How Do You Know If Your Family Is Complete?

Ever since last summer when we adopted Marigold, we’ve been asked (pretty close to DAILY) if our family is complete, or if we plan to adopt more children. In the months since then, I’ve give all three answers depending on my frame of mind that day: We’re definitely done, we may adopt more in the future, and we have no idea. All of those answers feel true to me in different moments, with the most consistent one being “we have no idea.”

I have to admit, I am surprised how unsure I feel! I’m a planner by nature and loose ends in my plans bother me quite a bit.

A few years back, one of my blogger friends said that the way they knew whether their family was complete was that after each child, they looked around the dinner table and they just kind of knew whether or not anyone was missing. I LOVED the idea of that and I was so excited to try it after we were home and settled in with our second child.

But surprise, surprise … it just did not work for me. At all.

I have had several moments where I passionately said to Jeremy that I know we will adopt at least two more children (to which he just laughs at me, by the way!). I’ve also had plenty of days I feel the opposite. Two is a good number! I love having two children. And when I get SUPER honest with myself, the biggest reason I like to think we might have more children is that I loved the adoption process so much and it’s hard for me to imagine never going through it again. I think a lot of people feel this way when they realize they might be totally done having children—like wow, that went by really fast … I wouldn’t mind doing it all over just once more!

Our social worker gave us some solid advice that now really is not the time to decide. So we decided to revisit it in a few years, maybe when Marigold is ready for kindergarten.

The planner in me didn’t like this at first, but after a few months of letting it set in I’m feeling really good. I’m realizing now that three years is a short amount of time, but it’s also a massive difference having children who are 2 and 4 versus 5 and 7. A world of difference!

If you’ve been through this, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you’re going through it, you’re not alone!

Cheers to not knowing. Sometimes it’s the best medicine to just embrace the phase of life you are in and not try to see what’s next. That’s what I’ll be over here trying to do!

*Kids pjs here.

Credits // Author: Elsie Larson. Photography: Amber Ulmer. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • This story and the comments moved me. I’m considerably older than the other commenters, but some things touch the heart eternally. Yes, you will know. There will be no doubt. When our oldest daughter was 13, and our younger six, we knew someone was missing. It wasn’t a thunderclap realization, but a gradual awareness that someone was ‘in the wings’, waiting to come home. Oddly (or not) all of us felt the same way. So, along came baby number three. From the moment we knew a baby was expected, maybe even before, we all referred to baby as ‘she’. A precious boy would have been joyously received, and unconditionally cherished, but we seemed to know who was en route. When baby daughter three arrived, my immediate thought was ‘of course! I know you! We’ve been waiting and we’re complete!’ Three girls, with seven years between each. Yes, it was a bit odd, sometimes very complicated, such as experiencing driver’s training and potty training at the same time. But, perfect for us. Three unique and delightful individuals. We five. Today they are 46, 39, and 32. All accomplished women who have built happy, full lives. Two have their own children, grand babies I never get enough of and spoil rotten. One chose to not have children. I respect those decisions fully. Yes, you will know. Either way, the knowledge, the awareness, will fill you heart and soul. So, relax. Enjoy and experience every single moment. When the time is right, your answer will make itself known.

  • When my husband and I were first dating and talking about kids we both wanted “definitely 2, but maybe 3.” Later one when we’d had one we re-had that conversation and realized we had both solidified to three, so it felt really easy to decide (currently pregnant with my 3rd, we have a 1.5 and a 3 yr old). We didn’t choose the number arbitrarily – we know it’ll be SO hard having 3 under 4 but we always talk about how we’re “playing the long game” – we want a house full of teenagers (despite what everyone says about the teen years…) and when our kids are adults we want noisy, chaotic christmases with their spouses and children. I’d suggest 4 if our finances could allow it (and if we could afford to adopt because I never want to be pregnant again) but i have a feeling we’ll feel “done” (aka overwhelmed) after 3.

  • We have three kids. After having 2 (a boy and then a girl), most people assumed we were done. But I did not feel done. I was very happy with the kids we had, but there was this nagging feeling that our family needed another person. But then some days I felt very at peace with 2. This went on for awhile, then I got pregnant, and now we had three. I knew seriously within hours of our 3rd child’s birth that this was it. We were complete as a family. My youngest is now 7, and I do still get baby cravings once in awhile, but I don’t want any more kids. So, in my experience, if you are on the fence, or undecided, you aren’t done. I absolutely knew we were done once we had three.

  • I always thought I wanted two. We had two girls 22 months apart. After my younger daughter turned 2 I started to think I wouldn’t mind having another little one around. After a few unpredictable twists we had our third baby, a boy, this past January. I feel we are totally good now–it’s a bit nuts but not much different than having two since you are in the infancy years of all your children anyway. You will know. One thing that tipped me off that I was maybe ready for a third one was I found a little shirt from my first daughter and I just held it to my face and cried. So funny how life works. I was always so happy with my children but seeing my two girls play with their 4 month brother is just awesome. Good luck and take your time! Follow your gut. I like Gretchin Rubin’s quote: ” Choose the bigger life.” That made a big impression on me.

  • I always assumed I’d be a mom to two since I was raised in a two-child family, as were most of my cousins and friends growing up. And almost all of these families had a 3yr gap between their children, so I assumed I’d follow this plan as well. When my son was a little over 2yrs-old my body, as if right on cue, started reminding me how I rather liked being pregnant. Such as, I’d feel a rumble of gas in my abdomen and think “Baby kicks! Those were fun. I want those again.” But then I’d think about actually caring for another baby, and I’d be overwhelmed with exhaustion as well as a surprising amount of protectiveness for my son against an unknown other child who would steal resources away from him. (My husband and I were poor grad students at the time.) My liberating eureka moment was when I realized we could stop at one. Kids don’t HAVE to come in pairs separated by 3yrs. It may sound silly, but until that moment, it had never occurred to me that I could choose my own plan.

    (The sad side to this whole story was that I was my mom’s Alzheimer’s care-coordinator, and she had declined significantly by this point, although it would be another 5yrs until she died. I realize now that she was my “second child” and what I lacked was the energy for a third.)

    • I’m worried my previous comment comes across as pretty bleak, so I want to emphasize that my husband, son, and I all feel complete together. I do not regret limiting my family plan due to outside stresses. All three of us are immensely grateful for the relative calmness and quietness of our one-child household compared to larger families. Of course, we are also bookish and introverted, and I certainly understand that other people find their joy in different ways.

      I want to thank you, Elsie, for posing such an interesting question and starting this discussion. I’m a longtime lurker of ABM, but I couldn’t resist joining in. Thank you to everyone who’ve shared their stories so far, the collection of which offers a truly enlightening study of the wonderfully nebulous thing we call “women’s intuition.”

  • After two huge babies (10.3 and 11.12 lbs!) and two c-sections- I knew I was done! I’m barely 5’4” and was a micro-preemie(1 lb!) We both wanted 2, and got them. She’s 5 and he’s 7.

  • I was unexpectedly very overwhelmed after our second was born, and it was such a hard year that I knew we shouldn’t decide then if we were done for good. Then we had a family picture at Thanksgiving, and when I saw it, the thought just hit me, “wow! there aren’t enough people there!” so we opened our hearts to another life and good thing, I was pregnant the next month! when our daughters came to the hospital to see their new baby brother, they sat around my husband holding him, and I thought, “whoa there are a million people in our family now.” Ha! I’ll hope a similar inspiration guides you all!

  • I always wanted one or two kids and my husband always thought 2 or 3, so I had in my head that we would have 2 and be done. Then I got pregnant with my second, and I can just feel it in my heart that I’m not ready for this to be my last newborn…so we will probably end up with 3.

  • I have two children and never really thought about how many children we would have in total. However, I felt liberated after having my second, feeling a strong sense that my family was complete and I could focus on making their lives wonderful. I just knew that was enough for us.

  • I have three and I knew after my second that I definitely wanted another! I actually think having them closer together works better for me because you don’t go from having a school aged child to one in diapers. I honestly think if you want another don’t wait too long! But that’s obviously my experience and every family is different!

  • We knew more or less straight after our second child that to feel complete as a family we wanted a third. Who came along 17 months later. Sometimes I look back, as they are now all young adults and think would I have liked a fourth, sometimes I say yes, other times no. For me, three on the whole I think was right.

  • Love this!

    Right now, I have a one-year-old, and am constantly thinking of whether we’ll have a second. I often think of something I believe I remember Emma saying a few years ago re: kids – if you’re not certain, it’s kinder to stick with your current situation… it’s not exactly something you can reverse if you realise you should have left well enough alone!!

    I suppose it’s also a little different in adopted families – in three more years, you may not be matched with a bébé, but with a three-year-old! So your fam would maintain its close age dynamics.

  • Uncertainty is hard! When I was pregnant with my 2nd, I didn’t feel our family was complete. After she was born, I went through exactly what you’re going through right now. I couldn’t decide if we were done or not for about 3 years. We ended up with a surprise pregnancy for our third and I couldn’t be happier. Our family feels complete now. I can’t nail down the reason why, it just a deep knowing and contentment that I feel.

  • We have three adult children. When we had two, we thought we were done but part of me really wanted a third. We waited until I was 38 and decided to try. If it didn’t work out, oh well. It worked out! But I will caution, as I had to have c secs with all if them, it was a much harder delivery and recovery. It did in my case present a very real danger to the baby and myself. Would I do it knowing what I know now? Nope.

  • I have 2 grown up kids. We always had a fancy for 3 and I used to think ‘shall I have another baby or a vacation this year’. After a few years of the vacation winning I decided it was probably a sign that 2 was complete!! Never regretted it but then I’ll bet we wouldn’t have regretted 3 either. Your children are adorable!!

  • I love that uncertainty for more children through adoption can only mean your heart is open to more love. And if that ever changes to feeling like your family is complete, that is okay too! I appreciate the the social worker said now is not the time to decide yet and that you are open but content. I think that’s a great place to be! Every family life is unique and no two children are alike, so it really is a personal decision. <3

  • This photo just warms my heart! None of us ever really know what life has in store for us, or whether our plans will go as planned or not. I agree with trying to enjoy life as it is. (I too am a planner and struggle with this). You have a beautiful family full of love and that’s all that really matters.

  • I knew it for 80% before I had my two girls that there would never be a third due to practical reasons. I knew for 99% when we found out we were having a second girl. And nowadays I love cuddling other people’s babies and giving them back releaved the baby period is over for me. I love this phase of having two girls of 4 and 6 and they are all I need!

  • We really struggled deciding whether we would have our 4th child, I felt like we were missing a piece and my heart yearned for another baby but we were unsure about how it would alter the dynamic and how we would manage 4 children. We ultimately decided we would never regret a child we had but may regret not having one! We then lost our 4th baby at 4 months pregnant and had another tough decision about a 5th pregnancy for a 4th child. Our last baby was born in December and she has brought such peace, I know 100% she is our last. Its partly that I feel incredibly lucky to have her but its like when I met my husband, I just knew that was it.

  • I can totally relate to this! I am pregnant with my fourth and when people ask if we are done, I tell them we take it one baby at a time. My feelings on it flip flop almost every day which I think is a sign that it’s just not the right time to make a firm decision one way or the other. It’s hard not knowing but it’s also been a good exercise in trying to be fully present in the moment. Who knows what the next few years will bring?

  • I have one delightful daughter who is 2 1/2 (right inbetween your 2 – so fun!). When people ask if she is my “only” (I very much dislike that term), I respond that she is my favorite, lol. We do not have plans to have a second (people get very upset by this). How did I know we were done at one? When I started giving her baby stuff away, it felt SO GOOD. I had a very hard time when she was an infant, so I even felt this great sense of relief. Right then, feeling those intense emotions, I knew, one kiddo was absolutely the right decision. I’m definitely feeling better as a mom, and I’m loving the toddler stage so much. Now that we’ve settled on one, I’m extra focused on just soaking it all up. I think, deep deep down, your heart knows what is best – you just have to listen. Thanks for keeping it real, momma! Xo

    • This was my experience too, Katie. I had a really tough time with the infant stage and just feel like I barely survived. I have one son, he’s a toddler now (which is so fun!), and I feel finished — which is a challenge for some folks in our family to come to terms with. That said, I try to have an open mind that maybe I’ll change my mind, and that’s okay too.

  • I am currently pregnant with my second after a long a frustrating process this time around, I already know I’m done after this one. I’m really to move out of the baby making phase of life and into the mom of 2 little ones phase.

  • I feel like it’s totally fine to not know for sure! We have a 2yo and are expecting twins and I know we’re not done, even though the twins aren’t even here yet, haha. I may change my mind once they get here, but I feel like there’s no reason to make a “permanent” declaration of “we’re done!” Lots of people decide they are done but then years later feel led to add another child. 🙂

  • Your family is so cute. And yes, cheers to not knowing! Life will always surprise us 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • I know it sounds weird but I knew we were done when I didn’t care about people using baby names I liked anymore. Like the thoughts of laying claim to a name and if someone else used it, being sad/territorial.

  • We went through this deciding on a third. Ultimately, we decided based on how we would feel when our kids were adults. Our middle child was three when we finally decided. Now we are ready to have older children. It’s like we set up our game board with all the players and we’re ready to play. The three years going back and forth were a bit frustrating, but like you, I decided not to worry about it, and let time help me with my decision.

  • Unrelated, but was hoping you survived the tornado in Nashville yesterday! Looks like the answer is yes 🙂

  • It’s okay not to know. Part of the ‘parenthood journey’ is learning as you go. I have 6 kids and never really *knew* either. 2 or 10… There’s no right answer.

  • I think your friends advice was good actually, and that you are just not ready yet!
    In my experience: When you know, you know! I did not believe this too, but when my last child was born I felt peace. This was it! No more doubts! And I am a planner too. I still love babies, but I am done having them myself. My little family is complete. My son is now 1,5 years old and I still feel the same. All the best to your family!

  • Thank you for sharing your feelings about this! Currently we have a one-year-old who’s such a bright happy active bun, and I’ve been SO stressed about whether or not we’d have more than one kid, and if so, would that be through pregnancy or adoption. I wish I could just know what the ‘right’ answer is so I could plan for it, even though there’s no right answer and no way to know how this will unfold whatever choice we make.

  • I love that you’re sharing this thought process, and the uncertainty. Thank you for sharing and for your honesty around it.

    I also love the phrase/question “is your family complete?” because as someone who is childfree by choice, I’d love if people could ask me that and let me say yes rather than “when will you have kids?” or “do you want kids?”. Something about acknowledging that we’re already a family makes that question so much easier to respond to without fearing the frequent “you’ll change your mind” or “why not?!” responses that make it sound like I’m insane for this choice!

    • Thank you for this perspective. I am not usually one to pry with the kids question, but if I do ask, I will be sure to phrase it this way.

    • I am pretty old now, but I decided when I very young that I did not want to have children. My only concern was that I might change my mind when it was too late, and that I would regret my decision. As the years have passed, I have reviewed all this, and interestingly, have always felt comfortable about my long-ago choice.
      I grew up in a happy loving family, I like kids in general: I just didn’t want my own.

      • Helen, I felt the same way. I always thought growing up that I didn’t want to be pregnant. I thought maybe if I were to have kids, it would be by adoption or if a partner already have kids. I’m 33 now and have been with my partner 4 years. He has two children from his previous marriage. I met them when they were 3 and 5 (now 7 and almost 9). It was very clear from the beginning of my relationship that my partner didn’t want more kids and he had already had a vasectomy. He wanted to be sure to tell me early on in case I wanted children (he didn’t want to take that away from me). I told him the situation was pretty much what I had envisioned (although I would have liked to have a little girl in my life rather than two boys but they are still wonderful and a great adition to my life). I year or so ago, I learned that because of a birth defect I have, it would be very hard for me to have children naturally anyway so it was sort of a relief to know that my brain is in tune with my body and saved me from having to suffer through the pain of not being able to have children when you really want to (I’ve seen a lot of my friends struggle with infertility and it just breaks my heart to see them struggle so much). Anyway, I get asked a lot if my spouse and I will ever have children together and “don’t you want your own?” and I always say, I have two kids, they look nothing like me and they have a mom but they are the kids that I have and our family is complete.

  • i have 4 kids (one adult!) that are 22, 16, 14 and 8 and i definitely have days still that i want just ONE more! i don’t think i will ever really feel done. and as my mom (she had six kids) used to say far after her days of being able to have more…’if someone dropped off a baby at my doorstep, i would most definitely raise it!’. i thought she was kind of crazy, but i totally get it. i realize some parents just know, and praise them – but not for me!

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