Too Much of a Good Thing?

Dear Mr. Dad: It seems like every time I turn on the TV, there are the Duggars, with their 19 children, and Octomom with 14. How many kids are too many? What’s your take on it?

A: That’s a tough (and arbitrary) question, and the answer depends on whom you ask. The Duggars, for example, have made it clear that they’d like to have more kids, so in their opinion, 19 isn’t enough. I have a feeling that Octomom isn’t through either, and that the stars of the new show “9 by Design” are just getting warmed up. Fortunately, we can all rest easy now that John and Kate stopped at eight. On the other hand, a lot of people, including Bill McKibben, author of “Maybe One,” believe that one is the ethically and environmentally responsible number. Most of us, though, fall somewhere in between (the average number of children per household with kids is about two—and the prospect of an entire handful (or three) is frightening.

When considering how many children to have, the best way to reach the conclusion that’s right for your family is to look at four very important factors: medical, financial, emotional, and practical.

  • Medical. Women who have repeated and closely spaced pregnancies and births are more prone to premature labor, smaller babies, uterine rupture, postpartum bleeding, gallbladder disease, nutritional deficiencies, depression, and a host of other complications.
  • Financial. We all say that our children are priceless, but raising them is one of the most expensive things you’ll ever do. Government figures suggest that it cost an average of $185,000 and $285,000 to get one child from birth to young adulthood (that doesn’t include the expenses you’ll be picking up when they move back home in their 30s). For a lot of parents (the Gates and Buffet families excepted), raising a child involves a certain amount of sacrifice. So if you start multiplying those numbers by three or four (let alone 19), you’ll run screaming for the hills.
  • Emotional. It’s true that only children can sometimes be lonely and lack social skills, while those growing up in large families will always have companionship and playmates, and will theoretically learn to share, foster a “team” spirit, and develop a strong sense of responsibility. On the flip side, kids in large families may not get enough quality “me” time with mom and dad (if the Duggars were to spend just 15 minutes with each of their children every day, it would take them almost five hours). Another disadvantage of really large families is that the older kids often end up raising younger ones, since mom and dad just can’t keep up with everyone’s needs. It makes you wonder whether these kids are sacrificing part of their own childhoods for the sake of younger siblings.
  • Logistics. Unless you live in a mansion, privacy and personal space are things you’ll only read about or see on TV, and don’t forget about the constant noise and clutter. Simple shopping trips could take hours, and can you imagine what it would be like to go on vacation? You’d have to rent a bus or charter an airplane and book an entire wing of a hotel.

Or course, the one thing that can trump all the disadvantages is love. I’m sure the Duggars and other parents of large families truly love and want the very best for their kids. And that’s what you need to focus on most of all when deciding what’ll work best for your family.