Cheaper By The Dozen

One child, two children, half a dozen?


I remember the movie, Cheaper by the Dozen, and how much I enjoyed it when I was a kid. I also remember how much I wished I were part of a large family, even with all the bickering and hassle, with brothers and sisters I imagined would love me.

I was lonely as a child. I had friends, I had books, and I had one older sibling who was either utterly indifferent or remarkably cruel. That’s hardly a unique scenario and when I married, my childhood was certainly a determining factor in my choice of spouse and hope for a large family.

My desire for three or four children, which would have been entirely acceptable to his close-knit clan? I wanted to create what I did not experience, and what I felt that I was missing.

Pregnant Yet?

Newly married and over 30?

All you hear is “how soon are you going to start trying?”

One child?

You’re nagged about how soon you’re starting on Number Two, as everyone (and his brother?) seems to offer wisdom on the downside of being an only child.

But if you dare to dream of more than three or four? Welcome to the opposite end of the argument! In fact, in my experience of suggesting you’d like a large family, you may be subject to discourse along these lines: “What are you crazy? Aren’t there enough kids in the world?”

Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don’t

Motherhood? Damned if we do, damned if we don’t – and not only when it comes to parenting style but family size. In fact, as a logical follow-up to yesterday’s discussion of childfree families, I thought it reasonable to tackle the inevitable criticism if we opt for anything but a duo, or possibly a trio.

When it comes to the Kid Count, how is it logical that you’re selfish if you want none, selfish if you want one, appropriate if you want two, pushing it if you want three, and four or more – you’re selfish again?

Incidentally, my mother was one of three children, and my father was one of three children. My maternal grandmother was one of three, and my maternal grandfather was one of four. My paternal grandfather was also one of four, and my paternal grandmother was – to the best of my recollection – one of ten. I know those were different days, but my how the generational realities change!

Average Size of American Family

How many children are there in the average American family?

Some sources suggest that large families are making a comeback. However, census data reflects historical trends that show two as the preferred number of children since the 1970s.

Since I married into a European family, three or four children were nothing unusual, and I expected to feel right at home in that general zone.

Of course, imagining pregnancy is different from getting through it and likewise, the tedious years (and sleep deprivation) of babies, toddlers, and little kids.

The reality of parenting is not the stuff of Hollywood movies. It can be grueling, libido-killing, and if money is tight or a child has special needs, the stress can be staggering.

Some manage it fine. Others, not so much.

Even when everyone is healthy, there’s no discounting the complications, the expense, the impacts on our sex lives (which we hope we retrieve and renew), and the drag on jobs and careers.

Secret Steps

So great was my yearning for a large family (or possibly a different one?), even as a teenager and young adult, I secretly hoped my father had a second set of children tucked away somewhere. I was more than willing to welcome a half-brother or half-sister into my heart – and the more, the merrier – at last, a large family, to whom I might “belong.”

Apparently, there aren’t any. It’s been a few decades. I’m still waiting.

As for the optimal number of kids – depending on the day and the workload? Depending on your point of view?

One is a piece of cake, especially with two parents and two incomes. You may not realize that until you have two, and I can only imagine that three makes a pair look like an easy hand.

Four or more? I always thought you might get a few “economies of scale,” and judging by the couples I’ve known in that situation, there is some truth to that – if you’re lucky.

Enough, Already?

The bottom line – for me – is that I love my kids. I feel fortunate to have them, and yes, I wanted more.

Looking back over the past twelve years in particular, I recognize that I barely made it with the two I have. So I tell myself it all worked out for the best.

Yet I am no less convinced that the raised eyebrow I received when expressing a desire for a third and possibly a fourth has no place in our culture. Why does anyone have a right to determine – much less comment – on my family size or family status?

To me, this boils down to women criticizing other women. I don’t know why we do it, but I would like to see it come to an end.

  • How many children do you have?
  • What do you consider the “ideal” family size and configuration?
  • Has parenthood been anything like what you anticipated?
  • Do you judge other women’s lifestyle choices, including their parenting?