Is 2 Enough?

Posted on July 8, 2011 by

For years I have been trying to talk one of my friends into having another baby.  She actually wants another baby, quite badly…but she is worried about the scorn she will get from extended family.  Her mother says “2 is enough”.  Her father says “2 is more than enough”.  Her in-laws say “Girl, you crazy to even think about it….you got a boy and a girl  and 1 of each is enough!”

She knows that if the day comes where she calls up these individuals to announce a pregnancy she will be on the receiving end of annoyed sighs, uncomfortable silences, and a few rude comments.  Given that these people make up her support network it is hard to just ignore their disgust over her choices.

I don’t follow the 2 is enough maxim (I am expecting my 6th) so I just scratch my head in confusion at these impassioned pleas that she not continue to breed.  She isn’t abusive, poverty stricken, or unhealthy, so whats the deal?

I prodded her to inquire more as to why exactly 2 is enough.  The responses could summarized as:

“If you want your kids to turn out well you need to do everything right.  The more you have the harder it is to do it right.”

In other words- they are perfectionists.

Bryan Caplan, a Professor of Economics and best selling author has a profoundly insightful book out addressing this very issue; Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.  In it he argues that there are very good economic reasons to have more children and that contrary to popular belief parenting isn’t as difficult, expensive, or as unrewarding as popular culture would have us believe.

An excerpt from the book:

My theory is not one-size-fits-all.  The claim is not that everyone should have lots of kids, but that the average person should have more kids.  More than what?  More than they were otherwise planning to have.  If you live in a tiny urban apartment and love fancy foreign vacations, this might mean one kid instead of zero.  If you live in a suburban McMansion and love theme parks, this might mean five kids instead of three.  I’m here to provide information,not run your life.

There are many selfish reasons to have more kids, but there are four big reasons to put on the table right away:

First, parents can sharply improve their lives without hurting their kids.  Nature, not nurture, explains most family resemblance, so parents can safely cut themselves a lot of additional slack.

Second, parents are much more worried than they ought to be.  Despite the horror stories in the media, kids today are much safer today than they were in the “idyllic” 1950s.

Third, many of the benefits of children come later in life.  Kids have high start-up costs, but wise parents weigh their initial sleep deprivation against a lifetime of rewards – including future grandchildren.

Last, self-interest and altruism point in the same direction. Parents who have another child make the world a better place, so you can walk the path of enlightened selfishness with a clear conscience.

But I don’t believe any of the above are the most convincing arguments to have more children.  The best argument can be found in the 1968 movie Yours, Mine, and Ours about a widower with 10 children and a widow with 8 who get married.  There is a scene in the movie (clip at the bottom) where Frank (played by Henry Fonda) is trying to get his very pregnant wife (Lucille Ball) to the hospital.  A distraught daughter whose boyfriend is upset that she won’t put-out asks for advice from her step Dad.  He goes on to explain that love is about family and sacrifice etc, and remarks “Perhaps 19 kids is taking it a bit too far, but who would we skip?  You?”

And that, to me, is the most profound argument for why 2 might not be enough.  Having a baby creates a person that would not have even existed otherwise.  I am glad that I exist…even if my childhood wasn’t perfect….and I am willing to bet that most the people reading this are glad they exist.  Why not “pay it forward” and give the gift of existence to a few others?

Posted in: Relationships