This past March, my wife and I, both 37, welcomed our first child, Nicholas.
We had approached parenthood with the wariness of a career-oriented couple who, over eight years of marriage, had built a wonderfully reliable work/life balance — a comfortably predictable lifestyle that, as my wife’s belly grew bigger, suddenly had a ticking time bomb strapped to it.
No more picking up and leaving at a moment’s notice. No more impromptu after-work plans. No more eight (or even six) hours of sleep.
Seven months later, those worries seem silly.
For starters, we lucked out: Nicholas is a “good baby” by anyone’s measure. With few exceptions, his cries mean one of three things: he’s hungry, he’s tired, or his diaper is messy. Fix the issue, stop the crying. At 4 months, he was either sleeping through the night or waking up just once. We had braced for a Category 5 hurricane, but instead we got a light breeze with scattered showers.
He’s also particularly cute — an assessment drawn from the admiring gushings of family and friends, rather than my understandably biased opinion. Some infants look like aliens; Nicholas looks like a Gerber Baby candidate. He has my wife’s nose (which is small), my eyelashes (which are long), and neither of our eyes (ours are tiny and sharp, his rounded and gentle). Three for three, and that’s only his face.
Of course, Nicholas’s very arrival meant a huge lifestyle change, since the constant attention a baby requires is something most new parents aren’t used to. Babies bring a heightened sense of responsibility; whether cooing or crying, there’s no getting around that.
Still, for two people who rather reluctantly dragged themselves into parenthood, Nicholas was the perfect first baby. He’s given us all the joys of parenthood with the bare minimum of its most aggravating, exhausting inconveniences.
But now, as Nicholas approaches 9 months and my wife and I near the not-so-young age of 38, an elephant-sized question has officially entered the room: Will Nicholas be a big brother, or are we one and done?
Once smitten, twice shy
Deciding whether you want a second child is entirely different than the decision-making process that leads to your firstborn. The first is a prerequisite for parenthood: We don’t get to be parents without having at least one child. That said, “Do we want to be parents at all?” is a question far removed from, “Do we want to be parents … again?”
I think my wife and I had assumed that the matter would be resolved naturally, with time. We’d settle into a frenzied yet gratifying life with Nicholas, adapt to the new normal of being a family unit rather than a couple and, sooner or later, the decision of whether to give Nicholas a sibling would become, somehow and suddenly, obvious.
In doing so, I think we were subconsciously asking ourselves whether or not we make good parents. We were withholding an opinion on a second child until we could reflect on our experiences with the first. We had to separate the hype of being a parent from the reality of the daily parenting grind before considering a repeat performance. If the first went well, the second would seem like a given, right?
Now that we’ve officially joined the mommy and daddy ranks, our hesitancy to have a second child far outweighs our worries about the first. We’ve already seen what parenthood is like and, despite rave reviews, we’re not sold on a sequel yet. But why?
From overjoyed to overwhelmed
It seems practical that, if a couple can handle one child with relative ease, a second shouldn’t overwhelm them. Experience raising your firstborn would make the next less surprising, more intuitive. Not easy, but easier. And besides, we already have all these clothes, these toys, this stuff. We’ve already nested … so what’s one more hatchling?
It was our friends who first gave us pause. My wife and I are close with a couple we consider the epitome of maturity. They are grounded, capable people in a solid marriage. You’d figure they’d make fantastic parents, and you’re right — they do.
They took the leap before we did. Their oldest is now a toddler, and the logical yet loving way they co-parented him added to our mental picture of what positive parenting looks like as my wife’s due date approached — coincidentally, around the same time their second child was due.
Shortly thereafter, our friends’ effortless facades began to crack. Juggling two careers and two young kids was stretching two high-functioning adults too thin. I ran into one of them on my commute one morning, and he looked like he’d been hit by a train rather than riding on one.
If it were two less well-put-together people, my wife and I could shrug off our friends’ second-child struggles as a lack of organization, instincts, or savvy. But the esteem in which we hold these two people make their utter exhaustion utterly intimidating.
The more tangible issues surrounding a potential second child — financial (“Are we OK on money?”), spatial (“Do we need a bigger house?”), physical (“Can I endure even less free time, disposable energy, sleep?”) — seem simpler to resolve. And after initially being blown off balance, our friends seem to be re-approaching a workable equilibrium as a family of four.
Still, we have our reservations. As much as we’d like Nicholas to have a built-in playmate, is that reason enough to risk going from overjoyed to overwhelmed? We don’t want to look back with regret at not having a second child but, on the contrary, we don’t want to look back with resentment at having another child simply because it seemed the conventional next step.
It’s a big decision and, for us, remains unresolved. After all, parenting is the ultimate “to be continued.”