Good mothering with a house full of little ones

February 16, 2007 | Motherhood | 38 comments

I went to my OB/GYN for the first time about this pregnancy yesterday. I was actually going to wait a bit longer, but I became convinced last week that I was headed for a miscarriage and mainly made the appointment to confirm this fact and find out what to do next.

To my great surprise and relief, they found the heartbeat. And since I’m at 11 weeks, it looks like we’re on schedule for baby #3 to get here in seven months.

Because I felt so certain that I was going to miscarry, I hadn’t thought much in the past week about all the challenges that we’re going to be facing over the next year. (In addition to the concerns I listed here, I also realized that we don’t have a car that fits three car seats.) So as I drove home from the doctor’s appointment it was almost like finding out I was pregnant all over again.

In general I feel surprisingly calm and confident about the prospect of having a three-year-old, a fourteen-month-old and a newborn. But there are times (particularly when I’m tired) when self-doubt creeps in and I worry that I’m won’t handle it well.

One of the reasons is undoubtedly because I’ve had no exposure to big families. I, my husband, and my father are all only children. None of my friends are from big families. Growing up I didn’t know big families or families with more than two closely-spaced children. We subscribed to the “Disneyland” method of child-raising, where it’s your duty as a parent to limit your family size and spacing so that you can devote your full attention to each child much of the time, have each kid in five different activities, pay for their college educations outright, afford all the best Mozart-playing educational toys, premium pre-schools, etc.

Given this background, I worry sometimes that maybe I’ll cut corners, that my children will feel that they don’t get enough attention from me. I read this post on Bearing Blog recently, where she wonders if having more closely-spaced children might cause her to be “a mother I don’t admire”. I had to laugh when I read that, because I worry about the same thing but I already do half the things on her list of bad mothering qualities. I too worry about becoming a “mother I don’t admire” — and my bar is loooooow, since I admire pretty much everyone else’s mothering skills.

All that said, my gut tells me that this will be fine, that my kids will be fine, and that once I get over the financial challenges and the difficult newborn period it’ll be wonderful to have three children close age. Yes, I will probably cut more corners than my friends who only have one child under the age of three at any given time. But I am a caring, conscientious mother and I will do my best. I don’t think it’ll be that bad.

So, as usual, I ask you readers: what do you think? Truth be told, I’m looking for some positive reinforcement. (If you think I’ll crash and burn and that I should start a savings fund for my kids’ psychiatric care, no point in saying it since the baby is here and there’s nothing I can do about it now.) But I would love to hear stories, anecdotes, advice, words of encouragement, etc. from those of you who have experience with families of closely-spaced kids.

38 Comments

  1. 4andcounting

    4 kids in 4 years, 3 of them in 23 1/2 months with no mulitples. What works? What is helpful? I don’t know. I mean, I do know, but I don’t know if I can articulate it. The biggest helps–a supportive faith community. I am blessed to be surrounded by women with the same values as mine. Our family is involved in the Apostolate for Family Consecration and that is a blessing just because it is families getting together and not complaining about kids. Know that there will be bad days and there will be great days and days in between.
    Finally, rare (or perhaps nonexistent) is the child that will grow up and say they wished they had fewer siblings and more money, stuff, whatever. Hard as it may be, you are giving your children the gift of siblings, and siblings close enough in age to be playmates.
    I’m only 27 by the way, so have done all of this baby-making at what is considered a young age by today’s standards. I’m happy to answer questions, share encouragement, whatever, via email. Just let me know if you want to and I will give you my address. I don’t want to monopolize your comments anymore.

  2. Milehimama

    When baby #3 came for us, it was 18 months after baby #2 – who was born 13 months after baby #1.
    We had a Honda Civic that we were still paying off. There was not much hope of a new car!
    We found that if we got a smaller carseat for the oldest one (it was a high backed booster seat with a 5 point harness), we could fit 3 carseats if we loaded the kids in a certain order and skipped the infant carseat base. The 18 month old went in first, then the baby in the middle, then the 2-1/2 yo. last on the other edge.

    My two oldest are boys and the really, really great thing about having them so close together was, they wear the same clothes (makes putting the laundry away easier); play with the same toys, eat the same kind of food, and could play with the same friends. Kinda like a streamlined assembly line. They are 8, 7, and 6 (#3 was a girl) and still play together all the time. They have built in best friends.

    I’m 28, and expecting baby #3. We have a 8, 7, 6, 4-1/2, 3, and 15 month old. Yes. 7 kids in 8 years (9 actual pregnancies). Our first son was born 3 days after our first anniversary – my husband isn’t Catholic, I think he got a bigger family a lot faster than he bargained for!

    Siblings are the greatest inheritance you can give your kids. That’s who they’ll have around when you die.

    And you can feel free to email anytime too!

    Mama Says

  3. Radical Catholic Mom

    I only have one child & hoping for more, but I am from a large family. I am so thankful my parents had 5 kids. All of us are very close and in constant, non-stop communication with each other. It is so wonderful to have a brother and sister here to be uncle and aunt to my daughter. I love my daughter has so many people to love her and help her grow up. It is good.

    I hope this encourages you. I remember how exhausted I was during pregnancy. When I am tired I get down. Hang in there. God will give you the grace to get through. Just know you are giving your kids the best gift in the whole world–another person to love.

  4. Love2Learn Mom

    I have six kids spread out over 10 years and love it. My husband and I both came from similar-sized families, so we started out generally comfortable with the idea. I always tell people – who generally gawk at my crew and explain that they “can hardly handle their own two” that it’s not really a mathematical increase in workload and chaos. My hardest transition was bringing home #2 – after that it got easier, though everyone has their moments, believe me!

  5. Christine

    I only have two, so I can’t say much about how to handle things, but I am surrounded by families whose average is about four children. I think that the fact that you’ll be received into the Church in just a month and a half (right?) will help you, as I know that the Sacraments give us the graces necessary to do what we are called to do in marriage (and motherhood). So I am sure that God is giving you the graces you need, and will pour them on even more abundantly after you are received into the Church, so that this will be do-able. (Easy, maybe not. But do-able? Absolutely.)

    As far as doing without, kids don’t know that’s going on most of the time, especially if the people you hang around with are similar to you. I wasn’t aware we were doing without when I was a child until I was in late elementary school, and by then I could reason and knew it was because Mom and Dad just plain didn’t have money for stupid designer jeans. And then, later, I just didn’t care if someone else had something we didn’t. Most of the time, we had things that other families didn’t. (For example, some kids went on vacation occasionally, or went during the summers. My family camped, and sometimes I got pulled from school for it and had homework to do on vacation. And we had a vacation every single year from a very early age.)

    If it had happened that we’d had even less because Mom and Dad had decided on more siblings (there were only two of us, too), I don’t think I would have cared.

    You’re doing great, Jen. And I’m still praying for you and the baby.

  6. Faith

    Well, I have 5 not so closely spaced. The spacing between mine range from 19 months to almost 3 years.

    But I can assure you that you will be fine! Amidst the chaos, sticky fingers and dirty diapers you will experience joy so profound you’ll be praising God through tears. You’ll just be in kidmode full force which means your house will be decorated in early preschool and kids will be the operating factor in all you do. This is your season for it.

    Things that helped me: 1)sleep. Never underestimate the need for sleep. Make it so that most days you get a nap. Make your kids do naptime every day. On weekends get your husband to let you have a longer nap. Napping is a RIGHT for mothers of young children.
    2)the best thing for me was having a weekly playgroup of moms with young children. The kids played, we chatted and it really helped me through the rest of the week. 3) Remember one of your husband’s most important roles is to administer backrubs on demand. Backrubs do wonders when you have spent the day carrying, nursing, hauling, dragging, stooping, scrubbing, etc little children all day. However, he is not allowed to make comments if you start snoring five minutes into the backrub!

    For my family the kids who are spaced closer together don’t have the sibling rivalry that the kids who are farther apart do. They simply don’t remember when they didn’t have a younger sibling. So that’s a definite benefit. Also, and I think someone else mentioned this, they can share clothes, toys, read alouds, etc. My dh (using football terminology) always says to couples who are having their third that you go from using a man to man defense to zone defense. I do think that is a good way to think of it.

    Congratulations on your pregnancy!

  7. Sarah

    Jen, I have often struggled with doubts about my own mothering abilities and, like you mention, I think my bar is low too (though I’m always holding myself to impossible heights, it seems). But what has gotten me through the challenges is the Blessed Mother, and most especially Our Lady of Guadalupe. I encourage you to turn to her, rely on her, let her hold you and comfort you and guide you to what motherhood is and can be. Maybe that sounds all froozy, and I’m a convert with a rational background too and rolled my eyes at all the “voodoo Catholic” practices it seemed I was witnessing, but it is Mary who has helped me be a mother who I don’t have to hate and aspire to be a better mother day by day. (Hope that helps. You and your little angel baby are in my prayers.)

  8. melanie b

    I’m nervous too. I’m just going from 1 to 2; but they’ll be 16 months apart. I’m one of four but we’re pretty spaced out, the closest in age are two years apart.

    But I think it does help that my husband is the last in his family to be married and I have one sister-in-law with six kids and another with four kids under the age of six. I’ve seen how their families work and I’ve seen that it can be done.

    The sil with six kids just seems to let the chaos go right through her. She said they’ve had a kid in diapers for the last fourteen years with only one break of about six months. And yet a happier family I’ve never seen and it’s amazing how much the kids all love each other. I have my in-laws to look up to, they inspire me. And are good sources of advice to, as long as I don’t mind that every conversation is interrupted at least twice.

    My other sil just had #4 in November and was very worried about how she was going to juggle four kids, especially because she started homeschooling the oldest in September. But so far they’ve managed. It helps that the baby sleeps better than any of the other kids.

    Like Christine said, the sacrament of marriage is a conduit of grace.
    I don’t recall where I heard it, but some wise person once said that “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. We’re almost never ready to handle our tasks before we get them, but with the new responsibilities always comes the ability (but usually just enough) to handle them. (Or as Philippians 4:13, says “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.)

    I think one of the biggest factors I notice with my in-laws is that they pray together as a family every night. The littlest ones just roll around on the floor and play with their toys, but they put a set of rosary beads in their hands so they get used to playing with them during prayer time. Now my two year old nephew is already to say the Hail Mary along with his family’s nightly rosary, he’s heard it so many times.

  9. Paul, just this guy, you know?

    Our experience is that once you have two, three doesn’t make much difference. John Paul was born in July ’05 shortly before the Regular Boy turned 4 years old.

    Recommendations:
    1. If you don’t already know her, get to know the Fly Lady! The Extraordinary Wife says she’s a life-saver.
    2. Public libraries are your friend.
    3. Your oldest is just getting the age to demonstrate that small children with a loving patient mother can be taught almost anything; and nothing is more rewarding.
    4. Don’t worry about individual time with each child. Those times will happen (and besides, a child doesn’t feel unloved just because his sister is nearby). But be sure to make time alone with your husband. That might be the hardest part of having three small kids.

    Pope John Paul II wrote that the best gift you can give to your child is another sibling. I rejoice to hear that your baby is thriving and will be born in a few months. Congratulations!

  10. Jennifer

    I’m a bit out of my depth—with only one child on the way and no living children. Somehow, I have deluded myself into thinking I can have opinions on this.

    And of course, I do.

    I hear a constant theme in careful child spacing arguments: fear. Fear of reaching limits, of being tested, of being vulnerable and of being LESS THAN PERFECT. This is a perfectionism and has NOTHING to do with the good of the child.

    (BTW: Where are the legitimate studies on careful spacing being best for the child? It just seems to be an opinion masquerading as fact.)

    Perfectionism is bad for the artist, bad for the scientist, and certainly bad for the parent. Parenting is not a skill one masters it is a RELATIONSHIP—or a web of relationships. If you are not challenged by it, if you need to be in control all the time to make it perfect, to make it exemplary you are not in relationship to the child or children, the child becomes an object, a projection of the parent’s own worth. The child is valuable to the parent only to the degree that the child will make one feel like “a good parent”.

    This misses the point: the child rasies YOU as much as you raise the child!

    While it is indeed a virtue to want to parent to the best of one’s ability I think that there a few things left out of that mode of thinking:

    1) siblings have relationships with each other, siblings help each other, siblings polish each other’s characters in ways a parent cannot.

    I was an only child for 12 years (not by my parents’ choice) and I KNOW I lost out.

    2) The arguments for careful child spacing are largely based on FEAR (fear of FAILING) and not very good science.

    3) there are certain ways, ennumerated here by much more experienced mothers than I, in which more children make things easier.

    Here’s the bird’s eye view, one that pans back out of our own too small living room, or carseat packed economy car:

    Our decisions here have much more far-reaching ramifications than whether Johnny gets private tuba lessons, or Jan feels threatened by Marcia.

    It is frightening that the judeo-christian culture has become so fearful of life, simply because we want to be so perfect.

    There are other cultures at work in the world, cultures who would deny the right of the judeo-christian culture to even exist, who do not fear pro-creating as much as we do, and, with less resources are producing children at a much more rapid rate.

    Our progeny pass on our values, even if we were less than perfect in raising them, and learn to embrace life or turn from it from the environments they grow up in.

    They will also represent our culture in the future and almost certainly be called on to defend it. Is this a cause we want to take lightly?

    There is a another presence with you in your family, one who will give you strength beyond your imagining, and will bless your embrace of life ten fold. You just have to reach to find it is there.

    And one has to be stretched to the limits to be able to receive this particular type of grace. We don’t receive it by remaining comfortable and undertaxed.

    I don’t know this from rasing multiple children but from losing multiple pregnancies. If that presence reached out to me to guide me through six deaths that threatened to kill my spirit, he certainly can help you, or me, or whomever is blessed with life in their home, with keeping on top of mundane things and discovering the little moments that recharge us and keep us going.

    And don’t discount the many pay backs of having children. Its time we all stopped talking about parenting as a one way street. It’s just not true. Your bank account won’t be overdrawn as the children will be making multiple deposits that earn compound interest.

    It’s the truth if you are willing to accept it.

    There are certainly situations that may demand limiting the number of children.

    I just question if being a perfect parent who is never overwhelmed, never yells or reaches the end of her patience, never needs to lock the door and escape as the house is crumbling down around them, never misses taking a shower, keeping the house clean, or balancing the check book is one of them.

  11. Jennifer

    PS In honor of your child who’s heart blessedly continues to beat, I lift my glass of sparkling juice:

    L’Chaim!

  12. Milehimama

    Another thought, Jen.

    God has deliberately chosen THIS child for YOUR family at THIS exact time in your life. And He knows what He’s doing!

    With every child, He gives you the grace you need to parent them and for your family, if you are open to receive them (the graces).

    When I had 2 babies, there was NO WAY I could have handled adding 5 more. But with each new baby, God has sent exactly what we needed. I’m not worried at all about adding #7! (If you would have mentioned it 3 or 4 years ago I would have totally freaked out. It helps that my oldest child is more stable now and in a great sp. ed. program!)

    My previous comment was typed late last night – it says I’m expecting baby #3 but it should say #7! 🙂

    Mama Says

  13. tb

    I’m having #4, my eldest is 7, so we’ve got some spacing on you. My kids share rooms, we drive an older van, I buy clothing at consignment sales. And I reassure myself when comparing my family to others that my children will be fine simply because this is their life. They adapt, they grow, we love them, they make us kind of crazy and bring a lot of joy.

    They don’t need to be in a thousand extra-curricular activities because they can play with each other, and it doesn’t hurt them to know that they can’t be involved in every single thing that strikes their fancy.

    Breathe – sleep (as someone else said) – pray – and give thanks – God is Good!

  14. majellamom

    You’ll do fine! I can’t say that I have much experience with this (yet) as our two girls are 26 months apart. However, hubby and I have discussed it, and we find no serious, grave, just, or whatever term you like best reason to avoid pregnancy right now. So, there is definately the possibility that I will be finding out myself sometime soon! (Since our baby is now 3 months, at least that gives us a year space, minimum!)

    I have a good friend who has 5 kids under 4. Now, she didn’t give birth to all of them (thankfully for her, I think!) But she had two toddlers when she was adopting her first boy, and right before they went to pick him up, they found out they were expecting again! Just recently they adopted another little boy. So, she is a SAHM to two 4 year old boys (first biological, second adopted) a 3 year old girl, a 2 year old boy (first adopted) and a 1 year old boy. She still has her sanity as far as I can tell!

    Lots of prayer should help you through this pregnancy and when you have three! Pray for what you need for the safety of your children. Pray to St. Gerard for a healthy pregnancy!

    I think 3 kids that close sounds like a great adventure!

  15. Mike J

    My wife had one sibling, I had 2, so neither of us had large family backgrounds. We’ve managed 4 kids, spread over 6 years. One with a lot of medical problems. With help from friends and a lot of determination, we’ve done well.

    I expect you’ll do fine Jen. You’ll make mistakes and learn from them. You’ll get some guidance from folks who’ve been through it already. There are good books to read.

  16. Kiwi Nomad 2006

    My next sister had her first two seventeen months apart. The big bonus was that these two were best buddies growing up. They are now young adults, and are still very close.

    When we were orphaned, my third sister ended up going to live with a family of five children (that grew to be a family of eight children). Sure life was busy there, but a different dynamic seemed to emerge with more children. Every need did not need to be ‘referred’ to the mother. The children had plenty of playmates, and invented games for themselves. They seemed to especially love ‘dressing up’ and making little plays, that the adults in the house then used to have to be the audience for!

  17. Jennifer F.

    Too bad God didn’t know what He was doing when he deliberately chose all those abused and murdered babies for all those abusive and murderous parents at all those exact times.

    Mike, c’mon, is this really the time or the place?

    I love having such a wide variety of readers, but it’s frustrating to have to rehash whether or not God exists, why he’d allow suffering, etc. in every single post.

    We all know that you have plenty of interesting questions and thoughts about faith and God, but I think that interrupting our little Catholic mommy support-fest to bring up a controversial point that has no quick answer and would definitely derail the entire point of the post is inappropriate. I’m in a difficult place in my life and really need the support I’m getting in these comments, more than you know. There will be plenty of other opportunities for your views to be heard.

  18. Darwin

    Heck, you can even keep the sedan before moving up to a larger car for a while if necessary (especially if it’s a four door). We had three carseats across the back of our Camry for six months after #3 was born. It’s crazy, but it works. (By the time you’re hauling three around, you usually won’t want to bother with taking the baby carrier off the base anyway.)

    Having lots of very young ones (we had three under four for a few months there) can be very tiring at times. But they have a good time together, and I’ve seldom heard people regret that they had siblings instead of riding lessons. (I can’t say never, but those were annoying people…)

    I will say though, as your family grows it can sometimes result in a shift in who you socialize with. We found after a while that we didn’t end up getting together with our single friends, or the people with one or two carefully groomed bonsai children and a pedigreed animal, as much any more after a while, not so much because we didn’t like them, but because they seemed offput by entering the chaos that follows us places, and we seldom have the chance to stash the kids anywhere for anything but occasional couple time.

  19. Renee

    Just had #3. After each baby I tell myself no more, but then over time things change. Mommy and Daddy need time to be Husband and Wife KWIM. The family gets into a routine and things become more predictable. I just saw a commercial for a pregnancy test last night and I got excited so I’m already thinking about #4.

    I only had a brother that passed away, but I have lots of cousins. It’s great when you are older with the super large family gatherings, cookouts, a birthday for your grandmother, or a wedding. Almost all live within the area, I just had the great expereince of calling up the peditrician’s office for a little sickie girl and spoke to my cousin who is a nurse there.

    I don’t see them that often, but they’re always there when I need them.

  20. SteveG

    Yikes, talk about late to the fiesta!

    Jennifer has already mostly covered my own thoughts on this.

    I am convinced it is the thought that we have to be perfect parents or we’ll damage our kids that can so easily steal our joy and peace.

    When my wife has those days when she doesn’t recognize the awesome job that she is doing as a mom, I basically remind her that…
    1. You are an un-divorced parent and we have a stable and loving family.
    2. You are a stay at home mom and have sacrificed a great deal to make that happen.
    3. You attend church with your family each weak, say prayers with regularly and take your children’s faith and moral development very seriously.
    4. Each of your children is well fed, clothed and cared for in the basics by any measure.
    5. You read to your children each day and books are plentiful and well used in our home.

    ….the above list could go on and on just relating to basics (spending time, bathing, playing, etc., etc.).

    The point is that like my wife, I am positive you are (and will continue) doing so much of the major stuff so well that it’s almost taken for granted. If we do those big things right and do nothing more than give them a stable, loving, faith filled home we will be doing a great deal. We need not be perfect. We need to love, and do our best.

    And our imperfections will at some point (if not already) be obvious to our children. But even in our failings, if we are truly disciples of Christ, we are going o be trying to grow and do better. That example of striving to become better than we are is a huge lesson for them, and itself is a wonderful example we can give. It might just be one of the most important things they’ll ever learn.

    Love and do your best. You’ll do fantastic!

  21. Professor Chaos

    My grandmother was born and raised in France. During WWII, her house was occupied by Nazi soldiers. Eventually, allied forces made their way through France and into her little town, liberating her house and every other one in the neighborhood. Nature took its course, and she fell in love with one of the soldiers, an American by the name of Chaos. (Or something to that effect.)

    After the war, he brought her back to the US with him. They married, and proceeded to have NINE children, the seventh of which was my father. When my father was three years old, his father passed away of a heart attack, leaving my grandmother alone to raise her nine children, while barely knowing how to speak English.

    She worked three jobs and survived, or thrived, actually. She made little money, and the kids were accustomed to eating just bread and water at times, macaroni and cheese on good nights. But all grew up to be loving, hard-working, moral individuals, thanks to Marie-Louise.

    (Incidentally, my mother was one of eight children, lol. 17 kids between my mom’s and dad’s families.)

  22. tb

    Last night I went and read the blog you cited, and it’s been bothering me a bit. I think the author has some expectations for her parenting that she feels quite strongly about. But I don’t think they are realistic expectations for the world at large. I can’t imagine that I’m doing my children any kind of dis-service by placing them in a stroller! There are many ways for a kid to be well adjusted – constant carrying and nursing until age 5 aren’t any guarantees of that adjustment!

    There are just so many ways we can feel inferior, and so many voices telling us there is a perfect way to parent, and it’s just not so.
    (Read Dr. Ray Guarendi’s “You’re a Better Parent than You Think”.)

  23. bearing

    I’m the author of the child-spacing post that Jen linked to.

    I’m reading the posts with interest and am mulling over them. Those who accuse me of perfectionism have probably hit the nail on the head!

  24. Jennifer F.

    I just wanted to thank you all for these amazing responses. I really feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulder.

    I hope to have time to highlight some of the points that I think are particularly helpful, but right now I’m off to grab some much-needed sleep.

    THANK YOU!

  25. Blair

    Just wanted to send a congratulations your way! Especially for the new life within you, but also for your blog awards 🙂 Your hands will be full, but your heart will be too!

  26. bearing

    Jennifer 9:28’s post on fear is exactly spot on. I hope some of that came through in my original post. I am afraid of moving out of my comfort zone…

    I continue to believe, quite strongly, there’s a lot of good, non-frivolous reasons to space children for the good of the family, primarily revolving around breastfeeding (and subject to the fact that milk supply disappears during pregnancy). But the kind of fear that you mention gets in the way of accurately discerning the family’s needs. (And it can also compete with scrupulosity, and then there’s nothing rational operating at all, nor room for grace — just fear of having too many children, and fear of not being generous enough, tussling in your head.)

    One thing is clear — spacing decisions need to be made, as far as is possible, based on reality rather than on appearances, or fear of appearances. Thanks for the wake-up call.

  27. bearing

    (BTW, while it’s funny, I hope you’re not trying to characterize me as trying to make sure that everyone gets private tuba lessons or what kind of car we can afford, or even whether I can take a shower every morning. I’m concerned about questions like how long I can breastfeed my children, how I will discipline my children, how long I can carry my children, how much time I have to give to my children, given that I am a flawed person. Relationship questions. Significant questions. Not materialistic ones.)

  28. Anonymous

    I’m the oldest of my family’s children (now 24); my brother was born 11 months after me and my sister about a year and a half after him. We’ve all turned out very well and have some of the closest and happiest relationships with our parents of anyone I know, so I hope that’s an encouraging example!

  29. Ersza

    This is coming from the mother of an only child who is almost 8 and was breastfed for more than half his current lifespan. I generally support longer spaces between children than the currently fashionable 2 years that so many people use as their blue print. Taking care of a toddler is much more challenging than many first-time parents realize at the time that they start trying for that second baby. However, I also have to say that I object very strongly to the quality vs. quantity argument in family planning. Imagine this. You and another person have each been hired to drive a carload of kids to disney world. You weren’t told how many kids would be going, or what their ages are. You show up at the drop point and are each handed a set of keys. You are assigned a full sized 1998 Ford Aerostar Van with seven school aged kids in it. The other woman is handed the keys to brand new Lexus with one infant and a sulky teenager. You stop at the Motel 6 along the way and feed everyone on soda chips and fast food. Your friend stays at the Holiday Inn and feeds the kids at Cracker Barrel, with organic trail mix and freshl squeezed juices for snacks. You arrive at Disney World at the same time and meet again in the parking lot. As you wait for the tram to take you to the ferry, you compare notes. Who gave the kids a “better quality” road trip? Isn’t that a pretty ludicrous comparison? Because there are nine shining faces (even the teenager has loosened up by now) and you are going to Disney World! Fritos? Holiday Inn? Cracker Barrel? Who cares? If you like where you’re going, it doesn’t matter how you get there.

    To me, it seems like the height of arrogance to take credit for which car you are assigned in life, or to assume that one method of parenting is “better” than another, given equal amounts of love and commitment (and barring abuse, alcoholism, etc.). You don’t know what’s going on in anyone else’s heart or what life has in store for them. We are all passengers in this journey of life. It is not wrong to take your own needs into consideration when planning children. It would be insane not to. But saying that a particular mother would do a better quality job with two than she would with six doesn’t make sense to me. Good parents are good parents. Anyone who can parent one child well can do just as well with ten, and those that are doing poorly with ten would probably fail just as profoundly with only one. Parenting is about love. It is not a zero sum equation. It is not a function of time. One of my favorite parenting role models in life is what most people would call a lazy mom (she was my friend’s mom). Her kids never had a set bedtime. Often, they made their own dinner. She was chronically disorganized. But she raised five wonderful children. I remember laughter, and love, and there always being room for one more at the table. I don’t remember exactly how long each kid was breast fed. Neither do they.

  30. melanie b

    bearing wrote: subject to the fact that milk supply disappears during pregnancy

    I’m curious about that. Does it?

    I’ve heard of women tandem nursing. That is, nursing a newborn and a toddler both at the same time. Or does it disappear for some women and not for others?

    I’m still nursing my nine month old and I’m about 10 weeks pregnant. She’s been eating more and more solid foods for the last several months. She’s up to three meals and one or two snacks a day. And she is really getting into feeding herself. But she still nurses about five or six times a day too. In fact my worry has been about deciding whether to wean her before the new baby arrives, seeing if she’ll wean herself, or trying to juggle tandem nursing if she still wants to nurse after her younger sibling is born.

    I’d never heard of milk supply disappearing during pregnancy. If it did the whole question would be moot, I suppose.

    As far as the question about fear and child spacing. I’ve definitely been dealing with that. For the first few month I was very concerned with charting and being certain about when my fertility returned. Then one day I realized, like a flash of inspiration, that I wasn’t trusting God at all to know what was best for us. I relaxed and stopped worrying so much. And I began to realize a second child wouldn’t be such a bad thing, if that was what God wanted.

    And so here I am. I guess he wanted. I’m nervous, but not really worried. I know I’ll muddle through somehow.

  31. Teresa

    The milk production usually goes down dramatically during the second half of the pregnancy. Many babies will lose interest in nursing at this point. However, when the milk comes in again after the new baby is born, the first baby may be eager to nurse again. (I haven’t tandem nursed … but I’ve seen it happen that way with several of my friends.)

  32. SteveG

    She was chronically disorganized. But she raised five wonderful children. I remember laughter, and love, and there always being room for one more at the table. I don’t remember exactly how long each kid was breast fed. Neither do they.

    Probably 5 of the finest sentences strung together that I have ever read in all the parenting discussions I’ve ever witnessed. Great, just great Ersza! Thanks!

  33. mrsdarwin

    Melanie–

    My first two are 16 mo. apart. The older one nursed until I was about 7 mo. pregnant (she was about 14 mo. old). She was losing interest, but I made the choice to stop nursing — she was just fooling around (most of the time), and she didn’t need it to get to sleep. The kicker was that whenever I would try to coax her to nap by nursing in the bed, I’d fall asleep and she’d fall off the bed.

    The weaning was actually a fairly easy process — she was already taking a cup, so we just increased her liquid supply that way and distracted her on the few occasions she wanted to latch back on. 14 mo. seems to be a good weaning age for our family — the second weaned at that age, and the third is approaching and is already slowing down in her nursing.

  34. Faith

    Melanie, I was in the same situation you are. My first two were 19 months apart. I was still nursing the oldest while pregnant. I tried to wean her but she wouldn’t cooperate! So I gave up, but my milk did disappear in the last couple months of pregnancy and she weaned herself.

    I had been warned off tandem nursing because a good friend of mine’s sister tried it and kept getting pneumonia (nursing takes a heck of a lot out of you!). She stopped tandem nursing and was able to recover.

    But actually, once a child is weaned they seldom go back to nursing for real. They might see the baby nursing and be curious a couple of times, but their heart really isn’t in it anymore. I just distracted the older one by reading to them or singing to them. Also my dh would ‘nurse’ the older one by getting a sippy cup full of water, curling the toddler in his lap in sort of a nursing position and then rocking her/him and talking or singing to her/him. So I’d be nursing the baby and my dh would be ‘nursing’ the older one. The toddler thought that was neat! And it was nice bonding time with daddy. BTW, my kids always fell in love with daddy right when the newborn came along. I think it was really healthy psychologically for them. They seemed to do it naturally.

  35. SteveG

    On the tandem nursing/milk supply thing. My wife was still nursing our 2 & ½ year old when she was in the second half of the pregnancy. She suspected that her milk supply was going down, but it was confirmed when she began getting complaints from the nurser himself that there weren’t much ‘nummies’ coming out any longer! 😛

    Our first was a nursing zealot and had no interest in weaning at all (we had to make that decision for him between 3 & ½ and 4) and pushed right through the drought. Then when baby was born, my wife decided to Tandem nurse, and he was ummm…amply rewarded.

    On the Tandem nursing thing, from what I saw and perceived, it was extremely difficult. Anyone considering it has my total respect, but just be aware that it is not easy, and can really take a lot out of you (as if a newborn doesn’t already do that). It was so difficult that my wife, with not a hint of guilty feelings decided not to Tandem nurse numbers 2 and 3. For anyone wanting to understand better, there’s a pretty decent book out there called Adventures in Tandem Nursing that you might be interested in.

    I wanted to also mention something I’ve noticed as a nursing observer (and supporter) that is in line with some of the other comments (moms, please correct me if I am off base).

    My wife has done extended nursing so far with the three we have. The baby is still just a year, so who knows when she’ll wean, but the first two each got 3 ½ and 2 years of nursing respectively. With both of them and currently with the baby, the nursing demands definitely seem to really go down sometime between a year and 16 months (we are seeing it somewhat again with the baby already). But if you continue nursing past that point, around 18 months or so, they begin to really appreciate it again and there is a real uptake in demand.

    It seems to me that there is possibly a natural opportunity there just after a year in which you can wean a bit easier than if you wait til later. Just an observation and a thought I wanted to toss out there.

    P.S.
    I just realized how off topic this has gotten. Sorry Jennifer. Hope you don’t mind.

  36. maggie

    Hi Jennifer

    I’m a lurker and you’ve already had a lot of comments on this post, but I wanted to say that I’m the oldest of 5, all of us born in a six-year span. We often attempted to kill each other growing up but our big family had a blast and it is SO MUCH FUN now that we’re grown ups. I don’t know how I’ll handle it either, but I’m hopeful my kids will be bunched together too.

  37. Tracy

    a little late here, but all five of mine are close (8ys-1yr)together and yes it is tough, but they are so close. they are best friends and I am overwhelmed at the love they have for each other. No matter what happens to us, they will always have each other.

  38. one of us

    God will provide; He always does. It takes more than “being in the right place at the right time” to get pregnant.

    God is the One who opens and closes the womb.

    He thinks you’re perfect for this…

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