Growing up, I had a clear vision of the life I wanted to build: a successful career, a comfortable home, a loving husband and four beautiful kids—ideally two boys and two girls—all close in age, spaced out in perfect little every-other-year gaps. I imagined they’d inherit big brown eyes from my side of the family and be remarkably, improbably, well-behaved siblings who somehow never fought or bickered. (LOL.)
Four kids seemed perfect in every way. I wanted a big, lively household full of warmth and love. As the oldest of three kids growing up, I developed a mostly arbitrary opposition to odd-numbered sets of children—we’d always wanted one more brother or sister so our teams could be even. (Totally logical thinking at the time, OK?) Four kids seemed like a lot, but a manageable level of “a lot,” by my then-childless, totally inexperienced standards.
Flash forward to reality: I have two children. I will not be having any more. And you know what? I’m really happy about it. In fact, the idea of having a third child (let alone a fourth or more) puts me into a sheer panic because honestly? I am DONE. My hands are full—wonderfully, happily full—and I am not mentally or physically equipped for any more kids than I already have. My heart is content and my baby factory is closed forevermore, with zero hesitation or regret.
It’s not because my children turned out to be some sort of terrible demon monsters (not most days, anyway). It’s because it’s only through actually living and experiencing motherhood that you can understand what it means for you. This is true on both a practical and emotional level: Until we’re in the thick of motherhood, how can we possibly understand where it will take us, or what lines and boundaries we’ll draw around our families? No matter how much we think we know about the type of parent we’ll be, it’s all speculation until you’re living and breathing it. After all, what parent hasn’t said they’d “never” do or allow something (from co-sleeping to screen time to using a toddler leash) and then eventually ended up doing it? All of us. EVERY FREAKING ONE OF US.
I’m a more anxious mother than I expected to be. I’m sensitive, emotional and extremely devoted to my children, my husband, my personal interests and my career. I throw myself into all of these things and at the end of the day, I have nothing left to give. I’m happy, but I’m exhausted.
Some people can parent four, six or a dozen children really well. I’m not sure I’m that type of person. Four kids was a lovely vision, but two is a pleasant reality—for me. It’s less financially stressful. It allows us to travel fairly easily. I don’t have to drive a minivan! I am able to offer both kids a lot of my time and attention while still having a career and a life of my own (though mom guilt likes to creep in and make me question if it’s ever really enough). Can other people manage all of this with a larger family? Of course. But I don’t think I could.
The ideal number of kids is different for everyone, both in terms of expectations and reality. A family with one child is no less valid or perfect than a family with two or five kids. Each parent is unique, and so is each child. Two kids can feel like a million or not enough, depending on the players involved. Personally, I thrive in the exact level of chaos that currently exists in my household.
Here’s a confession: my desire for a large family lingered well into my second pregnancy, and even through the early part of my youngest child’s life. He was our second child, but not necessarily our last. Not yet, anyway. But over time, that would change.
I sometimes think of my son as “the closer.” As in, I knew my uterus was closed for business after this kid. He became a grand finale of sorts: an enthusiastic, loving, extremely bright, super emotional person who requires more of my energy than the average bear. I am not confident I could mother both of my children at the level they deserve (or require) if we added another child to our family. That’s what understanding my own strengths and limitations is all about. And I know I’m the best mom I can be with two kids: no more, no less. It’s not them, it’s me. (OK, maybe it’s a little bit them.)
I’m not sad about the kids I didn’t have. The truth is that I have everything I want and need, and our family feels complete. When it comes down to it, it’s simple: I don’t want what I thought I did. I love being a mom to my two incredible, high-energy children. Yes, they sometimes make our house feel like a zoo, but somehow it always feels like home. My new dream is two, and we’re living it well.
This article was originally published online in January 2020.