Thoughts on how many kids to have?

I was wondering what your thoughts/knowledge are about having more than one kid and about age spacing. I’m thinking about having a second next year (my son is ten months now), but I’m not completely sure for several reasons, one of them that my own relationship with my sister isn’t that great.


17 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    There is good research about this. Generally, unless kids are twins they do not benefit from being very close together. Humans developed so that kids would be roughly three years apart because mothers would breastfeed and they would typically not get pregnant right away. We cannot overcome the human brain’s need for tons of attention from a primary caregiver in the first three years. (Google attachment theory)
    So if you have two kids who are under three years then they would have an equal need for attention and if they had the same primary caregiver they would be in competition.

    There is very good research about how detrimental it is for a baby to not have a primary caregiver for the first three years. The brain grows differently in response to the situation and there is no turning back. (The book The Brain Remembers has great data on this topic.) The only person who benefits from having two kids close together is the primary caregiver because the intensity of taking care of a baby is over faster. But the primary caregiver does not get a lot of time to bond with the children from the beginning when they are competing. ‘

    There are huge benefits to being firstborn. (Just google: benefits to being firstborn) Firstborn earn more money, die later, report more happiness, have more friends. It’s endless, really. Almost all the kids who go to Harvard are firstborn. Most CEOs are firstborn.

    If you have a kid less than three years after your firstborn, you undermine the benefits your firstborn would typically get. For example, in a situation where there are twins, the benefit of being a twin can make up for the lack of parental attention. But when it’s not twins, and children are close together, the children are in competition for attention from a very young age.

    If you have kids three years apart you have the ability to protect the firstborn from feeling competition in the first three years of life, and you have the ability to confer some first-born benefits on the second kid.


  2. Julia
    Julia says:

    I’m curious about the benefits of being a twin. Back.whem I had my twins, everything I read said it was bad, but maybe it was just based on the rate of preterm births and low birth weigh (thankfully not our case).

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The benefit is always having a close friend in the world. However, this is really interesting: twins only work well when they are the same sex. When it’s a boy and a girl the girl suffers for a wide range of reasons — both medically and culturally.

      Once I saw how clear the research is on this I was really surprised how many famous people have a boy and a girl. I assume they have access to the best advice, and I’m not really sure what they are thinking.


      • J.E.
        J.E. says:

        I think it may be related to getting pregnant through fertility treatments. The thinking may be that this is the one chance, so go ahead and have one of each. I have a friend who has boy and girl twins as the result of IVF. They are the only children she has and I’ve wondered if perhaps this was intentional or just happened by chance. I have another friend whose son was only six months old when she got pregnant with her daughter aka “Irish twins”. The kids are extremely close to each other almost like actual twins.

        I don’t know about that firstborn theory. I’m a firstborn and my younger brother makes way more money than I do. In terms of work he has most traits that firstborns have.

  3. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    My sister and I are 3 years and 2 months apart and we have a GREAT relationship. We are best friends. I was old enough to take on the role as a big sister, and being that big sister has been one of the greatest joys of my life. My friends who are closer in age definitely had competition as younger siblings, and it impacted their closeness even after they had grown out of the toddler age range. It impacts the sibling relationship, but also how you view the world and interact. Wait at least 3 years! It’s the biggest gift you can give to your kids.

    • Chiara (OP)
      Chiara (OP) says:

      Thanks, Lauren! Your experience helps a lot.

      I’m curious: do you think your parents did something to foster such a good relationship between you and your sister? I really want to do as much as possible to help my kids get along if I end up having another one.

      • Lauren
        Lauren says:

        So many thoughts on this question!

        My mom was from a family where certain kids were the favorites, and she was not one, so she made every effort to treat us fairly. She would speak openly about how she loved us equally and tried her best to not show favoritism. She encouraged us to develop a close relationship with each other and regularly said that having a sibling is a gift to be cherished, and that we’ll have each other for our whole lives, even after our parents are gone. When we did nice things for each other, she recognized that. Our parents also made sure not to pit us against each other and encouraged us to support each other and cheer each other on. They modeled taking joy and pleasure in each other’s victories, and being there for each other when we were having a tough time.

        Also, they really gave us independence to develop our own relationship. They encouraged these themes – support, joy, friendship, etc – by talking about them generally, but during specific interactions, they really stayed out of things. I’m watching my home videos from childhood right now (so fascinating!), and I never see them telling us how to treat the other when we’re playing. Eg: when my sister was a baby, there’s a video where I’m playing with her and she looks overwhelmed. But she was fine, and my intentions were good, so my mom just let it happen. If what I was doing made her cry or get really upset, they let me try to comfort her and every time that’s on tape, I’ve been able to soothe her. The most my mom would do is say something like, “that’s nice you’re taking care of sister,” or “awwww, that’s sweet you’re giving sister kisses and hugs.”

        Also, we didn’t really “tell” on each other, because they didn’t referee our play with each other. I haven’t seen us go to them while we were playing, but I’m sure that’s because they would’ve said, “figure it out between yourselves” or kind of ignore us, lol. Kids will work stuff out, and unsupervised play (or play without adults refereeing) is an important component of development. If adults are constantly stepping in to be the arbiters of the relationship, that robs them of an opportunity to grow and develop the relationship. If kids are unhappy with how they are treated, they can always quit or leave a situation, which teaches a dominant sibling how to respect the other. Everyone has their own power in a situation. And kids don’t want people to quit playing with them, so they learn how to treat each other over time. Our parents also didn’t interfere much when we were playing with other kids. Sometimes kids do kind of intense things to each other! Eg (from the video): A boy 2 years my senior when I was a baby was hitting me. They told him to stop, but they didn’t rush over to “rescue” me or get too alarmed. They just told him, “no hitting,” and he stopped. There’s a play date where this same kid keeps rushing to the toys I was interested in and beating me to them. I’m clearly annoyed by this, but my parents just let it happen and I was fine. I see lots of parents these days who get involved when kids are playing, and it is such a shame. Sure, it’s tough to watch your kid being bossy or rough with another kid, especially in front of other judging moms. But if you can withstand the discomfort, they will all be better for it.

        Also, if they were giving attention to the baby and I wanted to play, they would sometimes tell me to wait. Eg (from the home videos): my dad was laying on the floor with my sister on his stomach, and I wanted to get on, too. He told me no, and I kept trying, so he blocked my attempts physically, but he didn’t give me attention about it (I was pouting and whimpering; he just ignored it and let me work through it). A few minutes later, he invited me to join them. I think this modeled that I would be welcome sometimes, and not others, and that accepting that was my business.

        Obviously, some of this comes down to luck and temperament. I loved being a big sister, which could’ve been my nature. But they didn’t sabotage my natural tendency, which I see happen all the time with well-meaning parents.

        There are also some great books on this topic. I’ve heard great things about “Siblings Without Rivalry.” And I am also inspired by Janet Lansbury’s philosophy (I don’t adopt her writings like a guide, but rather as food for thought as I’m developing my own philosophy).

        This is important to you and you’ll work at it, so barring great tragedy, I have faith it’ll all work out. While there are no guarantees they’ll be close, they should be able to have a respectful, authentic, and mostly positive relationship.

        Good luck, and don’t hesitate to reach out – I have notifications set up on this post :)

        • Chiara
          Chiara says:

          Thanks so much, Lauren. Your answer is full of great inspiration. I also read Janet Lansbury’s blog and she has informed some of my parenthood choices so far.

          I think my parents did leave my and my brother alone to solve our differences, but in our case he was so dominant, and I was so submissive and keen on avoiding confrontation, that I would always be the one to compromise. I ended up distancing myself from him because it was the only way to protect myself. I wonder if in such case they might have done something to help him understand my feelings better and modulate his behaviour in accordance, or maybe show me how I could have set better boundaries. Who knows. My brother remains a difficult person even today at thirty. As you said, temperament does play a part in this.

          Thanks again and a big hug for you!

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        The most surprising thing I read on this topic is to let kids fight as long as no one is in physical danger. I read it over and over again. The theory is that you teach kids to work through their own problems because that’s what building a relationship is. It was always hard to let my sons fight. Sometimes I had to leave the room because I get so sick of hearing it — especially over video games.


  4. Chiara (OP)
    Chiara (OP) says:

    Hi Penelope!

    Thanks for the thorough answer. It made me very happy since I’d like to achieve some physical and financial goals before getting pregnant again and I was very conflicted because I thought that siblings were happier when closer in age. My brother (it’s a guy, but thanks for changing the details for the sake of privacy anyway!) is four years younger than me and I’ve always thought that’s why we don’t get along.

    Also, I was wondering what your thoughts are about having siblings vs being an only child. Is it really that good for the kid to have a brother/sister? As I said, I have a pretty bad/distant relationship with my brother. Pretty much the only reason I’m happy that I have him is that he deflects the intensity of my mom’s attention from me.

    Last but not least, what about number of siblings? Is two better than three, or viceversa? I don’t think I’ll get to have three (my husband opposes heavily) but I’m curious.


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