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Deciding to Have Three Kids
By Jennifer Eyre White

Deciding to have three kids was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. Which seems silly, because women have been having tons of kids (where tons > 3) for nearly all of human history, so whether I myself had one more did not seem to be a matter of great import, in the grand scheme of things. In the little scheme of things, though, it seemed profoundly important.


When I met Kennard, I already had a kid -- Riley. She was three at the time. Kennard liked us, and we liked him back, and Kennard and I got married about two years later. Back then, we were convinced that we wanted to have three kids, in that self-assured way of people who have never even tried having two kids. We liked children a lot and, having had a single sibling apiece, we wanted to see what it would be like to have a "big" family. Perhaps we'd watched too many episodes of "Eight is Enough" when we were young, or perhaps we were subconsciously influenced by the movie "Cheaper By the Dozen." (I now suspect that more-realistic titles would have been "Eight is Insane" and "Cheaper to Remain Childless and Buy a 300-Foot Yacht Instead.") For whatever reason, we thought it would be neat to have more kids, more noise, more family.

But then we had Baby Ben, and it quickly became obvious that having two kids was waaay harder than we'd expected. We were perpetually exhausted. Suddenly it seemed shocking that so many people had two kids and survived. In fact, it seemed shocking that our whole freakin' species has survived, what with such high-maintenance young.

For a long time, we thought that two kids was our limit. (Some days, we thought that one kid was our limit.) We completely quit talking about having a third child, except to occasionally mutter, "Dear God, let's never do that!"

But then, when Ben was about a year old and starting to sleep relatively well at night, we gingerly resurrected the three-kid idea. The concept still appealed to us, but now it seemed so much dicier. We had barely figured out how to manage with two kids, and weren't sure we had any business trying to raise three.

There were plenty of good reasons not to do it:

  • Less money
  • Less time
  • Less space
  • Less energy
  • Possible screwing-up of relationship between existing siblings (Riley and Ben were quite close, despite the six-year age difference)
  • Likely demise of mother's career (see "less money," above)
  • Possible screwing up of relationship between existing spouses (see every single bullet above)
The reasons to do it weren't as compelling as with my previous two kids. It's not like we needed to make another kid to keep the first one company -- that box was checked. And we already had the two major genders covered. But aside from just generally wanting a bigger family, I had this nagging sense that someone was missing. I'd look at our dining table and think, if we don't have another kid, there's always going to be an empty place at our table that someone should be sitting in. (Some would say we should have just gotten a smaller table.) This was not a rational feeling, and I hate having irrational feelings. It seemed like a stupid thing to consider, anyway; what if we did have a third kid, and those feelings bubbled up again? It wasn't like I was prepared to keep scratching that itch indefinitely, so why not stop now?

Then there was the issue of middle child syndrome. Initially, I didn't know what this term meant--but it didn't sound good. There's just something about the word "syndrome" that seems sinister; you can put it next to another word that's perfectly innocuous and it will instantly start sounding bad. Take "eyebrow," for example. Eyebrows are great, everyone has them--yet if you say "eyebrow syndrome " suddenly things look pretty grim.

Being me, I ended up Googling "middle child syndrome" and reading roughly 200 different definitions of it (some of which conflicted with others). Based on what I read I wasn't convinced that it was a real problem; it seemed to me that there were so many other ways in which we'd probably screw up the kids that a little thing like birth order would be hardly noticeable.

I tried making my decision via consensus. I asked a bunch of my mom friends (none of whom had more than two kids) what they thought about having three. I got a consensus, all right, but it wasn't the one I was hoping for. They all said things like, "Why would you do that to yourself?" Or, "Are you insane?" Or (and this one always got to me), "Well, I know I could never handle having three kids."

I started wondering if I'd missed a memo -- one with a subject line like, "Studies Confirm That Only Complete Idiots Have Three Kids On Purpose." Maybe I should have gone to Utah and asked moms there instead.


You'd think that a person who had already decided to have two kids (without angst, without doubts) would have no trouble deciding whether to have a third -- but, um, no. For all the reasons I mentioned above, the decision was much harder the third time around, and Kennard and I continued to waffle. We'd decide that we definitely, absolutely wanted another child, and then we'd be up all night with two kids barfing on us and think, there's no way we're signing up for this again. Only complete idiots would have three kids on purpose.

It's tiresome to have a life-altering decision niggling at you month after month. After awhile, Kennard and I started having conversations that went like this:

Me: "Are you sure we should have three kids?"

Kennard: "I'm not always sure we should have any kids."

Me: "What if we have a baby and it turns out to be a horrible mistake and ruins our lives and gives the entire family post-traumatic stress disorder?"

Kennard: "Yeah, could happen."

Me: "What if we don't have a baby and we regret it forever and we end up with a festering little hole in our hearts where our third child should have been?"

Kennard (sighing): "Yeah, could happen."

One reason for having three kids is so that you can stop talking about having three kids.


Months passed. Seasons turned. Ovaries aged. At some point I realized that there might never come a time when I was absolutely, positively sure that we should have a third kid -- or that we shouldn't. I kept thinking about something Kennard once told me. "If we don't have a third kid," he said, "I'll always wonder what it would have been like."

And that, I think, was the crux of it: We didn't want to spend our lives wondering.

Is that a good reason to have a third kid? Beats me. But in a way it was our tie-breaker, and one night (as I recall, it was a night involving mojitos) we put a permanent end to our three-kid debate. We took a chance and hoped that our family would be strong enough to weather whatever came next. It's been three years since Kirby was born, and so far, we have been.

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Copyright 2007 Jennifer Eyre White
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