Five things to consider if you're planning to add to your family this year
There are several things to factor in if you're planning to add to your family this year. Jen Hogan outlines some of the main points worth considering
Even if you're not big on resolutions, a new year can lead many of us to ponder what the 12 months ahead might have in store for us. New job? New house? New opportunities? Or maybe even a new baby?
Deciding if and when to add to your brood is a very personal choice and the numbers game is different for everyone. If, however, 2018 has brought the thoughts of pattering teeny, tiny feet to the forefront of your mind, there are a few things worth thinking about before making your decision.
If you're considering baby number two, then the only age gap to consider is the one between your firstborn and a new baby. If baby number three, four or more is on your mind then all sorts of permutations come into play. With a bigger age gap, you'll have the advantage of having a child who can understand a little better the limitations of a new baby and the restrictions that can go hand-in-hand with having a baby brother or sister. They might also be able to help you a little with some of the practicalities, like getting you a nappy at changing time or keeping an eye on their little sibling for a moment while you dash to the loo.
The disadvantages, however, can be that the children will be at different stages of life and may have very different interests. There's also the small matter of school-runs and after-school activities that don't care much for baby's feeding or sleeping times.
So is there such thing as the perfect age-gap?
Clinical psychotherapist, Joanna Fortune of Solamh.com, says that the answer to this is largely subjective as it depends on what suits you and your family.
"Developmentally, an 18 months to two-year age gap means you will experience varying degrees of sibling rivalry as they are within developmental grasp of each other and as such will compete for your attention," Joanna says. "A year seems to bring less rivalry partly because the first child hasn't had you to themselves quite long enough to feel the loss of your undivided attention.
"Four years means the children are at different developmental stages and are not competing so much so tends to involve less rivalry," she adds. "Of course, these are generalisations and each family is different and essentially if you can ensure each child gets some one-to-one time with you, that will help a lot, as will supporting them to play collaboratively rather than competitively."
Children cost, and the more you have, the more your costs will mount - but not necessarily to the same degree. Cots, buggies, even clothes possibly, can be passed from one sibling to another and so the initial outlay can be significantly less second and subsequent times around. But while childcare costs can vary depending on a family's individual situation, one thing that most parents can relate to are those costs further down the line when children start school. Books, uniforms, shoes, activities and all those little "extras" can be a real drain on finances.
There are, of course, ways to cut some costs (says this mum of seven) including progressive discounts on after-school activities, second hand books, discount outlets and clever shopping, but some expenses are non-negotiable. While third level-associated costs may be a long way away, it didn't stop people mentioning them to me as each bump appeared.
Accountant Laura Breslin ACA, says some childhood expenses can be offset against a number of allowances. "Medical expenses can be claimed regardless of employment status and there is free GP care for under-6s," Laura explains. "Tax credits such as Home Carer's credit or Single Carer Child Credit may apply and tax relief for third level fees may also be available."
When it comes to financial advice for parents, Laura recommends saving "little and often for rainy days and third level fees. Make use of appropriate reliefs and credits and discuss with your local revenue office if you are unsure which applies in your circumstances." And she advises making a budget and sticking to it within reason. "Knowing and planning for unforeseen large expenditures such as insurance etc, can make it a little less painful," she says.
Commitments can vary hugely from family to family. Just because the family down the road appear to be in a similar situation to you doesn't mean that they actually are.
When contemplating another baby, your current family size is not the only thing that needs consideration. Within a family a child with additional needs, a partner who works away a lot or a long commute to work can all place significant pressure on the finite resource that is time. Family support, or lack thereof, can also play a big role in your decision.
And then there is the 'sandwich generation' - a generation of adults who, often through coming to parenthood later in life find themselves now not only having to care for their children, but also having to care for elderly parents.
Comparing yourself to the family four doors down and figuring if they can manage three children, so surely can you, is a pointless exercise. With so many variables at play and few really knowing what goes on behind closed doors, only you and your partner truly know how another child might change the equilibrium.
For many, the childcare conundrum is one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to adding to their family's numbers. The costs, while in many cases prohibitive, are not the only factor to be considered. Logistics are a big concern, too.
Depending on parents' working hours, different levels of flexibility may be required. Add a school run to the equation and a previously suitable option may no longer be a runner. And then there are the inevitable sicknesses that occur, in staggered sequence for maximum disruption. Unless you have a childminder coming to your house who agrees to stay with your children while they are mildly ill, your annual leave can be decimated before winter is over.
A viable childcare option is something that needs consideration quite early on, because without it, a parent who wants or needs to, may not be able to return to the workforce.
And not all childcare options are treated equally when it comes to state-sponsored financial support. "A universal, non-means tested subsidy of up to €1,040 per year is available for children up to start of the ECCE (free pre-school) programme but only for Tulsa-registered childcare," explains accountant, Laura Breslin.
Some things are outside our control
Rarely is this more true than when it comes to the whole baby-making business. Ideal age gaps, financial security and personal readiness aside - sometimes getting pregnant can take longer than you might have envisaged.
Physically, we know that exercising, eating healthily, cutting down on alcohol, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight can help to improve a couple's chances of conceiving - but what about mentally, and when the wait brings stress and more stress?
Fertility coach Claire Brett of fertilityfootsteps.com says that "stress has a massive impact on both women and men who are trying to conceive - not least because it's something that people don't speak openly about. You know you're stressing about being stressed and you know that's not helping."
A lot of Claire's clients come to Claire after they have been trying for a baby in excess of 18 months. "Unfortunately by the time they realise that addressing their stress is a priority, so much time has passed and then even more worry, because of age, kicks in," she explains.
When preparing for pregnancy, Claire advises that it's important to look at both internal and external factors.
"Look at your lifestyle, stress levels, relationships, job, career, social life. What is depleting you and what is nourishing you?" she says. "You must find pockets of time in your day to actively work on reducing stress (even 20 minutes can make a huge difference). Most people struggling to have a baby are walking around in a permanent state of fight or flight. That is a difficult environment for conception to take place. Guided meditation, hypnosis audios and journaling how you're feeling can reduce the heavy load that's being carried and therefore there is a higher chance of conceiving."