I am a born planner. From the time I was little I was always thinking about the future and what would come next as a result of my actions. So when embarking on something as monumental as parenthood, I gave all of it thorough (some might say exhaustive) thought.
I am an only child, and a very happy, contented one. I was never lonely. I never begged my parents for a sibling. I loved the way I grew up and to this day feel very defensive of the stereotypes that you’ll often hear lobbed at only children. And then I grew up and married a man who is one of four children. So needless to say we bring very different perspectives and sets of life experiences to the parenting table.
My husband and I took our time and were married for four years before we had our first son, Taber. I loved being pregnant, and I immediately loved being a mom. I am very grateful for so much of that experience that was completely out of my control. I’m fortunate that I was able to get pregnant easily, that I did not have health complications, and that I did not suffer with any postpartum struggles. I made the decision to leave my job in children’s book publishing to stay home with our son, but I was still able to take on freelance projects. I was incredibly fortunate to have that choice. All in all, my introduction to motherhood was a charmed one. And I felt perfect and utter contentment.
I have a theory that many of us, without realizing it, carry a “default family image” in our heads, and it most often looks like your family of origin. For my husband, who enjoys lovely relationships with his siblings and had a childhood filled with raucous adventures and crazy fights and the general beautiful chaos inherent in a large family, that was what felt right to him. For me, who had the complete love and support and attention of my parents, who had lots of opportunities and always felt like there was time and space for me in our house, that felt right. I could no sooner imagine my husband’s childhood than he could imagine mine. There were many times over the early years of Taber’s life when I thought that we should stop there and have him be our only kid. I could perfectly envision what a life with just him would look like--it would look a lot like my childhood! But I knew my husband felt differently, and if I’m honest, I was never 100% sold on my own inclinations. They felt fear-based as opposed to what I really wanted or needed.
For a long time, we both just kind of took a beat and enjoyed parenting Taber. Life was fun and manageable on every level. Even though we both entertained ideas of another child, neither one of us wanted to rush right in. I believe in playing to my strengths, and while I totally see the benefits of having children in quick succession, I knew that it wouldn't bring out the best in me. I like as much peace and order as this phase of life will allow me, and by giving ourselves that time, I could claim some of that.
When Taber was about three and half years old, I started basically interviewing every mom friend I had. How did you know you wanted more than one child? How did you know you were ready? Do you like the spacing of your kids? Would you do anything differently if given the chance? What is it like going from one kid to two kids?
In the background of all of this anthropological research, I just listened to myself. And I felt like I had the love to give another child, the desire to experience another pregnancy, and the practical things in place to make that choice a smart one for everyone involved--including Taber. It was still terrifying to me. It felt like a risk to disrupt the loveliness of little three-person unit. And I doubted my own abilities to parent siblings when I had no model of that to fall back on. But I trusted my gut intuition that this was the right move for us. My husband waited patiently for me to arrive at my conclusion, and was totally onboard when I said I was ready.
Once again, I was very lucky and enjoyed a great experience of pregnancy with Mac. When he was born, it was like a little ray of sunshine entered our family and completely obliterated any concerns I had that I would not be capable of loving another baby as much I as loved my first. All the cliches were true--my heart, impossibly, grew.
And this time, my husband and I were immediately sure that this was our family. We just felt complete. Neither one of us harbored any desire for more children. In practical terms, two kids works for us financially, it works for us to be active, involved parents but still have careers and social lives, and it allows us to play “man on man” defense. We like the added joy and noise and vibrance that two kids brings to our family, and we like the calm and order we can still have with two children.
Mac’s arrival brought out the very best in my older son, who became generous and protective and kind in ways I could not have imagined. It also brought out the best in me. My tendency to worry and fret really ran rampant when I only had one kid to fixate on. His every sickness or problem was under a microscope, and it was easy to become consumed. But when you have to balance the care and keeping of two human beings, you simply can’t agonize and worry as much. I find it helps me keep a healthier perspective. And while there are challenges to having kids that are over four years years apart, it afforded me the ability to maintain a relatively peaceful existence. I was able to savor each of my boys’ babyhoods, and though they are not peers, they are incredibly close.
Parenting siblings is endlessly fascinating to me, probably more so because it’s a human relationship that I have no experience of myself. I love to watch them interact. They comfort each other, turn to each other for help and encouragement, and yes, squabble. But they are learning important life lessons about cooperation and conflict even as they fight. They love each other fiercely, and I believe it’s my job as their mom to foster an environment where they value their brotherhood, without forcing them into an intimacy. Their bond with each other belongs solely to them. Each boys says (unprompted) that his brother is his best friend, and that fills me a joy I cannot articulate.
I feel no wistfulness over the future children that will never be. When I snuggle a sweet new baby and sneak sniffs of their heads (why do baby heads smell so good?!) I’m very aware that any pangs I might feel are not real wishes for another child, but more a longing for the babyhood of my own children, which I will never get back. So I treasure my little family, on good days and bad, and feel so blessed that I get to share my life with them.
I think it’s so important to live and let live, so to speak, when it comes to other people’s families. What works for me as a mother would seem incomprehensible to many other people. I try to reserve any judgment about the number of kids that other people have, or the spacing between their children, or whether or not you work outside the home, or breastfeed, or co-sleep, etc. and hope that others will offer me the same grace.
This is the best, hardest, most wonderful, exhausting thing I have ever attempted. So if I see a parent with one kid or ten, I am wishing them well and hoping that they are just doing what feels right to them.