When is a Family Complete?

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This post was inspired by our friend Stephanie  when she commented on an earlier Heart to Heart post asking what the pros and cons were of having 3 children and what my experience has been with “Middle Child Syndrome”. 

Like many young women, I imagined my future brood long before I knew anything at all about real motherhood. I was certain that I wanted either 2 or 4 children after growing up as the eldest of 3.  The typical scenario of Sibling Rivalry played out constantly when I was a kid.  It was ALWAYS! 2 against 1 with my brothers and I…. and I was usually the “1”.  It seemed to me that the offending duo without exception included my middle brother.

I was a psych major and studied human development as an undergrad , so I’ve been exposed to theories of birth order personality traits and middle child syndrome.  Like the rest of us, I’ve also seen anecdotal examples and heard many a testimonial.  So back in BC (before children), I thought I knew a lot about the pros and cons of having 3 and I was of the opinion that the cons more than out-weighed the pros.

Many of the discussions cite some of the cons of being the middle child to be:
- Feelings of not having a special place in the family, so less connected
- Determination to become an opposite of the older sibling in some way
- Prone to negative attention-seeking
- Over-concern with what is fair – generating negotiating behaviors
- Hard-shelled emotionally
- Failure to launch, indecisive 

So how many children should  I have?
In my utopist view of the future I envisioned a home full of blissful sibling harmony. I vowed to have 2 or 4, but never 3. (I also thought I’d just go ahead and have boy/girl twins and get it all done with one pregnancy).

Once Bunny came into our lives, we reveled in every moment of parenthood. So much so, that by the time she was 18 months old, we couldn’t wait to begin to expand our family. We were so excited at the concept of doing all that again! I loved parenthood so much that if I could have afforded it, we’d have kept going to a dozen or more.  Sweetpea came along when Bunny was 2-1/4.

“1 is like none, 2 is like 10”.

What an awakening! We were living the saying. It was so difficult to keep being this perfect parent to Bunny and to simultaneously be the perfect parent to Sweetpea. It was in the midst of all this exhausting parental performance anxiety that #3 came along.  Boo Bear was born when Sweetpea was 16 months old. Having 3 kids under the age of 4 was all hubby needed  for his part of the decision that we would be out of the baby-making business, so even though Sweetpea was not a baby very long, she became the middle child.

Surprisingly, as parents we found the 3rd one brought us the confidence to just get on with business of parenting and not worry so much about being all things to all of the kids. We began to parent them as a group. It was probably beneficial that they were all girls and close in age, but our life was now about 3 kids on 1 parent, since we worked opposite shifts to minimize the time our kids would be in daycare (daycare then, was not what it is today).

So there we were with 3 afterall.  Was it ever 2 against 1 – you bet it was. Was there attention-seeking behavior – more than enough to go around. Was Sweetpea the the most difficult to parent – sometimes.  Now you would have to ask her her opinion of the experience, but I truly don’t think that Sweetpea suffered from being in the middle.  Maybe it was because it happened to her while she was so young, she never really had to have any identity crisis about being replaced as “the baby”.

I’m happy to report that in the “grownup” version of Sweetpea I see:

- The middle is a special place in our family.  Her ability to be “less connected” has made her bold enough to strike out on new territories on her own.  She can turn off and on the connection at will.

- No real determination to become an opposite of the older sibling.  She followed her older sister to the same college, but was never really in her shadow. 

- Prone to negative attention-seeking – She does revert to instigating a bit when she “comes back home”.

- Over-concern with what is fair – generating negotiating behaviors – She can definitely keep up her end of an argument and is very good at standing her ground.

- Strong emotionally – she has weathered many emotional hardships, and can put emotions aside to stay committed to a plan.  She doesn’t get attached easily, but once she does she is committed.

- Failure to launch, indecisive??? – Sweatpea has known since she was a little girl that she wanted to have a job that would let her live in France.  She struck out on her own just 1 year out of college.  She is there now despite leaving a boyfriend and her family in the US.  She stays connected via phone and SKYPE with her friends and family on an ongoing basis.

After raising 3 daughters, my opinion is that there are so many factors involved in personality. I’m convinced that it is the interplay of genetics, birth order, gender mix, spacing between siblings, extended family influences, peer environment and general life experiences that create the uniqueness that we each become.  My 3 kids were very close in age and all the same gender.  We were very lucky and fate worked well for us.  I feel blessed that our family is complete.

How many kids are you planning for your family?

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6 Responses to “When is a Family Complete?”

  1. Kim @ What's That Smell? October 29, 2009 at 6:13 pm #

    We planned 3, I dreamed of more. I at least wanted more than 2. But at 37 with a 6 and a 2 year old we have resolved ourselves to stop with 2.

  2. Lindsay Lebresco October 30, 2009 at 12:22 pm #

    What a great breakdown Donna. Such a thoughtful consideration of a question many parents ponder and ponder for quite a long time. This could be a great resource – especially for those of us with 2! ;)

  3. Momma Chaos October 30, 2009 at 3:46 pm #

    We never really ‘planned’ how many we’d have. I wanted LOTS, Dh wanted uhmm 1! lol We thought we were done @ 2 but now have 6 kiddos! I *think* we’re done now but I guess time will tell. Personally I always liked having even numbers to make it easier to split them up. After 4 kids though the parents run out of hands so for us it makes it easier that our oldest are big enough (11&13) to hold a lil kid hand :)

  4. Bobby October 31, 2009 at 11:04 pm #

    There is no right answer to this question. A family is complete when the commitment is made to love any member that is lucky enough to be included in it. When a couple has only one child, there is a certain dynamic which grows along with the situation. If a couple has two, the dynamic changes and so on with three and so on with four etc.. Parenting has as many opportunities to make the family unit work smoothly as it does to make it work dysfunctionally. Work being the operative word.

  5. Donna November 1, 2009 at 12:24 pm #

    Well said Bobby. Often life makes the decisions for us and parenting is as much a job as it is a joy. The end result is too important not to do it well.

  6. Stephanie November 4, 2009 at 1:41 am #

    Thanks so much for responding to my comment, Donna. We currently have two little girls (a 3-year-old and a 7-month-old) and are planning for at least one more…maybe more. ;)

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