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Is it Too Soon to have a Second Child?

QUESTION: My son, our first child, is not even a year old and I would love to have another baby. Everyone tells me I would be biting off more than I can chew and that it is best to wait. I want to do what is best for my family. Is it really too soon to be thinking about another child?

ANSWER: Whether you are "biting off more than you can chew" is something only you can determine. Much depends on your own goals, your desires for your family and your present family resources. It is not the number or timing of children that assures success in parenting, but thorough consideration of your emotional, economic and physical resources!

You must attempt to project your needs into the future, your child's needs and to the best of your ability, predict your family's future economic and emotional stability. Quite a tall order, I realize! Naturally you cannot completely know the future, either, and things out of your control will no doubt come up to rock the boat.

It is a common recommendation by psychologists that children be spaced at least three to three and a half years apart. The reason for this is to not add stress of a sibling to the early formative stages of a child's life. Babies and toddlers thrive on undivided attention. Even when you talk on the phone, a young child will feel the loss of your emotional energies, which are temporarily focused elsewhere.

As a child nears the age of two, he or she experiences considerable stress involving conflicting needs around dependence and independence. Tantrums and frustrations may be temporarily on the rise. Adding a sibling at this time increases the stress of this period, giving a child the potential for increased feelings of abandonment and rejection due to tired parents and energies focused on a new baby. Introducing a new baby during this developmental stage can sometimes result in exaggerated rivalry which can influence the sibling relationship for the long term.

By about three years of age, it is believed that children come through the struggle to be more independent, and have succeeded in identifying their limits more appropriately. It is also hypothesized that the three year old has internalized love to some extent, and therefore has greater ego strength and security. They have developed what psychologists term "object constancy" meaning that they are less susceptible to feelings of abandonment and rejection when their immediate needs are not met instantaneously. They can endure greater frustration because they know Mommy or Daddy loves them and will be there as soon as she or he finishes changing the baby's diaper.

Now, to come back to thorough consideration! Many other things influence the way a child will mature. When assessing the answer to your question you should take into account the personality and traits of the baby you have now. From your knowledge of him, how do you think he will fare to add another sibling in another nine months (or so)? How long do you anticipate it will take you to get pregnant? Is there any rush? For example one client couple chose to have their children two years apart, not because they felt it was ideal, but because there were fertility issues involved. Their chances of conception went down with age.

What are your reasons for having a child soon? for waiting? Write these down and discuss your concerns with your husband. What does he want? What kind of parents do you want to be and what kind of family do you want to have? Will having a child now facilitate your goals together, or diminish them? Do you have the energy and resources between you to parent the way you want with two children at this time? What do you and your husband believe about the pluses and minuses of having children less than two years apart (assuming you will get pregnant right away)?

Do not underestimate the value of your own belief system about your family and what is best. In truth no one can tell you what is best in your situation, and much is determined by the beliefs of the two leaders (Mom and Dad) in the family. Your feelings and attitude will permeate and can influence children substantially. For example, if you believe it best to have children close together, and are realistic about your energies and resources, your children will absorb the messages and beliefs you hold about the family. When large families are happy families, beliefs about the primacy of children's needs and the parents true enjoyment (and fulfillment) in their roles seems to supersede the importance of spacing.

You are doing a good job to be taking concern and consideration of your situation and energy seriously. Your son is fortunate to have a thoughtful mother who weighs these very important life decisions carefully!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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