How Many Children Should I Have?

How Many Children Should I Have?

A young mother of two children requested that I post this personal question.

She writes:

Dear JewishMOMs,

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently contemplating the decision of how many children to have.

While on one hand I love the concept of just letting Hashem decide for me, I, Baruch Hashem, had my first two children at ages 23 and 24 and I’m concerned that if I leave it up to Him completely I could have 18 kids by the time I hit 40.

My husband’s job requires that we live far from family and he is away from home for about half of the year.

I need to be realistic here and think about how my parenting would be affected by many children in a short amount of time.

I would love to hear from Moms on both sides of the decision curve. If you are a mom who decided to stop at 3 or 4 children, what was your justification? Why did you decide to stop having more children?

If you are a mom who just kept going, did you ever worry about finances (affording school tuition, etc.) Also, is it REALLY easier once you have older kids around to help out?

The Torah obligates us to continue having children until we have a boy and a girl. And there’s also an additional mitzvah to have more children past that minimum, but the specifics of this additional mitvah are a matter of great rabbinic debate. Every woman needs to consult her posek regarding family planning. But within the halachic framework there is still room for flexibility.

I understand the amazing bracha of a child and the joy in raising each neshama in a Torah life, but I still find myself going back and forth in this decision nearly daily!

I look forward to hearing about your own personal thoughts and experiences regarding family size…

What would YOU advise her, JewishMOM?

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The Matriarchs Return to Life (5 Stunning Paintings)
A Letter to an Exhausted Mother by Rabbi Shais Taub

32 comments

  1. Hi,
    Keep it simple: One pregnancy at a time, one baby at a time. We can’t know ahead.
    May the answers come with honest relating with Hashem, our husbands, and ourselves.

    Chaya

  2. Have one at a time, take each pregnancy as it comes and see how you are coping at the time. Believe me you’ll know when you can’t think about getting pregnant and take a break and your lack of support may make your breaks be longer. Also daven to H’. B’hatzlacha with everything and may you raise healthy children to torah,chupa and maasim tovim

  3. The answer to that is so very personal. I can never advise because I don’t have to live with the outcome of the decision that someone else makes. How many children? This isn’t like sending me pics on a celly and asking if I think my bff’s husband should surprise her with the blue or the green skirt! 

    Right now, I have three sons 14-12 in addition to my huge family. While I know they’ll grow up into responsible, good men, this age group has me wondering what kind of a glutton for punishment I was for doing such a thing to myself! They antagonize, they tease, they go sullen, then I get an email from their teachers at different times telling me what great, helpful guys they are, watching out for the underdogs, helping a substitute teacher get to her classroom and carrying her bags, picking up after a party and telling their buddies to help, and I’m like, “Are you talking about MY son? Do you know who I am?” And they do, and my sons are great people when that thing called mom isn’t around!

    We can’t choose gender, but I like having girls close together. Boys? I wish I could have spaced them at least two years apart for my sanity during the middle school years. 

    How do you want to raise your kids? Is your husband on the same page? If you hate tv and computers but he wants to “play it by ear,” stop at two unless you want to fight them for the next 20 years.

  4. I can really identify with this question as it’s something I’m thinking a lot about lately. I really think it’s so individual and that you (OP) have time to think about it.

    What’s weighing on my mind these days are several teenagers I know from seemingly normal and functional households who say they will never have as many kids as their parents did because they (thee teenagers) feel like they were somewhat neglected…

    • I wouldn’t take what those teenagers say too much to heart. The grass is always greener… I don’t think I know a single person who was perfectly happy with his or her birth order/family size/brother-to-sister ratio. And that’s beside the fact that teenagers will criticize their own parents’ decisions regardless of how good those decisions were…

      Parents need to do what works for them and what keeps the family happy and functional. They need to do their best to provide what each individual child needs without compromising on their own needs and goals. You can’t please everyone and shouldn’t aim to.

  5. Wow, and I thought I was alone in the guilt ridden questions of stop or keep going??? I know how you feel – I wish someone would have told me to space out a bit- and take care of myself more- physically…I also moved away from family while pregnant with my fourth and didnt dare tell anyone i was expecting…I had so many nights of hating myself for leaving the closeness of family and community when having so many little kids all together with no one to feel close enough to to talk-or visit or take part in watching my kids grow and say funny things-also the back and forth of chosing to stop made me feel so guilty and wrong- like I was playing G-d or something..the whole thing just broke my heart for 2 years and I didnt stop- I had a fifth and the space between the last two was byfar the biggest almost 2 years and there is a difference when it comes to giving attention- playing /teaching at different levels- even thought the it gets tricky with the rest of my brood… but surely after this 5th child or should i say pregnancy that was beyong difficult and physically debilitating, I had an IUD placed with a heter from a Rav- which is the most important factor here- and I think that G-d was trying to tell me -even in the 4th pregnancy that I need to slow down and take care of myslef- get into shape – find out how to cope with throbbing vericose veins etc etc, its also a matter of realizing that children change your entire life- meaning its hard to stay true to the person you were before having kids- or even the person you aspire to be- like in my case- I really need to see things in order and I am EXHAUSTED from the micro side of how much I need to do each day to get back to square one…which isnt even half of where I want to be …so I know I have to work on myself and realize that my expectations are not meeting my reality becasue I am in a different reality…I heared Yemima mizrahi say today—just sit down….thats what hannuka makes us do- for a half an hour after we light the menorah- we jewish moms…not dads… are obligated to SIT and watch the candles, watch our lives, kids, husband family, burning latkes—just sit…so she took this a step further and told us to stop racing thru our lives – to llet go of the need to get it done…it’ll get done- just sit…so I guess I went a little far but I found this encouraging – meaning I can tell myself that I am not stopping I am just resting…Good Luck and always get a heter and a blessing from a Rav that know every detail of your situation- and you will be alot more relaxed/at ease with your decision.

  6. i have 7 kids 2 little kids are harder then 7. i used bc btwn each one.take a break when you need one , when you feel you are up to another pregnancy, end the break. you do not need to decide now how many kids you will have. i am willing to bet that in 5-10 yrs you will have life circumstances that you are not predicting now (maybe dh will be at home more, maybe youll have more help etc,) which may make the decision more straight forward. i would advise you to take a break (go to a rav for a psak) and rethink in a few months. one trick ive used is to imagine waiting for the results of a pregnancy test. what result would leave you happy/ disappointed/fearful? good luck

  7. I felt the same when I was your age, as my babies are also a year apart. I worried that it would become overwhelmed and everyone would suffer. Instead, my fertility hasn’t returned after my 2nd, so the worry was moot. Hashem controls the when, how many, etc no matter how much we think we are the ones planning. We can daven, prepare ourselves, take care of the blessings we are bestowed. Hatzlacha!

  8. Um, what about finances? Certainly all of the aforementioned factors are critically important–but so is being able to sustain our families. I find it extremely frustrating that this piece often gets overlooked in the observant world.

    I dream of having a large family, but financial stability is a necessary factor. My husband is currently unemployed and I am working full-time, but that is not enough to support the two of us and our 18-month-old daughter. On the one hand, I very much want to get pregnant again. On the other hand, we’re not making ends meet now, and that’s extremely stressful. Try adding pregnancy on top of that!

    HaShem will do His part, but I think we need to be sure that we are doing our part to make sure that our children have a place to “land”, so to speak. We need to provide both the tangible as well as the intangible resources they need to thrive.

  9. I agree with all those who advise to take it one child at a time. We had 2 close together, then medical issues required us to space the next two. I have gaps of 21 mos, then 3.5 yrs, then 5.5 yrs. I can honestly say that it was so much easier with #3 and #4, especially by #4, when all the other kids were in school when the baby was a newborn. Sure, my life in general is more complicated, with getting kids to school on different schedules, and more work with a larger family. But, the older kids are definitely able to do a lot to help, both for themselves and with the baby. And, I see how the older kids benefit from having a younger sibling to be responsible for.
    Had I had all 4 kids close together, it would have been harder. B”H for understanding rabbonim, who saw the complete picture each time I had a baby and were able to give a psak for the appropriate hetter. I advise asking a Rav or Rebbetzin you think will understand your feelings, and ask for an eitza.
    Definitely, it is a totally different consideration for me to contemplate having more kids closer together now that I have older kids, though.

  10. i totally understand your concerns. and i have written my answer here. see the article on jewishmom.com titled “having 4 kids after 40).
    as for finances, my husband is a doctor, and one might think that we would never have a problem with finances, but life is full of surprises. I have learned that the only thing to “count on” is that you can’t count on anything! that’s why i truly believe that Hashem only sends us what we can handle—including the finances and strength to deal with it….

    • Tamar–can you share some advice about “the strength to deal with [financial stress]”? My husband is also extremely capable, with great experience, etc. and unemployed. It is so hard for the financial fears NOT to eat me up inside.

      Thanks,
      Shula

      • strength comes from Hashem. it sounds sort of silly and abstract, but it is really true. how many times have i reached the end of my rope on an issue, and just gave up. i mean really gave up the struggle——-by just saying: I give it all over to You Hashem. You created this situation, please find a way to fix it.

        sounds weird, but as i say those words, i stop asking for specific imagined scenarios. alot of times, those problems were solved or disappeared or took up far less significance in my day-to-day life, and looking back, i see that i kept on living– i didn’t die from the experiences.

        i have lived thru real-time nightmares. and somehow i am here as proof that i didn’t stop living because of them.

        let’s look at what’s eating you up inside. think of some real-life horrible experiences that you somehow lived thru. after it passed, are you still eating yourself up about them? probably not. you put it behind you and focus on the “now”, right?
        now, think about how your fears are overwhelming you. because they are not real experiences, but products of your mind, it’s hard to get past them.

        here’s the key: make a plan to only accept real thoughts in your mind, and to throw out/prevent the thoughts that don’t exist in the real world. a fear is only a thought. there is nothing real behind it–such as a gun/knife/out-of-control car/etc.
        you are the Master of your mind. you can and do decide which thoughts will dwell within and which ones are to be kept out.
        it’s a simple concept, really. it just takes practice. at first, you will get flustered because those sneaky fears just keep slipping in. stop when you recognize such an intruder, and force yourself to focus on something “real”.
        some real things are: you still have a roof over your head. you still have food to eat. you still have your health. your husband is with you, alive and well. focus on your kids, parents, friends. focus on these types of things, think about them, how thankful you are to have them keep thinking along those lines until the unwanted intruder slithers away due to lack of attention. the more you consciously make that choice in your thinking, the more automatic it will become.

        like whiny children, the fears thrive on attention. just as you would ignore a whiney child until he learns to stop whining, so will you ignore those pesky fears

        it’s a good topic. i could write more, but don’t want to overwhelm you

        • That is the most wonderful advice for life in general, Tamar. Truly inspiring and so simply explained. Especially the part about the whiny children! What a clever example.

          Rabbi Nachman agrees with you: he teaches that a thought can simply replaced with another thought, since it is not possible to think of two things at the same time. (we women like to think we do, but it’s really one thought after the other at extremely high speed…. 🙂 )

          PLEASE request to write a guest post on this subject of thought direction and replacement. I don’t think anyone would be overwhelmed!

          (I also really loved the advice above about visualising the results of a pregnancy test: I did not use a heter after two back to back babies and although I was desperately scared at the time I put my trust in Hashem: and it wasn’t until I visualised being “fine” with a positive pregnancy test that I got pregnant. Hashem really is listening, and He cares.

          • I can’t imagine being disappointed with a positive ever.
            Anyway, I realized something interesting. When I’m doing wonderful and everything is going right, I don’t feel like I want a pregnancy – because I know I’ll be tired and things will go downhill. But when things are crazy, my mind goes – eh, what’s another kid, everything is crazy anyway!

  11. Once I was at a friend’s, they have 4 kids and I saw all the activity of the house and thought I couldn’t imagine the dynamic in this house with the 1st two kids only… I think you need to imagine your life in the future, what kind of house you wanna have… it may have a price when they are little, but I heard so many women say “Today I regret I didn’t have more kids when I could”…..

  12. I’m 40 and have been contemplating having a 3rd child. The pressure feels on because of my age. The risk of having a child with a genetic disorder is 2% AT THIS TIME and it rises exponentially with each passing year.

    I take medication for an anxiety disorder in which I have panic attacks (if you’ve never had one, let me explain…I wouldn’t wish one on my worst enemy). I got a heter from my rav a year ago and he told me to ONLY have a child if I really wanted one. (B”H we have a boy and a girl.)

    Even with all of this, I do envision that 3rd pregnancy test coming up positive as a happy occasion. I have been trying to wean myself off my medication and it’s been very difficult. I don’t know if I have the strength in me to do it and to do it at a relatively rapid pace due to my age. I’m ready to throw in the towel but that makes me sad, yet sometimes relieved.

    I also wonder if it’s the pressure around me in my community (and the frum community at large) to have more children. I frequently feel like a big “L” (loser) for only having two children. Like I don’t fit in. Like I’m not frum enough. I see women all around me having baby after baby and they seem totally fine (although deep down I know looks can be deceiving).

    Bottom line: I seriously questions whether I can handle having another child under the circumstances. I can relate to the daily questioning of whether to have another child and “have emunah.” There are REAL situations out there that prevent women from having a large family. I try to count my blessings for the beautiful children I do have. It is really hard though.

    I am perplexed and in awe of how so many women have so many children. I find myself asking myself, “Do they not have any issues?? Am I the only one?” People don’t speak much about this topic.

    I didn’t marry until I was 30 and had shalom bayis issues for awhile and waited (with a heter) to have children for a few years until we worked things out. Sometimes I think, “Why me?” when I see all those pregnant bellies surrounding me. Although of course I lived a thousand lives before I was 30 and I’m grateful for those experiences too.

    I am so relieved to hear that others are questioning every day the same thing I have been questioning and hopefully my thoughts and experiences can be helpful to others as well.

    • Chaya,

      I can relate a lot to what you are saying. I am 26 and have been married for almost a year and a half. I take medication for depression and I am very scared to start having children. There is so much pressure in the frum world to have so many children, and as you said, it seems like women just keep having one baby after another and it seems like they are fine. But “seems” is the key. I think it is very important for women to speak about any emoitional issue or mental illness openly and for their not to be a stigma so that women don’t feel alone. When I saw your post i felt better because I realize that I am not alone. Were you on medication during your first two pregnancies?

      • Leah,
        I’m also glad to not be alone. You’re right, we should talk openly about mental health issues, and I do with my friends but certainly not with acquaintances–I guess it’s just the stigma. But you’re right that leaves others just feeling more alone.

        I went off my medication to have my two children and I did okay. It was challenging but I managed. Unfortunately I got much worse after I stopped nursing my second. I think it was the hormone fluctuation. It’s taken me two years on medication to get back to a reasonable place. I do think your body does change with pregnancy and nursing so it’s doable if you really, really want it. I know there are anti-depressant/anxiety medications out there that are supposedly okay during pregnancy but I am unable to take that class of medicine.

        Wishing you hatzlacha! And no, you are definitely not alone!!

      • Amanda Elkohen

        I have been on medication on and off (approved for pregnant/nursing use) while pregnant and nursing. Baruch HaShem my kids are all fine, normal (adorable!) kids. I would say, if you are a self-aware person (i.e. you’ve been in therapy and know your warning signs), you could try pregnancy wihout drugs to begin with, and watch for signs of distress, and don’t feel guilty about needing meds, if it comes to that. Smoking while pregnant is MUCH worse than most approved drugs, and normal, healthy kids are born to smoking moms all the time.

        Something else occured to me. I have seen first-hand what a mom with “issues” can do to an only child, so I was thinking, for me it may be better to spread my own personal form of crazy out over many children, so none gets too big of a dose, haha! (humor helps, right?)

  13. I was on medication until I got married – for anxiety. I asked my rabbi about having kids (as per my psychologist) and he was like, “what’s the worst thing that’ll happen if you have a baby?” and I was like “uh nothing… maybe i’ll be pretty anxious…” and every mother on here can tell you that that’s a normal thing. I’m sure you may have it far worse than me, I was pretty bad as a teenager. But my 3 kids K”H keep me so occupied that my brain has no room for panic attacks anymore. Now my focus is keeping my children from becoming like me.

    • Sara,
      That’s good you’re doing fine w/o medication. I wish my brain had no room for panic attacks!! Not sure if the rabbi really understands mental illness, but maybe in your case it was the right advice.

      • Amanda Elkohen

        I also have been medicated/in therapy on and off for 10 years with anxiety/PTSD. I’m getting ready to have my 4th child in 5 years.
        I’ve been on medication both during pregnancy and after and PPD really bad at least once. it’s been an interesting time in my live for certain. We weren’t planning on this 4th pregnancy so soon, but the measures we were taking to prevent did not work. I have to believe that this is meant to be and I will be able to cope. and I really do take things one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time (I can make it through the next 10 minutes…). One thing about anxiety I have discovered is that it is almost 100% a mental game. If you think you can do it, you can. If you think you won’t make it, you won’t.

        • Interesting thought about the power of positive thinking. B’sha’ah tova!

          • Amanda Elkohen

            It’s not original to me. I had a wonderful therapist in the states when I first started to deal with my isses 10 years ago. Her wisdom has often come back to me as I have been able to accept it. Keeping out of the “negative spiral” of anxiety by using confident self-talk (even if it sounds hokey in print) has been key to reducing my attacks from 2-5 per DAY at my worst to a few per year, mostly minor.

  14. Wow–that’s amazing, Amanda! I’m so happy for you. Sounds like you have the tools to cope with this wonderful surprise! I tried using your approach today and it helped a little (kids in the car on a trip really stress me out!). I guess it takes practice.

    • Amanda Elkohen

      I’m so, so thankful that what I said might be of help to you! It absolutely does take practice for it to become the most useful tool, but the more you use it, the better it will work, because you can see the past examples where it HAS worked. Almost like a faith-builder, you know?
      I always like to have several things in my anti-anxiety “tool box” at a time that are working for me. Positive self-talk is like my pliers, I can use it for almost anything. Medication is like a hammer. it’s really good for one thing and you can try to use other things instead, but in the end, it works best for what it does. Self-care is another important thing, and also forgiving oneself for whatever is stressing you and/or your feelings associated with it. Use what works best for each situation. (Kids riding in the car IS really stressful. I feel your pain on that one!)

      • i applaud your tool box approach to anxiety attacks. may i suggest that all of us use something like this to approach all our forms of stress? obviously, medication is only to be prescribed by a professional, but the other tools are just as necessary in dealing with the ups ‘n downs of our daily lives.
        having a positive attitude is most important in having balanced mental health.
        silencing our “inner critic” is crucial to having a positive attitude.
        living in ten minute increments is helpful for getting thru overwhelming times.
        imagining your worst fears and then mentally shrinking them helps you chase them out of your life.
        etc.
        hatzlacha!

  15. Anonymous

    I’ve been wanting to suggest to Chana that we open a discussion about how parents in the frum community feel when they “only” have a few kids, that is, fewer than the norm in the community. And how the community views them – if they are automatically viewed as havng fertility issues, or not enough emuna to try to cope with another baby, etc. I’m finding it very difficult to have stopped having kids before I’m ready, due to a husband who is convinced he can’t cope with more. There are several issues here – not being on the same page with my husband, having a small family when I wanted a big one, and for a time I struggled with what my tafkid was – to add to Am Yisrael or to respect my husband and his needs?
    On top of all that, is the need for privacy – which means I am alone in this with my husband.
    There is so much encouragement to have a “large” family, that it makes things really hard for those of us who couldn’t do it.

  16. i got married late,age 25.had my first child at almost age 32.(“infertile” until that time.) by age 42 i had 7. should i continue to get pregnant? my husband said, it’s up to me. i asked a rabbi. he said to ask my doctor. she said the following, “i never tell a healthy woman not to get pregnant”. i did nothing.i didn’t get pregnant, i got menopause. it was totally without stress or guilt. i feel lucky that no one was pushing their agenda. each person is a unique case. you need a person you can talk to, whom you can trust will not make a judgment.

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