Considering the pros and cons when deciding to add to your family

Will you expand your beautiful brood beyond the current headcount?

So, are you having another baby? It’s a question I thought would cease at two children, but inquisitive individuals (and in rare quiet moments, my own inner ponderings) are eager to discern: will we expand our brood beyond the neat realms of family theme park passes, standard-sized sedans and the middle row of most commercial aircraft?

Is two more manageable than three?

As an already over-stretched working mother of two, I’m swinging toward a ‘no’ – along with the majority of Australian women averaging 1.74 offspring per uterus. But in truth, if pressed, I can’t say with cross-my-heart certainty that we’re done. When broaching the topic with Sarah*, a mother of one in her early 30s, she says that if she and her husband have another, they will absolutely stop there. “We feel that two is much more manageable than three. We also want to ensure we can not only provide the best life for our children, but also maintain some degree of a life for ourselves.”

The matter of money

I hear that. A third child would be the final nail in the coffin currently housing my extra-curricular activities, at least for the next few years. And on a more selfless note, what about the planet? Environmental scientists say we should limit ourselves to one child, two tops. The matter of money, also, is nothing to be sniffed at, with the cost of raising a child to 17 years of age in Australia close to $300,000.

“Holidays and other luxuries not only become more expensive with more kids but also prove logistically challenging, and we want to provide the best life experiences for our children that we can,” says Sarah. “We don’t want their childhood to just be a blur of sleepless nights and stress.”

Baby breaking point

Baby number three pushes some parents to breaking point. An online chat thread in answer to the question ‘should I have a third baby?’ is flooded with mothers confessing it’s much harder than they expected. Many say the school run with a newborn is near impossible. Several wish they’d left more space between two and three. All soften their gripes with something along the lines of, ‘but it’s worth it’.

The complete camp

Not so for Sarah, who says: “If we are lucky enough to have a second child we will feel as though our family is complete.” And that, right there, is the clincher – a feeling of ‘completeness’. Without which you could well be hanging out in the ‘not sure’ camp with myself and Amy*, a mother with a high-flying career and two sons. “I think kids are awesome,” she says. “It would be cool to have another one and see how they come out.” But Amy’s boys are a civilised six and nine, so she’s hesitant to re-enter the sleep-deprived stage “where the whole family has to revolve around the baby’s rhythms – or the toddler, which is worse!” She’d also need to hit pause on her career. “My job is heavily focused on travel and having a small baby would mean that I can’t do that, nor would I want to do that for a good two to three years.”

Pigeon pairs

Amy’s husband offhandedly remarks that he’d like a daughter (statistically speaking, couples are generally more likely to stop at two if they have a pigeon pair) but until the day he looks Amy straight in the eye and says ‘let’s have another baby’, she’s sitting on the fence. It seems that those who do decide to go in for round three are often pushed out of uncertainty by focusing on the bigger picture – beyond the early years – and crawling toward that bright light at the end of toddlerdom.

Chaos or contentment?

Back in the online chat thread it seems that those who do decide to go in for round three are often pushed out of uncertainty by focusing on the bigger picture – beyond the early years – and crawling toward that bright light at the end of toddlerdom.

I ask Jess*, a mother of three in her early 40s, to give it to me straight – the good, bad and ugly of parenting a trio. “The good is that we are a crazy, active, noisy, happy gang which I love to be a part of,” she says. “The bad is that you get less natural individual time with each child, so this has to be planned in a deliberate way – and the ugly is being outnumbered! As the saying goes, quantity has a quality all of its own. Chaos reigns.”

Chaotic, sure – and yet three could be the sweet spot for contentment. A Eurostat study showed that families with three or more children are much more likely to be happy than families with one or two, although this is not a decision you’re likely to make based on statistics. For many of us, assessing whether or not to have a third child won’t be a rational or logical process, but an emotional one. Those fortunate enough to have this choice will follow their hearts. Either way, two is plenty charming.

*Names have been changed.

Melanie Dimmitt

Melanie is a freelance arts, lifestyle and business journalist living in Sydney.

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