Interesting thread. I think people really get emotional about this - so very much *stuff* is wrapped up in family size.
I'm from a family of 7. Three of us loved it and would love to have large families; two don't ever intend to have children (one an environmental choice, the other a prudent mental health choice); and two think that 2 children is the Golden Mean [I note that they are both married to "two child" spouses and fit Kathee's description of how not to be criticized, very well
My older sister and her dh would like more children but know they can't afford it (and yes, they could make lifestyle changes to afford it - but they would like to have more kids WITHOUT making those changes and I don't see anything wrong with that). The school system where they are is abysmal; they will be paying private school tuition for their three children just to keep them literate. They aren't blowing $$ on things - they are scrupulous about not going into debt, and they live in a remodeled mobile home so obviously their money isn't going to fripperies.
They are great parents. I wish they could figure out a way to afford more children but they just can't.
DH and I agreed to "Three with an option to upgrade" before we married. He's from a long line of "just two, thanks" -- so the idea of more than two was a huge, huge stumbling block for him. We have two now, and it's a given that we'll have a third. He loves parenting, loves time with the girls .... If he felt we could afford it, I know we'd have four or even five children. But, he doesn't feel we can afford it and honestly I think he's right. If we manage to have a fourth child, it will probably be via foster adoption .... And we will need to have had some changes in our lives. I've read that in some states, foster adoptees are given free instate tuition, and that would level one of our huge stumbling blocks for having more children (being able to help with college expenses).
I think that it's a given that for many people who say that they "can't afford" more children but would like to have more, the unspoken phrase is, "without changes to our lifestyle which would be unacceptable." For my sister and her dh, that would mean putting their kids in a school system which is awful (or she would need to homeschool, but frankly it's in their best interests that she not be their teacher and she knows that
). For dh and me, it would mean that we wouldn't have enough saved for retirement. Realistically speaking the time will come that we aren't able to work anymore. DH is self-employed and we want me to be able to SAHP at least 'til our children are all in school. We are self-insured; it costs about $10,000 just to have a baby at the hospital in my area (and no homebirths unless you're UCing).
My memories of growing up in a large family are wonderful and I wish, wish, wish I could provide that for my children. I won't lie - I do remember taking swimming lessons in a leotard and feeling awful.
And every guy who's married into our family, knows that he and his wife will be helping care for the ILs in their old age. I don't want that burden for my kids. We are also saving for college - I've got about $45,000 in student loans still (grad school) - we don't plan to pay for "all" of college cart blanche. But if we can help our kids graduate with a minimum of debt, then that'd be wonderful. Maybe *they* would be able to afford to have 4-5 kids according to a criteria that feels comfortable for them!