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Jewish World Review August 28, 2001 /9 Elul, 5761

Betsy Hart

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When two kids is too many -- APPARENTLY a lot of parents find handling the addition of a second child to their family's ranks to be a Herculean task. So writes Lisa Jennings of the Scripps Howard News Service in a recent article chronicling the trials and tribulations of bringing baby number two into the world.

My reaction? You've got to be kidding me.

Says Jennings, "There's no question that arrival of baby No. 1 will change your life. No more uninterrupted nights of sleep. . . No more going to the bathroom alone. So once you have adjusted to the presence of baby No. 1, the arrival of baby No. 2 should be a breeze, right?"

Wrong, writes Jennings. "Women who are expecting a second baby often hear about it from friends, but they won't know just how difficult the parental juggling act will be until that second child arrives." She describes mothers who say the birth of their second child was "overwhelming."

Jennings highlights the work of Rebecca Upton, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan who is researching the effects on parents when they go from one to two children. Upton says she doesn't like to be a "doomsayer," but she finds that mothers with two kids are less likely to work outside the home and more likely to step into traditional sex roles within the family; i.e., they get to do more housework.


I'm a mother of four children age seven and under, including a two-month old. Still, a lot of the so-called "juggling" act is news to me. Even with a new baby my husband and I consistently have nights of uninterrupted sleep, and if my two-year-old tries to follow me into the bathroom when I don't want her to I simply employ the latest in child psychology. I say, "Go away."

Parents of two told Jennings of the loss of "uninterrupted time." But when my husband and I want to visit together at the end of the day, we tell the children to go play because it's "sanctuary time" for mom and dad. Occasionally we have to chase a little one off, but nobody's psyche seems to have been trampled by the experience.

A lot of folks tell me they can't imagine handling four, especially since I have no regular childcare help. But if anything, it gets easier. With a fourth it's just sort of "put another place at the table." Each child is simply asked to do more for themselves and for each other - which is good for everyone. Their dad and I make sure the little ones get needed individual attention. But the kids are also supremely conscious that they are part of a team, the "Hart Team," and that one of the benefits is built in entertainment and playmates.

Yes, sometimes their dad and I get tired or annoyed, or we're happy to see the kids go to bed at night. But mostly it's fun and surprisingly manageable, as long as we parents, and not the kids, are running the household.

So I wasn't surprised at what I read in this week's New York Times magazine about jumbo families - the ones with a dozen, or seventeen, or twenty kids. Author Melissa Fay Greene describes these mega families, usually a mixture of natural and adopted children (as is Greene's family of five), with many of the kids having special needs.

It seems these families all have three things in common: a lot of love, great organizational skills, and really terrific senses of humor. As one mother of 17 told Greene ". . . people have very low expectations for mothers of huge families. . . If my sweater is buttoned correctly and my shoes match, they're in awe."

Somehow, I don't think the mega families would find that handling two healthy children required much of a "juggling act."

In any event, whatever one thinks of these huge families at least the children in them are not being dangerously idolized and put on pedestals where every felt-need is catered to, much to the little one's detriment, as can often happen in "overwhelmed" two-child families.

There's something else. Whether it's a huge, a medium, or a small family which doesn't feel "buried" by it all, the parents undoubtedly have one more thing in common: parenting to them is not something to be gotten through, like a root canal. It's something to be reveled in and enjoyed for a lifetime.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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