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Mr. FAF and I have been going back and forth on the question of how many kids we should have so many times recently.
The reason is that we are trying to decide the optimal number of children we should have to maximize our happiness and life quality.
After we got married, Mr. FAF has always been dreaming about us having three children.
Mr. FAF is the only child as a result of the one-child policy in China more than 30 years ago.
He grew up without any siblings and has always thought of his cousins as his brothers and sisters.
Mr. FAF likes to have a big family probably to make up for the time when he was all alone as a child.
Three is somehow his magic number: two boys and one girl.
I, on the other hand, have a younger sister.
My parents have two kids because of the two-child policy in Vietnam which was still in effect more than twenty years ago.
I get along well with my sister and have always felt lucky that I have a sibling.
I think Mr. FAF and I should have two children, ideally one boy and one girl, but two boys or two girls would also be great as well.
More than one child
Although we think that one child would take a lot of financial pressure off of our shoulders, we want to have more than one kid for two reasons.
First, our son will have a best friend right in his family, someone he can learn how to share things with and lean on in tough times if/when we are not around.
Second, although we hope that our son will grow up to be a strong man, life is full of surprises. We don’t want to wait until we (mainly me) are past our fertility window opportunity and regret not having more children in the future.
However, Mr. FAF and I have also been discussing having only one child for three reasons. First, taking care of a toddler already tires us out despite the help from my mother-in-law (MIL).
I have a lot of respect for working parents who can take good care of their children. Handing two full-time jobs and young children is definitely no joke.
I also admire parents who decide to stay at home to take care of their children while their spouse continues to work. It is a rewarding yet exhausting experience and is one of the biggest sacrifices a parent can make for their children.
Second, daycare in the DC metro area is expensive. Daycare for an infant in Washington DC can cost roughly $2,000/month or $24,000/year. If you have two children, the daycare tuition can be around $40,000-$50,000 which could easily be someone’s full-time income after tax. That means that you need to make roughly $60,000-$75,000 pretax just to cover the costs of daycare.
You can deduct $5,000 from your pretax income to cover daycare, but it’s only a small dent in the pretax $60,000-$75,000 you need to set aside for daycare.
We live in the suburbs of DC and pay around $15,000 for an in-home daycare. If we have another kid, we will be looking at $30,000 a year. Our son is going to pre-K in about 1.5 years, and we won’t have to pay for his daycare. But until then, daycare costs are a big expense we need to take into consideration.
Our parents’ preferences
1. My parents
My parents have two children: my younger sister and me. I think they wanted to have only one child (me). But somehow they ended up with two and wanted to keep it that way.
My mom has been encouraging me to have one more baby, ideally a girl since I already have a boy. I think her way of thinking is influenced by the Chinese culture that it is good luck to have a gender balance in a family.
The character 好 (good) in Mandarin Chinese consists of two components: 女 for a girl and 子 for a girl, which indicates harmony.
2. Mr. FAF’s parents
After Mr. FAF and I got married, I still don’t know how many kids my in-laws want us to have. But there’s one thing I know for sure: They want to have a grandson to carry on Mr. FAF’s family tree.
Mr. FAF is the only child, so right after we got married, Mr. FAF’s parents started to express their wish for a grandson.
Before I got pregnant with Baby FAF, I didn’t think much about the gender issue. I would be happy with a healthy baby whether it was a boy or a girl.
However, after I got pregnant, I could feel the pressure channeling through our conversations with our parents. Mr. FAF’s parents secretly hoped that it would be a boy.
My parents kept saying that it didn’t matter. But I could tell from their tone that they would also prefer a boy since it would take the pressure of having a boy off of me in the future.
I was living in America, the land of opportunity where gender equality is championed. Our parents live in the 21st century in big cities in China and Vietnam where traditions and prejudices are not as strongly ingrained as in rural areas.
Yet, there I was feeling an insurmountable level of stress, frustration, and even anger.
Did my family feel the same way when my mom was pregnant with me? Did they also hope for a boy and get disappointed when their baby turned out to be a girl (me) instead?
My baby is precious. If it’s a girl, I will teach her the importance of being independent and tell her that no one except for her parents should tell her what to do. She’s in control of her life. If she decides not to do something, it should be because she has little or no interest in it, not because someone tells her that she’s incapable.
What do the numbers say?
According to the 2015 Expenditures on Children by Families report issued by USDA, a middle-income family ($59,200-$107,400) spend an average 12,980 annually per child. The cost of raising a child born in 2015 until they reach the age of 18 is $233,610.
$233,610 looks like a huge amount for any young couple and can cause them to delay having children until their finances are sound. The good news is that when a couple has more than one kid, the cost of a second child is likely less than $233,610 due to economies of scale.
Economies of scale arise when the cost of producing a unit of output decreases due to an increase in production volume. In other words, the added cost of having a second, third, or forth child is likely to be much lower than the initial cost of having the first baby.
Before Mr. FAF and I decided to have Baby FAF, we didn’t think much about the total cost of raising a child. We just knew we would want to have children at one point. Our parents were also getting impatient and wanted to have a grandchild as soon as possible.
When I had Baby FAF, we didn’t have much knowledge of raising a child and owning no baby gear. I spent hours learning from free resources about parenthood on the internet.
We also started getting a lot of hand-me-down baby items from our friends and colleagues. The startup costs of our preparation for the first child were stiff.
However, now that we have the basic knowledge of how to take care of an infant and a toddler (which is still fresh in our minds), we won’t have to spend time learning as much about parenthood.
We have at least 5 boxes full of baby clothes from Baby FAF, so we won’t need to buy new clothes or spend time looking for hand-me-down items. I will still use Baby FAF’s boy clothes for our second baby even if it’s a girl.
If our babies are close in age (i.e. toddler), we can use almost the same clothes for both, cook the same batch of food, have them play the same toys, and teach them similar lessons.
If our children are a few years apart, the older one can act as a babysitter to help with the younger sibling. When my mom had my little sister, I helped out with the baby and housework.
My performance in school wasn’t particularly good that year. But I gave my parents a hand in raising my sister.
Boy or girl
Some people say they wish for a girl because boys are more resilient and more likely to succeed in life. If it’s a girl, they will have more worries as parents.
I don’t love my children just because I believe that they will be successful in the future.
If people want to have an easier life with a son, then they should already be prepared when things don’t turn out the way they hoped for. And I’ve seen how that’s played out in real life. Hope doesn’t equate reality.
I’ve seen many families where the boy is given an easier time and has less supervision from the parents. They don’t have to do housework, don’t need to care what their parents think, and can get off the hook easily when something goes wrong.
Their sister, however, needs to learn how to cook, clean, pay attention when the parents are not happy, learn etiquette, and work harder to prove themselves.
The result is that the boy feels entitled, doesn’t work as hard, and relies on their sister to take care of them and the parents. The parents then get disappointed in the boy and start complaining about how the boy can’t do big things in life.
I just want them to realize that the boy’s sense of entitlement doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been nurtured all those years by the parents and has reached the point where some don’t see taking care of themselves and the family as their responsibility. It’s someone else’s. In other words, the parents knowingly or unknowingly brought the disappointment on themselves.
When Baby FAF is old enough, he will need to pick up the housework with his future sister or brother. He will need to know that the fact that he’s a boy doesn’t make him better than any girls his age.
In the future, he and his wife can decide between themselves how they want to divide up the housework. But he needs to be able to take care of himself before he can build his own family.
I am his only mom, and no other woman out there needs to act as his second mom and take care of him like their baby. My son will need to learn how to be independent, and so will my daughter.
I think Mr. FAF and I will end up having one more baby. It’s just a matter of time.
When we have the second baby, we hope that my mom will come to the US to help out. But if she can’t, we’re in a good enough financial position to have a second baby without our family’s help.
I can’t imagine going through the financial stress we once did when I had Baby FAF. It wasn’t healthy for mommy, baby, and everyone else in the family.
Mr. FAF said if his salary doubles by the end of 2018 (which I highly doubt), we will have three kids. If not, we will have only two kids.
I would be happy with two children. Mr. FAF and I can take turns taking care of them. However, if for some reason (intentional or unintentional), we end up with three, I’d be happy to take that fortune as well whether our future children will be boys or girls.
What about you? What do you think is the optimal number of children that will maximize your family’s happiness?