How Many Kids Is Too Many?

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It was 12 years ago when my wife invited me for a cup of coffee at a local Portland roaster. (Shop local, kids.)  Nothing alarming about the invite; we relish our coffee breaks, and they were the most sensible dates we could afford, as I balanced two jobs, while Nancy watched over our seven kids.

Nancy took a sip of her French Roast, put the mug down, and blurted out the reason for her invitation:

“I’m pregnant.”

How were we going to afford an eighth? We barely paid the bills with seven. People already thought we were crazy to have a big family. Soon, it would be bigger.

Nancy was concerned how I would react. It was soon after child No. 4 arrived that I took on a second, part-time job. (It was supposed to be a seasonal gig, but I was into my sixth year at L.L. Bean.) Now, there would be another mouth to feed. Nancy was scared to tell me, so she picked a public place to break the news, in case I got upset.

My reaction?


Yes, I am foolish that way.

Two recent opinion pieces had me recalling that wonderful moment a dozen years past. (And as I write this my 11-year-old son is sharing our dining room table; I’m typing and he’s working on one of his creations – a miniature pool table, complete with ball return. He’s a genius, I tell you with absolute objectivity.)

One piece was by online columnist Matt Walsh, who laments the trend of avoiding children, because young people fear they are not ready, nor have enough money:

“My generation has been stuck in neutral for years, not wanting to get married, not wanting to have kids … We don’t have the money. We don’t have time. We don’t have an entire checklist full of things that we’ve decided we must have in order to be functioning grownups.”

Walsh blames the focus on money, and bloated estimates on the cost of children.

It “utterly terrifies my peers and convinces them that they can’t have kids, let alone get married until they’ve got six figures in savings.”

Nancy and I hear it all the time. How do you afford so many? It’s a legitimate question. The simple answer is that we figure it out, or try to.

I am no carefree soul. There has been angst, and stares at the bank account statement, wondering how it was going to work. There is debt, which I abhor. We’re working on it.

But we are getting by, although the United States government is skeptical. We’ve been audited twice, having to prove all those dependents we claimed were actually ours. One sympathetic IRS agent told me that if we applied for government assistance, then the auditing would likely stop.

We declined the offer. (Disclaimer:  That is not a dig on people seeking assistance in emergency situations. But there is the temptation to make welfare part of the budget, not out of an emergency but simply because we are eligible for it.)

Times certainly get tough. But, again, allow me to refer to Walsh’s words:

“Walking the bumpiest parts of the road together, struggling, sacrificing, suffering, going without – this is what brings a family together. It’s an edifying experience if you have the right heart about it.”

The second opinion piece I referred to comes from Bill Nye, the mechanical engineer who used to be a stand-up comic. Nye went on to become an enjoyable, harmless TV personality, teaching kids about science. Catchy title:  Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

But Bill is now expanding his “wisdom” with a Netflix show humbly titled “Bill Nye Saves the World.” On his show, Nye spoke with a panel that included Johns Hopkins bioethics professor Travis Rieder. The discussion was climate change, with Rieder arguing that we should limit the number of children born in the developed world. His reasoning was that developed world inhabitants emit more carbon into the environment.

Mr. Nye jumped in with a solution:

“So should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?”

Penalize? Just how many kids are considered “extra”?

Whoa. I thought the IRS audits were intrusive.

I figured Doctor Rieder would quickly shoot down Nye’s buffoonery.

Instead, Rieder replied, ““Um, so I do think that we should at least consider it.”

Not good enough for our Science Guy.

“ ‘At least consider it’ is, like, ‘do it’,” Nye said.

Emperor Nye has spoken.

Should I mention my family to Nye? Or to others that say children are too much of a burden? (They are supposed to be a burden; it’s called responsibility.)

Should I tell the story about the time, almost 11 years ago, when my wife brewed me a cup of coffee, sat down at our kitchen table and told me she was expecting, with our ninth child?



Kevin Thomas is a writer and teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.