Care and Feeding

How Do I Know if I’m Done Having Kids?

A little boy sits on his mother's back and they pretend she's an airplane.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I agreed after our son was born that we were “one and done.” He was planned, extremely wanted, and we love him more than life itself, but there are a few reasons that we decided that he would be our only child: We are millennials and relatively new in our respective careers, and as such we figured we could provide our son with a better life if we didn’t have the financial strain of a second child. Secondly, we are both slightly neurodivergent and sometimes find the mental toll of parenting a small child a bit overwhelming. Especially during a pandemic and given that we live in a city with no family and just a few friends. Thirdly, my pregnancy and delivery were difficult, and neither of us want to put my body through such an ordeal a second time. Finally, our son has a rare (non-hereditary) neurological condition that isn’t causing him major problems now, but may progress as he gets older. There are other, less important reasons that I won’t get into, but that’s the gist of it.

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The thing is, our son is almost 3 now, and I see other families with kids his age having their second babies. I can feel my heart yearning for another baby, and I can’t tell if it’s real or not. Now that the memories of how horrible pregnancy and delivery and the postpartum period were have faded, I feel like I could do it again. I always imagined having more than one kid, and I get very sad when I think of him being alone once we’re gone. My husband and I both have siblings we’re very close to, and I want that for our son, too.

I’m so torn. The idea of getting pregnant and having another rough delivery, and going through those hard first few months again (but this time, with a toddler!) fill me with dread. But when I look at his baby pictures and see other new moms and babies, I feel so sad that I’ll never have a tiny baby of my own again. I feel like I’m mourning both for the baby I had who is growing up too fast, and for the babies I’ll never have. I guess I’m just looking for advice on how to stop feeling this way, and reassurance that I’m not robbing my son of companionship later in life. If money were no object and we had family nearby for support, I’d probably get pregnant tomorrow. But I do still agree that we as a family would be better off with just the three of us.

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—One and Done?

Dear One and Done,

This is an incredibly personal decision, and bringing a human into this world is a lifetime commitment. But if you want my two cents, I’ll tell you that the greatest gift I gave my oldest daughter was her baby sister. They are best friends, and they keep each other company whenever I need some downtime to myself.

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I’m a man, so it wouldn’t be a good look for me to say anything about your difficult pregnancy, so I’ll leave that one alone. I will say that I had the same financial concerns and family concerns that you have. And you haven’t mentioned what your husband’s views are—does he feel the same way? You should check in with him to make sure you’re on the same page.

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I will add, though, at the risk of sounding like a hippie, that the universe has a funny way of taking care of people who follow their hearts. If your gut is telling you that having another baby is the right move while your brain tells you otherwise, you should always follow your gut. I’ve learned that my intuition is never wrong when it comes to making tough decisions, and I believe it would be the same for you, too.

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If you’re looking for advice on how to stop wanting another baby, I can’t give it to you. That urge from your gut will always be there. It just comes down to if you choose to act on it or not.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I was born to a white mother and Black father. My biological father left us before I was born, and I have never had a relationship with him or his family. They even denied I was his until I was about 3, and they saw my mother and me in the mall, and I was the spitting image of him. By that time, they had said enough horrible things about my mother that she wasn’t inclined to foster a relationship between us. I grew up in a small town, on the other side of the town from my black relatives, or really, any person of color. I was raised in a white family—my mother married a white man and had white children. I have never felt a connection to the black community. I have faced racism and fear of being harmed or hated because of my skin color, but do not feel a connection to that part of me.

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Recently, I have wanted to explore that part of me more, but I feel like an imposter. I don’t feel like their history is mine…I don’t feel like I am truly part of the BIPOC group, even though I have some of the same fears and face some of the same issues. Sometimes others even have to point out that I’m receiving racist treatment. It feels very confusing—I sometimes am fearful if, say, I am at a gas station and a truck pulls up with a confederate flag in the window.

My question concerns my child. His father is white, with Greek and Jewish heritage, and so my son looks white, although he is a quarter black. His school has been talking about race relations, and he has been taught it growing up, but I don’t really know how to connect his black heritage to what he is learning. He appears white. He will have white male privilege. We teach him about his Greekness, and his Jewishness, and even about my grandmother’s Scottish heritage, but I know we are leaving out his Black heritage. How do I teach him about it when I don’t feel connected to mine?

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I feel guilty when he talks about race and points out that Andre is black and Jesse is Filipino, and they are different races but everyone deserves to be treated with respect. I don’t know how to tell him that he is also a different race. It feels so ingenuine because he looks white—except in the summer when he looks Greek. How do I teach my son that he and I are BIPOC? How do I learn myself what that means for me? How do I become more connected to that part of my heritage? I am 40 years old. and it feels so late to be trying to “fit in” with the black people of the world, but it has honestly taken me this long to come to terms with that part of my identity.

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—Not Black Enough

Dear Not Black Enough,

Here’s the thing—if you happen to find yourself surrounded by a group of white supremacists, do you think they’ll give a damn if you’re connected to your blackness or not? If you look Black, you’ll be subjected to the not-so-wonderful aspects of being Black in America. It would probably behoove you to do some research on Black history not only to help yourself, but in effort to become a better anti-racist mom for your son. If you don’t know where to start, you can take a look at my website—helping people understand race and anti-racism is what I do for a living.

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I think the conversation with your son is easier than you think. You can simply tell him that you are half Black, which means he is a quarter Black. You can also tell him that all of the injustices he sees in America that are happening to Black people could easily happen to him if his skin color was a few shades darker. You can also tell him that he can use the privilege of his lighter skin tone to fight against racism in all of its forms because he comes from a position of power. In doing so, he’ll be also fighting for himself, for you, and for countless people who suffer from racism in this country. My kids are a quarter Scottish, a quarter Japanese, and half Black. I want them to know about all of their roots, but I’m also aware that many people will assume they’re Black, and I have to prepare them for what that means in America.

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I understand that you don’t have a relationship with your dad, but you should have a relationship with your blackness, because it will always be a part of you. This isn’t about you trying to “fit in” with Black people, it’s about learning the full picture of yourself as a human being—and it’s never too late to do that. You’ll be a better mom and better person if you do.

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• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have two nephews who are 7 and 9 and generally well-adjusted and homeschooled. The 7-year-old flips out if you tell him he’s cute or if you say anything nice about him at all. My mother told him he had a nice smile, and he told her he hated her for saying that. I once called him cute, and he kicked me. If a stranger says he’s cute he usually retorts, “No, I’m not!” My sister’s approach is to not discipline and let them learn from their mistakes by other people’s reactions when the kids are rude. (I have no kids, but I don’t really agree with this approach…) Is this okay behavior for a 7-year-old? It’s been going on for a couple years, and I think we all figured he’d grow out of it. Is there some deep-seated self-loathing happening here, or do you think it is just a phase? We all go out of our way to NOT call him cute or say anything nice about him anymore, but it’s really hard. I give praise to my other nephew when he does something well and would like to do the same with the 7-year-old, but don’t want to experience his wrath.

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—My Nephew Isn’t Cute

Dear Nephew,

Yeah, that’s a little strange. I would never get tired of people telling me how good-looking I am, but to each their own, I guess.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell your sister how to raise her kids, but you can certainly tell her that her kids cannot kick you or be disrespectful towards you. Once that’s out of the way you can have a discussion with your sister about why your nephew gets so angry over something that should be seen as flattering. Does he have problems with compliments about his looks, or does he have a problem with people saying anything nice about him in general? There must be a backstory, right?

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The sad thing is that you can’t save someone else’s kids. Maybe your nephew needs therapy, but you can’t be the one to take him there. If your sister decides to do nothing, and his behavior becomes unbearable to the point where you don’t feel comfortable being around him, then you should tell her about it. But outside of that, the ball is in her court.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My mom has been waiting for grandchildren for over a decade, and although my siblings and I (I’m a 30-year-old woman) have mentioned in passing that she needs to stop nagging, she still jokes about it now and again. I’ve always believed the only people you “have” to tell when you get pregnant are your partner and healthcare professional, to which she always adds “and your mother!” What she doesn’t know is that after a year of trying, I suffered a miscarriage last month, and am struggling with how to interact with her going forward. This isn’t something I want to tell her, as she struggles with depression, and it isn’t a burden I want to share with her. My sister is one of the few we told early on and has been my rock. We only see each other very few weeks or so on video chats, so we’re overdue for a family call. I’m so worried she’ll make a baby joke on the next call, and I’ll either be visibility upset, or myself or my husband will react by snapping at her and logging off. I am a private person and don’t want to tell her, but also don’t want to ruin our relationship or put up with jokes I’ve asked her not to make.

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—Grieving and Exhausted

Dear Grieving,

As a husband who was a part of two miscarriages, my heart goes out to you. Few things in life are more intimate, personal, and heartbreaking than that — and if you’re already a private person, it’s easy to understand why you wouldn’t want to talk about it.

I think you need to be proactive about it and tell her that you don’t want to hear any more baby jokes going forward. I’m sure you’ve done something similar in the past, but your mom clearly isn’t taking you seriously. If you tell her that you won’t take her calls anymore if it continues, then she’ll have no choice but to listen.

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The end result is you don’t have to tell her about the miscarriage if you don’t want to, but in your mom’s defense, she is coming from a place of love—even if it’s being expressed in an extremely annoying way. I just wouldn’t wait until she blurts out an inappropriate joke on a video call before you say something, though. If you’re not up for it, then have your husband step in to tell your mom.

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One final thing to consider is if the only reason why you’re not telling your mom is due to the burden it may cause her, you may want to think again. She’s your mother and would probably be more hurt that you kept this news from her than if you told her. Getting it out in the open and discussing it would surely prevent any baby jokes from coming up in the future, but ultimately it’s up to you and you have to feel comfortable doing so.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My 15-year-old daughter is best friends with “Emily,” whose family life is precarious at best. Emily is at our house so much that we basically have two daughters. Emily knew she was bi early on. Within the past year or so, my daughter came out as lesbian. Now they’re a couple, which I fully support. However, they’re young, and I worry about what might happen to their friendship if they break up?

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