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What to consider when thinking about expanding your family


If you're thinking about expanding your family, there are lots of considerations to take into account, from financial issues to the effect on your relationship, writes Isabel Hayes

Thinking about having another baby? For some couples, the decision to expand the family and have more children is simple. But for many, it's a mind-bending dilemma that comes with a range of considerations. Can we afford it? Do we have enough living space? Can we cope with the demands of a newborn baby and sleepless nights again? How will it affect the dynamic of our existing family? And - crucially - do we both want more children?

Deciding how many children you want is one of the most significant decisions a couple can make and is something that should be discussed early in the relationship, says family psychotherapist David Kavanagh.

"It's an incredibly important decision and the education system we have in place does not teach us to make that decision," he says. "It doesn't show us how to communicate around those kinds of questions."

In his pre-marriage course, Kavanagh, whose new book Love Rewired: Using Your Brain to Mend Your Heart will be published early next month, encourages couples to discuss not just whether they want children, but how many.

"One partner might want four kids, because they come from a family of six and they love kids. The other might be an only child and only wants two kids maximum. That conversation right there is a show stopper for some couples," he says.

Deciding if you're both ready for another baby can be challenging. If you've got a good routine going with your current child or children, have gone back to work and are enjoying it and feel like the balance is just right, introducing a new little person to your family can be a daunting prospect. As well as reverting to sleepless nights, parents worry about how their children will respond to a new baby.

Couples who find they are ready to expand their family may often find they simply can't afford it. Recent studies show the average cost of raising a child from birth to college in Ireland is €100,000. A newborn will cost a fraction of that in their first couple of years, but it's something to bear in mind. More immediately pressing for most couples is the cost of childcare, which can come to around €1,000 a month for one child and €2,000 for two, depending on where you live.

The size of the Irish family unit has dropped dramatically in the last 50 years and the average family size is now just 1.4 children. According to Laura Haugh, mum-in-residence at MummyPages.ie, financial issues play a big role when it comes to having more children.

"Our attitudes have markedly shifted when it comes to family size, with most couples favouring smaller families," she says. "There are a number of reasons for this, with the main one being financial. These days, most couples simply cannot afford to have more than two children."

Time poverty is also a factor, with many couples feeling that because they're both working full-time and perhaps not seeing as much of their children as they would like, they can't afford to add another child to the mix.

For Máire Toomey and her husband John, the high cost of childcare meant they had to wait four years before they had their third child. The Dublin couple had two children - Oscar (7) and Ruby (5) - while Máire was working full-time for a bank.

"We had always planned on having more than two," she says. "When Ruby was born, Oscar was two years and three months old and it was a lovely gap and it was very manageable. We kind of assumed that we would plan it the same way the third time round. But when it came to it, we just weren't able to do it because both kids weren't in school yet and we couldn't afford the childcare costs."

A couple of years ago, Máire (37) took redundancy and now works part-time, running a children's fitness programme, Stretch-n-Grow, in south-east Dublin.

"Working in the bank after I had Ruby was doable but it wasn't living; it was just surviving," she says. "I was getting up really early in the morning so I could get into work early, leave early and spend time with the children before they went to bed. I was on the go all the time and at the end of the week, I was exhausted."

Leaving the bank meant Máire and John could have their longed-for third child - Luca, who is now eight months old - although they still had to wait until Ruby was near school-going age.

"Luca was born in April and Ruby started Junior Infants in September so it means the only childcare cost is for Luca, three mornings a week when I'm working," says Máire. "We're definitely a little bit behind where we thought we would have been at this stage. We thought we'd have three kids with two years between each one. But I suppose we're lucky in that I had Oscar when I was 30, so we had a bit of time to wait."

Age is a key factor when it comes to deciding on having another baby, with a woman's fertility levels declining significantly from the age of 35. Many couples may also find they struggle to conceive again. One-in-seven couples in Ireland have trouble conceiving and secondary infertility is estimated to account for 60pc of fertility issues.

When a couple finds they cannot have more children, it can put a strain on their relationship, says family psychotherapist David Kavanagh. "They can be resentful of each other, depending on where the problem lies," he says.

And what about when one partner is adamant they don't want more children? Having a baby is an amazing experience, but it's hard work and can take its toll on even the strongest couples. According to Kavanagh, three-quarters of married couples say they are less happily married after having a child.

"I would quite frequently see couples who have a child and one partner enjoys that experience and they want to have a second or third child but the other partner says they don't want to," he says. In most cases Kavanagh comes across, it's the woman who tends to want more children and the man who doesn't.

"The maternal bond can be quite powerful in terms of the chemicals that are released," he says. "Many women feel the urge to have more children, maybe more often than men do. At that point, the guy might say, 'I'd love another child too but do we have another €1,000 a month or €500 a month to spare? Another baby will put us under pressure financially, we'll never get to go out again, I like my sleep, I've just got back to normal'.

"So it can be a huge problem. I wouldn't say people break up over it, but it can cause a lot of stress and a lot of tension."

In such situations, Kavanagh advises couples keep communicating and do their best to respect each other's feelings. "Usually when someone wants another child, they really want it," he says. "It's not half-hearted. There's a passion there that has to be respected. When it isn't respected, that's when the damage is done."

Things to consider when deciding if you want more children

Couples who are unsure as to whether they want more children or not should have long and frank discussions as to whether they want to expand their family. Here are a few things to consider:

● Your finances Having another baby may mean having to make sacrifices. Luxuries like holidays may have to be curtailed. For some, another baby is more than worth it, but for others it might not be palatable.

● Your career One parent may want to stay at home with the new baby, or you may find childcare is unaffordable and one of you will need to give up work. Consider the impact of this, both financial and emotional.

● The mum's age If you can't decide right now, you might be able to hold off on making a final decision for a little while, depending on how old you are.

● Living space For some parents, shared kids' bedrooms and bunk beds are a no-brainer. For others, the thought of having another child in a small space is a deal-breaker. Examine all the options.

● Try it out Consider babysitting a relative or friend's baby or toddler for a night or two and see how it feels.

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