The Case for Stopping at Two

I’ve read a few essays lately that argue for having one more child—the love a baby brings, the joy, the chance to revel in babyhood again and use all the skills you’ve honed over the first couple, why three children are better than two, and four better than three.

I’ve long dreamed of a large family and a wonderfully chaotic home, the kind you see in movies with laughter around the dinner table and children running freely. But my husband and I have two children (6 and 3) and we’ve struggled with whether or not to have one more. We continue to avoid making a decision, and the longer we do this, the more sure I am we won’t have another.

There are very real and logical reasons against having a third: we love to travel, and the cost of flying is already prohibitive. Our children are still young, and we already need twice the groceries. We have only two, and we still sometimes forget to feed them lunch.

On the other hand, it makes me want to cry to think that I am past babyhood and might never be there again, that a significant and lovely and messy part of my life is gone. That my baby is already three makes me anxious. I try to hold onto every minute and yet they still slip away like wisps of smoke. And, if I’m being honest, if my babies are no longer babies that means I am older, too. And I don’t want to be older. The single strongest lesson my children have given me is the realization that life is fragile and fleeting. I understand that now, and I’m not sure I want to be old enough to be the mom of tweens. I want to forever be a young mom of babies. I also feel a pull toward whatever person might exist—the life inside us waiting to be created. That “what if” calls to me.

Over the last few months, I’ve realized these feelings—the melancholy over something lost, the angst of what if—are the force behind my desire to have a third child.

And that’s exactly why I don’t think we should: because refusing to let go is not a good enough reason to bring a child into this world. In fact, it would be selfish.

Because, really, when I take off my rose-colored glasses, I remember that I actually dislike the infant stage. Sure, I love cuddly, giggling babies. The problem is the other 80% of the time. Having babies taught me that I am a different, more impatient, person when lacking sleep. I don’t need a lot of sleep, but I need it. They also taught me that I am easily over-stimulated. If the TV is on, my youngest is crying, and my oldest is talking over everything in an effort to educate me about dinosaurs, I lose my mind. Impatience and losing one’s mind are not good parenting traits.

I also realize that the feeling of “what if” will never go away. It will always be there; I just have to cut the cord. And if, in a few years, we decide we really do want another, there are many, many children waiting to fill a home.

For me, it has been harder to say no, even by default—to be honest with myself about my weaknesses, to understand what’s at work in my desire to have another, to realize that yes, a bigger family, the one I dreamed about, could bring joy beyond measure, but to accept that maybe we’re just not cut out for that kind of life. And the joy I feel now, spread among my wildly wonderful two, can be enough.


37 thoughts on “The Case for Stopping at Two

  1. It’s a good decision. There is no better number or better way — just your way. I wrote one of those posts you reference above (not sure if you read mine), and I was moved to write it because when I was struggling daily with the decision, I mostly heard the voices of naysayers. I am so in love with how our decision turned out that I wanted to offer it as a positive voice to women who might be in the same place I was. But that doesn’t mean that I think it’s the best decision for everyone. And I think there are many awesome and perfect things about two children. It sounds like you have your family. And yes, I think it’s tough to accept that the baby phase is over for all of us, because on some level, it’s also an acceptance of us as women moving to a different phase of life and the world and our place in it. It’s bittersweet. Loved your post. Your kids are precious.

    • Thank you! Yes, I did read yours; in fact, I think I commented because it resonated with me. It’s what I want…I’m just not sure the evidence shows I’m cut out for being the mom to several children, much as I absolutely hate to say it. I’m glad you wrote it because, yes, so many parents of 3+ tell me to stop!

  2. Wow. You echoed every reason why we stopped at 2. My boys are 8 and 5 and like you, I am so sad that the baby season of my life is passed. And I am sad about what that means. However, like you, the lack of sleep was brutal (my boys didn’t sleep through the night until about a year) and I love how free we are now. I can just pick up and go and have adventures. Yes, if I were more patient and we had more money I would have had a third. But I can only tolerate a certain amount of chaos, and honestly, there are enough people on the planet as it is. I figure if I still want a baby in another 5 years we can adopt. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Right — even though it isn’t the main reason I think we won’t have another, I definitely thought about the fact that there are quite enough people on the planet. If I’m unsure about having another, why add to it?

  3. You’re right… The feeling of what if will never go away (we have an empty nest now and I still have it), but I still would have had one or two more if I had it to do all over again (we have 2)!

    • I’m a horrible sentimentalist, so I can completely picture myself (because I’m already doing it) regretting not having more, wishing I could have held on to those lovely years a bit longer, and not been so logical about the decision.

  4. Nice self reflection and acceptance! As my two are now tween and (gasp) teen, I am loving watching them spread their wings and becoming more independent. My oldest does his own laundry and still calls me “mommy,” loving hugs. It only gets better! Watching them grow… Enjoy!!

  5. “Over the last few months, I’ve realized these feelings—the melancholy over something lost, the angst of what if—are the force behind my desire to have a third child.” EXACTLY. You have written what I have been trying to put into words for the last two years. Loved this, thank you.

  6. Love, love, love! I hear you on the impatience part. Really, it doesn’t matter how many children you end up having, they all grow up eventually and you still have to say goodbye to all things baby.

  7. I too dreamed of a large family, after all, I am from a large family, and couldn’t imagine life any other way. But life doesn’t always work out according to plan. Our first son was an easy pregnancy and delivery. My second pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 5 1/2 months. Finally six years after my first son, son number two made his appearance. Six years later and after more miscarriages, son number three arrived. My third pregnancy was the most difficult, and I delivered a 10 pounder (numbers 1 and 2 weighed 8 pounds each). We almost lost him during delivery. I was thirty-seven, and though I wanted more children, I decided to listen to the messages I had received over the years with my miscarriages and my last pregnancy. I was lucky. My three sons were beautiful and perfect. I wasn’t getting any younger, and I started to think about being an older mom. Was it fair to a child to have parents who looked more like grandparents than parents? There are days I still think about how wonderful it would have been to have more. You are right, that feeling never goes away.

  8. Yes. This. Exactly. We struggled for a long time and put it off, put it off (the not-deciding that becomes, eventually, deciding) and finally I realized that wanting a season of my life not to be over was not the same thing as wanting a third child. I felt the former, acutely, desperately, but not really the latter. And I decided it wasn’t fair to have a child for that reason. So we are four, and happily so. I don’t think the what-if ever goes away, though. xox

  9. Even though I don’t yet have children, this post struck a cord with me. Two of my best friends and my sister just had babies, so I’m surrounded by pregnancy and baby talk, and my Facebook is flooded with pictures of gum-mouthed smiles and spit bubbles. It’s all adorable, and I want in on the fun. I do want children some day, but like you, I stop and look at the other things I want in life and how having a child would impact that. It’s not a good enough reason to have children this instant just because my friends are. Like you said, that’s just selfish.

    Those rose-tinted glasses…they’ll getcha every time!

    • Every. Time. I am a sucker for all things reminiscent and melancholy and sentimental. Yes – it must be hard to resist the pull while everyone around you is having babies but you’re exactly right. There’s no rush and you’ll know when it’s time for you–mostly, anyway. I’m not sure you’ll ever feel exactly ready, but you’ll know when it’s time to try.

  10. Loved this! Thank you for your honesty. It’s good to know that I am not alone. I have a 9 month old and a 12 yr old stepson. I really would like to have another baby to have a sibling closer in age for my baby daughter, but I did not enjoy my pregnancy as I threw up everyday of it. I also did not enjoy the lack of sleep the first 6 months of her life. However, I am really loving this stage and seeing her personality shine through. I guess I have time, but it’s refreshing to know that others struggle with this decision as well. Thank you again. I found you through the Mamapedia Bloggers FB Group!

    • I’m so glad you did! Thanks for coming by. Yes, you have time. Plenty. Although, before you know it (as they all say) your daughter will be three. I think a lot of people struggle with the decision at some point, whether they have one or four.

  11. Jess, I love this! Pat and I have been debating the fourth child for months now. What you said is the absolute truth for me and really makes sense. Seems more selfish reasons for wanting another… It’s so sad to see them growing up, yet wonderful too. What a roller coaster ride! Miss you!!

    • Aw – miss you! Thanks for reading and coming by. See, I think I’d be the same. If we have a third, I’ll still feel this way. Or a fourth. Or fifth. I don’t think I’ll ever feel ready to say goodbye to a stage of my life. I’m horrible at it.
      It really is the most nauseating and exhilarating roller coaster ride ever.

    • Thanks so much, Lisa.
      The lack of sleep really does take years off your life. I sometimes think I can power through the energy drain, but it still comes out in lack of patience. I’ve gotten so much better but it’s been a long climb, and having a third would probably knock me back to the base.

  12. I relate to every word of this, although I have three children, not two. I love the idea of a large, bustling family, always have. Unfortunately the reality of this life, with its noise and its chaos, doesn’t align with my personality, which, like yours, is easily over-stimulated. I know this, and yet it’s still hard to let go and say, “I’m done.” This post is wonderfully honest and insightful.

  13. To be honest… I think you’re overthinking things. I understand your pov,I’ve heard it a lot from moms at the schoolyard and hardly anyone I know these days goes above 2, and the handful I know who did never went above 3. But if all your life you’ve wanted more than 2, then settling at 2 because you think it will be too hard, you won’t manage it, or you can’t do it is selling yourself short. Look it up, ask mothers, and most will say that the third is the cheapest. I found the third was the easiest because my 6 year old relished in being a big sister, and my 3 year old loved being a big brother. The big baby items were still in storage, and since I had a girl and a boy (like you), the hand-me-downs basically made clothes a breeze. Sleeping was easier because I didn’t stress things like I did with the first two, I knew what I was doing, so we never had those all night scream sessions. Even as they got older it wasn’t as big of a deal… baby boy shared a room with his big brother, no need for a bigger house, most cars sit a family of 5 easily, and while flying was costly it wasn’t impossible. The only argument I’ve heard that held any weight on how the third was harder was a mom commenting that with 2, there’s always another parent to handle the other one. The thing is, with the third…. they all learn to wait. It’s not a bad skill for them to have. You talk about losing your patience… what if you told your 6 year old “hon, I know you want to talk dinosaurs, but right now the baby needs me” and she had to wait. That’s something that pays off big later in life. You make time for each of them, but you shouldn’t be focusing so much on each of them that you’re losing your mind. They SHOULD wait.

    I understand, I really do. For me the only reason to stop is the question of “Will you regret it.” Wanting the baby stage again, wanting another child to have more moments, to me is not a bad reason to want another child. Thinking it will make you younger… may be wishful thinking, but as the child of an older parent, I loved how my mom doted her time on me and made sure every moment counted because she had seen how fast they went by. Would you regret having a third? I don’t think you made that argument. Would you regret never having a third? You said yourself that you probably would, and discounted it by saying you could adopt.

    To me, it seems like settling, using the excuse that you can always adopt (sorry, but not everyone can, the requirements are pretty strict and you may find that it’s far more of an issue than you’d think.) Like someone saying “Well, I wanted to go to graduate school, I wanted to finish that book, I wanted this, but I’m going to settle here because it’s comfortable and the idea of taking the next step is scary. And if I ever want to later, then I can go ahead later.”

    It’s your guys’ choice in the end, no need to share it with the internet. But for other moms out there who are thinking about this… I do believe it boils down to “would you regret it?” Some would regret having 1. Others would regret stopping at 10. When that ‘what if’ goes away, that’s when you should stop.

    • Thanks, Callie. I’m not sure it’s that I think it will be too hard, it’s that I’ve noticed I am easily overstimulated, and children are definitely stimulating! I rarely settle. For me, the hard part is recognizing an actual part of myself that doesn’t jive with my dreamed-of life. More than settling, I think it’s just knowing and being honest with myself.

  14. All really well said, Jessica. And funny I’m reading this today just hours after Bryan randomly called to say, “Why not one more?” (He says it often, but there had been no context for it today.) So though we’re talking about different numbers you and me–I’m with you. I’m happy with what we have.

    • You’ve definitely done the “why not one more?” thing! I would love to be able to say I’d be relaxed and happy with four, but I just see the way I am with two (great sometimes, good most of the time, but constantly trying not to lose patience) and I’m thinking it would be really pushing things to have another.

  15. “Impatience and losing one’s mind are not good parenting traits.”

    Oh, how I relate to this sentiment! 🙂

    It was so interesting to peek inside your mind on this. And I don’t think there is anything for ME to agree or disagree with, because your experience is yours, and mine is mine. There is no arguing with a personal choice. (I think that those who feel the need to argue with a post like this are having that argument with themselves, not you.) The right answer is the answer you choose.

    What’s important is knowing yourself, and I love seeing this level of introspection. We writers like to pick things apart; otherwise, how would we discover what makes our characters tick?

  16. I get this post so much because I was having the same internal debate, and realization, two years ago when we were wondering (very briefly) whether to go from one to two. We stuck with one, and now I am certain it was the right decision for us. But first I had to accept that our one and only’s “firsts” would always be our “lasts”. That was the hard part, but ultimately what made me realize what was driving the conversation about 1 vs 2. It was about not wanting our daughter to grow up more than wanting another baby. Once that mental space was cleared, it became so much easier to enjoy what is rather than fret about what could be.

  17. Thank you for sharing this! My husband and I made this same decision and it is so nice to feel an affirmation that I am doing the right thing!

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