Society at large assumes that people will stop having children after number two or three. If you have five or more, you are obviously crazy and really bad at following social norms — so there’s no telling what you might do.
The question parents of five-plus kids get is no longer “Are you done?” but “Do you want more?!”
And I really do detest that question, mostly because I think it’s a strange inquiry to begin with.
A child isn’t like an iPhone or a new car, where all I have to consider is how it would impact my life. Saying that I want — or don’t want — a human being to exist based on how it affects me is just weird.
Even if my husband and I were positive we were at maximum capacity and couldn’t possibly handle having any more children, I still wouldn’t feel comfortable saying, “I don’t want any more.” That statement reduces kids to messes and noises. It dismisses the worth of a life by making it all about what I want.
But I know what people are getting at. “Do you want more children?” isn’t the existential question I’m making it out to be.
They’re asking if I really want to spend another two years changing diapers. Do I want the exercises in sleep deprivation, eating dinner standing up every night, and packing like I’m going on a 10-day tour across Europe every time I leave the house? They’re asking if I somehow enjoy the sacrifices inherent in being a parent.
And my answer is: Not all the time. I’m as lazy and selfish as the next person. Whenever my husband and I talk about any big purchase or life decision, the first question I ask myself is “Would this create more work for me?”
There are tons of things I don’t want because they require sacrifice. I don’t even like to have live plants in the house because you have to, like, remember to water them.
Parenthood does include some drudgery and unpleasantness — I won’t argue with that. But there’s more to it than just the endless loads of laundry and school lunch-making when they’re young.
What really bothers me about the question “Do you want more children?” is that it’s terribly short-sighted. The intense and sometimes brutal years of parenting young children are brief. I won’t always be changing diapers and waking up 200 times a night. For most of their lives, my kids will be adults, and I think the best part of parenting is yet to come, when they’re all grown and flown, and I get to watch them make their own lives for themselves.
Only talking about children in terms of what the parents “want” doesn’t take into account the fact that kids aren’t little forever. One day, they leave the nest and affect the lives of thousands of other people. A kid isn’t just my kid — they’re also future neighbors, co-workers, spouses, parents, and friends.
Doesn’t all that matter in the decision to bring another human life into the world? In light of that, doesn’t the fact that I’ll be wiping rear ends for another couple of years start to seem less important?
I struggle with how to answer the question of whether I want more children, especially when it comes from the guy behind me in line at Staples. He’s in the middle of doing his errands; he wants a quick “Yes, I want a hundred kids” or “No, I’m never getting pregnant again” response so he can hurry up and get to the post office before it closes.
But everything that runs through my mind can’t be summed up with a simple “yes” or “no.”
The truth is, I’ll always want more children. I’ll always want to witness the miracle of another tiny, perfect little person fitting just right into our family, filling a gap I didn’t even know was there. I’ll always want the fulfillment of raising another human being to go out into the world to do their best.
What I want, though, isn’t always the right thing for our family. It depends on what my husband and I feel we can handle and what’s best for the kids we already have, for starters.
As it turns out, “Do you want more children?” isn’t the only question there is to ask.