Last year, The Wife and I spent a number of months wrestling with the idea of having a third child. The wrestling match was not her on one side and me on the other; rather it was between our emotional desire to have another child and the rational side that said the impact on our finances and our stress level would be a burden to bear.
A little background. Both The Wife and I work full time at decent-paying (we're not The 1%), fairly satisfying jobs. When we embarked on this conversation we had two boys, ages 7 and 1 1/2. We had recently bought a house for the exact median price of all the properties in our town.
Our lifestyle is hardly glamorous - we have an 8-year old Hyundai and a 2 year old Mazda and our biggest forseeable family vacation is probably Disney World, not Europe - though I wouldn't say we are lacking for much either. All in all, we both work full-time to maintain the lifestyle we choose to live, though the equilibrium doesn't, in my mind, exist at an especially high fiscal level.
Some deeper background. I come from a small extended family and was one of two children (my sister is 6 years older); my wife has a very large extended family and is one of three children. I had always wanted more siblings. She was (and is) close to her siblings but didn't feel the same pull for a larger family that I did. At the same time she wasn't opposed to it either.
We were very excited at the idea of three children. I felt like our new house with the big backyard was made for a family of five; it seemed a bit oversized for four. We had recently moved to the Midwest, where life is much simpler than the East Coast - less crowded, less expensive, less traffic - and we had family to support us. It all seemed so right. I really wanted a larger family than the one I had growing up and the stars seemed fairly well alligned.
Then we started thinking. Financially this was doable, but not easy. That's one more college savings account, one more mouth to feed, one more body to clothe. One more set of braces, one more set of sports or instrument lessons. One more set of furniture. You get the idea.
Then it got even more stressful. We'd need at least one bigger car, if not two. Our cars were just paid off! Plus, I really didn't want to drive a mini-van. Vacations - or simply flying to see grandma and grandpa - would be that much more expensive.
It wasn't just the financial trade-offs we'd have to consider (i.e. less money in savings, less in retirement) but the thought that by "diluting" our existing resources perhaps we'd be limiting the opportunities we'd otherwise provide for our two boys. After all, it would be nice if we could take them to Europe one day.
Of course, there's the stress that comes with the logistics of a family of five. Five airline tickets might be expensive, but traveling with three young children (two in strollers) seems decidedly unpleasant. When we go to restaurants, we'd have to wait around for the one or two tables that are meant to accomodate the parties larger than the average foursome.
Okay, those really weren't big factors. But the logistics of two working parents and three kids with all their activities - sports, music, religious school, Scouts, whatever - just seemed crazy. Like I said earlier, our lifestyle is hardly ostentatious but we do need both of our incomes.
Also, our youngest son was inching closer to school age. We could almost see the light at the end of the tunnel - no more pre-school tuition! We were almost ready to transition from the child-having stage to the child-rearing stage. Another kid would push that next stage off five or six more years.
All of this weighed heavily on us. But deep down it didn't matter enough. Every decision has trade-offs. Life might be more hectic, finances might be more strained but we really wanted a larger family.
Because ultimately it might mean more stress but the key thing is that it would be more of everything. More smiles and laughs. More friends in the house. More tears and disappointments, but also more challenges overcome. More fights between kids (and between kids and parents, undoubtedly) but also more love between everyone too. In short, more life in our home.
Flash forward one year later. Our three month old son is, in our unbiased opinion, pretty damn cute. His eight year brother has been awesome with the transition. His two and half year old brother has been mostly devilish, but nonetheless really excited to have a younger brother.
Our life is indeed more hectic, but we're all adjusting. Next week we'll adjust again when The Wife goes back to work from her maternity leave. Its our reality, it was all our choice and its all worth it.
When anyone thinks about family planning, it can be tough to face up to the finances of it. We really, really didn't want this to be a financial decision. But to deny that part of it would have been unrealistic, or worse, ultimately could have created a lot of resentment in our home one day.
As with every family decision - and every decision that impacts a family - what's right for one family may not be right for another. We make the choices we make due to some combination of need and want, hope we get it right and do the best we can.
Sleep deprivation, money worries (just because we felt other factors were more important doesn't mean we decided not to worry about it) and racing home to pick up the eight year old from practice aside, the only thought I've had from the moment our third son was born has been "This is just right."
(Photo Credit: http://www.visualphotos.com/photo/2x4422802/three_boys_walking_up_country_lane_10pm0174cl.jpg)