Deciding to have a third child

15 March 2021

Six years ago, I wrote a post about deciding to have children. No similar post was needed when we decided to add a second kiddo to our family (for us, once we decided to have one, two was a given), but about a year ago we reached another inflection point: did we want to add a third child to our family?

From the questions I’ve fielded after sharing our happy news, it seems that many of you have faced a similar decision, or expect to in the future. And I’m here for it! Whether or not to have a third child (or any child) is extremely personal, but just because a subject should be approached with care doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be approached at all.

Before I dive in, though, I want to acknowledge that we feel very grateful to have the ability to decide at all. Infertility was not a part of the story of adding the first two children to our family, and so when we were discussing the question of whether or not to have a third, whether or not we’d be able to was not really part of the calculation. If you are in the position of wanting to have a child and find yourself unable to, I am so sorry you’re carrying that pain.

Love, love, love this sweet acrylic frame for displaying an ultrasound! A few of you asked about it – here’s the link!

About a year ago, this is where we found ourselves: I was ready to have a third child, and John was not. We had loosely agreed to table the question until after our mortgage was paid off (because of the burden it would lift on our financial situation), but when we changed our mortgage pay-off plan, that detente became less binding.

A bit more about our starting positions: John was content with the size and shape of our family – to him, nothing seemed to be missing. He was not an “absolutely not” on three children, but he did not have a strong desire to have a third, either.

We had had two healthy pregnancies and two healthy children.
Daily life was manageable and usually not too chaotic nor overwhelming, and he was able to keep pace with it even though his new job was more demanding.
He could give the love and attention to our children that he wanted to.
We were financially stable and our long-term goals were on track.

The idea of adding a third meant potentially rocking the boat in a number of areas:

Another financial priority would be thrown into the mix.
Our emotional capacities would be stretched.
Three is an odd number and makes it more likely someone will be left out.
We’d be opening ourselves to the risk of another pregnancy and “rolling the dice” with growing another human. We’d be back at square one with the exhaustion and attention that a newborn requires.

22 weeks!

I felt that our family was not complete. John and I both grew up in families of three, and to me, that just seemed like the right number for a family, for our family. It’s big enough to feel like a group, but not so big to be overwhelming. Though it made me a bit nervous, I also welcomed the idea of a little more commotion in my life – I wanted the hustle and bustle, the fullness, of a bigger family. I wanted to see myself stretched and to see what growth might come from it.

I also liked that our children, as one of three, might at times feel a bit deprived – of our attention or presence, of an experience or opportunity, or of some physical possession they wanted. It is very important to me that my children don’t believe the world revolves around them and that they grow to be self-reliant, and when kids outnumber parents, those things can happen more naturally.

Finally, I hadn’t given up hope of having a third when I was pregnant with Shep, and so that pregnancy did not have the finality I would have wanted if it had been my last.

Could I have been happy with two? Certainly. Did I believe John could be happy with three? Yes. Did I share some of his concerns about how we would react to being stretched? Yes, absolutely. Could we have organized our life to grow some of the characteristics I outlined above? Yes, to an extent.

We tip-toed around the subject for several months, with John reminding me of our mortgage pact and me returning that it didn’t feel wise to give birth at 36 or 38 if I could just as easily have done it at 33 or 34. We agreed to pray about it, and we did.

As Shep’s second birthday approached, I sprinkled in casual references to a potential third child more and more frequently, with John diplomatically ignoring them most of the time. Eventually, I asked for A Serious Conversation, and he agreed. (This probably isn’t how everyone does it, but for us, if we have a conversation that we know will be momentous or a deep dive, we usually plan to tackle it on a date night. The neutral ground of a restaurant takes us out of the context and distractions of our daily life, and allows us both to put our best foot forward in engagement and magnanimity. Plus, dumplings make everything better!)

And so, we went on the date night and had the conversation, and we came away deciding to have a third child. Sitting across from each other, we ran through all of the pros and cons one more time, and in the end, found ourselves back in a similar place to where we had started six years ago: I couldn’t say exactly why I wanted a third child, but when I pictured my life in the long-term, that was my vision and desire. John, for his part, was gracious enough to accept that stronger desire, and self-aware enough to know that once he was in, he would be all-in, without any bitterness or resentment. Needless to say, I love and admire and appreciate that about him. I hope I would have been able to do the same if our decision had landed differently.

Is it difficult to face these crossroads in a marriage? Yes. Do I wish that we had been on the same page from the start? Yes. Did I feel uncomfortable with the idea that only one of us could “get our way” in a situation of such magnitude, and that in this case, it was me? Yes, a bit.

I felt comfortable pressing on this issue, though, because I knew that our marriage was strong enough to come out happy and whole on the other side. In taking the time to understand John’s reasoning, we were able to address many of his concerns, including for the health of me and another baby (not much we could do about that one aside from remind ourselves of the sovereignty of God – and lots of prayer!). We made practical plans, like me cutting back on work hours and running some financial numbers. And we had frank conversations about what another baby would do to our day-to-day life, and who would be bearing the bulk of those responsibilities (me, in many cases).

More than halfway through this pregnancy, I can tell you that we’re both excitedly on this path. As a friend’s mom likes to say, sometimes we just need to make a decision and then make it the right one. We feel grateful to be on this side of the decision, and engaged in making it the right one, together. We can’t wait to see who this new little person is we’re adding to our family!!

If you find yourself at a similar impasse, my advice can be summed up as follows:

— Take the decision slowly, if at all possible.
— Work to really understand the layers of your partner’s and your own position.
— Have very practical, realistic conversations about how you might meet any concerns or roadblocks.
— Pray about it. In our case, neither of us got a lighting bolt answer from God, but we were leaving space for it. I think He agreed we could be happy either way.

Friends, there will never be perfect words for a topic like this, but I hope it was helpful to hear one person’s imperfect thoughts. I’m here for anything you’d like to share in the comments!

P.S. If you are in the thick of this discussion yourself, you might like to listen to this Coffee & Crumbs episode, a vulnerable conversation on what it looks like when one spouse wants another baby and the other doesn’t.

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March 15, 2021 9:41 am

My husband and I are currently in a similar situation but reversed. He’s ready for #2 and I’m stalling a bit. I recently had a second miscarriage (not in a row) and the 2nd miscarriage was the worst for me. I told my husband that it felt like a period at the end of a sentence. I’ll be 35 this year and I’m a little scared about this risks of having a baby at 35/36+. What if I die during childbirth? What if my body sucks and I have another miscarriage? What if *enter ever scary scenario here.* He’s understanding and gracious with my trying to figure it out and I find myself going back and forth in my mind pretty much everyday. But really, I feel like I’m stealing his dream family and I’m stealing the chance for our daughter to be a sister. I love how thoughtful you and John are about your life decisions and I so love this post.

March 15, 2021 11:46 am

I so appreciate hearing your thought process! My fiance and I are trying to make a similar decision (in that we have two different perspectives) but with where deciding where to live.

March 15, 2021 11:53 am

My husband and I were on similar sides as you and your husband, but we came to the opposite conclusion. My husband would have been fine with 1 but I wanted at least 2 or even 3, so 2 was a good compromise for us. I knew this going in to my 2nd pregnancy, so I was able to experience those “last” moments and we gave away our baby stuff after baby #2 as we grew out of it. My children were both difficult babies and we had several factors that made those first couple years tough, so I am 99% fine with our decision. That 1% is because I have 2 boys and I have so many things I hoped to share with a daughter someday. But I’ve shared many things anyway and my boys love to bake and read Little House on the Prairie and someday I will teach them to sew. Though Great Aunt Irene’s collection of costume jewelry might have to wait for a grandaughter or niece! I too subscribe to the “make it right” mindset and do my best not to second guess myself. (When I am missing little pig tails and french braids, it is helpful to remember that we literally NEVER think about our boys’ hair except to trim every couple months. We don’t even comb it, ha!) Thank you for sharing your story. It’s so interesting to see how others think! And best of wishes to you and baby’s health during pregnancy and birth!

March 15, 2021 3:30 pm

Wonderful post! My second is only 6 months old but I definitely feel the NEED for a third and my husband….politely tolerates my comments. Affording three kids in daycare is just not possible for us unless something changes dramatically so we need to wait until our first is in kindergarten in two years before we consider a third – which means I’ll be 36+. So we have the conversation officially tabled for now, and I’m saving some of my favorite baby things but passing on some things I won’t miss the second time around. Time will tell- maybe my feelings will change, maybe his will, but we’ll get there eventually.

Zoe T
March 15, 2021 4:38 pm

I so deeply appreciate your thoughtful approach to this. For us going from 1 to 2 kids was much like your decision to go from 2 to 3. We are both only children so it was in no way a given. I was the one who really wanted a 2nd and we had all the same conversations as you did. In the end my husband came round to my view that we wanted to live ‘the bigger life’ and we can’t imagine life without our daughter, who is coming up to 1. For us, a 2nd child completed our family and it was a strange but deeply contented feeling to walk past a woman with a newborn in a sling the other day and think, ‘what a beautiful stage of that is’, with a sense of it being in the past.

March 17, 2021 8:53 pm
Reply to  Zoe T

I love this last sentence! Your contentment walking by a new baby instead of desire or longing is a big reason I’m for team baby #3; when I walk by a newborn or hear one cry, I feel nothing but a desire for another and having you mention such a specific tangible example was so helpful!

March 15, 2021 7:56 pm

This is so practical, real, helpful and beautiful all in one. Thank you for sharing as always. I look forward to referring to this post down the road one day :)

March 15, 2021 10:30 pm

Thanks for sharing this! I feel like it rarely gets discussed. For us, unfortunately infertility is a part of our story! We were so blessed to get one baby boy after two IVF cycles. My husband was ready to try for a second within our son’s second year, but me not so much. I know how hard it was to get one baby and I was only getting older. I decided that I was ready in 2019 and IVF is a hurry up and wait process, so we didn’t get a chance to try again until early 2020. We did get pregnant, but I miscarried the baby. It rocked me to my core and after months of therapy, I decided to try one more cycle of IVF. It was a fail. It’s been a very hard year and I ache to make my son a big brother. I have been praying a lot and I know that I don’t know the big picture He has for us and that it will all become clear. I never really expected to raise an only child and yet at the same time I feel immense gratitude and joy with my family of three.

March 16, 2021 12:23 am

I remember your post about deciding to have children, I believe I was in college or just married when I read it and it resonated so much with me. Now I’m closer to that decision (and will re-read the post after this comment!), and again am really admiring how you are able to write about such a huge topic in such a logical, thoughtful way. I love that you’ve detailed your conversations with John, where you both were going into this and where you are now. Again, thank you so much for sharing these thoughts with the world! I feel lucky to read them.

Kelly Strawberry
March 16, 2021 8:01 am

This post wasn’t what I was expecting at all but I’m so glad you shared your thoughts honestly. As I’ve told you a bit at Articles Club, ours was an unplanned pregnancy and my husband (after health issues came into play) had decided he did not want kids. So in our situation, it did feel as if I had “won.” Definitely not good for a relationship and resulted in a very difficult two years that our marriage almost didn’t survive. Of course with a now 5-year-old who is the light of our lives I can see God’s hand all over our story, but it was a long and hard road to get where we are today. I’ll listen to the podcast you shared, sounds interesting!

March 16, 2021 8:47 am

From reading your blog you seemed to be a 2-child person to me! Mostly because you write a lot about financial goals, and to me two kids seems like the most financially sound choice haha. Like you, I’m from a family of 3 siblings, and my husband from a family of 4. I grew up wanting several kids, then changed that to two because of climate change and $$$, and then that went to “Let’s just get one!” when we lost our first baby and decided not to pursue getting pregnant for health reasons, which led us to adopting our baby girl last fall :) Now that she’s here, I find myself thinking of that hustle and bustle and fullness you reference, that comes with a bigger family. And also the fact that my sisters and I have an amazing bond (I know that’s not always the case with siblings–my husband as an example), and it was always us as a team growing up. We’ve already decided to adopt a second child. All we can do is hope that we have enough money (to finance the adoption and buy a bigger space!) to adopt a third.

March 16, 2021 9:28 am

As always, I love that you share your thoughts on here with us. It is so valuable to hear other people‘s perspective and how they go about making (big!) decisions like this one. I come from a big family (3 siblings, lots of cousins etc.) and I loved the hustle and bustle that came with that. While I always wanted several children, I also knew I probably wouldn’t go for 4 like my parents did. But 3 seemed like a good number to me. That was before I had met my husband, ha! He would have been totally fine with „just“ one, but pretty easily convinced to have a second. (Even after we lost one between our two.) Since I knew we would be done after kid number 2, I did soak up that last pregnancy and all the lasts that come with having your last baby. There are times when I still long for a third, but at the same time, I don’t question our decision. I guess I have been „making it the right one“ :-).

March 16, 2021 10:12 am

Congratulations to you and your family! I always look forward to hearing your thoughts on these big subjects. I love the honesty and practicality that you share. I agree that it’s tough not being on the same page, as I was ready to have children a few years before my husband. It certainly took a lot of patience and growth for me to wait for him to “catch up”. While I always thought I wanted four or five kids growing up, after having my first (who is nine months old), that number has settled at three for now :)

March 17, 2021 8:57 pm
Reply to  Em

I wonder this too, Em! Because we as women typically experience so much of a new baby before our spouses do (e.g. pregnancy, birth, nursing, sleep deprivation possibly because of nursing, maternity time away, etc) do we just know more about the process and are eager to take it on knowing what it entails?!

March 16, 2021 11:26 am

Congratulations to you, John, June, and Shep! I am so excited to see how June approaches her role as “biggest” sibling. I’m sure she will be such a sweet helper. As always, I am inspired by your thoughtfulness, intention, and discernment. Thank you (and John!) for allowing us to peek behind the curtain on the making of these big decisions. Your blog is one of my favorite corners of the internet. Thrilled for your family!

March 16, 2021 12:23 pm

I so appreciate you sharing your thoughts and decision-making process! It’s a very real part of life but normally not discussed. After being married for 2 months shy of 10 years, my husband and I finally decided we were ready to try for a baby. Fortunately it happened right away (I’m not sure if we would’ve had the will/desire to try month after month if it took a very long time), so now I’m pregnant at 32 with our first. We both agree we’d like to try to have a second shortly after, but even now I’m wondering if we end up deciding we might want more, if we would try for one or be afraid of the risks, as I’d be 36. It’s comforting hearing other commenters say they have similar fears. But I have to remind myself that even though there are more risks starting around age 35, it’s not a sudden drop-off – biology doesn’t work like that. The sooner the better, but it’s not like age 36 = age 45. One thing to think about.

March 16, 2021 4:52 pm

I’ve been so looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this and this post did not disappoint! I am grateful that my husband and I have always been on the same page in terms of family size – right now we are both 90% sure we want a third, but we’re in the THICK of tough stages right now (one newborn, one almost-but-not-quite potty trained toddler) and it seems sort of impossible to add to the chaos! That said, we have been talking so much about this, and we both agree that it seems impossible NOT to have a third, since that is what we both truly want long term. We just need to wait a little bit for things to calm down.

However, we majorly disagree on another family decision- where to live long-term. We are currently in an adorable, historic “city house”, which we love everything about except for the size and the middle and high schools. My husband would rather stay in our neighborhood, maybe in a slightly bigger house, but piece together schooling via private or charter schools. I am all about the suburbs (purely for the simplicity of the public school situation, I much prefer the older homes and access to city amenities we enjoy now) until our kids are in college. This has been a years-long discussion which we continue to punt, because we both feel strongly, but we are coming up on needing to make a decision. One of us will “win” and I HATE that. I love the idea of scheduling a Serious Conversation over date night! I’m going to try that :). Congrats again on baby #3!

March 17, 2021 9:02 pm

Well, now that I’ve helped myself to some of the comments …. HA!
Em, we have talked about this very subject for years now on our quarterly phone calls and this post is the grand finale to our talks, putting so much of our back and forth in an easy to digest and thoughtful way I know that I KNOW I wouldn’t be able to present so logically and eloquently. You know where my heart is with a third baby and let’s just say parts of this post are so hugely inspiring and encouraging for a few ‘blind spot’ areas in our life / reality. I can’t wait to meet Baby Thomas #3 whenever s/he makes their debut.

March 18, 2021 7:12 pm

I always enjoy your big posts and your blog has been my favorite for many years. My husband I are both on the same page about potential baby #3, but I can see us potentially disagreeing about baby #4 if we are lucky enough to have a third. Our kids are exactly the same age as yours, but after a tough year of 8 attempted fertility treatment cycles (and 50,000 of medical expenses) we have not been able to have a third yet. We are giving it a go with ivf cycle #3 next month. It does make me especially grateful for the two boys we are blessed to already have. I would love a 4th kid, but I would be nervous about the pain of more future fertility treatments.

March 19, 2021 3:49 pm

I absolutely LOVED this post, and am so, so, so grateful for your openness in sharing the intricacies of a decision that is so often not made public. There are so many things that I related to in the post. I’m a mother of a 2-year-old and an 8-month-old and do have hopes for another baby some day, whereas my husband is quite content with our current situation, so it was validating and helpful to read your thoughts and hear about your decision making process. I also just loved how you wrote about your philosophy that sometimes it’s good for children to feel a little deprived. I agree 100%, though never put it in those words… and again, it was validating and helpful to read how you put it. Finally, I also just really appreciate how you write about making serious decisions when you and a partner don’t start out on the same page. Thank you for your thoughtful writing, your openness in sharing (John’s, too!) and your wise perspective.

October 24, 2023 3:02 pm

I find myself coming back to this post so often lately. I remember commenting 2+ years ago about my fears about having and 2nd and here I am again because it’s an almost identical situation except it’s about a 3rd -we welcomed our sweet 2nd in 2022 and it’s been the best! Just thought you should know that years pass and your words are still poignant and comforting.