13 Apr What’s the magic number?
My mum used to always say to me to only have two children, her reasoning being that you have two hands, two eyes and hopefully there are two parents involved. She had three. This was another parental example of “do as I say, not as I do” (others include sticking cotton buds in your ears, eating crisps and chocolate and shouting at other drivers).
In my view there is no right number. Just the right number for you.
My husband wanted to start having children way before I did. And he set his heart on seven. Seven. He had visions of coaching his own seven a side rugby team (I think he just watched the sound a music a bit too much as a child). When I reached the stage that I was also ready to start a family I persuaded him we should start with one and see how we went. Thankfully, it went well. So we decided to trun for another. Having experienced actually having children and the process through which I, as the woman, had to go through to get the baby out, my husband reduced his ideal number to a more realistic three. He is one of three and I am one of three so it seemed to him to be the most natural number/family dynamic. Again, I suggested we start with number two and see how we got on.
Two was a good number. I was able to cuddle both children at once – they could each have a lap. If they needed to be at different places at the same time my husband and I could easily juggle – one man each. Financially, two is also manageable. Indeed there is research that indicates a negative correlation between the number of children in a family and educational attainment – the idea being that the more children you have the less time, money and energy you have to invest in each one (Downey, 1995). Moreover, the further down you are in the sibling order, the smaller your share of those already dwindling resources (Booth and Kee, 2009). We even had a boy and a girl, so no need to go for another in the hope of getting that longed for son/daughter.
Two is neat. Holidays are generally designed for families of four, cars most definitely are. Anyone who has more than two children will know the trauma of trying to get three car seats in a car – I must have spent at least a week arranging rearranging and trialling different car seats in a bid to get three children and two adults in the car – without anyone having to be strapped to the roof – and we have what I thought was a reasonably large car.
In spite of all of this, within a few months of having our second I knew I also wanted a third.
With two I felt like I was always choosing one over the other. If one of them needed my attention that meant I could not give attention to the other one. Whereas with three, there are always two being neglected at the same time. And while I can’t cuddle three at once (at least not without someone getting seriously squished or me ending up on the floor), I generally don’t need to as the other two will play together while I focus on the one that needs me most at that moment. Equally you can’t sit next to all three at once – cue some interesting negotiations at each mealtime (“if I sit next to mummy at breakfast, then you can sit next to her at lunch”, “but you got to sit next to mummy for supper”, “ that’s not fair”, …. ), but I figure that this will set them up well for life (or something). Then there is the worry over the dreaded “middle child syndrome”. But knowing, as I do, a number of middle children – my big sister and my brother-in-law included – frankly I am not worried at all.
Now we are a gang. It is chaotic and loud. And I love it. Yes two children would have been more practical and sensible, but, for me, just not as much fun. With two there was always the hope that we would get places on time, life might have some structure and order. But if you can give in to the madness and accept that you will never achieve that order, having three is amazing.
So far my husband is satisfied with three. And to be honest when I toyed with the idea of a fourth (a friend has four and makes it look totally doable – she is amazing), he was quite clear that he thought a fourth might just tip us over the edge. And I think he is right. Aside from the fact that I suspect my body might declare an all out revolt, we have found our balance. We have found our number. And our magic number is three.