If you have ever spent more than say, 3 minutes at any gathering where parents of young children are present, the question will eventually be asked, “So, are you guys done?”
Strangers will ask this of each other. I thought that only women chatted like this, but I have heard men ask each other, too. It is such a profoundly personal question that it is almost like asking, “So, you guys gonna have sex tonight?” But we ask it, as if it were any business of ours or had any direct impact on our lives.
The idea of bringing little human beings into our world is fascinating. (I was at the store yesterday and EVERY single magazine on the check stand had something about pregnancy or someone’s baby.) When you think about it, it’s really sort of mind boggling to think that you can decide to bring a whole new person into the world. You role the genetic dice, add a little magic and a miracle and voila!—a new person arrives in the universe.
I cannot begin to tell you the HOURS of conversation The Darling Husband and I have spent on this topic in our 13 years of marriage. Each of our children has been preceded with post-doc level conversations on the merits and liabilities of having them. A totally weird idea, since we cannot imagine NOT having them now that they are here. Having children seemed like the American thing to do. And then we knew that we didn’t want an only child. And then we discovered that we had a good 10 minutes of spare time in our day, so we had our third. Since we have finally both arrived at the decision that we are done, there are children that won’t exist in our family that very well could’ve if we decided we weren’t done. It’s a very strange idea.
This begs the big question, “How do you know when you are done?” I can only address this from my perspective as someone who has the choice to be “done” or not.
Some of it is basic logistics and resources. Our three children require a lot of stuff—a home big enough to accommodate the whole family and our individual desire for space, a car big enough to haul our family (and our families’ crap) around, financial and energy resources to allow all the members of our family to pursue their own interests, as well as the resources to support the things we want to do or be as a family (museum membership, library/bookstore visits, time spent with others, travel, a stay-at-home-parent, etc). Some of it is emotional resources. Not that I don’t think we could love another child, ’cause we all could, but I mean emotional resources for the other things in our life–our marriage, causes we are passionate about, hobbies, and even friendships.
I think it comes down to a feeling that our house is full. No one is missing. We have the people we are supposed to have right now.
But life is oddly dynamic and who’s to say that we won’t pursue adopting a child, or be surprised by a pregnancy that I haven’t carefully scripted. (Ack!)
Ultimately, if you still have the capacity to have children, I don’t think you are ever totally “done” until circumstances beyond your control finally take away your will to choose. I think you just arrive at a place where you are content. More content to not have a child then to have one. Content with watching your children grow and enjoying that without the need to start fresh with a new little person. Content with what is, not with what could be. When you get to that, you know you are done.