I’m a writer. I work with words. Which is good, because I hate math and numbers.
But there are some numbers in my life that are unavoidable—like the number 4, as in four kids. That number is pretty all-consuming right now.
Recently, my parents were visiting. They sat at our dinner table in the midst of the chaos that is trying to feed a bottomless pit 13-year-old boy, an insatiable, but finicky 10-year-old boy, a precocious and picky 3-year-old girl, and a just now trying out table food baby.
My mom turned to my dad and said, “Can you believe he has four kids?” I laughed because I knew nothing in my life before this time would have indicated that I would be part of a parenting duo juggling four children.
Much of the credit goes to my wife, who keeps up with all the money, plans, schedules, dates, times, etc. But from my part in it all, there are several math considerations to having children.
This may be the most obvious. As you have kids, you are adding people to your family. This brings in additional costs to the family.
With four kids, there is always an extra cost around the corner—a youth trip for the 13-year-old, a retainer for the 10-year-old, replacement window blinds after the 3-year-old destroyed a set, and too many diapers for the baby.
But you are also adding smiles and laughter that weren’t there before. I loved (and still love) to hear my older three kids laugh, but the youngest has an infectious laugh all her own.
I can see new aspects of our three older children because they now have a different role in our family and a new relationship to navigate. Trevin Wax noticed this with his oldest two children when they brought home their third child.
It was like our daughter Julia was more herself now that she was a big sister, not just a little sister. It moved me to see our son Timothy, a lego-building tough guy with little interest in babies, treat his brother with playful tenderness. Overnight, he went from being a boy who wants his own space to a brother who can’t wait to share a room with David when he gets bigger.
That’s an addition that cannot be measured in a checkbook and one that enriches your family more than any extra money ever could.
There are times when I envy the lives of married friends without children. They have so much freedom and flexibility to their lives. Without kids, they can choose to be spontaneous, not be forced to by a forgotten homework assignment or a school schedule conflict.
And then there’s sleep. It actually exists in their world. They can choose to go to bed early on a whim. Weekends provide opportunities for sleeping in. But in the world of a parent, both free time and sleep are subtracted away.
While those things are missing from my life, my kids have also subtracted other things from me. When you have children, you suddenly realize that your life before was missing them. God gives them to you not simply because they need you, but because you need them.
There are so many character flaws my children have helped to chip away from me. They’ve taken away a lot of my selfishness and lack of perspective. I am minus a loneliness I never knew I had until they came into my life.
Those are subtractions that more than make up for the lack of sleep or the nonexistent free time.
As each of our children has come into our lives, our finances have been divided even further. Buying groceries or a meal for two or three is much different than doing so for five or six.
But an even more rare commodity is time and it gets divided further with additional kids. When our oldest was a baby, he got all of our undivided attention. That has been split four ways now.
I compare it to playing basketball defense. With one kid, you two can double team him. With two kids, you can go man-to-man defense. But with three or more, you have to play zone and hope none of them get past you to break something that important.
Having said that though, there is a reason farmers had lots of children—eventually those kids can be put to work, helping the family accomplish the needed tasks. Our oldest now helps me cut the grass. The boys can watch our girls if we need to do something in another room.
We can divide the load of our family between more individuals. That division helps make up for the other type.
I had no idea so many sicknesses existed until I had children, especially once they started school. They multiply the chances of everyone in your house getting sick.
Trying to keep four kids healthy is like rolling a pair of dice and getting two six’s, then doing it again, then again, then again, then licking a dirty floor and hoping you don’t catch anything.
Sicknesses, trials, and tears are all multiplied with each additional kid, but so are fun, joys, and victories.
This next year, we will get to experience one son on the high school swim team and one on the middle school team. In the middle of cheering them on and celebrating their achievements, we will have a little girl growing into a preschooler and another learning to be a toddler.
Yes, each child brings with them their own unique challenges and struggles, but they also bring their own perspective and accomplishments. Those multiply and compound on each other to further enrich our family.
I am not arguing that life is lesser without children. Jesus lived the most abundant life possible without ever being married or having kids. God does not call every individual to marriage or every couple to parenthood. Each of those lives is full of meaning and purpose.
But just as many millennials are delaying or disregarding marriage, I think many are doing the same with having children once they do get married. It’s not a matter of God’s calling, so much as the individual’s and couple’s anxiousness about having kids or misunderstanding what happens to your life when you become a parent.
There is much to be said for spending time with just you and your spouse, but there are benefits you can only experience with children. You shouldn’t intentionally avoid that for an extended period of time because you worry about some of the negative math that comes with kids. That fails to factor in the positive math kids bring.
That’s one math I actually do enjoy.