eight is enough?
July 27, 2006 7:04 PM   Subscribe

How big should a family be? What's relevant when undertaking your family planning?

This is not a question with cut and dried answers, but I would like to know what are the relevant or material factors that you think should be considered when you're discussing potential breeding with your life partner.

How many is the right number of kids (assuming > 0)? 1, 2, 6? We've got one and are debating a second.

We talk about:
* sibling relationships (number one having a brother/sister)
* having a 'spare' (if number one turns out to be a turd)
* the concept/visualisation of 'family' being multiple kids ('one for each of us')
* single child syndrome
* environmental impacts and consumption of first world people - a clear moral imperative to not breed any further
* $ costs in both raising kids (bigger car, bigger house!) and lost earnings
* time for our relationship as adults (not just tired and stressed parents)

I'm very interested in hearing your reflections, wisdom, experiences, studies proving or refuting any points made, whatever you've got.
posted by wilful to Human Relations (65 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A family should be as big as you want it to be.
posted by caddis at 7:10 PM on July 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

"We talk about:

* having a 'spare' (if number one turns out to be a turd)"

Hmm. I'm not sure how to respond to that in a non-snarky manner.

That being said, I always say that you're not truly a parent unless you have three kids. At that point you're outnumbered, and if they all run in different directions at the same time, the two of you have to figure out which two you're going to chase.

I'm sure that our having three kids has nothing to do with that statement, however.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:12 PM on July 27, 2006

Response by poster: hey, snark away. No wrong answers. What does 'truly a parent' mean though?

Caddis, thanks for the insight. Perhaps my question should have included the phrase "we're not sure how big we want it to be"
posted by wilful at 7:16 PM on July 27, 2006

We knew we wanted more than one child. We stopped at two because when Kid #2 was born, it felt as though everyone had arrived. There really isn't any other way to explain that, it's not like we got a telegram from the universe saying "Y'all are done!".

Overthinking it can get you into trouble, but there's certainly a case to be made for keeping financial and environmental concerns in mind when you plan your family.

However, children aren't an excuse to consume as much as some people use them as an excuse to consume, if that makes any sense. In many ways having children has made my husband and I far more conscious about our impact on the earth and our casual consumerism, but this doesn't seem to be a standard reaction to parenthood, based on some of my observations.

It is reassuring to have a backup kid, for sure :)
posted by padraigin at 7:18 PM on July 27, 2006

"Truly a parent" means whatever you want it to mean, it's just a way of showing faux contempt for people who "only" have two kids, who in turn don't think people who "only" have one kid are parents, etc. Living in Utah where three kids is just a starter family, I'm sure other people don't think we're "truly" parents either. The point is that however many kids you have is always the "right" number.

Does that make any sense?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:19 PM on July 27, 2006

* single child syndrome

Some of the biggest shits I've known have come from large families, had multiple siblings. The eldest child always has to be the responsible one, the middle has to act up to get attention, and the third is the precious baby who can do no wrong.

/bitter, defensive single child
posted by lekvar at 7:21 PM on July 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'd consider whether or not twins or triplets run in your family. I'd definitely put off a second pregnancy if I knew there was a chance I'd wind up with more than one baby, but that's just me :-) I'd let the existing kid spend more time with his cousins or other family members to make up for the lack of a sibling.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:25 PM on July 27, 2006

#1 Don't call it breeding.
#2 Whatever number of kids you decide on ahead of time, the actual number will be 60-80% of that.
#3 Not only number of kids is important, but spacing; siblings two years apart will have a relationship much different than siblings seven years apart.
#4 Don't forget to take pictures of the subsequent kid(s); as the fourth child, my page in the family album is dim compared to the multiple pages my brothers and sister have (I've, unfortunately, done the same thing to a certain degree with my youngest).
#5 Money and personal time...can you explain these concepts to me?
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 7:30 PM on July 27, 2006

Response by poster: why not breeding? What else is it?

We've got one, are thinking about two, are we going to get 1.2 - 1.6 ?

heh, you got photos? As the fourth kid, all I got was annual school photos.
posted by wilful at 7:33 PM on July 27, 2006

I don't think you should be outnumbered by your children. YMMV.

My biases: grew up as only child gained 5 step-siblings between 17 & 22, parent of one planning to have another
posted by raedyn at 7:34 PM on July 27, 2006

I am one of three and because of a vast age difference always felt like an only child growing up. I quite enjoyed it.
I have one child. My wife and I decided on this because of the career path that each of us chose. We wanted to be comfortable with our finances and be able to "enjoy" life.
Another point, I truely believe that both my wife and myself would have lost our sanity with more than one.* see mr. crash davis' first post
posted by busboy789 at 7:36 PM on July 27, 2006

Three is the hardest number according to all the parents of large families that I know. I won't argue as I have three.

The world is unfortunately set up for two child families. I'm glad we had three. But then I am an only child and know no better.
posted by konolia at 7:37 PM on July 27, 2006

We've got two and that's more than plenty. But one wasn't quite enough.

But given your train of thought about a spare kid, I have a very hard time recommending more children for you.
posted by fenriq at 7:40 PM on July 27, 2006

Response by poster: But given your train of thought about a spare kid, I have a very hard time recommending more children for you.

Hey I wrote it and don't resile from it, but don't get too judgemental too quickly.
posted by wilful at 7:42 PM on July 27, 2006

Unless you are a special couple, the burden of raising that second child will fall disproportionately on the shoulders of the wife. If she has career ambitions that could hurt them quite a bit. If she already has misgivings about his partnership in the task of raising children, having another one will almost certainly worsen the situation. Make of that what you will.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:59 PM on July 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm the oldest of three (and yes, all stereotypes about oldest children fit me to a T). I loved having two sisters who were close to me in age (we're all approximately two years apart, although the youngest two are only about 16, and are currently one year apart in school). To me, three seems the perfect number of children- we can entertain each other like nobody else.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:04 PM on July 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm the oldest of three, and father of two, grandfather (so far) of 4. My sister has 4, and is grandmother of 1 (so far).

The woman I had my children with came from a family of 5 kids; she ultimately changed her mind about 2 boys being the "right" size family for us, after we'd agreed, and I'd had a vasectomy. We were divorced, she re-married, and she soon had a third boy, with her second husband. But she really wanted a little girl, so they tried again, and finally, on the 4th try, she got her girl, although it took her 12 years from the time our oldest boy was born.

My second wife was the oldest child in her family, and had only a younger brother. He died in a motorcycle accident when he was 19, and it devastated that family.

My third wife came from a family of 13 children, and is aunt to 41 nieces and nephews that I knew about when we were divorced 15 years ago, plus something like 38 grand nieces/nephews. That family was nuts; I never did learn all my inlaws names, and it took years to meet them all. It was relief when we were divorced not to have to go to Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations with them, where my head spun all day trying to keep all the names and relations straight.

I relate all this, simply to say, people change their minds about this subject, all the time, and for reasons they themselves do not always understand until they get to that part of their life. You can try to plan your reproduction, but it is hard to plan your family.

But I'm happy I left the parent track with 2. That was right for me, and I've no regrets.
posted by paulsc at 8:15 PM on July 27, 2006

It's going to turn out to be just right no matter how many you eventually have. I've fathered 3 and come from 2. My wife is from a family of 7 and I've associated with other children from larger families. The one statement that comes to mind from a parenting standpoint it that you count your kids as 1,2 3 and many. Anything over 3 is like a quantum difference from a parenting standpoint. You don't mention your age, but if your over 30 more will be a lot of fun, if you're under 30 3 will take more out of your life than you can imagine. Parenting is supposed to be fun. See Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilber for some incredibly appropos insight into your dilemma.
posted by ptm at 8:25 PM on July 27, 2006

My wife and I decided two was enough for us. It turned out that we got a boy and a girl, but I'm 99% sure we'd've stopped at two even if they'd both been the same sex.

See, we figured that there are two of us, so with two kids, we can play one-on-one. With more than two kids, we'd have to go to a zone defense, and that can get complicated.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:27 PM on July 27, 2006

Ms. Steady and I have stopped at one, partly due to a medical issue, but mostly because I am pretty sure I only want one and she mostly agrees. We are young parents however, and have discussed the possibly of adopting another child several years from now, once our daughter is in her pre/teens. My wife is from a family of 7 (the youngest adopted), and I have a brother, and so we do regret that our daughter will not have sibs, but she is close to her cousins and her (six!) grandparents, so family is already a big part of her life.

One of the biggest issues for us is cost, particularly child care costs. We were always struggling to keep our daughter in good child care situations, and if we had had two, we would have been in serious financial trouble.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:49 PM on July 27, 2006

One of seven. I love it. I cannot imagine my life without all of my siblings, but I was also in a special spot. Being #6, I am 4.5 years younger than my older sister and 6 years younger than the baby. I rather liked the space.

However, as a possible future parent, I do not think 7 is viable in most cases. However, I feel like the more kids, the better. My mom and dad never had time to be the ever-present hover parents to any of us, an we all learned independence and self-entertainment because of it. I have friends who still have difficulty figuring out how to do manage life by themselves because they always had mom and dad to take care of it. See today's NYT for an article on parents setting their children up with partners.

Also, I don't think there is anything wrong with wilful's comment about the "spare". I think it is realistic for parents to realize their kids my not be the greatest thing to hit the face of the earth. I am personally sick of those helicopter parents I know whose kids can't do anything wrong.
posted by oflinkey at 8:49 PM on July 27, 2006

The one statement that comes to mind from a parenting standpoint it that you count your kids as 1,2 3 and many.
posted by ptm at 8:25 PM PST on July 27

I would add to that: It's harder to go from no children to one, than it is to go from one to more.
posted by padraigin at 8:51 PM on July 27, 2006

Ugh. Please excuse the beer-induced mistakes above. One thing with the big family-- we drink.
posted by oflinkey at 8:52 PM on July 27, 2006

wilful, my disdain for that statement cannot be overstated. Considering a second child in case the first one doesn't turn out the way you want tells me that you are having kids for all of the wrong reasons. Have another kid to keep your first one company, have another kid because you've got alot of extra love to share but please do not have another kid as a backup plan.

Besides, if your first kid doesn't turn out the way you want, what makes you think the second, third, fourth or fifth would?
posted by fenriq at 9:22 PM on July 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

fenriq: there are good reasons for having children? The world's got plenty of people, so all the reasons are going to be selfish in some fashion.

I acknowledge the basic human desire to have children all the same, and a part of the consideration process must surely be "what if this one turns out to be a murderer?". A spare's not a bad plan to address that fear.
posted by bonaldi at 9:41 PM on July 27, 2006

Never have more children than you have hands.
posted by frogan at 9:41 PM on July 27, 2006

When deciding to have kids, I think we considered finances, stability, and proximity to family. We also knew that having kids meant having at least two--my husband is an only child and hated it, and I am my mother's only child. I think it's too much pressure to put on a kid. There is this subtle expectation to be everything to everyone. We ended up with two boys, about 4.5 years apart.

Two is good. We fit in restaurant booths and double hotel rooms. We have room in our car for a friend and/or the dog. Our kids genuinely like each other. When there is a problem or crisis, there is one parent per kid to iron things out.

We are about 99.9% sure that that's it. I don't like pregnancy, and my husband doesn't want to be outnumbered.
posted by whatnot at 10:00 PM on July 27, 2006

bonaldi, what if the "spare" IS the murderer?

Not to Godwin here but were you aware that Hitler's parents had several miscarriages before he was born?

Besides, yes, I think there are good reasons to have children. Among them to offset the innumerable kids created by the people who go on Maury to find out who their daddy is so they can get all up in his face and force him to pay child support. At least I like to think that we're offsetting those kids. I know we're making the world a prettier place at the very least.
posted by fenriq at 10:06 PM on July 27, 2006

..you are having kids for all of the wrong reasons

whats wrong with wanting a spare? a sizeable percentage of humans are in fact turds as im sure youve noticed. why not try to hedge your bets
posted by petsounds at 10:14 PM on July 27, 2006

Response by poster: fenriq, chill out. You're getting way too excited by one little line there. You've got fuck all evidence for why I'm having kids, something you could admit to yourself in the first instance.

Take my brother (please). He's got serious personality issues, no friends, insular and isolated. Had he been an only child, the life of my parents would have been much worse, and life for him would have been as well, since he wouldn't have had any siblings to talk to.
posted by wilful at 10:18 PM on July 27, 2006

I'm not excited at all, wilful, you posted it, you said you'd stand by it, I'm calling you on it. Besides, nothing I've written is snark, everything I've written is truly how I feel.

Hey, you asked for input, I'm giving you input. If I'm offbase then I'm happy to be offbase. All of your other points are pretty decent concerns/thoughts but that one really struck a chord with me.

Have you ever thought that your brother might have been better off as an only child? That way your parents could have focused on him and gotten him help or therapy before he became the way he is today. But that's neither here nor there.

The skinny is what do you want? Do you want more kids? Then have them. We knew we wanted two and had two and are (planning on) stopping there. But I was a third kid and a surprise at that so sometimes its okay to overshoot your target. We didn't want to get outnumbered though and two seems like the perfect number for us.

I'm sorry if I've been presuming facts not in evidence but I was reacting to your initial statement. But with the addition of what your brother is like I have a better understanding of where you're coming from and would not have reacted as I did originally. My older brother is a superstar, very high powered executive world traveler blah, blah, blah. I've been in his shadow most of my life which is part of the reason why I live on the west coast and the rest of my family lives on the east coast. So bear in mind that your other kids may exist in the shadow of your first as well and that can be a tough cross to bear.

Okay, I've derailed and commented plenty enough for your thread. I will respectfully withdraw with a final thought.

If you do, in fact, have more kids then please don't ever "rank" them. Treat each of them as the individuals that they are and not as a "replacement" for one that didn't turn out the way you wanted. Because the one that didn't turn out will figure it out eventually and will almost certainly be deeply, deeply hurt by your hedging your bets.
posted by fenriq at 10:47 PM on July 27, 2006

I see families of all sizes at my job. Some families are perfect at one and some are perfect at 10. What I will say is watch the spacing. Nearly without fail the kids that are less than 3 years apart have miserable, tired parents. They almost all eventually figure it out, but the families that are spaced a little more reasonably are just happier. The kids seem to be in competition less. The older sibling seems to like helping more. Now, don't go crazy with the spacing and put too much time between them. Three to five years seems pretty perfect.

EatTheWeak and I are planning 2 or 3 (probably 2), we think.

And I thought the spare child comment was hiliarious.
posted by nadawi at 10:55 PM on July 27, 2006

As one of six kids (mostly two years apart), I can't really imagine wanting less than three, and four feels like a good number. Two might be okay, but a single child would feel unnatural. My brother has just had his second boy, and is planning to have at least a third child.

My youngest brother is six years younger than the next kid. All of us older ones had each other to play footy in the street, tennis, board games, cricket and all kinds of stuff, but he gets stuck at home on his own a lot. It must be even worse for an only child, and among my friends who have only one sibling, it's about evenly split between people who get on well with their sibling and people who are more like an only child, in terms of companionship (except with more arguments).

But more kids doesn't have to equal sixty-bedroom mansions. I shared a room until I was 18, and left home. We did have a van, but it's 15 years old now and my parents have just replaced it. As someone said upthread, however many kids you have, it'll be your choice to consume more.

And as Terminal Velocity said: try and take a photo of the 'not-first' kids. I don't even remember seeing a baby photo of myself, although I'm almost sure that there are some. My eldest brother has at least a whole album.
posted by jacalata at 11:35 PM on July 27, 2006

Not being an only child, I can't talk about "only-child syndrome." But I can say I'm awfully happy my mom ran out of birth control on that fateful trip across Canada, 1985. My younger sister is my best friend (we even live together) and a wonderful confidante in the craziness that is my family. My older sister is fucked -- completely fucked -- and I don't know what I would do without someone to talk to who understands how sad that situation is without having to explain a lot of background information.

I'm also glad because in a sense my little sister is the "spare" -- I was diagnosed with a usually deadly cancer a few years ago which hopefully (knock on wood) will stay in remission for me. But if it doesn't, at least there will be one child there to assure my parents that the world isn't entirely shitty.

And finally, I'm glad I have my sisters -- both the younger and the fucked-up older -- because we are my dad's only family. We were at his wedding recently, and it was kind of sad for me because we were his ONLY family. Just the three of us. And Christ, what a representation we were. But what you should know is that my dad came from a family of two full siblings and five -- FIVE -- half-siblings. A larger family didn't make a difference for him because despite all the siblings, there never was a family. The kids were all sent to various relatives and taught to be wary of one another. So it's not like having more family was a boon for him (though it might have been for me).

So have 1 kid. Or 5. It isn't going to matter. Maybe my older sister would have been perfect if me and the little sister hadn't come along. Maybe she was always destined to be messed up. No one can ever know. So have as many kids as you think you want and can handle. Listen to Episode 144 of This American Life, The Disappearance, which touches on having children after losing the children you already have. And do whatever you can to make sure the kid you already have doesn't turn out to be a turd. Cause back-up kid or not, you don't want that to happen.

(By the way, I say all of this as someone who works with kids, but can't have them, but would have like, 10, if I could.)
posted by Felicity Rilke at 11:57 PM on July 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Two. I say this as one of six.

-Two parents
-Two hands
-You can still sit at a four-top when you go out to eat, avoiding the longer wait for a party of five-plus
-You can still drive a normal four-door without anyone having to ride bitch
-No ganging up on each other
-Two shots at grandchildren
-They each have a built-in partner in crime

Alternative rule: x=2n+1, where n is the number of responsible adults in the household and x is the absolute maximum number of children under 18 and animals that don't live underwater before chaos with absolutely and irrevocably reign supreme.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 12:33 AM on July 28, 2006 [3 favorites]

i'm one of 8, second oldest, we're all two years apart. two years between each child, not all eight of us compressed into two years.

i love it. the house is never quiet, it's never tidy, it's never calm. but hey. it's lively. you grow to love whatever life you have, and i'm sure i'd be equally happy with two kids if that's all there had been. being here though, with seven siblings, I think it's a wonderful place to be. It's a great conversation starter, you have to really be quite good at personal skills and learning to compromise, and it's so easy to get along with people.
posted by twirlypen at 12:37 AM on July 28, 2006

A day will come when you will need support from your children in one way or another. If you have two kids, they will be able to share this responsibility. My folks are only in their 60s but they are divorced and the fact that my brother lives closer to my mother than I do and can visit more often makes things a lot easier for me.

Another thing that I don't think has been mentioned yet: having two children will give you a better chance of having grandchildren.

Regarding the environmental impact, with two kids you're just replacing yourselves... if everyone with children limited it to two, we would see a steady reduction in the population due to those who stopped at one or who opted for no children at all.
posted by teleskiving at 12:56 AM on July 28, 2006

you're not truly a parent unless you have three kids. At that point you're outnumbered, and if they all run in different directions at the same time, the two of you have to figure out which two you're going to chase.
You should never have more children than adults for that reason. With a proviso that you should never have more children than the smallest number of arms any one of those adults has, for the same reason.

Wish someone had told me that before I had four of the little monsters.

As has been said already, you will know when to stop. If you are not suire you want another one, listen harder - that may be the voice saying "stop".

That "spare" comment - ugh.
posted by dg at 1:18 AM on July 28, 2006

I say three. I say three because two is a nice number and while it's rare these days in the West, children do die occasionally.
posted by delmoi at 2:06 AM on July 28, 2006

If there were to be a single right answer to this - perhaps if you were a government dictating the size of families that everybody should have the answer would be "a minimum of two to replace each parent plus whatever extras are required to counteract the infant mortality rate". In the UK this would be >=2.1 Any fewer than this and the population will die out eventually.

At the other end of the extreme - and where were are talking about an extended family - humans have a Dunbar Number of about 150 - the maximum number of people that we are set up to keep track of a live with socially.
posted by rongorongo at 2:17 AM on July 28, 2006

At least I like to think that we're offsetting those kids.
... which you could still do by adopting. Having kids is essentially selfish, so you can't pick on what you perceive as selfishness by wanting a spare.
posted by bonaldi at 2:30 AM on July 28, 2006

I'm one of three (the youngest). We never really keep in touch, and since they're older than me, i prettly much grew up as an only child. So siblings ain't always beneficial.

My wife's an only child, and completely sane. But I spent an unfortunate year house sharing (in the Sough American jungle, so not much hope of escape) with an only child who was basically a monster, thanks to having been spoiled rotten.

The moral, if there is one? I think it's less about a formula (one child bad, three children good, or whatever), and all about the individuals involved.

Do what you really think is right.

We're sticking with one, but trying to think through the pitfalls this may cause him, and making sure he's missing out on as little as possible.

I'll let you know if it works in, oh, 20 years!
posted by dowcrag at 2:43 AM on July 28, 2006

Have as many as you can afford. I knew a very happy family with 10 kids in a small three-bedroom suburban house. Have at least two, if you've got the money or think you'll earn it. Kids need kids to play with, and if you're in one of those horrible countries where children are allowed out by themselves less and less, your kids will need to play among themselves in lieu of playing with the neighbors.

As for environmental impact: that's very much up to you and how you live. You could raise five good kids who do less harm to the world than another couple who raise one rotten kid that grows up to be a Hummer-driving, litter-dropping, waste-making waste. And having two is the biological minimum for replacing the two of you.
posted by pracowity at 3:32 AM on July 28, 2006

Three is a good number. Four is good for different reasons. Two isn't bad. Five is getting pretty big but, hey, you can field your own family basketball team.

Have as many kids as you want and, importantly, can support reasonably. Overcrowding is a regional problem NOT a global problem. The birthrate in the for non-immigrants is below replacement, so you aren't causing some sort of problem no matter how many kids you have.

Knock yourselves out... as long as you can handle it.
posted by Justinian at 5:17 AM on July 28, 2006

Overcrowding is a regional problem NOT a global problem.

The soaring human population of earth causes more problems than overcrowding. The crops required alone to feed the predicted billions are staggering.

Adoption is the only ethical way to have children; anything else is selfishly choosing either your genes or the pregnancy experience. Valid choices, but not ethical ones.
posted by bonaldi at 5:34 AM on July 28, 2006

As someone who doesn't have children yet, I'm surprised at how many people think it's acceptable to have more than 2, just because they want more. "You could raise five good kids who do less harm to the world than another couple who raise one rotten kid that grows up to be a Hummer-driving, litter-dropping, waste-making waste." Is that really true? I couldn't begin to say. It just seems like humans produce so much waste, just by living.

Personally, I'd love to have lots of kids, but I feel like it's best to avoid that temptation and just stick to 2, max, given the current state of the environment. I may not recycle everything I should, or take public transportation everywhere, but at least I can do my best to limit the number of children I have. (Or maybe adopt.) Having kids these days seems like one of the most purely selfish (and conversely, selfless) things a person can do (with a few exceptions), so why not curtail the urge to 1 or 2?

Another perspective - An African man once told me that his understanding of God's rules on childbearing was that no man should have more children than he can comfortably support. In his world, that mostly meant food, shelter, grade school, and medicine.

As for the 'spare' comment - I think it's quite common to feel this way. Look at the British royal family - isn't Harry the spare?
posted by Amizu at 5:41 AM on July 28, 2006

I think the attitude that having kids today is extremely selfish is one of the most pernicious and self-defeating attitudes I've encountered in a while.

Wilful; having a bunch of kids is not unethical. If you love kids and can support them in an environment like the modern western world, it's a wondeful thing. Very much NOT FOR ME, but wonderful for those who like to do it.
posted by Justinian at 6:01 AM on July 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I would avoid having an odd number if they are close in age. (My three are 29 months apart top to bottom.) I have three and would have had more, but as my wife said, "A fourth child? Sure you can have a fourth. But with your second wife, not me."

I find that any two of my kids together get along great. When all three try to get along there is always an issue of one of them being left out. Depending on the day it could be anyone of them.

When we have play dates at our house, we always invite either 1 or 3 playmates per child as it also keeps the group dynamics in sync.

Have as many as feel right and you can afford. You will know when it is time to stop. But make it an even number.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:00 AM on July 28, 2006

I'm the third of nine (which includes 2 steps and one half). Can't imagine life without siblings -- and the steps and half were pretty much the only positive thing to come out of my parent's remarriage. While I respect people who chose to have only one child (and that will most likely be what I do) it seems a little sad and lonely to me. One-child families also seem to be a little obsessively focused on the child to me, which doesn't seem like much fun for either the parents or the children.

I don't think having another kid will double the amount of work you have to do as a parent -- there's an economy of scale. As the parent of multiple children, you'll have a more relaxed idea about what kids "need" and allow them to be more autonomous. The kids will entertain each other and have the freedom of being kids together. You and your wife will be the adults and will have your own adult life.
posted by footnote at 7:12 AM on July 28, 2006

Justinian, can you say *why* you think it's ethical? I can provide plenty of reasons against, but I'm curious as to yours for. It being rewarding really isn't one of them.
posted by bonaldi at 7:20 AM on July 28, 2006

I do not think there is anything that is explicitly unethical about having children. We are all living beings and it is our sole biological purpose to spread our genes and propagate the species, unfortunately we have been too successful in propagation, but to say that someone is selfish for valuing their own genetic material above anothers is asinine. I rightly feel that my genes are much more important and worthy of being continued then anyone else's, its my job as a living thing to feel that way. Now personally I would probably prefer adopt rather then have my own children, but I would never call someone unethical for following one of our most fundamental biological imperatives.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:21 AM on July 28, 2006

Ethics and fundamental imperatives are two different things. I have an even more biological imperative to eat, but I don't nick my stranger's chips.

Civilisation is about controlling such impulses, and with the world under the strain its under, producing more needless children ... well.
posted by bonaldi at 7:29 AM on July 28, 2006

I'm the second child of four, where i have an older sister and two younger brothers. There's about 2 years between each of us. I couldn't imagine having it any other way. The house is never quiet. I am virtually never on my own. There's always someone to bum around with or go see a movie with or just be there with (at the moment we're all aged 14-20 and all still living at home).

My parents were both one of 6 and wanted 6 kids but it just didn't happen like that, they got to four and it felt right (they probably would struggle with another 2 these days, come to think about it.)

I have friends who are only children and whether they have that 'classic' "only child syndrome" has alot to do with how they were bought up. One was spoiled. One was not. Huge difference.

Althogh it's not entirely relevant, I think that with any child, no matter how many siblings they have, they should get to know and have a good relationship with their extended family. No matter how many kids you have, make sure that they get to know and see their cousins (if they have any) on a regular basis. One of my best friends is my cousin and it's great. I have 26 first cousins, and it's awesome. Let's just say family get togethers are a hoot, especially since we are now starting to come of age.
posted by cholly at 7:53 AM on July 28, 2006

I'm an only, and I will say that I wasn't miserable. There is nothing wrong with having one kid. One of the things that my mom has talked with me about as I get older is that even if they could have had more kids, she's glad they didn't because as they get older, it allows them to be more present in my life, and also grants our extended family some interesting stability because money, if needed, isn't a source of guilt or favoritism. (Long personal explanation follows.) While my husband and I support ourselves just fine, I know that if the bottom dropped out tomorrow, I lost my job and there was a terrible car wreck or something, then my parents wouldn't let us starve or lose our house. I would never call on my parents' financial support in any other circumstances, but I know that they're there for me, and they are able to be there for me in that way because they didn't have to support multiple children and they've been able to really do the right thing financially over the long term. There's a lot to be said for providing that sort of security.

You can raise hellaciously independent only children, or you can raise them to be asses, just like any other kids. I will say also that I've developed a bond of trust and love with my mom that is really amazing. While I know my mom and I would love one another whether I'd had any siblings or not, I am not sure that we would have quite the bond that we have now.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:29 AM on July 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

get over yourself. no one has better genes than anyone else

Now that's just silly. Of course some people have better genes than others. For example, I would have to say that, all other things being equal, I have better genes than someone with Huntington's. That said, it's pretty ridiculous for someone to think that their genes are so extra-special-super-fantastic that they just have to reproduce.

The fact that choosing not to have children is an ethical choice does not mean that having children is not ethical. While I agree that it's at least ethically problematic to have a huge number of children, it's absurd to say that "adoption is the only ethical way to have children." To say that having large numbers of children is wrong really requires an argument from universalization; it is ethically problematic to have dozens of children not because, say, 10 children would have much impact on the state of the world, but because 10 children multiplied by millions of parents have a markedly detrimental effect. The argument, however, works in the other direction as well. If those same millions of parents opted to forego any children at all in favor of adoption, we would also have a catastrophe.

Someone is going to have to have some children -- it would just be nice if we could be sane about it.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 10:06 AM on July 28, 2006

why not breeding? What else is it?

Surely you've noticed that most parents think they're doing something special and magical and wonderful. They tend to get irritable when you point out that their special little angel is just a bundle of DNA wrapped up in a reproduction machine, just like every other animal makes. We fuck, we exchange fluids, we gestate, and we make another breeder who, we hope, will himself grow up to fuck and reproduce.

While it may at times be admirable, there's nothing special or unique about it.

To answer your question: Have exactly as many children as you want to, as long as you do not have more than you can care for, physically, mentally, and financially.

For me and my SO, that number is 0. For you, it may be a dozen.

If you're not sure how many you want, have them until something tells you to stop.
posted by jammer at 10:09 AM on July 28, 2006

The argument, however, works in the other direction as well. If those same millions of parents opted to forego any children at all in favor of adoption, we would also have a catastrophe.

No it doesn't. If those same millions of parents who can make a choice either way chose not to, we'll have a reduction in world population. This is in no way a catastrophe. Lots of humans are not a good. The booming global population is a tragedy of the commons, on a scale that people have difficulty imagining.

Even if it were a catastrophe...
Someone is going to have to have some children
Yes, they are. Accidents will happen, people will get knocked up -- I'd argue this probably happens more than deliberate family planning. So if all the family planners adopted or chose not to, there would still be a healthy population replacement.
posted by bonaldi at 10:15 AM on July 28, 2006

For god's sake, have more than one child. Maybe it's just me and how my extended family has virtually no one anywhere close to my age, but being an only child stinks. It means always being the one person who is put upon to do menial tasks and take the most uncomfortable positions with no one to share the experience with.
posted by dagnyscott at 10:49 AM on July 28, 2006

Mod note: a few heavily flagged comments removed, please keep the conversation on topic and take abortion/adoption debates to email or metatalk, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:15 AM on July 28, 2006

Growing up I was the oldest of two, five years between, and I'm the only girl. My brother and I are not close, but we do love each other. My best friend was the oldest of seven, and I always loved their house. I loved the noise, the constant companionship, everything. When I grew up, I decided, I would have four.

Life came along. I married, and had my first son. Three and a quarter years later I had my second son. Then the marriage ended. My boys are great together, they get along, and rarely argue. I think the age spacing was key.

More life. I remarried to a man who has three, two boys and a girl. The two oldest, the girl and one boy, live with us. I now have the four I always wanted, and I wouldn't have it any other way. They aren't perfect, any of them, and they all seem to take turns getting on my nerves. But I love all of them, and I love my life.

So have as many as you can afford (that was hard for me between marriages, by the way). And you never know what could happen in the future.
posted by annieb at 4:31 PM on July 28, 2006

bonaldi: I didn't ignore your question. It looks like my answer to you about why I think having kids is ethical, along with any followups, was removed. So sorry about that, I guess you'll have to live with the suspense.
posted by Justinian at 7:05 PM on July 28, 2006

I'm the fourth of five children (the three older are each two years apart, five years between me and the next oldest, my younger sibling is two years younger). We younger two never had enough one-on-one time with mom (father flaked out - the only kid he has a relationship with is the oldest). We never had enough money after the divorce and had to subsist on welfare a couple times. We (mom, my younger sib and myself) were homeless a couple times.

Have as many kids as you want. Just make sure you can manage all facets of child rearing.
posted by deborah at 8:46 PM on July 28, 2006

I am the older of two. We are two and a half years apart. My younger brother is one of my closest friends. When I was little, I wanted a sister (mostly so I could name her), but now I'm happy things are the way they are. Any need for a "sister" has long since been fulfilled by any other number of women in my life.

My parents stopped at two for a number of reasons. One, they subscribed to the replacements theory. Two, their parents had paid for their respective post-secondary educations in full, and they wanted to continue with the tradition; two college educations was about as much as their salaries would support. And three, my brother barely slept the first year of his life. If they had had any romantic thoughts about a third child, I think he took care of those.

I can't imagine being an only child, if only because large chunks of my extended family are ... less than stable. I can talk to my brother about these things and he understands in a way no one else quite can.
posted by anjamu at 11:51 PM on July 28, 2006

I am a third child, and I should never have been born. :/

Once I was born, *both* parents got surgically sterilized. My dad has made comments about the fact that they were outnumbered when I came along being a difficulty for them to deal with.

They should have stopped at two, for multiple reasons. For one thing, I am heir to a mental illness that I believe is either genetic or has a large genetic component. I am the third female youngest child in three generations to have mental illness in my family. They really should have quit rolling the dice at two, but they probably didn't realize what they were risking.

Secondly, my parents divorced when I was four, and my mother moved us a thousand miles away from our dad. She had to work full time, and this was the 70s and early 80s, so kids were left to fend for themselves. I suffered tremendously at the hands of my brother (2 years older). It went far beyond "normal" teasing. I was severely depressed, and I knew that no matter how cruel he was physically and emotionally, there was no escape until my mother got home. He would unplug the phone when I tried to call her. He would lock me in my room. He would mock me mercilessly for my tears (which caused me to bang my skull hard against the floor, wishing that I could die so that the pain would stop). My family's major way of coping with the problem was to minimize my suffering. "You're just too sensitive", "You shouldn't let his teasing get to you", "You're just making yourself cry". I heard it all.

He even punched me out one Easter, then accused me of faking it. Oh, joy.

Don't have more kids than you can keep the peace between. For the love of all that is holy, please, *please* don't.

I had a child before I realized how mentally ill I was (I am bipolar). I had thought that my previous bouts of depression were merely passing, but instead I was horrified to find out that they formed a pattern that is part of a profound mental illness that still cripples me. (Yes, I have treatment, yes, I take my medication).

Not a single person in this thread has mentioned college expenses. Ignore them at your peril. My sister (the oldest) got to go to a private liberal arts college. My parents bitched about the money spent, but they paid it. And they hated paying for it.

My brother got a football scholarship and worked as an RA (resident assistant, basically a manager at the dorm) so his expenses were paid for.

When it came time for me, my grades and scores were exceptional, but my mother wouldn't even pay for the application fee for the places I wanted to go to. I ended up taking the path of least resistance and going where my brother went. I got a scholarship for tuition but my parents paid room & board. At least they didn't bitch too much about that. Of course due to the lovely mental illness stuff I ended up failing out.

So please, don't have kids that you will not be able to pay the college expenses for. And don't have too many kids if you have severe genetic diseases that run in your family. It may be okay for *you* to roll those dice, but keep in mind you are forcing another innocent being to pay for the results.

I am stopping at one. It hurts to acknowledge that I am done for good, because my daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me and I would so dearly love another. But I can't put another person through my mental illness. And I can't take that risk. (Completely aside from that I'm just not stable enough, nor do I have any male anywhere willing to raise a child with me, much less ever marry me (or even live with me)).

And my daughter lives with her father. This is thanks to the above-mentioned mental illness. He takes great care of her, though.

So be careful. Reproductive organs are weapons, don't ever forget that.
posted by beth at 4:21 AM on July 30, 2006

I'm an only child, female, 27yo. There were few kids my age in either my extended family or my neighborhood, and I did suffer from lonliness. Nevertheeless, I think that being an "only" had more good effects than bad on me, though as my parents approach retirement age, I worry more and more about the responsibilities I will have as their health declines.

My anecdotal, flame-bait response (take with your own grain of salt): being an only child in America is great for girls, and not so great for boys, thanks to the continuing male-dominance of American society. Almost all the only-girls I've met are incredibly independent, assertive, and self-motivated. I may worry about how I'll care for my parents as they age, but I've been equipped with a take-charge, can-do attitude that will help me figure it out. Only-girls are, in short, more like the stereotypical American boy than the stereotypical American girl, because we are raised with the same sense of entitlement that our society lavishes on boys, but often withholds from girls. Only-boys, on the other hand, grow up with double the sense of entitlement, and are therefore even more likely to be spoiled, arrogant pricks. (Easy to raise one of these in a family of multiples too, I know. But especially easy when The Boy is the center of all adult attention.)

Of course, my experience is 25 years out of date. Girls are wiping the field with boys in schools and colleges these days, and high-achieving girls are even more common now than they were when I was in school. Just remember that gender is worth considering as well when you decide whether you need to add to your family.
posted by junkbox at 9:54 AM on July 31, 2006 [2 favorites]

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