How to know when you are done having kids: 5 thoughts
“So, are you guys done?”
If you have ever spent more than say, three minutes at any gathering where parents of young children are present, the question will eventually be asked. Strangers will ask this of each other. Like, randomly. Standing around a park. Or at a birthday party. People you have never met and will probably never see again talk about this. And what do you say? Because how do you know when you are done having kids?
Obviously, this question makes a lot of assumptions–from fertility to finances. Even if you want to have another child, it may not be an option for you, and that’s not a casual conversation you wanna have while you’re pushing kids on the swings.
And when you think about it, it’s really freaking AMAZING to think that you can decide to bring a whole new person into the world. You role the genetic dice, add a little magic and a miracle and voila!—a new human arrives in the universe.
A new person exists, just because you wanted them to. Crazy.
If you don’t have fertility or other life circumstances that would limit your choice and you just have to make the call…how do you know when you’re done having kids?
It seems that American families are deciding more and more NOT to add to their families. The birth rate in America has been declining for the past 30 years and a recent report found that in 2019, the birthrate in the US fell to under two kids per family (to 1.93) for the first time.
I cannot begin to tell you the HOURS of conversation my husband and I have spent on the ‘should we’ or ‘shouldn’t we’ have more kids question. Our three small humans exist only after post-doc level conversations on if we should have them. A totally weird idea, since we cannot imagine NOT having them now that they are here, of course.
After we had our third child, we arrived at the decision that we were done. And because of that choice, there are children who won’t exist in our family.
It’s a very strange idea.
This begs the big question, “How do you know when you are done?”
I can only address this from my perspective as someone who has the choice to be “done” or not. From the practical to the poignant, here are five ways to know when your family is complete.
5 ways to know when you are done having kids
- You know those months your period is late?How do you feel? Happy and hopeful? Or are you more like, ‘Um…oh dear’. This is when I knew I was ready to move out of the baby stage of parenting. When I wasn’t consistently bummed that my period came. Even if babies come when you don’t expect them (because #life), your response to the possibility of another baby is an important piece of information.
- You start to think longer term about jobs, career moves, where to live, etc.You feel that shift in your family of being ready for the next stage of life. When I didn’t want to plan our life and family decisions around a possible new arrival, I knew I was ready to be done with my child-bearing years.
- You are okay to pass along your baby stuff.Ok, MOST of your baby stuff. I held on to the crib set that all my girls used well past the time I gave away everything else. For years. And several moves. International moves. I just couldn’t part with it. I knew I didn’t really want another baby, but I was definitely sentimental about some of the baby gear. When you can pass along a few key things like the crib and the stroller, that’s a pretty good sign that you know you’re done having kids.
- Consider practical resources.What kind of family resources will be impacted by adding another child? I mean this in terms of practical and financial resources, but also things like emotional resources and mental health. For practical reasons, consider if part of your family culture is having a parent at home until the kids are all in school or at some other predetermined point. If so, then adding a child delays that parent from getting back into the workforce by several years. That might be fine (from a financial and career point of view), but it’s an important thing to really clearly understand.I hadn’t thought this through very well when we went from two to three kids and it was a little bit of a struggle some days as I waited to step out of my life as a stay-at-home mom, even though I really loved a lot of being able to be home when they were little. Practically, will adding a child to your family necessitate a different place to live? Or moving near grandparent for help and connection? Some of the things to consider are basic logistics and practical resources, while some are more like available energy and emotional resources.
- What about emotional resources and the mental health of your family as a whole?Can your marriage take another season of intense baby parenting? Are your other kids moving towards independence? We delayed having our third child for multiple reasons, but part of it was because our middle daughter needed extra parenting resources when she was little. I knew that adding a baby into the already stressful mix would really create difficulties for her and family life. So, that’s why there’s a four year gap between our 2nd and 3rd. And I’m glad we waited – that extra time meant that our family was a healthy place for our 3rd daughter to join.
Look, about 40% of pregnancies are unplanned, so some of these very thoughtful and careful conversations we are all having over the cake at that 3 year-old’s birthday party will really be decided for us.
And if you are hoping for some clear sign that you won’t regret NOT having another child, I don’t think there is one. My personal philosophy is that babies are always a good thing. They make things complicated, yes. They may require putting plans on hold in various areas of our lives. And it may mean that we embrace the lack of control we have over certain things in our lives.
For me, it comes down to a feeling that our house is full. No one is missing.
Ultimately, if you still have the capacity to have children, I don’t think you are ever totally “done” until circumstances beyond your control finally take away your will to choose. I think you just arrive at a place where you are content. More content to not have a child then to have one. Content with the wild adventure that is watching your children grow up. Enjoying all the fun of kids getting older without the need to start fresh with a new little person. Content with what is, not with what could be. I think that’s how you know you are done having kids.
So, I guess the response to the, ‘are you guys done?’ question is:
And it is. But you’ll know.
Melissa Caddell is a writer and blogger at melissahopes.com. You know how humaning is hard? She writes about that, life and raising smaller humans. She and her husband, Casey, are raising 3 chatty daughters in Los Angeles. She writes from the relative quiet of her closet.