:53 PM on December 27, 2012

A sibling is the only other graduate of the insane asylum that is Your Particular Parents. In most cases they are your only peers who have known you your whole life at super-close quarters.

It's not a necessary relationship for a fulfilling life, but it is a valuable and unique relationship.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:56 PM on December 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

You can always have another child to raise by adopting, you don't have to face the health issues a pregnancy involves.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:27 PM on December 27, 2012

I only have one child and have also been struggling with whether to have a second. I can't offer you much advice on child spacing but I just want to say that your thoughts (including the "heir and a spare" sort) are just what I've been going through, too, so you're not alone there. We overthinkers need to stick together. Heh.
posted by amanda at 8:05 PM on December 27, 2012

My husband and I are only children from loving homes (well, I have two half siblings who entered my life in my teens - so I'm mostly an only child ;). We both were happy but would have liked to have siblings, and prefer to have two children for that reason. Just another view from the single side.
posted by pennypiper at 9:30 PM on December 27, 2012

If your wife wants to do it then do itand as soon as possible. I have friends with kids five years apart and the older kid actively hates the younger. I have other friends where the spread is five and eight years and all three get along great. We have two two years apart and though it was a very full six or seven years of baby/child stuff it is now good. They are reference point number one for all experiences - it is both a relief and a joy.
posted by From Bklyn at 10:02 PM on December 27, 2012

Only child here. Never sorry about it, either. Most of the sibling relationships in my gene pool have not been great. My dad's sister is a jerk, and my mom's remaining sister is a cold person and my mom bangs her head against the wall all the time trying to have a close, snuggly relationship with someone who doesn't want it and wouldn't associate with us were we not related. And don't even get me started on the Middle Child Issues. I am glad to not have to deal with this shit.

What it really boils down to with regards to siblings is whether or not their personalities are compatible. I just came back from hanging out with siblings with a NINE years difference in age. You could not tell the difference, they have always been super compatible and close. My parents are fairly close in age to their siblings and hah, no. It really is just gonna be luck of the draw as to whether or not your kids get along, regardless of age. They could be compatible, they could be strangers to each other, they could hate each other. You won't know until it's too late.

What I can tell you is what someone I know online said: does your family feel complete at one, or do you feel like someone is missing? I'd use that as a guideline for yourself more than anything else. But seriously, I can count on one hand the number of OMG SO SAD I WANTED SIBLINGS only children I've met, and the other onlies really have been just fine with it, thanks. Hell, you can borrow some cousins, and your kid can have other friends. It's not dire to stop at one if you don't have a burning desire for two.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:03 PM on December 27, 2012

You want reasons for spacing? How's this: We had always wanted 3, but after we had our second kid, we waited a while and then I had some health issues that took about 3 years to fix which meant I was not allowed to get pregnant in that time. Once that was done, the youngest was 5, I decided that they were just getting old enough to go on roller coasters, and I did NOT want to have to stand on the side holding another baby while everyone else went on the roller coasters. So we didn't have 3 because I like roller coasters.

Point: there are a million reasons why or why not to have more kids and when. None of those reasons matter except if they are YOUR reasons. Whichever way you decide, make peace with it and be happy for the rest of your life.
posted by CathyG at 8:14 AM on December 28, 2012

The single child will always envy those who have siblings. If that is true (which it's not), you also have to believe that every child with siblings will always wish that their brothers/sisters would just disappear. I know I did. (I got over it later).
posted by CathyG at 8:21 AM on December 28, 2012

One sister and I are 10 months apart. Our other sister is 10 years younger. You're trying to make plans for the unknowable, because huge amounts will depend on the temperament of each child. We adored my youngest sister when she was an infant and child, but I will tell you honestly that her teenaged years were like living under hostile occupation. You just don't know what you're going to get or how it will go until you do it.

Nobody can really advise you on anything except: a) ponder if you want 5+ years of nappies or would like a break, and b) ponder your financial abilities to provide for two children.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:31 AM on December 28, 2012

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