The question of a second child
January 17, 2007 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Those with two or more kids: if you had to do it all over again, would you do so, or not? Not counting outside factors like the state of the world and so forth.

Our details, if it matters: Virtually all of our friends who had kids have had a second one. It seems like even the ones who had a rough time say they're glad they had kid #2. I don't know if that's diplomacy or delusion talking, or if more kids really is better.

Our only child is a 3-year old boy. I think we've done an outstanding job with him... people always rave about how polite, well-behaved, and smart he is. So I think we would probably succeed as parents if we had another one. Believe me we're concerned about overpopulation, peak oil, Malthusian scenarios, and/or where the U.S. economy might be heading, but considering how well we've done so far with our first kid and considering our education (my wife has a liberal arts/philosophy/physics background and I have a physics background) I think our family stands a slightly better than zero chance of making a positive contribution at some level of society.

For me the real question is whether the day-to-day reality of having a second kid is just a little harder than our 1-child family, or a lot harder, and if you've found it better or worse than you were expecting.
posted by zek to Human Relations (45 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
We have a three year old and a ten month old, and while a fair amount of work it's more than worth it. They get along great and will always have each other. I grew up an only child and while that was fine now I'm older I somewhat envy people with siblings. Day to day it's definitely harder dealing with two when #2 is still a baby but that doesn't last too long. I'd say go for it.
posted by zeoslap at 1:50 PM on January 17, 2007

Wow. I think it's different for everyone. We just had our third and it's seriously hard. But having #2 wasn't so hard for a variety of reasons - the biggest reason being that #2 slept through the night almost from the start.

I wouldn't say #2 was harder but having just one was easier, if that makes any sense. I didn't realize that it was quite easy going to the store with one rather than two and now two rather than three. You adjust and adapt as you need to, though

One thing I like about having more than one is that they tend to be friends with eachother and entertain eachother, giving me a break from time to time.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:50 PM on January 17, 2007

I wish we had had a third.
posted by caddis at 1:55 PM on January 17, 2007

“Having one child makes you a parent; having two you are a referee.” - David Frost

Yes, more was better in our case.
posted by badger_flammable at 1:56 PM on January 17, 2007

Although I have no children of my own, I'd like to interject that having a sibling is really good for you. It forces you to learn conflict resolution, empathy and sharing. It gives you someone to lean on when things get tough. Also, all the grown people I've ever met who grew up as an only child have been, right down to the individual, assholes. YMMV.
posted by Sara Anne at 1:59 PM on January 17, 2007

We adopted our first after spending a couple of years of undergoing fertilty treatments. Got number two the more common way three years later. (yeah, yeah, I know, the same thing happened to your aunt/sister/good friend/hair-dresser. Once they "relaxed" and stopped worrying about it, they got pregnant.) At the time, I was a little leery, but now I can't imagine my world without both of them. Or, how lonely either of them would be without the other.

They are great friends. Watching them play together and seeing the care they show toward one another are the greatest joys in my life.

Also, before I got the second one, I assumed that the first was a "typical" kid. Meaning that I figured all kids were pretty much like him. Seeing how different the second one is, and realizing that each is great in their own, different ways, has been a wonderful experience.

In sum, knowing everything I know today, I would do it sooner than we did. Three (or more) however, strikes me as dangerous. I wouldn't want to be outnumbered.
posted by qldaddy at 2:01 PM on January 17, 2007

I'm with Sara Anne. Having two kids might be worse for YOU, but it's better for THEM, and I think that's more important.
posted by clh at 2:03 PM on January 17, 2007

I've got two, and I reckon the second adds only about another 30-40% on to the burden of the first. My guess is that a third would only add another 20%.

Somewhere between 6 and 8 I think they start looking after each other, and the factors turn positive, so eventually having 12 is no worse than having two. Broadly.
posted by Phanx at 2:11 PM on January 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

No one likes to speak ill of their own children, and in fact I feel a little awkward saying as much as I do here, so I don't know what sort of negative response rate you might be hoping for. Despite that, I've found having a second child to be (in all matters apart from the emotional) a tremendous amount of work that I would be otherwise happy to have avoided. Keeping sibling rivalry from raging out of control; dealing with the mental, physical, and emotional developmental needs of children of different ages; dealing with the exponentially expanding social calendars; all this stuff is just plain more effort as you add more kids to the mix.

With one child, I felt as though I had sufficient close daily contact to have a highly beneficial effect on her development. I had a precocious kid who was fun to be around! With two, it's all I can do to find enough time in the day to do the minimum I require of myself as a parent: reading to/with each kid; teaching valuable cooking/SCIENCE!tific thinking/BSing/blindfolded Donkey Kong skills; spending sufficient quiet togetherness time; being emotionally and intellectually available. I thought I did a commendable job of this parenting stuff when I had an only child, and having added another I now feel like I'm barely making a passing grade at meeting the needs of both.

Having said all that, a lot of it comes down to the temperament of the children in question. My kids are opposites in some significant respects, and the conflict of needs makes it difficult to parent them simultaneously without imposing two vastly different (and, honestly, unfair) sets of rules, expectations, and roles within the parent/child relationship. They're two different people, they need to be treated differently, and it's difficult to provide consistency for everyone as such.

Would I admit to wishing I could roll back the clock to when I had only one kid? No. To me, that would be a betrayal of the emotional trust my children offer me. The farthest down that spectrum you'll get me to commit myself to is this: Having two kids is a hell of a lot more difficult and in some ways much less fun than having one.
posted by majick at 2:13 PM on January 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

I was an only child, and while I didn't mind it as a kid, I sometimes find it very lonely as an adult - the idea of taking care of various aging people on my own, not really having anyone with a shared life experience.

We have two children who are almost seven years apart (12 1/2 and 6). We're very fortunate that they get along well even though they are, and will be for a long time, at different phases in their lives. It's twice as expensive but not twice as hard, if that makes sense.

I like having two, but am very happy to have stopped there.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:14 PM on January 17, 2007

Also, all the grown people I've ever met who grew up as an only child have been, right down to the individual, assholes. YMMV.

This attitude is sometimes the worst part of being an only child. I can't speak to the experience of parenting two children, but I know some things about only children:

Only children learn how to interact well with adults; they learn to entertain themselves without companions; they learn the value of time alone; they respect other people's space.

They also have to shoulder all the responsibility of aging parents alone.

My cousin, with whom I am very close, often says that having a second child increased the amount of work and chaos exponentially, rather than simply doubling it. But she's very happy with her two wonderful children. I don't think it's a either/or, really is it? I mean, you will be very happy people either way, it sounds like.
posted by miss tea at 2:14 PM on January 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

My mother says two is okay, but three represents a tipping point. It's not like you have three hands or three parents (usually). Also, nothing comes in threes, except for peanut butter cups.

I have one child and am thinking about a second. My doctor says a sibling is a gift you give to your child. When you are in your 80s, your child has someone else with whom to share the responsibilities, memories, anguish and joy. Outside of your parents, your longest life relationship is usually with a sibling. This is not to say that all sibling relationships are great, but it is worth considering
posted by acoutu at 2:17 PM on January 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have three children a total of 29 months apart. I would do it again in a heartbeat. The only difference is I would have a fourth. I think having an even number helps prevent two ganging up on one and makes for easier alliances. I found it true of playdates too. We always try to have an even number of kids (including mine) at a play date. I am one of three children myself and I look back on my childhood (a happy one) and think my brothers's and I would have been that much better off with another sibling.

The additional burden of multiple over one is only apparent and noticeable for the first month or so, then you forget what it was like and live as if this is the way it is, as it is. YMMV of course.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:18 PM on January 17, 2007

And as to the question of if it's better for the child? My kids are glad they have each other, despite the tremendous effort it takes to mitigate the effects of their squabbling. Whereas, I have always believed that my childhood and subsequent early adulthood would have been better in every conceivable way if my (same-aged, adopted) brother had never entered my life.

Having a sibling isn't always good for an only child.
posted by majick at 2:19 PM on January 17, 2007

I caught my eldest son (9 years old) playing his DSlite in the bathroom whilst brushing his teeth. I delivered a stern warning about not bringing his DSlite into the bathroom because if it got wet it would stop working.

Two hours later, number one son goes for a number two. I heard a clunk, then a groan, then a "Daddy!" The DSlite had gone to the great big electronic graveyard in the sky, via the toilet bowl.

The now-dead gadget was retrieved, and I began to wind up for a long lecture in which the phrase "told you so" was going to used many, many times. At this point, number two son (7 years old), looks up from playing his DSlite, punches a fist in the air, and shouts "Fire in the hole!" Then, without another word, he goes back to his game.

In short, having two kids is a lot more work than having just one kid, but it's a lot more fun. There's the squabbling, the teasing, the bickering, and the endless rounds of "He did it first." But there's also knowing that despite all the refereeing of arguments (as somebody mentioned upthread), if you do it right, these guys are going to be each other's best-friends for the rest of their lives.
posted by veedubya at 2:27 PM on January 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I add that I also think it important to consider the financial aspects of having another child. It is a considerable burden over the life of the child.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:33 PM on January 17, 2007

If you want to read a good book on the benefits of having only one child, try Maybe One.

I found it very reassuring when I thought I was going to have only one child. Now that I'm expecting a surprise number two, I'm finding these responses from people who say it was the right choice pretty reassuring as well.
posted by Badmichelle at 2:42 PM on January 17, 2007

My little sister was the best gift I ever got.
Seriously, from the kid's standpoint, as I'm not a parent, and don't plan on being one... being and only child would be lonely. When mom and dad got divorced, we took care of each other (and mom), and someday when the parents have to go into nursing homes, I'll have someone to help me make the decisions.
As far as overpopulation goes, my parents taught us that they only felt the need to have two in order to replace themselves on the planet. I always thought that made a lot of sense.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:54 PM on January 17, 2007

I hate to think how #1 daughter would have turned out without #2 daughter around. That was the main mechanism by which #1 learned she was not, in point of fact, boss of the world.

Both daughters are fantastic, wonderful women and I love them to death. I couldn't imagine life without either of them.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:05 PM on January 17, 2007

A friend told me that having one child was like having one child, and that having two was like having twenty. For me, my first was like having twenty (he has mild special needs), and having two was like having twenty-one. I'm really, really glad we had the second.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:14 PM on January 17, 2007

I think you're going to get a variety of responses as well based on spacing.

Friends I've seen with kids 18 months apart? The squabbling is insane, the work is insane, their house is insane.

There seems to be a "too close" and "too far" point, and being a (happy) only child with currently just one child, I haven't figured out what I think that end post perfect timeline is. (But of course I'm hoping it's 9 months after I decide to have a second.)
posted by Gucky at 3:15 PM on January 17, 2007

A lot has to do with the age difference IMHO. Ours are 7 years apart and the first time my 2 year old shouted at me while I was giving out hell to his 9 year old sister floored me.
I'm humbled by the relationship they've built up. But three..... no way!
posted by Wilder at 3:38 PM on January 17, 2007

More than one makes it exponentially harder for a working mom to keep up on her career, or so I've heard from people I know who have two. Me, I am only going to have one if any. As one of six kids, I think siblings are somewhat overrated, or at least that the benefits of having your parents' full attention far outweighs the detriments of having no company. (No offense, siblings!! You know I love ya. All y'all.)
posted by footnote at 3:45 PM on January 17, 2007

Oh, and you can use the money you save by only having one kid to buy yourself some really good longterm care health insurance, so you don't have to worry about who's going to take care of you in your dotage.
posted by footnote at 3:46 PM on January 17, 2007

One child: Double-teaming
Two children: man-to-man
Three+ children: zone coverage

That aside, we have two. You say how "polite, smart, and well-behaved" he is. This is fine and good, but in my experience with two children, the degree of polite/smart/well-behaved is not by any stretch solely up to me. A lot of how my child acts is due to his nature. They have markedly different personalities (as young as a few months, too), and a lot of our success or failure has to do with the temperament of the child and not parenting style.

Simply put, a second child may be incredibly easy or incredibly hard (ADHD, disabled). You never know.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 4:00 PM on January 17, 2007

Oh yes, two is great (except for normal parenting angst which is luck of the draw x puberty). Seeing the relationship these two people have both when they were little, and now as teens, and the good things they have done for each other - my pacifist son got into a fight to protect his sister when they were in elementary school. My daughter will cook for her brother during the holidays. They still fight, and learn to work it out. They learn to tolerate each other's difference and annoyances, mostly.

If I would change anything, it would be having either none or two, not one. One would have meant my son became even more of an introvert than he is, I think. I believe they add a great deal to each other's lives, and to ours of course.

(oh, mine are spaced 20 months apart but my niece and nephew are 7 years apart and two other nephews are 21 years apart - not a typo and all these families seem to have had extra, not less, as a result of these relationships).
posted by b33j at 4:23 PM on January 17, 2007

Also, all the grown people I've ever met who grew up as an only child have been, right down to the individual, assholes. YMMV.

I hear stuff like this as an only child and it rather sucks. I don't know many only children who go around telling folks with siblings that they're, really.

Zek, if you want to have another child, don't worry too much about being able to parent two kids well. But don't feel like you're damaging your kid by not giving him a sibling.
posted by desuetude at 4:46 PM on January 17, 2007

Also, all the grown people I've ever met who grew up as an only child have been, right down to the individual, assholes.

hm, I can think of at least 4 of my closest friends who have been only children. Yeah, actually the more I think about it, the more it seems like an extremely high portion of my friends don't have siblings - may just be coming from a downtown NY intellectual background (though plenty of my friends aren't...). ANyway, a good portion of them have exceptionally close relationships with their parents, but the ones who don't deal with more loneliness & difficulty in social situations. I would say that people without siblings may be more shy, more private, perhaps more standoffish, but also probably more introspective... I get along with that kind of person even though I have a sister and am really not that private a person myself.

Personally, if I were going to have a family, I think I would kinda want two kids just for variety, somehow, and I could even imagine three being fun. But if it doesn't naturally sound appealing, I don't think you should do it. No one's going to say they wish they didn't have their kids after they have them, but I think some people prefer a sensible stable well structured home and some people prefer a chaotic creative exciting home. You should probably consider where on that spectrum you'd place yourself in deciding how big your family's gonna be.
posted by mdn at 5:15 PM on January 17, 2007

All I know is I am so glad I have a sister - she's my best friend in the world and growing up with her taught me so much about how to interact with other people. I know plenty of only children who've turned out wonderfully, but I don't know a single one who doesn't wish they had a sibling.
posted by walla at 5:21 PM on January 17, 2007

From personal experience -

The value of having siblings is largely dependent on how well the siblings get along. This, in turn, largely depends on how you treat them, in relation to each other.

My parents treated my brother and I very differently. Although they were completely abominable parents, I can definitely say that they were more cruel to my brother. As a result, my brother was always jealous and resentful of me, and we never became friends. As adults, we don't speak, and it's almost as if I never had a brother.

So, if I had to give any advice at all, I would say that whatever you do, try your best not to pick a 'favorite.'

I know, I know, I always have to be a downer in these threads. Sorry, guys.
posted by Jake Apathy at 5:58 PM on January 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also from personal experience, I grew up as one of two, then lost my brother about 8 years ago. My husband grew up as an only child, then met his three half-siblings, also about 8 years ago. Each of us having experienced being both a sibling and an only child, we strongly believe that if/when we have children, we will at least have two because of how much we value those sibling relationships.
posted by platinum at 6:11 PM on January 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm one of four, and I couldn't imagine not having any siblings. There's always somebody there, whether you're in the mood for it or not, and I don't think anything can replace that sort of relationship.

No kids are going to get along 100% of the time, but that's half the fun of it. I believe that my siblings have taught me valuable life skills. Sharing, conflict resolution, and having to stand up for yourself.

Mum and Dad often joke that without us, they would be rich. It's true, raising four kids costs a lot. But I know that they wouldn't have it any other way, and would do it all over again.
posted by cholly at 6:52 PM on January 17, 2007

Having a sibling is special, but as my brother says, when you have 3, they out number you, always.
posted by lundman at 7:19 PM on January 17, 2007

My wife and I have two sons, age 16 and 19. The short answer is: Just do it.

It will be a bigger jump than you would think, since your second child will present you with a whole new set of challenges, but you will not regret your decision. In terms of plus-minus for your son, he will have a richer childhood if he has a sibling.
posted by Doohickie at 8:51 PM on January 17, 2007

We have two -- 3 and 7 months, both daughters.

Everything people say about it being more difficult, esp. in the short run, is true. We are less attentive to both children than we were to our older child -- when I get rare times to just be with one, it feels amazing, whereas handling both at once can be exhausting quickly. Weekends have stopped being restful!

That said, I know from observing them interacting already that they'll have a fantastic time playing together in the future. And that things will get easier once they begin to entertain one another more.

Miss tea's note on only children: They also have to shoulder all the responsibility of aging parents alone. This was a major factor in our decision to go ahead and have two. That sounds more pragmatic than it actually worked out, but it was definitely in the mix.

And finally, I know several wonderful people who were happy and loved only children. They are eccentric, generally speaking, but then, so are most of my friends. Our decision to have a second child wasn't predicated on any notion that our first would be more well-adjusted due to the presence of a sibling. Mostly, we thought that she'd just like having one more than she'd like having us all to herself. We'll see if we were right, I guess...
posted by BT at 9:11 PM on January 17, 2007

I have two, boy 11 and girl 9. Our second child was easier because we were more experienced and less uptight. I have a friend who laments that most people stop having babies just when they're getting good at it.

It seems to me that one parenting event is absolutely key to success and happiness. Each child must be taught early that throwing a fit is absolutely not acceptable, and not a success strategy. Accomplish that and life is good, fail and life is hell.

My wife likes babies. I find that I much more enjoy kids from 4 years on. Once they can walk, talk, and use the potty I find life a lot better.

The world needs more good kids. If you're on the right track, we need you to keep it up!

Last point, feel free to ignore if you don't grok God. I never understood the prodigal son until I had children. Raising children teaches you some of the deep truths of Christianity. Plus, there's that "be fruitful and multiply" thing (smile).

Good Luck.
posted by takenRoad at 10:02 PM on January 17, 2007

I have two boys, 9 years apart, (bottle of wine will do it every time). I couldn't imagine life without them.

The oldest was an only child for the first 9 years. Now that he is away at school, the younger one gets to be "the only child."

The 9 years spacing of my two children has allowed me to give each one years of undivided attention.
posted by JujuB at 10:03 PM on January 17, 2007

Here's a very similar question I asked a little while back (ignore the dickheads who railed about my second dot point).

Turns out we're going for two. We'll see how it goes. Ultimately I think the benefit for the child in having siblings is a major factor.

The burden on the planet of more children is IMHO far too easily dismissed by people, especially parents who justify their own actions, but then I'm being a little hypocritical by aiming for a replacement population.
posted by wilful at 10:32 PM on January 17, 2007

Also, all the grown people I've ever met who grew up as an only child have been, right down to the individual, assholes. YMMV.

Let me add to the chorus calling bullshit on the predictive value of this anecdote. Two of the nicest, most generous people I know were only children. I grew up with a host of siblings and I'm an asshole.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:30 AM on January 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Though I also know some assholes who were only children . . . correlation does not equal causation.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:31 AM on January 18, 2007

Also, all the grown people I've ever met who grew up as an only child have been, right down to the individual, assholes. YMMV.

I don't think this statement can be called out enough, frankly. And yes, as an only child I'm kind of offended, but whatever. When it comes down to it, anybody that had a happy childhood will aim to replicate the factors that they percieve contributed to it, and sibling number is one of those factors. Hence, I have friends who have siblings saying that they will only ever have one, and friends who are only children saying they want a brood. I was a very happy kid, and am a very nice, successful, well adjusted adult, and my husband and I are only planning on having one child (he has a sister who he is in fact very good friends with.)

There's no way of predicting whether having more kids will be better or worse, so just go with what feels good to you. If you are a good parent, your kid(s) will probably (nothing is certain) grow up happy, whether you have 1 or 10.
posted by gaspode at 7:31 AM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

+1 For 2. 2 years apart would be a nightmare, 4 years about right imo (my kids situation). My brother and I are 7 apart, a bit far in childhood, but good now we're both adults. If you're sure you want to stop at 2 I recommend some permanent birth control - I know too many people with interesting third surprises!
posted by singingfish at 11:59 AM on January 18, 2007

I have four kids, 3, 5, 11, and 13. I can tell you that the first child is the hardest. We were extremely aprehensive when we learned that we were going to have a fourth. But it has been a blessing.

It is expensive, but it also teaches the children about limits and creativity. If you can't afford to take the family to a movie, you must produce your own entertainment. The kids learn a lot from one another -- the younger kids started reading and writing earlier than their older siblings; the older kids seem to be more compassionate and gentle than their peers who don't have younger siblings. Living with such a large family has made me more patient and grateful for simple pleasures.

I like rikitikitavi's sports analogy of parenting morphing from double-teaming to man-to-man to a zone as the number of kids increases. We have begun entreating our eldest to "join our team" with pretty good results (until he decides to start his own team, of course).
posted by Bitstop at 12:24 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Father of 3. Generally looking at families, my spouse is from a family of 7 kids, what you get is 1 2 3 and many. After 3 the differentiation doesn't seem quite as extreme. If we were younger when we started we probably would have opted for more rather than less. That is an emotional decision. The pragmatic decision was that 3 was what we could afford and still be comfortable. And of course all of my children have been brought up to believe that their goal in this life is to maintain their parents in a style to which the parents wish to become accustomed.
posted by ptm at 2:43 AM on January 19, 2007

Okay, posting late, God help me, but...

Having siblings doesn't mean that you will get help with your aging parents. In the ten years I spent doing caretaking, and going to support groups, and talking to others in the same boat, what have you...I knew ONE person who got help from her siblings. ONE. And she was from a farm family and was in her 60's. Virtually everyone else ended up having one sibling in the family take over everything and then she (usually it's a she) was begging to get any kind of help from the other siblings. And usually getting little to no help.

I suspect logistically, it works out better that the more patient sibling, or the one that lives closest to the parent, ends up with the job in total.

So, if you are having two specifically for that reason, it's bullshit. Have two because you want two, but don't do it so the burden of aging parents is shared. Odds are it won't be.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:53 AM on January 21, 2007

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