They say Jews are supposed to have at least three kids—one to replace each parent, and one to perpetuate the Jewish race. Saving an entire people seems like as good a reason as any to have a third kid, and another child would increase our odds of raising at least one billionaire technology nerd (doctors are so passé), but I’m still not sure.
Josh and I always thought we’d have a big family. He has one sibling, and I’ve got three. My dad is one of seven, and I have more first cousins than I can count. Family gatherings required multiple sessions with family trees and flash cards for Josh when we first started dating. The holidays are a chaotic mix of stories, squabbles, and songs: my grandmother holding the newest great-grandchild, aunts and uncles gathered around the kitchen table, cousins playing cards or piano, and someone inevitably bent over an open refrigerator. Josh and I love those visits, and we both hope to host such festivities one day.
It’s fun to fantasize. During a dinner date late in my first pregnancy, Josh got carried away and boozily declared he’d like to go for an even half-dozen, but sober and uncomfortably pregnant heads prevailed, and we settled on three or four. Our first daughter was born a few weeks later, and even through the fatigue and hormones and poop (dear God, there was so much poop) we forged ahead with our plan. Twenty months later, her sister was born.
Now we have a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old, and to be honest, we’re just not sure about number three. I’d like to attribute our ambivalence to some lofty and important decision, like my friend who stopped at two because she and her husband are committed to travelling the world, and the sooner her baby grows up, the sooner they can hit the road. I’d like to be able to tell you that I will just know, like another friend who told me that her family wasn’t complete at two, but her life was full when she had her third.
But the truth is that I’m neither as goal-oriented nor self-aware as either of my friends. My waffling stems from the daily challenges of life with an infant and toddler. They’re relatively happy, calm kids, and yet life with two is hectic, and hard. You get one to sleep, and the other wakes up. I turn around for two seconds, and the baby has a small toy in her mouth. The older one wants to potty train, and then she doesn’t—with very messy consequences. They share colds but not toys, and some days I swear they’re plotting against me. I know that it will get easier (in some ways) with time, but right now it’s hard to imagine starting this process all over again.
Fears That Keep Me Up at Night
And then there are the hopes and fears that I have no control over, but can’t let go of nonetheless. Yes, I hope for a big, chaotic, connected family, but what if my children end up living as Tibetan Monks, childless and meditating on a mountain somewhere? And then there are the fears, the fears that can only have been passed down through generations of Jews because whenever I try to explain to my non-Jewish mommy friends that I regularly worry about one of my children becoming terribly ill or dying, they look at me like I’m seriously under-medicated.
But I do worry about losing a child. I’ve tried to reason this out in my mind (even though such a horrifying possibility eludes all reasonable thought), noting that if you have one child, and you lose that child, you are left with nothing. If you lose one of two, then the remaining child is left to cope all alone. If you lose one of three, however, at least the other two will have each other. In my moments of deepest worry, I find comfort in this idea, even though I suspect that when you have lost a child, there is little solace to be found, regardless of the size of your family.
But a third child should not be born as an insurance policy, not for the Jewish people and not for my family. How would I ever explain that to Baby #3? What could I possibly say to him or her? “We had you in case one of your sisters gets addicted to drugs, or even worse, doesn’t go to college. Also, just so you know, your oldest sister is my replacement, and #2 is your father’s, but you, well, you’re responsible for the Jewish race. Good luck with that!”
So Why Have a Third?
Josh and I should take the plunge again because we want a third child, because we are willing to risk having one who doesn’t sleep (we got two sleepers, and I feel like going for a third is not just tempting fate, it’s waving a chocolate bar and large glass of Zinfandel in front of her face), and because we’re ready to take on even more years of diapers and tantrums and visits to the pediatrician. We should have a third because we realize, much like my friend, that our family just isn’t complete. And besides, how amazing would it be if #3 actually does end up being a billionaire tech nerd who saves the Jewish race in her free time?