Even Family Planning

Prior to comments on this blog I never knew that some people believe it is important to have an even number of children. The idea seems to be that as long as there is an even number, the siblings will be “paired” with each other and no one will be left out.

As someone who grew up in a fairly large family, I find this idea intellectually and emotionally overwhelming. It is hard enough to arrange to have an even number of children, let alone to determine that they will arrive in pairs!

The preference for an even number of children does not make sense to me for many reasons:

Developmental issues: even aside from severe handycaps, children naturally develop differently. So, even if you have all of your children 18 months apart you will find that they don’t progress at perfectly matched increments. So your third born child who was supposed to be “paired” with the fourth born may actually out-pace your second born in verbal skills and have no interest in engaging in baby-talk with the youngest.

Sex: if you are intent on pairing your children, then wouldn’t it be important to either pair them with siblings of the same sex so that they can have more in common, or else to pair them with the other sex so that they can be different? I don’t know which way the pairing philosophy would work, but I don’t imagine that someone who cares about pairing would think that the sex of the children paired was inconsequential!

Personalities: children somehow manage to be their own little selves despite their parents’ best wishes. This means that their personalities might conflict, and they might not happen to feel like being best buddies with the sibling the parents believe they should. A first born may care far more for shepherding all the little ones than she does hanging out as an equal with her second born sibling. A third born may be a complete introvert who simply does not want to spend any more time with his brother than is absolutely necessary. A fifth born may love music and math while her sixth born sibling prefers dolls and drama.

Large families: large families tend to have families inside of families with multiple “first borns,” “babies” etc. And this isn’t something parents can control. It is not as if the first four will be the first family, the second four the second family, and so on. Furthermore, it isn’t clearly driven by spacing. Parents cannot simply choose to have six children, take a bit of a break, and then have four more children with the idea that the seventh child will be an “eldest.” He might just turn out to be a “baby” who is doted on by the first six children and never accepts the role of leader for the youngest four.

Change: even if everything does match up and one manages to say have two perfectly healthy sweetly outgoing girls and then two nerdy little boys who all get along perfectly with their respective “match,”  things change. The eldest may go off and do her own thing while the second born and baby find that they want to start an online baby-entertainment business. And then, despite all of the parents perfect pairing, the third-born is still “left out.” Then, of course, things can change again just as quickly and it will be a different child who does not “fit in” with the rest.

And of course, it is impossible to overstate the very real difficulties of exact family planning. It is one thing to plan to have two children and then be sterilized, but for Christians who are open to life at least in a general sense, things are far from simple. A couple may determine to have four children, but then experience secondary subfertility which leaves them with three. Or a woman may give birth to four children and have a complete surprise 15 years later. Even those couples with no qualms about anything from IVF to sterilization may find themselves remarried and wanting to have another child with a new spouse. Life is, quite simply, never simple.

Reality and all of its challenges aside, I do not know whether it is desirable to have an even number of children. I have always thought that 3 and 5 were perfect numbers for their own reasons and the idea of being a part of a pair always seemed inferior to being part of a little community. But others, no doubt, have experience with perfect pairing which was the best part of their childhood.

What is your experience?

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30 thoughts on “Even Family Planning

    1. CelebrityShrynk

      @NoWealthButLife As youngest of 4, I have oft pondered this. An even # eliminates “Middle child syndrome.” 2 kids = a duo/team. 3 => “odd man out”. 4 => if 2 sibs are upset at 1 sib, still one left to team with that one; 5 kids = basketball team BUT there’s no leeway for an injured player. 6 kids, well, that’s arguably already enough kids to challenge one’s sanity, but each to his own. I think that just about sums it up. :)

      1. Mama Pea

        5 is definitely a basketball team :) Or, since I’m a runner, 5 is a cross country team! :) but unfortunately, 2 is not always a duo. Like Rae said, the ones who are supposed to pair might not want to. I used to think bigger families seemed to have siblings who got along better, “the more, the merrier” – then I met a big family whose siblings don’t get along at all! (Sad!) Like Rae said, life is never simple.

  1. Mama Kalila

    I don’t get it either… granted I always said I wanted at least 4 and dh wanted 6 so our “plan” (lol) is 6… both even numbers, but honestly we never put that much thought into that. Its just a number and subject to change.

  2. Christine

    I can understand where the people who believe it’s best to have an even number of children are coming from. I have two siblings, which provides some interesting family dynamics as it was always 2 against 1. So, theoretically, if there are an even number of children then there will be less ganging up on each other. But, it also depends on the genders of the kids as my cousins were 3 guys and 1 girl, so my female cousin had to frequently had to fend for herself against her brothers. So, yes, I agree with you – nothing is ever as simple as one might hope it to be!

  3. Mary

    My husband says he wants an even number of children. My best friend says the same. She is one of three and said she was always the one feeling left out while the other two are best friends. But like you have said, there are so many more factors than just the number of children that influence things like that. I’m happy for whatever.

  4. Michelle

    I grew up in a family of 5. I’m going to have 5 myself. Honestly, having an even number never really entered my mind. I think I may have joked when we had our third that we’d have a fourth “to round out the dinner table” but it was always a joke, LOL.

    I watch with interest as my childrens’ personalities develop. my oldest is very much…an oldest and sees herself as “in charge” of the others. My second daughter and my son (4th born) are quite close and have had a bit of a “connection” since he was born. My third born is the child that makes me think…”I suppose if I would have had an only child, it should have been Helen”….it’s so interesting to watch the dynamics.

  5. rem

    I found you on twitter, too! We just had our 6th, and you’d think we are the perfect setup for “pairs” – they are all girls, the first four are all 18 months apart with the last two being a little farther apart, and they are split into rooms by pairs. However….they all have wildly different personalities, and the alliances between them are constantly shifting.

    I personally have seen a few families with 3 kids where one ended up being odd man out, so I wonder if this is where the idea comes from? In every family I’ve known where that was the case, there was also a significantly closer age gap between the two “close” siblings, or they were the same gender. My husband comes from a family of three, though, and they are all perfectly close – in different ways, but happily so. It’s just silly to ever think you can really “plan” your family to that degree, kids have such a tricky way of acting like, you know, real people.

  6. Sarah

    I am an only child, so I don’t have any experience in this!
    However, I know my husband has always said he wants an even number of children (preferably 4) and I think it’s because he is the oldest of three, and his two siblings are twin girls. He was about as left out as possible growing up, and I think he feels like he would have liked a brother. But who knows, if his parents had another, they might have had another girl!

    1. Rae Post author

      Indeed! Or another boy whose personality was in complete opposition to your husband’s.

      I will admit that I do feel a bit badly for those who have no siblings.

  7. Leila

    I have eight children, and I never gave any thought to odd or even. My mom did mention years ago (after I “reverted” and decided to have more kids) that I should either have four kids or six. I have no idea why she said it (and she’s never mentioned it since) and I can’t imagine how odd or even would make any difference! (I was one of two children by the way.)

  8. Tienne McKenzie

    Great post! My cousins-in-law, who are twin girls with an older brother, say growing up someone was always left out, but it was never the same person. As long as the kids aren’t pathologically ganging up and tormenting a younger sibling, what’s wrong with mixing it up? Meanwhile, I had a younger sister with a super-strong personality, and was never allowed to go off on my own because she always wanted company. I kind of wish we’d had a third to occupy her while I got to be a loner with my beloved books. Personality is everything!

    1. Rae Post author

      Good points. I think that it is crucial for parents to keep an eye out for one sibling dominating another regardless of the number of children!

  9. alison

    haha. all i know is there seems to be way more tension and drama and/or awkward family relations in families with 3 children. i am very glad that my parents had my little brother and didn’t stop with me, even though we all fought as kids. as a result i will do my best to not have 3 children :) very scientific, i know.

    1. Rae Post author

      Ah yes. And in my equally scientific experience some of the best families that I’ve known had 3 kids. But I guess we all see things our own way and that’s the best we have to go on.

  10. Melody

    There is enough for parents to worry about without worrying about that. Some things we are not in control of; and how our children relate to their siblings is one of them. Of course we should do the common sense things like not showing favoritism.
    My best friends are my sisters who are 10 and 18 years younger than me, respectively. I should note that they are also my only sisters!

  11. Calin

    Man, what’s wrong with this blog post, it seems all the parents in the world with more than 3 children or wishing more children gathered here! :)

    We have planned for an even no of children, 2 and we ended as we planed by a multiple of 2, so we have 4! :) Anyway the idea is ridiculous, ’cause the dynamics of the relationships between the brothers are so complicated that it is impossible to predict who is going to ally with who.
    The inly way it makes sense to think about even no of children is not having just 1 child but 2, because life could be extremely boring for that 1 bloke.

    1. Rae Post author

      Oh, you caught me! I do want to have more than 1. Not because I think that only children are spoiled etc. but because I feel like siblings are one of the best parts of life!

  12. Kim

    There’s actually studies that show that when there is a 3 children in a family there are a lot of “middle children” syndrome that can have a lot emotional implications. (However, they are avoidable). The data shows in most cases, that after 4 kids the risk for the “syndrome” dramatically decreases. I don’t remember where I found the study.. some journal when I was in University, lol hows that for vague.

    I do believe that this syndrome is likely to occur if parents aren’t aware and work hard to balance the emotional needs of all their children.

  13. Marc Cardaronella

    Interesting concept. I think you’re absolutely right! How can you really plan out something like that. For all those reasons and probably more, it doesn’t necessarily work even though you plan it. I think things like that sound really good in your head when you’re thinking about it and then later, when things work out differently, you think how could you be so silly! Kind of like planning when you’re a kid what kind of person you’re going to marry. It may turn out close to your plans but ultimately it’s who you fall in love with first. ;-)

  14. Liam

    I’m quite often prone to over-thinking things, and when we had two children, I was concerned that a third child would upset the balance, that there would be constant 2 to 1 arguments and ostracism and alienation that I grew up with. Given that my oldest is my step-son, I was concerned that he would be on the outside, looking in.
    Now that we have three kids, I’m glad that I didn’t let my trepidation hold me back. There are arguments, true, and my youngest is still only a year and a half, but the dynamic, while combative at times, and full of sibling-rivalry at the best of times, seems healthy, and nobody seems to feel left out.

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