I find that there is a scary trend among a lot of affluent young couples to consciously limit their family size to three i.e. have just one child. My opinion on this is pretty black and white. Even when I was agonising through the decision of whether to have a child or not, there was one thing that I was always pretty clear about - either there would zero kids or a minimum of two. If for some reason, I don’t manage to conceive a second child before my biological clock runs out, I am quite sure that I would adopt my second child.
Honestly, I don’t think the decision about whether or not to have a second child can be based on what the parents want/ need. It has to be about what is best for your child and in my humble opinion, every child needs atleast one sibling. And depriving your child of one, without a really good reason, borders on being selfish.
Here’s my take on what having or not having one means to a child:
- No matter how popular a child may be at school (as evidenced by the number of friends), it can never make up for having a person of their own generation in their home. Once school is over and everyone has gone back to their homes and families, the single child must be so lonely. What can compare with having a readymade playmate available at all hours of the day? I don’t know how my brother and I would have survived our almost parallel bouts of chicken box and the resultant quarantine if we hadn’t had each other for company, even if most of our time was spent bickering.
- My personal opinion is that children with siblings are likely to be fitter and more intelligent that those without. This is not borne out by any evidence or research greater than ‘Because Mama Says So’ but think about it. Having a playmate would mean that you would play more and I know that the endless quarrels and arguments with my brother kept me mentally on my toes. And television, that seductive temptress, might have somewhat less appeal to a child who has a sibling to romp around with.
- I have always found that single children lose their childhood and grow up faster than others. It is to be expected since much of their social interactions out of school are with adults. I find they often relate better to adults better than children of their own age, sometimes finding their peers somewhat immature.
- The clinching argument for me is that a sibling is the only person from your own generation with whom who have a common history. Noone understands better what or where you come from. This is especially true in today’s world of nuclear families – in the past, cousins could have easily filled in but with careers taking us to all ends of the country and world, our kids will barely get to meet their cousins, let alone forge a close bond with them. When this lack of a sibling will really pinch will be when the parents themselves pass on. A single child in such a situation will be truly orphaned, no matter at what age he loses his parents.
- Lastly, the one cliché I do not agree with is that single children are selfish and spoiled – I think I have met enough children from large families who can give single kids a run for their money on those counts.
Having said that, I know there are several very valid reasons to have just one kid but not all the reasons I have heard to date can be categorised as such. To my mind, some of the valid reasons are:
- Serious medical issues. If giving your first-born a sibling comes with the risk of him losing his mother, it’s obviously not worth it to even try. Difficult, complicated pregnancies are best avoided, especially if one knows in advance that they are likely to be that way. But a bad case of morning sickness or haemorrhoids, while uncomfortable and painful, are worth the long term gain, I think. Also, I am not familiar with how post-partum depression works (having fortunately escaped it) but I do not, unlike this guy, think it is something to be scoffed at and I think a severe case of the baby blues that doesn’t respond to professional help and/ or drugs definitely does classify as a serious medical issue – imagine the trauma to a first child who has to contend with a severely depressed parent!
- High/ increased chances of genetic defects. Unlike parents like these, I think if you know that any child you conceive is likely to have serious, even debilitating physical and/ or mental defects, it’s best if you stayed away from having that second child and committing him to really difficult and challenging life. Also, if your firstborn is a special needs child and needs all of your effort and attention, it would be unfair to have another whom you would end up neglecting.
- Severe financial issues. Bringing up kids needs time, patience and yes, it also needs money. If you cannot support two children, there is no point in having them anyway and denying them the right to the life they could have had if their parents could have focussed their resources on a single offspring. However, the line is fine here and one has to be clear about where to draw it. Not having a second child so that you can afford to send your first one to Harvard may not quite cut it.
- Fertility issues. It does happen sometimes that couples who had their first kid as easy as pie find it hard to conceive the second one. I know that I mentioned that adoption is an option that I am open to. But the adoption decision is not for everyone. I have friends who cannot imagine being able to adopt a child and I think it's great that they are honest enough to admit that. In the end, it’s important for children, adopted or not, to be loved and if you cannot be confident that you would love your second, adopted child as much as your first-born, it’s better for all concerned if you didn’t adopt.
- A crumbling marriage. It’s bad enough that you bought one kid into an unstable family situation. Why subject another to it?
What, according to me, are not good enough reasons to not have a second child are:
- I can’t go through all that again. ‘All that’ covers everything from pregnancy, labour, breastfeeding, sleepless nights and the terrible twos. Are you really going to grudge your kid a lifelong gift of family for two, maybe three difficult years? I honestly cannot relate to this emotion. The last two and half years of my life have been the most challenging but they have also been the most fun and rewarding. How can you not feel that way about giving birth to and bringing up your children? Also, I am so much more aware and confident as a parent now; I can’t wait to try all I’ve learnt on the second one.
- I can’t take another break from my career. To my mind, this is the most cold-hearted one. Are you really saying that your career takes priority over your family? That you grudge 6 months to a year of your career, which will span atleast three decades, to do what’s best for your family?
- I feel I have no more love to give. Well, another way to look at this would be to think of the love you are depriving your first-born of by taking that decision. I know that Ayaan consumes all the love that I can give right now, but I am also completely confident that my heart will just expand to accommodate the extra love for my second child.
- I have no time to spare for another kid. Ok, here I will draw on my experience with my dogs. We started with one and then decided to go ahead and get another one. Friends asked us whether we would be able to manage two dogs and my response to that was ‘Two do not mean double the work’. Don’t get me wrong – I am in no way suggesting that dogs are anywhere near as challenging as kids to care for but to my mind, the philosophy of it not being double the work holds. I think parents with single children actually have much more responsibility because in addition to being parents, they also have to step in to provide additional camaraderie and companionship that their child would have ordinarily got from a sibling.
- The world is already over-populated. I don't think people like having only one child is going to fix world's population problems. It's the lower-income group of parents who can barely afford to have one child who need to put the brakes on family size.
Anyway, that’s my two bits on the issue. I know what I said might hurt or upset some people who think otherwise but really, I am just talking aloud and sharing my opinions. And that’s all they are opinions, as right or wrong as anyone else’s might be. So disagree with them, but please don’t take it to heart – just dismiss them as the random ramblings of an exhausted working mom trying to justify her decision to stuff another child into an already jam-packed life!