Four Moms Talk Family Size, Sibling Dynamics, and Why Timing is Everything
Did you always dream of having a family big enough to fill up a minivan or your own basketball roster? Or maybe you had a baby and quickly realized one is more than enough, thank you very much? While some parents struggle to conceive at all, others are graced by a surprise(!) second, third or fourth baby, just when they thought they were “done.” When it comes to family planning and family size, there is only so much we can, in fact, “plan”. One thing that’s guaranteed – every parent’s story is uniquely personal, and each family took its own set of twists and turns along the way.
As someone who has always been open to, yet unsure about, having a “larger” family (more than the average two kids), I love hearing about other parents’ experiences in planning for (or not…), and raising, families of various sizes.
To get the real scoop on what it’s like to have two, three, or four kids, I interviewed four mothers of varying family sizes about growing their brood, the story on siblings, their ideal age spacing between kids, and how each new addition has changed them as parents and their family’s dynamic. I hope you will enjoy their candid, insightful words and the lessons they’ve learned along the way as baby has made three…then four…then five…then six! I am indebted to these women for contributing to my first collaborative, interview-based blog post.
First, a bit about how I know each of these moms:
Shawna and I have been friends since high school, were in each other’s weddings, and bonded even more as belly buddies while simultaneously pregnant with our sons (her second, my first), both born in March, 2013. Shawna lives in a suburb of Spokane, WA with her husband and two sons, Kiptyn (3) and Brody (1).
Becka and I led Young Life together when I was in college and though we have not seen each other in years, it has been a joy to follow her life and the growth of her family remotely, through emails and Facebook. She resides in a suburb north of Seattle where she and her husband are raising their four children – Jordan (7 ½), Kalum (6), Addison (4) and Lincoln (1 ½).
Kalimar and I were in a book club together a few years ago, and I will never forget the gathering at my house where she stunned us all with the news that she was expecting her (surprise!) third child and first son, Anthony (2). He joined big sisters, Kadence (6) and Kohyn (3). Kalimar and her husband reside in a Seattle suburb.
Vanessa was my PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) group leader when Aaron and I joined our first group with our son, Anderson, and has served as a support and example to me as I have gone on to lead PEPS groups myself. She and her husband are raising their three kids – 10-year-old Luke, 7-year-old Vivian and 4-year-old Soren…and have a fourth on the way! – in Seattle.
It goes without saying there are wonderful mothers of 1 and of 5+ I also could have interviewed for this project. And if you are one of those moms – I welcome your unique insights, so please comment and share! Alas, these are the moms I invited on board to share their greatest struggles (the diapers! the whining! the sleep!) and what keeps them smiling (the giggle fests!) no matter how zombie-tired they are… as their families have grown… and grown… and grown. Read on!
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” – Woody Allen
“I never grew up wanting to get married, or thought about being a mom,” shares Vanessa, who is currently expecting her fourth child.
“We had not really discussed children before our first. When we got married I didn’t even think about kids, really – hadn’t given it a thought.” Vanessa says that it wasn’t until after having children she knew she wanted to have four. “Everyone always tells me that the woman knows when she is done having babies…literally just having given birth the mom will know – she will still have that feeling for one more or she will feel complete and done, and it’s so true with me! I never felt done with each of my kids. I’m currently pregnant with #4, and I feel done. I’m ready after this one to be finished (my husband is so happy about that!).”
For Shawna, “two” was always that ideal number – before and after becoming a mom. She says that even in discussions she and her husband had before getting married, having two kids someday “seemed natural for us.” Now, with two toddlers at home, they certainly have their hands full, but Shawna admits, “Now, we partially joke that we would like a third child.” She is quick to add that is not an option for them, however (“They make surgeries for that sort of thing”).
Kalimar also had her feet firmly planted in the “two kids” camp, until a life-changing positive pregnancy test came along that turned her plans – and life as she knew it – upside down. Her son, Anthony, was born when her youngest daughter was just 16 months old – an experience she wouldn’t recommend to anyone. “I was in survival mode for his entire first year and can barely remember any of it,” she shares, adding that the timing of having two babies so close together was “extremely challenging” and – quite simply – “horrible.”
Becka, who gave birth to four children within six years, says she and her husband “always talked about having four kids close in age.” But those plans didn’t come to fruition without some serious doubts along the way. “Our talks/plans did not change until I was eight months pregnant with our third child,” she says. “After having two boys I had mentally assumed our third was also going to be a boy and if I was lucky I would get a girl for our fourth. (Finding out we were having a girl) threw a wrench in my mental picture of my family.” As a very tired pregnant mother of two, Becka says she “began to think I couldn’t do this again. I couldn’t be pregnant again and wake up to take care of three children.” After some serious thought and prayer, and experiencing 19 months as a mother of three, Becka says at that point she finally knew that she truly wanted a fourth child.
How Close is Too Close? The Age Gap Debate
As any mother of twins will tell you, taking care of two babies is at least twice as much work as taking care of one – twice the diapers, twice the feedings, twice the tantrums… you get the idea. Much of these same consequences hit parents of closely-spaced kids. While many parents intentionally wait until older children are potty-trained, sleeping through the night – even in school – to lessen the impact of adding another baby to the mix, other parents deeply desire for their kids to grow up very close in age, and some even find it easier to get through the “diaper days” all at once, however daunting that task may be.
Let’s talk diapers.
It’s something every one of the mothers I interviewed mentioned – without even being asked. For some it plays into their ideals for age spacing, for others not so much.
Becka loves the age spacing between her kids (“They are each other’s best friends”), though she can see the benefits of spacing kids out even more.
“It is hard because I am in the ‘trenches’ for quite a few years in a row,” she says, “but once I get out I will be able to stay out. As opposed to my parents who had four kids with a four-year age gap between each, so my oldest brother was 12 when my baby brother was born. That’s 14 years of never really getting out of diapers!”
For Kalimar, most everything was easier with her first two children (daughters spaced 2.5 years apart) than with her youngest two children who have only a 16-month gap in age.
“My first two are 2.5 years apart and it’s wonderful. My first was daytime potty-trained when my second was born…could ask questions and understand my answers.” The short spacing between her two youngest was another story entirely – both were in diapers full-time, and Kalimar was still nursing nearly halfway through her third pregnancy, which hindered her own (and, she suspects, her baby’s) weight gain. When the new baby arrived, her 16-month-old daughter was confused to see Mom holding a new baby and not her. “The lack of communication and understanding of my 16-month-old was heartbreaking. There were so many times daddy had to pull her away crying and screaming because she wanted to snuggle while I was nursing the newborn and she couldn’t.”
For Vanessa, diapers were no big deal and weren’t one of the reasons she spaced her kids further apart, at three years apart each. Though she says diapers never bothered her, getting each child to sleep through the night, be more independent, and into a bigger car seat were some practical aspects to her choice. Most importantly though, she just wanted more time to be their mom, one at a time. “The best thing to me about my kids’ age gap (three years each) is that I had time with each one – to take care of each of them in the baby stage when they need you the most.” She also mentions that her kids are still “incredibly close” even with the larger age gap.
Shawna also had her sights set on a three-year age gap, but plans changed when Kiptyn was 15 months old and she and her husband found themselves trying for baby #2. Like Becka, Shawna and her husband had grown up with their own siblings spaced further apart, and felt the impact of not being as close. With her boys almost exactly two years apart, the double diaper duty can be taxing, but she loves that they are “close enough to experience life together, go to the same schools at the same time, and grow up as buddies.” Playing referee to their wrestling matches is a small price to pay.
Growing Pains…and Growing Joys
I asked the moms what the hardest transition was for them – going from 0 to 1 kid, 1 to 2, 2 to 3, or 3 to 4. Three out of four said the first baby was the hardest, followed by going from 2 to 3 (although Vanessa felt that by the time they had their third, it was a “piece of cake!”).
“Everything is much easier with two,” says Kalimar. “Once you have three or more you are in the market for a bigger car, bigger house etc…”
Becka seconds the car considerations, adding, “I don’t want a car bigger than a minivan!”
Across the board, one of the biggest rewards the moms have felt as their families have grown, is watching the bond their children form with each other.
“There is a lot more fighting and yelling happening, but also so much more giggling and silliness,” says Vanessa. “The giggles are priceless,” adds Becka. Shawna agrees, “Pure joy is seeing my boys interact and laugh together. The belly laughs I find myself listening to these days make me smile from ear to ear.”
Whining toddlers and older kids wanting to roughhouse with the fragile younger babes was a top challenge mentioned by the moms. But on the flip side, the older, more independent kids are also able to help out with little siblings. Girls tended to take right to “mothering” their new baby brother or sister.
Words of Advice for Undecided Parents
I asked the moms what advice they would give other parents who are undecided about how many kids to have, and when to have them. Here are their pearls of wisdom:
From Kalimar: “Age spacing is crucial! I highly recommend not having kids closer in age than 2 ½ years if your first is a girl, and at least three years if your first is a boy. The reason for this is that girls are natural little mothers…they understand and want to help with baby at an earlier age than boys….even the most sensitive boy loves to crash and bang, and yes he will crash and bang into the newborn.”
From Becka: “Talk about it, pray about it and think about what you can handle. There are hard days that seem to last an eternity, but in the scheme of things a year flies by!”
From Shawna: “Consider how much time you’ll be able to spend with each child, teaching them, learning alongside them. (As for spacing), go with what feels right. Whether planned or unplanned, children enrich lives, turn life upside down in the most perfect of ways. Life is amazingly crazy with kids in it, and it is the best, most challenging thing I may ever do.”
From Vanessa: “There is so much pressure on parents to have their second child…I felt like right after we had our first, people were already asking us when we were going to have our next one! Now that I’m pregnant with baby #4, people can’t believe that either and I get a lot of weird looks and people asking if we are having it on purpose, and ‘Why?’ which no one would ask with baby #1 or #2. There is no pleasing everyone… If you are content with having one child, then just have one. Do what you want, and have your babies when you want. You don’t have to please anyone but yourselves.”
As for Me….
Aaron and I are expecting…..to hopefully be pregnant again sometime next year! God willing. I SO relate to Vanessa’s comment about a mother just knowing when she is done, or not done, having children. Throughout my pregnancy with Anderson and even early on with him as a newborn, I already genuinely looked forward to someday, I hope, getting to do it all over again.
The insight I have gained from these mothers is invaluable to me as one of the hardest things about making any parenting decisions is the many “unknowns.” I so appreciate the “reality check” these moms have given me and their experience-based wisdom makes me feel more informed as to what I need to take into consideration – what’s best for Anderson and what’s best for Aaron and me as parents – before heading down the road toward additional children. As much as my heart tells me I would love to be pregnant again right now, my head tells me there are good reasons to wait just a little bit longer.