What is the Right Family Size For You?
How many children does it take to complete a family? One, two, three, four…eight? “As many or as few, as long as you think it through,” is the mantra of Alan Singer, Ph.D., author of Creating Your Perfect Family Size. A couple without children can also be a complete family.
“In my experience, the decision about how many children you and your partner should have ranks right up there with choices about career, religion and where you want to live,” Singer said. His motivation for writing a book on family size was to save marriages. “I was always so sad to see marriages breaking up,” said Singer, a researcher and family therapist. “As I worked with couples, I saw a correlation between problems in marriages and children.”
According to Singer the first discussion regarding family size should take place prior to marriage and consist of one question: Do we both want kids? “Couples need to be of one mind in only one aspect of the family-size decision before marriage,” Singer said, “and that is that they both desire to have at least one child. If you don’t agree on that, then don’t get married.” However, Singer discourages couples from getting too focused on a particular number early on. He believes each child should be planned according to how the couple feels at the time they are on the cusp of the decision. In other words, if you’ve always planned four, but three feels right, stop there.
“Though I had not ruled out having kids when I was younger, after I got into my 30s I just felt like that time had passed,” said Nicole Kirkland, family court case coordinator for Family and Children’s Services. Nicole’s husband had adult children from a previous marriage and wasn’t interested in starting another family. Nicole said she and her husband share a wide variety of interests including singing in a band, riding motorcycles and starting a business, and neither feels children would fit into their lifestyle.
“Based on my life events, this is the right decision for me,” Nicole said. “I am very fulfilled.”
Singer dislikes how people often talk to couples who choose not to have children, saying such things as, “You’ll regret it,” or “You don’t know how much joy you’ll feel.”
“The desire to have a child must be deep-rooted and overwhelming,” Singer said.
Tulsans Lara and Brent Koch thought they’d have two children. “But I didn’t like being pregnant and I had a friend who had medical problems with her second child,” Lara said. “That scared me. Brent would have had another one in a heartbeat, but he told me that it’s my body, and he would support whatever I decided. We tossed around the idea of adoption, but in the end decided, ‘Let’s just stick with this; it’s working well.’”
Lara loves the closeness of their family of three and doesn’t feel Abie, age 10, has been negatively affected by being an only child. “Abie is willing to talk to us and spends so much time with us. People think, ‘She must be spoiled because she’s an only child.’ But that’s not true. You can have one child and not spoil them,” Lara said.
“Sometimes you want someone to talk to and play with when your parents are busy, but you don’t have anyone,” Abie said, when asked about being an only child. “You have to learn to play by yourself. But I like being an only child.”
“People feel like they need permission to stop at one child,” Singer said. “Don’t have children from external pressure; have them from internal desire.”
“We both knew we wanted kids,” said Joanna Shadlow, mother of Mia, age 7 and Mason, age 3. “I thought I was going to have four, but when I had one, it was more work than I thought. It is a challenge to balance it all.”
Joanna is an applied assistant professor of psychology at The University of Tulsa and also sees clients at Indian Healthcare. Tim, Joanna’s husband, is a Youth Program Coordinator at Indian Healthcare. Both work full time.
“When I was pregnant with Mason, I was told he was a girl at the 23-week ultrasound. In the Osage tradition having a son is very important. I knew we’d try for a boy,” Joanna said. But when the couple was surprised with a son instead of a daughter, they decided that two was enough. “I had a hard time when the kids were babies. I would get really tired and sad and exhausted. I’ve found that I’m doing two really well.”
“Sometimes,” Joanna admits, “when I’m at home and it’s 8:30 at night, and the kids are asleep and I’m sitting on my bed watching Parenthood, I think, ‘I could have another baby.’ But when it’s 6:30 in the evening and spaghetti is being thrown across the room, and the homework isn’t done, I think, ‘No way could we have another!’”
Joanna admitted that their marriage suffered when the kids were infants. “I remember being tired, and breastfeeding, and watching Tim sleep and throwing daggers at him with my eyes,” she said. “We are getting better and better at working as a team. We also share so many joys. I can’t imagine being married to Tim without Mia and Mason. It just fits.”
Mia said she sometimes wishes she were an only child. “Then I could sleep in peace and not have to hear Mason cry.” But she added, “I like having someone to play with and I love Mason. He’s fun!”
“When we got married it was just assumed we’d have kids,” said Holly Tumpkin, a stay-at-home mom. Holly and her husband Steve have three daughters, Jaydn 19, Lauryan 16 and Taya 14.
“We thought we’d wait to have children, but we got pregnant in the first year of marriage. It really didn’t change things a whole lot, it just made it more fun. We didn’t feel the workload change until we had two,” Holly said. “After the first two we said we were going to have four, but I was so sick with the third pregnancy that I just felt done after that. Steve would have more, but he was totally fine with what we had.” The couple said they never felt pressured to “try for a boy.”
The Tumpkins have worked to keep their relationship solid by making sure they have date nights. “When the kids were little we weren’t afraid to leave them with people so we could have our own life,” Holly said. “We were fortunate to be part of a babysitting co-op.”
“Five is fun,” said Jaydn. “If two of us aren’t getting along there is another sister to talk to. Plus, it’s just really fun having the five of us together. I definitely want to have at least three kids when I’m married. Any less would feel like someone was missing.”
According to Lauryn, the only negative about having two sisters is sharing bathrooms and clothes, while Taya cites “all the hormones!” as a problem. Taya likes the fact that family outings are always fun “because there are a lot of us—there’s always someone to talk to.”
Though they look more like they belong at a coffee house than a PTA meeting, Chris and Jessica Cooley consider themselves “old school” when it comes to parenting. Chris, the owner of BBDII restaurant and Jessica, a real estate agent, have three girls and one boy, all with traditional Irish names: Mairead, 13; Bridie, 9; Ruairi, 7; and Nuallain 5.
Serious about their Catholic faith, they decided to practice Natural Family Planning—the only birth control method approved by the Catholic Church.
“We were really excited when we found out I was pregnant with Mairead,” Jessica said. “At the time it seemed right.” Their next pregnancy with Bridie was planned, and their third daughter Ruairi was a happy surprise.
Two years later they found out they were pregnant again. “My reaction wasn’t joyous,” Jessica admitted. “I cried. I was comfortable with three, and I wasn’t prepared for four. But once it settled in, I was excited—especially when we found out we were having a boy.”
“We feel strongly that God placed these four children in our lives,” Chris said.
Jessica agreed adding, “When we drove out of the parking lot of the hospital I said, ‘This is it. We feel complete.’”
“I just constantly worry that I can provide,” said Chris regarding the stress of having a family of six. “It’s nearly impossible to keep up. I always feel that I’m running to stand still,” he said, quoting U2 lyrics. “When all the kids are great, it’s fantastic. When they are fighting, it’s not. But it really doesn’t bother me. Children will be children.”
“We have a strict one activity per kid rule,” Jessica said. “That’s all we can afford in time and money. And we’re not taxi drivers. Chris and I like our time together and we like our individual time. We make ourselves a priority. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of our kids.”
“We’re old school parents,” Chris added. “The mother and father are at the top.”
What Chris likes about having a family of six is “the sense of community—the energy.” Jessica likes the moments of discovery with their children. They both love the different personalities of their children. “Mairead is now a teenager, Nuallain still likes kisses, Bridie is just so sweet and Ruairi is sassy, like pepper,” Jessica said.
“No one expected our marriage to work. I was only 18 and straight out of high school when we married,” Jessica said.
“The children have probably saved our marriage,” Chris added. “They have bonded Jess and I. Having a family has enriched our lives and made us more compassionate, reflective and sympathetic to one another.”
“He’s so good to me,” said Jessica. “It makes me very appreciative of what he does for our family. I try never to take him for granted.”
“Your first responsibility is to your marriage and family,” Chris said. “We feel for each other.”
“I like having a big family because you are never lonely,” Mairead said. “Even if you feel the whole world is against you, you still have the other kids on your side.”
The Blankenships: Eight
For Bryan Blankenship, two kids sounded about right when he and his wife Becky married. Becky, on the other hand, thought five was perfect. “We both come from families of five kids,” said Bryan, executive director of Counseling and Recovery Services of Oklahoma. Somehow Bryan’s two and Becky’s five grew to eight, and now they wouldn’t want it any other way. The couple’s children include Emily 26, Seth 24, Maggie 23, Noah 19 Olivia 16, Madeleine 14, Benjamin 11, and Simon 8.
“I can’t imagine what our lives would be like without all the different experiences the kids bring,” Becky said.
According to Bryan the greatest difficulty in having a large family is managing schedules and activities. Becky finds vacations challenging and regrets that there aren’t as many pictures of the younger ones. “It’s difficult for me because it affects their feelings.” She also said that an additional risk is that one kid can get overshadowed, but added, “They realize the world doesn’t revolve around them. The biggest benefit is having so many people you are connected to.”
“You make connections to each different personality,” Bryan agreed. “It’s very enriching. The downside,” he added, “is that they eventually leave.”
According to Becky and Bryan the first two are the challenge; after that it’s a piece of cake.
“I remember being really stressed out by two,” Becky said. “But the more we added, it was no more challenging.”
“Bryan and I were married for three years before having kids,” Becky said. “We were always good friends first and lovers second. Our friendship is what has kept us together during the difficult times.”
“Working through conflict has improved our relationship. Our extended family has commented that Becky and I are ‘soul mates,’” Bryan said. “Some of our conflicts have been pretty hard, but coming to resolution has just become natural for us.”
Though Becky admits there haven’t been many “exotic getaways” to spark their relationship, she said they would go for walks or snuggle on the couch after the kids were asleep. Primarily though she says they were committed to each other and always tried to hear what the other was saying. “Now we have a lot more freedom [the older four are out of the home] to have dates and time together. Our time is now sweet and full of comfort,” Becky said. “We gain so much from our friendship.”
“We love going out, just the two of us,” Bryan added. “Whether it’s to eat, catch a movie or go over to another couple’s house for a get together. One strong part of our relationship is that our sense of humor is very much alike. Laughing together brings good energy to our relationship.”
“I like being in a big family,” daughter Madeleine said. “You’re never bored.” She says the biggest downside is that “some people fight a lot. That’s irritating to listen to. But, I have a friend who is an only child. He says I’m lucky.”
Interested in further information on family size? Visit Dr. Singer’s website at http://perfectfamilysize.blogspot.com.
Thinking about starting a family or adding to your family? Here are 10 things for you and your partner consider before moving forward.
1. Are you both ready to start a family or increase your family size? It’s important to be in agreement on this initial question.
2. How is your relationship? Having a baby will only further stress an already stressed relationship. Seek counseling before you conceive if there are issues you need to deal with.
3. Are you both currently healthy? Are there some things you need to change or do before conceiving such as quitting smoking, improving your diet or visiting the dentist? Schedule a preconception visit with your doctor to review any medications you are on and to discuss diet, weight and exercise.
4. Are you aware of both of your family health histories?
5. Are you ready to give up drinking for the nine months of pregnancy?
6. How do you spend your time now? What do you expect to change?
7. Review your budget. Would you need to reallocate funds? Would you have to cut anything from your current budget to allow extra for baby needs?
8. Discuss child rearing with you partner. How were each of you raised? Decide on how you want to parent as a couple.
9. What are values you agree to role model to your child? Can you do this? How?
10. What do you enjoy about your couple relationship? What can you do to keep your relationship strong? How will you remain close as a couple?
Information, in part, from Family and Children’s Services. To find out more about services offered through Family and Children’s Services, such as parenting classes and couples counseling, visit: www.fcsok.org.