After my first son was born, I wasn’t sure I’d want to have another child.
My son was intense. Even as a baby, he couldn’t just “go with the flow.” He didn’t like to be left alone; he always wanted to be held. It took him forever to get to sleep. He was smart as a whip, articulate, and highly emotional. When he was happy, he was ecstatic, but when he was upset about something, his reaction was volcanic.
And I loved him with all my heart. My husband and I would watch him as he slept (after we finally got him to sleep) and say to each other that we never knew we could love someone this deeply. Our hearts were full, and both of us felt that it would be impossible to let in any more love. When we set out to have children, we planned to have two children, but now we couldn’t really imagine it.
When our son got closer to his 5th birthday, the pressure started to build. He was getting older, and so were we. We really wrestled with the decision whether or not to have a second child. On the one hand, our family felt complete. But we knew that if we never had another child, we might regret it later.
I know this is not the case for everyone. I completely applaud people who are clear in their decision to have only one child (or no children at all for that matter). But both my husband and I had wonderful relationships with our siblings, and we wanted to give that experience to our son.
So when our older son was 5 ½, we welcomed his little brother into the world. Of course, as much as I didn’t believe it was possible, I instantly fell in love with our second child. He was born with giant, searching eyes, and when they locked mine, I was head-over-heels. The new love didn’t cancel out the old. There was room in my heart; it expanded.
My two sons are similar in many ways. Both wanted to be held constantly as infants. Both are bright and thoughtful. But my second child isn’t as intense as my first child—he is more of a free-spirit. He’s lighthearted and flexible, and he has taught us all so much about life and love.
Before our second son was born, I thought that everything amazing (and difficult) about my first son was our doing. My second child has blown that theory to bits. We parent both boys basically the same, but they are polar opposites in many ways. I see now that both of my sons were born with a certain essence that is entirely their own and that I didn’t have as big a role in shaping their personalities as I thought.
Of course the way I parent has shaped them to some extent, but realizing that I don’t have as much influence on them as I used to think has taken a huge pressure off of me (and my kids too). It’s made me less of a perfection-seeking parent. I am more forgiving of my children, and generally a more open-minded human.
For example, when my first son, now 9, gets irrationally upset about something, and I see his emotions quickly bubbling over, I am calmer than I used to be. I know I haven’t done anything wrong as a parent; this is just how he is, and now I’m better able to nurture him through his strong emotions.
The fact that I can’t take full credit for his smartness also has advantages. I am more likely to let him decide if he wants to participate in enriching activities instead of feeling as though I should make him do them so that he can excel further. In general, I am better able to let him be his own person and trust him for who he is.
And as smart as my older son is, his little brother has lots to teach him. He teaches him that he is not the center of the universe, and we can’t cater to his every need all the time. My younger son teaches him that even though he’s a big kid and past the stage of playing with toys, there is still joy in imaginative play. He teaches him about the unique and powerful connection siblings have—even if they spend half the time fighting.
My second child teaches our whole family to be more flexible just by virtue of his personality. My husband and I are firstborns like our first son, and we all tend to be strong personalities. Our little guy has the light and sunshine that our whole family needed—that we didn’t know we needed until he was born.
I know that for many families, the decision to expand from one to two is an obvious yes. But for many more, it’s fraught with doubt, guilt, and fear. No one can tell you what the perfect decision will be for your family. But I will tell you that the joy of having more than one child might very well surprise you. The gifts my second child has given to our family are immeasurable.
If you have even an inkling that you might want to do it, I say: Take the leap. It might terrify you at first, but it will be worth it in the end.