One of the biggest lessons I have learned as a parent is that I cannot plan everything. Before I became a parent, I thought I would have two, maybe three, children, and I would space them out exactly three years apart and be done giving birth by age 33 — an age I deemed “right.” That decided, I read every parenting book, I talked to all my friends who were parents, and I spent hours scouring the Internet for everything I could find on parenting.
Then I became a parent, and I found out that none of that preparation really mattered. Parenthood, it turns out, requires on-the-job training and has a super steep learning curve. I also found out that I really didn’t know what I wanted or when after all, which was good: after barely surviving my firstborn’s colic, I ended up having my second son only (surprise!) 21 months after my first.
Our decisions to later have a third, then a fourth, child were long-debated and often came down to leaps of faith. If you had told me before I had any children that I would end up having four, I would have called you crazy. And yet, here I am. I didn’t mean to personally overpopulate the earth or go all Duggar style; in the end, our family just worked out this way.
I have been in the position of trying to decide whether or not to try to have “one more baby” — which is really the decision to try to have one more child and one more tween and one more teenager and one more PERSON with gifts and flaws and quirks and needs in your life forever — and I know it can be emotionally and mentally draining. I’m a big fan of doing what is best for you, whether that means one child, two, four or more, or none at all. But assuming you are not faced with medical implications or financial issues that would make having “one more” child unfeasible, and assuming you are somewhat inclined or intrigued with the idea… I am going to make the case for you to go for that one last baby:
1. You are already good at it.
We bumbled our way through babies one and two, but by babies three and four? We had that stuff down, man. Once you have children of school age, you really appreciate how relatively easy it is to fulfill a baby’s needs. It really is true that bigger kids have bigger problems. (Captain Obvious caveat: babies do, in fact, grow up to be bigger children with bigger problems.) Still, sometimes when I am faced with the intricacies of navigating social media and puberty with a tween or the social hierarchies and stumbles of fourth grade, I am really happy to have a chance to snuggle up with my 1-year-old for some Sandra Boynton board book action. The relative simplicity of babies’ needs can be a salve for a mom’s battered soul.
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2. Babies are miniature goodwill ambassadors.
With my last baby, I marveled at how strangers were drawn to her just because she was a baby. Most people, it turns out, love (happy, non-screaming) babies. Significantly, my other three children adore our baby; she is the one thing they all consistently agree on, and it actually helps our overall family dynamics. The boys’ admiration for their baby sister unites them when nothing else does. It’s hard to be angry when there is a baby in the room doing irresistibly adorable things and watching us all with big, observant eyes.
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3. Babies dilute surly attitudes and diffuse jaded world views.
Recently, I took my boys to Disney World, which is a local trip for us. Children who grow up in Central Florida take Disney for granted, and my older children rolled their eyes at a few of the rides. But with our toddler along, they agreed to It’s a Small World and even a ride on the carousel. I caught the boys smiling from ear to ear when she waved at the characters and squealed with glee when they pointed out a new surprise to her. And the thing with babies and toddlers is, everything is a surprise. I had forgotten what it was like to visit Disney with a child who had never seen it before. Her enthusiasm and genuine delight made a difference to all of us.
4. That last baby will remind you that all your now impossibly grown up children were once babies too.
My kids regularly kick my butt — not literally, but figuratively — and leave me emotionally and mentally depleted. When I lie in bed at night, unable to sleep because I am tormented about how I parented that day (or not), it is never about the baby. When my kids’s behavior make me look at them and think, “Who ARE you and what have you done with my child?!” the baby reminds me of who they used to be, just a few short years ago. I find myself able to find that last little reserve of patience, the last dregs of my sanity, by looking at her sweet face and remembering when they also had full, round cheeks and could fit in my lap and when many things could be solved by a nap. I am a better mother to my older children because I am her mother.
5. A baby just might teach you all a thing or two.
When you have already taken the parenthood journey before, you can get cocky. You might think you know what to expect when you’re expecting. The best thing about babies #2, 3, and especially 4, for me, have been what they have taught me about parenthood that I would have never known from parenting my firstborn alone. I learned that some babies do sleep well early (and then maybe not so well later), that some children are easy to potty-train and some, holy mother, are really not. For us, our last baby was also our first and only little girl, and what she has taught me more than anything else is how having a sister affects my boys. I am convinced that having a sister has changed the way they will treat the women in their lives — and how they treat other people in general. They are a little more forgiving, a little more patient, a little more tender than they used to be before we had her. I also never expected that having a much younger sibling would bring my children so much joy. But when I caught one of my tweens sitting in the nursery, toddler in his lap, reading her every board book she owns and singing the Frozen soundtrack to her — well, I know we have done a good thing giving my kids one more sibling.
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I completely understand families that call the game and quit while they are ahead. More babies mean more money, more space, more sleep deprivation, and more tolls on your body. They mean more demands, more stress, and more risks. No one understands this better than a mom of many children. However, I often find myself, amidst the chaos and the exasperation and the mess and the bills, looking at my family’s pint-sized boss and feeling overwhelmed with gratitude that we took the leap and received her in return. So if you are on the fence like I was once was, I’m just here to say — it could be great. It could be more than great.
Allison is a writer and a mother of four children. She uses her Princeton degree to analyze the characters in her home while fending off other mothers who try to get into her minivan thinking it is their own. She can be found at allisonslatertate.com, on Facebook and Twitter @allisonstate. This winter, Brain, Child Magazine will be publishing Allison and nine other writers' work as a book in the anthology This Is Childhood, based on a blog series highlighting the ages of 1 to 10.
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