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Great Offspring Debate

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I grew up with one sibling, a brother named Geoff who is almost six years younger. Now we have a lot of fun, but back then I had to adjust from being the first-born only child, to sharing. Let’s just say I wasn’t the nicest. A four letter word might be in order: BRAT.

My husband, Rob, grew up as one of seven—let me repeat, SEVEN—children. He was number five, and the baby of the family for a while. I think that if one word could describe the younger years in Rob’s household, it might be CHAOS.

Suffice it to say that we have different backgrounds. Slightly.

I went through my crisis of wondering if I even wanted kids before I got together with Rob. Good thing I figured this out before we began dating, as he pretty much told me straight up he wanted like ten kids. I didn’t sign on for ten, but I knew that I wanted more than two. Dinner with his family now is still chaos, but I’m learning about the beauty and joy there.

As you may have already noticed, people seem to disregard all boundaries of appropriateness and politeness when it comes to pregnancy, children, and basically anything related to either. I’ve had women tell me about their eggs upon first meeting; been subjected to bizarre comments and advice in parking lots and checkout lines; and witnessed friends as they received the same treatment.

One thing in particular that people feel passionately about sharing: how many kids you should have.

Whether that number is the even pair (boy and girl, preferably) or a full quiver (however many that might be), you will hear about this from family, friends, and even perfect strangers. Seems pretty logical that people would want to weigh in on this, right? Being a matter of public opinion and all. Oh, wait…

Generally, people have left me alone on this subject. (Maybe because they can see in my face that I’ll go all derby girl on them if they don’t.) Still, I have heard many judgments in person, and read just as many online in the great offspring debate.

Here are a few that I commonly read /hear, lobbed at those who have more than two kids:

  • But she’s so tired all the time – she wants MORE kids?
  • I thought money was tight. A fourth? It’s not financially responsible.
  • Do they know how much work that will be?
  • It’s not fair to the other kids.
  • HOW many kids does she have already?

Let me again point out that I’m not talking exclusively about my own experiences with people giving me a hard time. But even if I haven’t heard these comments directed at me, they dig a little bit. Why? Because I am an often-tired mom, about to have my third baby. And no, we aren’t just trying for a girl. We’ll have kids ‘til we feel done, whatever we have.

Here are a few thoughts I want to lob back about family size and choice. Lob is a bad word – consider this is more of a nice, easy shot down the middle of the court. A friendly shot that you can return just as easily, I hope, in the comments.

Though it is a great idea to take a look at your finances when having kids, children can’t be reduced to just a dollar sign.

People talk about the cost of raising a child from 0-18. It is a pretty wicked number. While there is the ridiculous cost of actually having a baby (we have paid essentially for four births, since I had two home-birth-transfers-to-hospital), Rob and I have found that it doesn’t have to make a huge dent in your bottom line. We used cloth diapers, accepted hand-me-downs, and researched to find the most affordable preschool program. The preschool, even, is a luxury that we could do without if we had to. Strip things down, and those early years don’t have to be quite as crazy expensive. You can make choices and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses, whoever they actually are.

I know down the line our food bills will explode and we have college to think about. If it sounds naive to say that we will worry about that when we get there, we are doing what we can to prepare and be wise. But no matter what the financial bottom line is, children are more to us than a bottom line. They are family, joy, life, and wonderful chaos.

You can’t truly estimate the cost – emotionally, fiscally, and otherwise – of children on your life. The truth is that kids will cost probably more than you could ever estimate. They will take more from you than you think you ever have to give. You might be worn down and broke and emotionally spent. But they are worth every penny, and every heartache.

I’ve known moms who seem like they are barely hanging on, yet they light with joy talking about becoming pregnant. Children are so taxing and yet there is such joy in the process and the relationship. This joy transcends and runs underneath the struggles. That doesn’t mean parents won’t struggle, often very hard, but I think that each family is capable of figuring out the balance of how much is too much for them. Or, rather, how many is too many. As an outsider, no one should judge that..

I’m not sure why this arena is one where the boundaries between private and public get lost. I’d like to think that it all stems from people caring and being interested, and to the connectedness that we feel, in a universal sense, to one another.

Maybe that’s being generous. Maybe people like to be nosy and judgmental, and with kids they feel they have the right to be both.

Whatever the reason, let’s all take a step back. When you see a pregnant woman at the bank, think about whether or not it’s appropriate for you to rub her belly or ask about her birth choices. When you see a mom feeding her child with a bottle, think about whether or not it’s your business why she is or isn’t breastfeeding. When you see a mom practically in tears with her four kids in the grocery store, think about offering a kind word or a hand rather than clucking your tongue or wondering why she had so many kids in the first place.

Birth and child raising is so personal, and it does sometimes take a village, but that does not mean that we all have the right to judge or speak into one another’s lives. Especially when giving opinionated and unsolicited advice.

So, what are your thoughts? Have you been on the side of receiving such advice? You can share your opinionated thoughts here – because this time, I’m asking for them!

Kirsten is an avid pickle-hater, mom of boys, wife to a youth pastor, writer, and when not pregnant, plays roller derby. Read more at I Still Hate Pickles.

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