So, I’m home by myself … again. Well, I’m with Jax, our 18-month old, whose now napping. But, I haven’t decided if he counts as real company. He counts, in the larger sense, to be sure. But, he’s not exactly a conversationalist, and he doesn’t get my jokes. As a mom to twin 8-year olds and a toddler, this role is becoming begrudgingly familiar. I’m the one who stays back with the youngest family member while the rest of our brood enjoys the days’ agenda. Truth be told, it feels a bit as though we are running two families here, and I’m the head of the baby squad while my husband leads the faster-paced half of our legion. While I know this is just a season of life, the larger question is: How long do I want this role? Do we have more children or do we stop at three? How do you know when your family is done growing?
My kids’ grandparents’ jaws are dropping right now. They are probably aghast with the thought of us having any more. I think they thought the twins were enough. Then seven years later, we added Jax. Who needs more than three kids? Family sizes shrunk when my parents’ and in-laws’ were growing their families. Did you know that researchers who study generational differences call the time period in which older Generation Xers (that’s me) grew up the “anti-child generation”? It’s not because parents didn’t love or care about their Gen X kids. It’s simply because, as a generalization, they didn’t put a whole lot of thought into how they raised them. As a result society back then didn’t offer those parents much in terms of community support. We didn’t put a whole lot of money into parks or tax-payer funded community programs, for example. Even children’s entertainment was more adult-focused than kid-friendly. Both parents were expected to work, and, as such, we evolved into a culture that largely required a two-family income to fit in. I share all of this only to explain why I think the fact that my cohort (college educated, middle income) is having larger families is confusing for the immediately preceding generation to understand.
Now I’m not saying that my parents or their peers were poor parents. Not at all. I’m simply saying that today’s parents do it differently. History sees this trend all of the time. My prediction is that my kids’ generation will talk about how their parents hovered over them and didn’t let them develop into independent adults, and they will consciously parent differently. One generation takes one approach to an issue, then the next generation does the opposite. As any sociologist will tell you, this pendulum swing is a common phenomenon in societal behavior.
My conflicting desire for more children doesn’t directly relate to the way my parents raised me or my peers’ trend toward larger families, however. There are so many factors to consider when adding another child (do we have the financial resources, can our home accommodate another child, etc.). But the one that’s most salient for me is: How much of my older children’s experiences do I want to miss out on because I’m taking care of the little ones? Yes, we get babysitters, and my husband and I switch off in terms of who stays home with the baby (when he’s not coaching or leading the twins’ activities). But, Moms, you know that it’s us who is home with the baby 85% of the time. I know that Jax will soon be able to partake in more family events, which means I will too. But add a newborn to that picture, and my tenure as head coach of the baby brigade lengthens. Taking care of the baby often means I’m not able to help with homework, take advantage of the perfect moment for a heart-to-heart conversation, or even sit side-by-side with my oldest while watching T.V.
I wonder, though, if my need to be at my older boys’ sporting events and join them camping, etc. is more about my selfish desire to be included. Or am I am indeed being appropriately sensitive to something that will have a lasting impact on them? As adults, will they reflect on the fact that Mom was always home with the babies or tending to the babies’ needs, and not able to watch them play ball or join in Monopoly? And, do these things matter anyway?
Yes, of course these things matter to some degree. But, if you know me or have followed my blogs for any period of time, you might know that I’m a fairly conscientious parent. As self-critical as I am, I will admit that my boys aren’t lacking for parental attention. But, the question for me is how much less am I willing to be there for my older ones? As any mom to differently aged children knows, at any given moment it’s easiest to demand that the older ones fend for themselves while you attend to a crying baby. And to some degree, that’s okay. It develops independence and decreases our innate egocentricity. But, parents of pre-teens and teens also know that these want-to-be adults often don’t ask for you to be an active part of their lives, and will even actively push you away. And it’s precisely these times when you need to be there. Maybe not holding their hand (heaven forbid), but watching close by as to not miss the subtle signs that they need you. Will I have the extra eye, shoot – energy, to notice these things with one more younger one at my feet?
So, with all these heartfelt questions about my oldests’ well-being, you might ask why I’m even contemplating more. It’s complicated, as most moms thinking about adding more kids knows. First, I love being a mom. With all the downsides (I know we mom’s don’t talk about it much, but some aspects to being in this role are a bummer), I love raising little people. Of course, the jury is still out on how we are doing because our oldest are only eight. But, for me, being a mom and a family beats just about anything I’ve tried so far. Second, I’ve sacrificed a lot to be the kind of mom I want to be. I gave up a career and, in doing so, I’ve made it very difficult to get back in it should I ever want to. So, if I’m being completely honest, I often wonder what else would I do that would give me the satisfaction I get from mothering. I know I can’t have young kids indefinitely, I’m just not sure I’m ready to voluntarily give that up. Finally, whether or not to have more kids isn’t a decision we make one month and go to it, so to speak. We can’t just say, “If it happens, it’s meant to be.” Again, it’s more complicated.
You see, all our kids are IVF babies. Now is the time when my husband would remind me that I’m an over-sharer. But, heck, I’m home by myself and who else do I have to talk to? In all seriousness, I’ve given a lot of thought to whether or not to share these details. I’ve concluded that I don’t think we talk enough about the hard stuff. We are a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps culture. American middle-class families are often reluctant to ask others for help because we believe we should be able to handle everything that comes our way ourselves. We don’t admit that some things in life are just plain old hard, that decisions are complicated, and that even folks who look like they have it all together struggle because that would risk opening ourselves up to scrutiny by our peers. As a result, we feel guilt and inadequacy when things are tough. Well, everyone struggles — some lots are more challenging than others to be sure. I’ve decided to share because doing so doesn’t make me any less important or valuable or successful, it just makes me human.
If you’ve dealt with infertility you know it’s an emotional and financial roller coaster. Some of you may judge us — we know that IVF is controversial. But we believe that infertility treatments are no different than other medical interventions: heart medication, asthma meds, and anti-depressants, for example. We were incredibly lucky. We knew off the bat that if we wanted a family, IVF was our only real chance. After a lot of praying, we went ahead and were blessed with twins. While a second attempt four years later was unsuccessful, 28 months ago we tried again and were blessed with Jax. We have the option of trying again (for reasons I won’t bore you with), and part of me feels guilty when I consider not taking advantage of that opportunity. One week I’m ready to go, painfully aware that I’m not getting any younger (and even the seven years between my pregnancies made the second one, though it was with only one baby, much more exhausting than the first). Another other days, like today, I’m ready to call it quits with three.
A good friend counseled me when we were contemplating our second round of IVF that we’d never regret bringing another child into the world. She’s right. Jax is a light in our family. He makes all of us laugh and brings out the best in us. Well, brings out the best in most of us. It’s those moments when I feel like I’m missing out on the rest of my family, when I feel like I’m not putting my best face forward, I get down and resentful. In part because I’m a social bug and missing out on those social times with my family takes away some of my energy. But I also wonder how much of my not being there impacts my oldest. I just feel like I’m not even close to coming to the conclusion of this cost-benefit analysis. You see, there are emotions and intangibles involved here. And logic and emotions are poor bedfellows.
I look with longing at the many moms I see in my small town with large families. They look so content, so peaceful and serene. Shouldn’t they be pulling their hair out and feeling torn while trying to meet the needs of their differently aged children? Looking in, it just looks like God made them especially for that role. But, then I remind myself that our social self isn’t always the whole picture. That maybe those moms struggle too with the exact things I fear should I have a larger family. Or maybe God is just trying to tell me that this is the family He intended for me. And maybe guilt at what I “should be doing” isn’t the only way in which He nudges me. And maybe that guilt is simply me not being accepting of myself and my limitations. And maybe my “what would I do without kids at home” question is simply my fear of facing what’s next in my journey.
I don’t have the answer to this question of whether or not our family is complete. But I trust that I’m getting closer. Prayer is helping to uncover my insecurities and remind me that my desire to be in control of what lies ahead, while totally human, risks blinding me to the possibilities that enter my life. It’s about being content with where I am, while finding peace in the unknown.
So, in the end, maybe not knowing if my family is complete is another lesson in being okay with today instead of focusing on what lies ahead. When I’m bombarded on a daily basis with moms who seem to have it all figured out on Pinterest and big, happy families vacationing in exotic locations on Facebook, it’s easy to get caught up in “I don’t do enough, make enough, or have it together enough” thinking. Bottom line is, we all have our own journeys, our own trials, our own struggles. My issue is small potatoes and very first-world in comparison to most of the world’s trials; I know that. Truth be told my current dilemma isn’t a problem, per say. It’s a choice point. A choice that’s complicated by my own internal struggles with being enough. A decision that I’m blessed to be able to make. To have more children isn’t a choice afforded to all, I know that. But it’s where I am on my journey now. I don’t have it all together, and I don’t have it all figured out. I’m learning to be okay with it … [Perfectly Imperfect] is my goal. And when that fails to make me feel better, there’s always the downward comparison. I generally walk away from an episode of WifeSwap feeling pretty darn good about where I am in life.