Someone recently asked me, “How should you decide how many kids to have?”  Since he’d already read Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, I thought he deserved a detailed step-by-step answer.  Here’s roughly what I told him:

Having kids is very experiential.  “When they’re your kids, it’s different” is totally true.  Even if you spend a lot of time taking care of nephews and nieces, you could easily be surprised by what parenthood feels like.  The upshot: Even I think that it’s crazy to say “I want ten kids” before you have any kids.

Fortunately, people rarely have to suddenly decide between having zero kids or ten kids.  The process usually unfolds one kid at a time.  (Two at a time for me my first time around, but multiples are still rare).  I therefore recommend the following rules for optimizing your family size in real time:

Step 1: After finding a spouse who closely psychologically resembles the kids you want to have, have one child.

Step 2: Use my Serenity Parenting techniques to make your experience as pleasant as you can reasonably expect.

Step 3: See how much you like being a parent of one kid – opportunity costs included.

Step 4: If you really don’t enjoy being a parent despite using Serenity Parenting, wait and see if your experience improves. 

Step 5: If and when you decide you enjoy being a parent of one kid, have another.  Then return to Step 3 (replacing “parent of one kid” with “parent of one more kid”).

Step 6: When you’re on the fence, err on the side of having another kid.  A life well-lived includes achievement as well as happiness.  Creating and raising one more child is a great achievement, even your last child makes you marginally less happy.