Family Man: To Three or Not to Three

During a late-day phone conversation, my friend Stephanie tries to sound coherent while her two children make enough noise for a horror film.

“I just picked them up. Now I have to entertain and feed them before I see more clients at six,” she says.

I’m grumpy as I frantically try to finish work prior to my own kids’ rambunctious homecoming.

“And life with that third child is going to be so much easier,” I growl.

After a moment of silence, Stephanie retorts, “You’re not allowed to talk to Sean.”

For some time, Stephanie has been working her husband like a side of beef, trying to convince him to add one more to the litter. She’s generally a cool lady, but on this subject, she’s the enemy. After talking with her, my wife, Wendy, employs fresh ammunition to assail my ogre-like stubbornness against having a third child.

It wasn’t always this way. When we met 12 years ago this month(!), Wendy and I bonded over our love of kids. And, after we passed the initial couplehood trials, we had our firstborn, Benjamin. Despite projectile poops and inconsistent sleep, we reveled in our new parental roles.

A little before Benjamin’s second birthday, I began to lobby for another baby. I couldn’t get enough of fatherhood and the whole procreative power trip thing. But Wendy held the key to the secret garden and no new little XX or XY was going to start growing there until she was good and ready. Finally, several months later, we commenced Operation Second Conception.

Once Jacob arrived, Wendy and I discovered that life with two was like turning the Osterizer from “blend” to “puree.” We whirled from toddler to infant, shuttling Benjamin from school to soccer and Jacob from sleep to playtime, desperately attempting to give each child focused attention.

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Now, Jacob is 1 year old, walking and talking, and 5-year-old Benjamin gains more independence every day. So we are starting to experience a semblance of equilibrium. Wendy and I even have dates, seeing movies and dining with our eyes on each other, rather than the vacuum that is Jacob and the dawdler that is Benjamin.

n class="text1" style="color: #000000;">Isn’t this just the perfect time to throw a wrench into the works? “We make good babies,” my wife says over one of our adult dinners. This is just the beginning of what has become a seesaw battle. Here are some highlights:

n class="text1">Wendy: I have two boys. I really want that girl. I want to buy her dresses and have mother-daughter nail appointments.

: Honey (always start with an endearment), statistics show we are more likely to have another boy. Why not borrow someone else’s daughter for those special girlie activities?

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Wendy: I grew up in a house of three kids. It just feels wrong to stop at two.

: Using your sisters as an example is just the reason for stopping at two.

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Wendy: I can’t imagine never being pregnant again.

: My recollection of you being pregnant includes the statement, “Will somebody get this parasite out of my body!?” Besides, aren’t you too old to be pregnant again?

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Wendy: A lot of our other friends want to have third kids. We won’t be alone.

: The operative words here are “want to,” as opposed to “currently have.” And our friends with three have warned us, “If you value your sanity, stop at two.”

: We need a third for insurance in case the other two ignore us when we’re old.

: If we stick with two, we’ll have fewer kids to guilt into seeing us when we’re geriatrics.

The dialogue goes on and on. We’ve argued about everything from budgetary constraints to population control to the possibility that the third might turn out to be the anti-Christ. But, for me, the whole issue boils down to something rather intangible. If we squeeze someone else into the family, I fear my ability to be the kind of parent I want to be will be squeezed as well.

Still, I do have moments like the one I had while watching the end of Nine Months, in which Hugh Grant dances with his newborn to Van Morrison’s “Endless Summer.” For an instant, I imagined the possibility of experiencing that baby joy again, perhaps somewhere in the future.

But for now, whatever our offspring headcount is, my wife and I can agree on something vital: what started 12 years ago is our own kind of endless summer – even with the occasional hot spots.

Gregory Keer is a writer, teacher and father of two boys. He can be reached at
or through his Web site, You can read previous Family Man columns, including in our Family Man Archive