Reader Letter

It’s time for a reader letter:

Dear Winsome Parenting,
Sorting through my bookmarks, I came across your insightful and witty blog again. I hope you’ll write more soon!

My question for you is: how does one decide how many children to have? More specifically, my husband and I are asking ourselves this question.

We have two children (5&3) and are wondering if we’re done having children or if we should consider having one (or two) more.

Obvious to me is to think about family economics and dynamics, parental responsibilities and lifestyle… But when we add it all up, we just can’t decide. We have two healthy and happy children. They’re out of diapers and we sleep through the night. We’re having fun with two, we fit in a car, we travel well. But- is something missing? Would we have more fun as a family with more children? Or would our resources be stretched? (I’m thinking more about time and attention, not money here. We are frugal and money can be made.)

Sigh.

I value your opinion and await your thoughts.

Signed,
Is it time for more or are we done?

Dear Is it Time,

Thank you for your email, and for reading.  I have been working on many other projects, but I was excited to get your letter and to have some motivation to return to the blog!

Adding another child to your family is obviously a personal decision which depends on many variables, and, as you’ve pointed out, the main considerations for many come down to resources.  Will there be enough…Enough money?  Enough time? Enough room in the house and car?  Enough love?  It sounds like you’ve got the financial side taken care of, but a lot of people get so wrapped up in the money stuff that they barely consider the emotional implications.  But the same tools that can help you make a financial decision can also help with the emotional one.

Many parents say they can’t have another child because they can’t afford to.  What they usually mean (and of course there are exceptions) is they don’t want to change their lifestyle or lower their standard of living to accommodate another child.  I say this without judgement–it’s a valid consideration, especially because it is extremely difficult to imagine a lifestyle that is below the one you are currently living.  The question is, why is it so hard?  The answer lies–in part–in hedonic adaptation, a psychology theory from the 70’s that is still being refined.

Hedonic adaptation is the tendency for people to get used to their lives and to remain at a fairly level set point of happiness.  If something good or bad happens to them, it might cause a blip in happiness, but they will soon return to their normal level.  For example, if you look at paraplegics months after their accidents, they are just as happy as they were before they were paralyzed.  Lottery winners are the same–their winnings only make them temporarily happier.  We all get used to the mundane details of the lives we are currently living.  If you have two bathrooms and two cars, you consider that normal.  If you have four bathrooms and four cars, you consider that normal.  But the flip side is, if you downgrade from four bathrooms to two, you will soon get used to the change.  Your new life will be your new normal.  You can harness this tendency to consciously downsize, lowering your standard of living until you can afford the things that seemed out of reach before.

But what about the emotional resources?  What about time, attention, and love?  Will everyone get enough if there is one more kiddo vying for all of these things?  Because of hedonic adaptation, you have gotten used to your family dynamics, and it’s hard to imagine how you could fit in another kid when things are going so well.  But hedonic adaptation will also allow you to quickly get used to the new addition, and you can expect that your life will feel normal again soon.

After a new member of the family is added, of course there will be adjustments to be made.  Maybe the bedtime routine has to change.  Maybe the other kids will have to share a room.  Maybe you will have to trade in your car to fit another car seat. Once these challenges are figured out, however, everyone will settle into their new routines and be just as happy as before.  But now the family has the added bonus of an extra person.  That means an extra warm body to snuggle, an extra player for family game night, and an extra chance for one day having lots of grand kids!

Those of us who are lucky enough to have the emotional resources and the ability to grow our families should be truly grateful.   We also need to be mindful of the fact that this gift will not last forever.  There are many families who wait to have a(nother) child but then find out it’s too late.  (Unfortunately, even adoption can get more difficult as you get older.)

I have to add that I am biased toward bigger families.  I have always wanted to be a Von Trapp family singer, or at least part of the Brady Bunch.  I believe children are a blessing and that people are our most precious natural resource.  And I am currently working on Baby #2, due in May, so my pregnancy hormones are potentially skewing this as well!

Like other parents who are anticipating the birth of their second baby, I sometimes wonder how another baby could add as much joy and love to our lives as our first one has.  But I have faith that our hearts will grow and soon we won’t be able to imagine life without our two boys!

So, if you are leaning toward adding another child, I say go for it!  You will find that just as you can make or free up more money, you can make and free up more love.

You will adjust to the disruption that a new family member causes, and before you know it, your now-larger family will be the new normal.

-Winsome Parenting

 

Do you have any advice to give our letter writer?  Leave a comment below!

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February 19, 2012 at 9:02 pm Leave a comment

What Will My Child’s World Be Like?

While browsing through old family movies, I found this gem from my 10th birthday.  I was so excited to receive a piece of cutting-edge technology:  my very own Sony Walkman.  Well, it seemed cutting edge, but like me, the Walkman in 1989 was already 10 years old.  I was not, it turns out, an early adapter.  But I was enthusiastic about the device, and I used it for years before upgrading to a Discman.

(more…)

July 27, 2011 at 12:03 pm 1 comment

Frugal Parenting

I bet she was frugal

In our trying economic times, it’s sometimes helpful to take a look back in history.  The good ole’ days were sometimes the bad ole’ days, and people had to be frugal. They learned to re-use, re-purpose, make-do, and do-without. Nowadays, many of those skills have been lost by most people. Unlike poodle skirts and hypercolor shirts, frugality has never totally gone out of style, but it’s up to us to re-learn how to live frugal lives.

Why be frugal?
1) You’ve run out of money: maybe you lost your job or bought a house you couldn’t quite afford. Maybe your credit has run out or the unpaid bills have piled up. Frugality can help you start to dig out of this trouble.

2) You have goals: you want to take a trip around the world or buy your first home. Maybe you’re hoping to be a stay-at-home parent. Frugality can help you save up for those dreams.

3) The future is uncertain: Saving for an emergency fund is a good idea, but even better is developing frugality skills that will help you survive life’s hurdles. Skills like feeding your family for less, learning to repair your belongings instead of replacing them, and enjoying no-cost hobbies.

4) Frugality is good for the soul: Being frugal requires thinking ahead, avoiding temptation, and constantly reassessing your values. It encourages you to use things wisely and will encourage you to think of the impact of your decisions on your family, your future, and the environment. It can be the antidote to our over-commercialized culture.

Frugal Resources
Be careful when looking at frugal blogs and websites. Most of them are very consumer-driven and full of “deals” that don’t actually save you money. For true frugal inspiration, there is no better resource than The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. Some of her tips are really dated, like the suggestion to get together with your neighbors to send in your utility bills in one envelope to save stamps. (Thank you, online bill pay!) But more than just a list of tips, Dacyczyn’s book is an exploration of what it really means to be frugal. The following tips are from me, but I’m sure The Tightwad Gazette includes most of them and has lodged the ideas in my subconscious.

Frugal Tips for the Stages of Parenting

Pregnancy: Learn to shop frugally for groceries. Try a discount store, like Aldi or Bottom Dollar Food. You might not love all of the items they stock, but you can at least buy some cheap pantry staples, and then round out your shopping at your usual store. Try to fill your pantry and freezer with prepared meals and snacks so after the baby arrives, you won’t be constantly running to get take-out.

Newborn: Don’t buy any new clothes. Before you even have the baby, little tiny clothes will start filling your house, coming from your baby shower or hand-me-downs from friends and strangers (We keep our New England roots alive by clothing the litle guy in Red Sox clothes from my parents’ neighbor back in NH.) You can barely get your little munchkin into an outfit before it is outgrown or covered in spit-up. If you don’t have a baby shower and don’t know anyone with babies, you can still get bags of free clothes on freecycle or boxes of cheap clothes on ebay.

Infant: Don’t buy new toys. Like clothes, toys will magically start appearing long before your baby makes his or her entrance. But the cool thing about babies is they come with two little toys attached to the end of their arms. (They’re called hands. If you didn’t know that, you need to re-read the manual.) Hands don’t require batteries or make noise. Trust me, you want as many silent toys around as possible, to cleanse your ears of the sound of a plastic bug singing “Sort, sort, sort my shapes” or a frog playing “What Child is This?”

Toddler: Avoid baby foods, especially the convenience “step up” meals. Here’s the big secret about baby food–you can skip it. Babies do not need to eat rice cereal or purees. They don’t need to start solids at 4 months, especially if you are nursing. When they are developmentally ready (maybe 6-8 months) they can eat “adult” foods like oatmeal, sweet potato fries, spinach pie, pasta bolognese, and pretty much anything besides whole nuts (because of choking) and honey (botulism.) Check out resources on Baby-led weaning if this sounds interesting. But even if you go the traditional puree route, there’s nothing magical about little glass jars. You can buy full-sized jars of unsweetened applesauce and cans of pumpkin, or you can puree up some squash for a tasty homemade soup. (And yes, babies can eat more than one flavor at a time.) Instead of the overpriced “puffs” you can give your child puffed grains, like kamut, which come in big, cheap bags. Give your child the same dinner you’re having, and don’t waste the time or money on processed baby foods.

Pre-School: Start composting. Composting might not save you money (unless you garden) but it’s a great way to start becoming more aware of all the food your family wastes. A huge part of most people’s food budget is just thrown away. By composting your scraps, you can start to track your waste and cut it down. Maybe those celery leaves could go into a vegetable stock. Maybe you need to freeze your bread before it goes stale.

Elementary: Learn to cook from scratch. Sometimes cooking can actually cost you more money than restaurant food, like the time I tried to make Pad Thai in college and used too much fish sauce and had to throw the whole thing out after spending about $20 on ingredients. But frugal cooking can save you lots of money, and can be a fun activity to share with your children. Recently, I have been making my own bread and pizza dough, I’ve perfected making my own yogurt, and I have experimented with reducing meat in recipes. I always thought I hated beans and lentils, but now I’ve learned that I actually prefer lentil loaf to meatloaf!

Some of these tips might seem doable to you while others might not fit your lifestyle. Frugality does not have to be an all-or-nothing game. You can pick and choose the changes you would like to make, but be sure to track how much you’re saving (or not!) so you can tweak your new-found frugal skills and make them work for you.

Image from The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection,
Library of Congress, American Folklife Center

July 22, 2011 at 9:57 pm 1 comment

Should Restaurants and Airlines Ban Babies?

Should businesses such as airlines and restaurants be allowed to ban children?

Malaysia Air has a new policy of banning babies in the first class.  A few restaurants have made the news for banning children, including McDain’s in PA, which will not seat patrons under age 6. (more…)

July 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm Leave a comment

Teacher of the Year (Rescinded)

Any teacher who becomes a parent finds some similarities between the two jobs.  They are both roles that you have to jump into blindly and learn as you go.  Eventually, you get the hang of it and you might start to get the feeling that you’ve finally got it all figured out.

Whether you’re teaching or parenting, that feeling is not going to last.

Here’s proof: (more…)

July 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm Leave a comment

My Life is Like a Katy Perry Song

It hit me as I was driving along, listening to Hits 1 on Sirius:  My life is like a Katy Perry song.

Not Katy Perry

Specifically, “Last Friday Night.”  How can she describe, with such detail, (and such great meter and rhyme to boot) exactly what my Friday night is like?  It’s uncanny, especially lines like:

“We went streaking in the park

Skinny dipping in the dark (more…)

June 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm Leave a comment

How to Deal with Other Parents

There’s one topic they never cover in the childbirth classes: how to deal with other parents. When you bring your little munchkin home, you’re also entering the larger parenting community, a place filled with crazy, judgemental people, strangers who will stop you on a daily basis and berate you for doing it all wrong.

At least that’s the claim in Why Everyone’s a Parenting Expert.  In fact, this parental shame onslaught is actually worse in the summer: “With summer here and kids at home, there’s a whole new set of parenting decisions that other parents (and even non-parents) feel obligated to judge.”  The article is filled with some real tear-jerker moments, like when one mom doesn’t want to let her kid play in the dirt.  A warning:  what you are about to read might make you angry, so stop now if you are prone to high blood pressure.  You ready?  Okay, here’s the dirt-a-phobe mom, who has refused to let her son take off his shoes and frolick like the other kids, in her own words: (more…)

June 27, 2011 at 10:00 pm Leave a comment

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