07 June 2010

Having a second child?

One and one can mean more than double the trouble when it comes to having a second child.


One and one can mean more than double the trouble when it comes to having a second child, an ongoing study at the University of Michigan shows.

Second children can be more than twice as demanding, disrupting family dynamics, spousal relationships and parental careers more than unsuspecting parents might think, says Rebecca Upton, a researcher at the university's Center for the Ethnography of Everyday Life.

For instance, most working mothers return to the their full-time jobs after the first child is born. But when the second one comes along, more than half of the mothers change to part-time work or take a leave of absence.

"This affects a woman's career path," she says. "No matter how egalitarian the couple is, a second child usually means that the husband and wife fall back into the more stereotypical roles."

"Doing it all" and "having it all" are the standards set for women with families and careers, but with two children, "women don't usually have the time and resources to attain that," she explains. Second kids also leave their marks on dads, making them "really feel like fathers," Upton says.

She found college students and educated couples in their 30s still hold the two-parent, two-child family as the ideal, though that family configuration is more the exception than the rule these days. Upton began her second-child research about a year ago at the urging of her advisor.

"So much of the literature focuses on how the first child adjusts to the birth of the second child, but my study focuses on how it affects parents," she says.

Stephanie Coard knows exactly what Upton means. The 33-year-old clinical psychologist, pregnant with her third, remembers vividly how the birth of her second child turned the family schedule topsy-turvy.

"There was so much juggling and organization that had to be done for the second one," says Coard, a full-time clinical psychologist at the New York University School of Medicine's Child Study Center. "We have to run the family like a business. It's forced my husband and me to be very structured and organized in a way we never had to do with the first." What can parents do to ease the impact?

"It takes a good supportive relationship between the parents," Upton says. "The bigger issue is how you balance work and family, and if you are in a supportive work environment."

Coard agrees. She feels lucky to have always worked in "family-friendly" settings, and her husband is an equal partner in caring for their 3-year-old and 5-year-old.

"My husband wants to be a part of it all, and helps a lot," she says. "He knows his responsibilities, and takes them seriously. We set family goals and have a lot of structure. There's his time, my time, our time and family time. Sometimes the personal time suffers, but we know we have to make that choice."

Upton presented her continuing study at the recent meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco. She's zeroing in on Midwest families because typically it's a group "that has been neglected by anthropologists because they were thought to be uninteresting."

So far, Upton has worked with about 40 couples who have had a second child recently or plan to do so soon. She shadows them while they run errands and chat with friends and family, and even volunteers to baby-sit.

"It's a way I could thank them for being a part of the study," says the 30-year-old single, post-doctoral student. "The project has changed my idea about having children, too. I go between either wanting to have two right away or none at all."


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