If you ask many seasoned parents, “family planning” is a laughable concept. Despite our intentions, we won’t necessarily end up with the number of children we expected to have or the exact spacing we had hoped to insert between them. However, that doesn’t stop us from hoping and planning anyway!
The number of kids you want to have—and how you’d like to spread them out—is deeply personal. It can correlate directly to our own childhood (maybe you were one of three kids, so you’ve always planned to have three of your own) or conversely (perhaps you felt lost in the shuffle as one of eight, so you’re planning to stop at two). Health, career, relationship status and finances also play in. Thus, no two flocks are exactly alike.
Birds of a feather
When you already have one or more chicks in your nest, the timing of when you introduce the next little chickadee will greatly impact their relationships with each other and even influence the way they see themselves.
According to Kevin Leman, PhD, author of The Birth Order Book, our personalities are, at least in part, shaped by our position in the family. Firstborn kids are often type A perfectionists; middle children are independent and good with people; and lastborns are typically outgoing, charming and confident. If you had three children of the same gender born fairly close together, these generalized types would be likely to fit. Yet, if your second baby is the first of his gender, he may behave more like a firstborn. And if your kids are born five or more years apart, the birth order tends to “reset.”
Your timing will make an impact. Leman calls a three-year gap “ideal,” but also emphasizes, “How parents interact with each child as he or she enters the family circle determines in part that child’s final destiny.” No matter your spread, share your love and attention with each child. More than anything, every child needs to feel heard and cherished.
Children born close together might be thick as thieves, or they might become fierce rivals as they grow up. Those born further apart are less likely to be buddies (or enemies) as children but can still develop
a closeness that is mutually beneficial, with the potential to last a lifetime. Younger children will develop characteristics in imitation of or in contrast to the attributes they see in their siblings, especially the brother or sister just above them in the lineup. There’s no sure bet, but your kids are bound to grow because of their relationships with each other.
How’s your nest egg?
“The good news is that additional children are less expensive overall than a first child—you already have much of the baby gear on hand, so reusing this costs little or nothing,” says Alan Fields, co-author of Baby Bargains. According to Fields, there are three factors to consider when contemplating the cost of a second child: housing, diapers and child care.
First, housing. Is your current nest large enough to accommodate your needs, or do you plan to upsize to make room for one more? Fields recommends the per- square-foot calculator on Zillow.com— factor in additional bedrooms at 100 square feet each to estimate additional housing costs.
Next, diapers. Fields says, “The average baby goes through 2,300 diapers at around 20 cents per diaper. That’s a total of $460 to add to your budget!” If you decide to use cloth diapers rather than disposables, this cost may drop, but you’ll still have the expenses of buying supplies and laundering frequently. If you have friends willing to throw you a diaper shower, take them up on it! You could save hundreds during baby’s first year if every shower guest brings a big box of nappies.
Last, consider the cost of child care. If you’ve already been staying home full- time with your firstborn, this is a non-issue. If one parent is planning to cut back to part-time or take time away from his or her career after a second baby is born, you’ll save on child care but lose a good chunk of your income. On the other hand, full-time child care can be crazy expen- sive, especially when you’re paying for multiple kiddos. All things to think about and talk over with your significant other.
Is mama bird really ready?
Don’t forget about you! Are you physically and emotionally prepared to go through pregnancy and childbirth again? If you’re hoping to conceive in the near future, book a checkup with your OB first to get the official green light. She’ll make sure your body has fully healed from your last delivery (especially if it was a C-section or if you had other serious complications). You might also want to wait until you’ve weaned your first baby before having your second, but that’s not a must. Do keep in mind that conception could be more difficult if you’re breastfeeding regularly.
Besides the physical, your emotional health is of the utmost importance. Are you getting the sleep you need, and are your emotions fairly steady? The moment you conceive, you’re likely to experience hormonal swings and mood-dampening fatigue. Only this time, you’ll have a little one to take care of as well. If you have friends or family (or a babysitter) nearby to help, that’s the ideal.
Do keep your age in mind, too. Spacing your kids out can be easier on your body and your budget, but if you’re starting your family in your mid- to late-30s, having your children in quick succession will mean less risk of the fertility problems and birth complications that become more common as you near 40 or beyond.