The Longest Shortest Time

EPISODE #168: Does Family Size Matter?

When KJ Dell’Antonia was growing up as an only child, sandcastles were always an issue. She’d be on a beach vacation, wishing she had a sibling around to man the other shovel. She knew that when she grew up, she wanted to have a “big happy family.”

KJ is the former editor of Motherlode blog at The New York Times (now called Well Family), and she’s also got a wonderful new advice book out called How to Be a Happier Parent.

She eventually did get her big family with a husband and four kids. But the happy part? That didn’t come as easily as she’d expected.

Tune in to hear KJ and two special surprise guests talk through family size. You guys have been asking for this topic! KJ’s in a unique position to talk about this, as an only child who became the mother of four.

KJ and her folks.

And because so many of you are agonizing over how big you want your family to be… later in the show we’ll call up some listeners who’ve gone through their own journeys with this decision.

For Terry in New Jersey, she knew from a young age that having an only child wasn’t for her.

Naomi in Michigan told us that she often feels judged for having only one.

A Few Questions to Consider When Figuring Out Family Size

Sometimes circumstances beyond our control determine our family size, but sometimes the choice is very much in our hands and we agonize over it. We asked KJ Dell’Antonia to share some questions to help YOU figure out your future family size. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section below.

1. How do you feel about lots of stuff and logistics?

How many sippy cups can you stand washing? How many haircuts do you want to schedule? How many socks will you match? How many car seats can you vacuum out?

2. Are you a chaos Muppet or an order Muppet?

Big families, like the universe, tend overall toward disorder. Lower your guard for an instant, and entropy will take over your kitchen. If you enjoy unpredictability and thrive under unexpected challenges, a big family—where the odds that someone will barf in the night, break an arm or, on a more positive note, make the hole-in-one at mini golf that wins everyone ice cream—may be just right. Alternatively, if you love putting things in order (as opposed to living in an already ordered space), then keeping the trains running on time for four or five kids may also help you thrive.

3. If a fairy godmother came drifting down and issued a decree that what you have is perfect, how would you feel? Satisfied—or regretful?

If you’re thinking about another kid, then here’s a little piece of research on happiness that might apply: we regret the things we could have done and didn’t more than our mistakes. Failure, disappointment—those we can accept. But when the choice is ours, and we don’t act—those are the regrets we hang onto.

Additional Resources

In addition to reading How to Be a Happier Parent, we adore One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One by Lauren Sandler.

This episode also mentioned a few more happiness-boosting books including Mom, Jason’s Breathing On Me!: The Solution to Sibling Bickering by Anthony Wolf; Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love With Expectations and Protection With Trust by Kenneth R. Ginsburg; and The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters by Sarah Susanka.