What selection pressures drive the evolution of offspring size? Answering this fundamental question for any species requires an understanding of the relationship between offspring size and offspring fitness. A major goal of evolutionary ecologists has been to estimate this critical relationship, but for organisms with complex lifecycles, logistical constraints restrict most studies to early life-history stages only. Here, we examine the relationship between offspring size and offspring performance in the field across multiple life-history stages and across generations in a marine invertebrate .We then use these data to parameterise a simple optimality model to generate predictions of optimal offspring size and determined whether these predictions depended on which estimate of offspring performance was used. We found that offspring size had consistently positive effects on performance (estimated as post-metamorphic growth, fecundity and reproductive output). We also found that manipulating the experience of offspring during the larval phase changed the way in which offspring size affects performance: offspring size affected post-metamorphic growth when larvae were allowed to settle immediately but offspring size affected survival when larvae were forced to swim prior to settlement. Despite finding consistently positive effects of offspring size, early measures of the effect of offspring size resulted in the systematic underestimation of optimal offspring size. Surprisingly, the amount of variation in offspring performance that offspring size explained decreased with increasing time in the field but the steepness of the relationship between offspring size and performance actually increased. Our results suggest caution should be exercised when empirically examining offspring size effects - it may not be appropriate to assume that early measures are a good reflection of the actual relationship between offspring size and fitness.