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Some personal news: My wife and I are having another baby. It’ll be our third, and it’s due in late February. We also recently found out that it’s going to be a boy. Let me know if you have name suggestions1.
I’ll be honest, we were a bit surprised at how quickly this happened. Joey, our second kid, will only be about 17 months old when the new baby is born.
I started this newsletter to explore the history and theory surrounding nuclear families, so this post is something of a departure. But I wanted to break the news here of our third kid because these two things intersect; as my wife and I thought about a third child, we spent time weighing what that would mean for the larger family group over the coming decades, or century.
As a result, I thought I’d explore that thought process a little bit here2. For whatever reason, I rarely hear frank and pragmatic conversations about the why of having kids.
I’d love to normalize some cold pragmatism in these conversations3, so here’s my attempt to do that. As always, I’m not telling anyone to have kids, that having kids is better or worse than anything else, or that my decisions are necessarily right for anyone else. Truly, to each their own.
Also, of course there are emotional and other components to having a third kid. This post just isn’t about those.
Question: What impact will having another kid have on my existing kids’ longterm odds of achieving happiness and other forms of success (professional, financial, relationships, etc.)?
My answer: A larger family tends to have a larger network.
I’ve previously written about dynastic families in entertainment and politics. Even in my own family — which is not “dynastic” in any conventional sense — I was for years poised to go into film production, my dad’s field, while my wife has worked as a flight attendant, an opportunity that landed on her radar thanks to my stepmom. In other words, family plays a role in predetermining the kinds of options that are available to you.
I have no idea what professional paths my kids will follow. And I’ll love them no matter what they do. But in terms of network effects, I’d think the odds are relatively good that a larger group of kids will expose each other to more things.
Question: What will our family’s life look like in 40 years?
My answer: More kids increase the odds that at least some of us will remain close.
I’m the oldest of 10 siblings. Seven of us live within a 30 minute drive of each other. And while I love everyone in my family, distance has an impact on our relationships.
With my siblings who live close by, I can go patch a hole in their ceiling or help them move boxes into a new apartment. They can watch my kids or keep an eye on my house when we’re on vacation. We can sit around on a random Thursday night eating experimental desserts and debating politics — either national or familial.
The more kids I have, the greater the odds that at least some of them will manage to have those kinds of relationships with their adult siblings.
The idea I’m getting at here is similar to the way that folks in the olden days had huge numbers of children in order to hedge their bets against high childhood mortality. You had 10 kids, maybe half survived to adulthood, and you were good.
High childhood mortality isn’t as big a concern today, but loneliness and isolation are. And while this may sound cold, with three kids, one could move away or become estranged — both things that are exceedingly common — without leaving the others sans family support.
Question: What do my own senior years look like?
My answer: Family eventually becomes most folks’ main connection to the world.
As I’ve watched the lives of my grandparents, and the grandparents of friends, it seems like most often as people slow down their kids and grandkids become an essential source of connection to the world. I didn’t choose to have kids because I wanted more visits and phone calls as an old person. But it does occur to me that some of the most significant consequences of procreation choices are not actually apparent until very late in life.
It’s also my hope that more kids will help distribute the load; I know of instances in which an aging parent became a major burden for the rest of a family. With more people, that burden potentially gets distributed.
Question: Would the cost of a third child critically deplete family resources, to the point that it interferes with any of the kids’ (extant or future) opportunities?
My answer: This is basically the “can I afford another kid” question. I’m lucky that the answer is yes.
We’re very fortunate that I have a fantastic job that I love. As I’ve previously written, we also moved to a cheaper city a few years ago. I have no doubt that if we still lived in Hollywood we wouldn’t be having a third kid right now.
There’s also a longer-term component here. For instance, let’s say I save up enough money to help two kids through college some day; will I also have enough for a third kid? Will raising the third kid eat up the college funds of the first two? Also, it seems clear that parents are going to need to become more involved in things like their kids’ home down payments; can I reasonably expect to help three kids buy houses?
For the record, right now I don’t have the money for my kids’ college or future homes. But either way, I’m optimistic that the financial risk a third kid poses doesn’t outweigh the benefits mentioned above.
In the end, I’ve looked at my own experience in a big family and asked this: Would my life be better or worse with fewer siblings?
As a kid, I perceived my life as worse. Growing up in a big family is not necessarily easy, and I did not love the countless hours of babysitting that we older kids had to do, among many other things.
But childhood is short. I knew my siblings as children for 18 years. I’ll know them as adults for 60 or more. Our adult relationships will last far longer and, if we want, could be far more meaningful. Which is to say, my life is definitely richer now for having more siblings.
I don’t have time at this point to have as many kids as my parents did. I also don’t have the resources or, frankly, the appetite to do things like change diapers for 18 years straight. Honestly, I’m not much of a fan of the baby stage generally. It’s a slog, though the toddler stage is genuinely fun.
But in the end when I sat down to weigh the pros and cons of having (more) kids, I came to believe that on net, and over a period of many decades6, the pros ultimately out weighed the cons.
Thanks for reading to the end of this post. If you’ve enjoyed this newsletter, considering sharing it with a friend.
Headlines to read this week:
“Decreasing parental regret could be possible, with a host of structural shifts: access to reproductive choice as well as individualized treatment for parental burnout and change to policies regarding child care, family leave, work schedules, and the gender pay and promotion gaps.
People might also feel less shame in their regret—and more motivation to address it—if society held more realistic expectations of parents.”
“Take the idea of romantic destiny, or “soul mates”—the belief that two people are deliberately brought together by unseen forces. Research on hundreds of college students has shown that such expectations are correlated with dysfunctional patterns in relationships, such as the assumption that partners will understand and predict each other’s wishes and desires with little effort or communication because they’re a cosmically perfect match. In other words, a belief in destiny leads to a belief in mind reading.”
Our first two kids are named after family members, but we’re not necessarily set on doing a family name this time around. So, we’re open to suggestions. Right now my top two choices are Lorenzo and Jean-Luc, but it’s still early days.
I’m writing in the first person singular here because I don’t want to speak for my wife. I think it’s fair to say we’re generally in agreement on these topics, but I’m sure she’d articulate her position in her own way if she were the one writing this newsletter.
This is very much related to the soul mate-work mate dichotomy that I brought up in a previous post. The gist is that in prior eras people viewed family relationships in practical terms, but over the last couple of centuries have begun to view them through an emotional framework. The historian Stephanie Coontz explored this shift, and was talking specifically about marriages. But the mental framework can extend to kids; do we think of kids as an extension of our family enterprise, or as sources of emotional reward? In practice its probably both, but I think the former framework is better.
Being able to ask these questions is a privilege of course. But as I’ve said before, the goal as a society would be to make it so more people have more choice in their lives. End privilege by making the opportunities privilege affords normal for everyone.
By no means do I think having three kids is a “big family,” but it is bigger than two or one.
I’ll be dead in 100 years, but if I have any grandkids they could very easily still be alive. And the family planning decisions that I’m making now will impact the type of life they’re born into.