Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Singled Out

Ever since I saw this post up on Indianmommies, I have been itching to write about it. Rather than put a comment there that would have exceeded the length of the post itself, I thought it might be a better idea to wax eloquent on my own blog. That being said, this one needed some time and thinking through; so I have been working on this on and off for the last couple of weeks and finally, I’m done.

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!


  1. I wouldn't have much of an opinion NOW, but all I CAN say is that heck. A sibling is a MUST. I can't IMAGINE my life without my sister! We're the best of friends in the whole universe. I'm the second born. hee. I'm SO glad my parents took the decision to have me! heh.
    You've put forth really solid points! Little wonder, it took you so much time and thought. All worth it.

  2. Yes, I completely agree. A sibling is a must, more than the parents, but for children themselves.whether they get-along life-long or not is a different story but atleast growing-up years will be enriched with each other in it.

  3. very well articulated.. i cudn't imagine a life without the support system of my siblings.. particularly agree with the last point though it sounds callous.. but much more practical... loved the new look.. Megha has done a great job

  4. A carefully thought out and well-articulated point of view as usual, Rohini.

    Personally, I'm certain that I want at least 2 kids (note the 'at least!;-), and I am glad that my husband agrees.

    And yes, I don't understand a lot of the reasons that folks give for not wanting another child too.

    However, I do believe that while some emotional reasons (I can't do this again, I want to do my very best by the one I have) may seem faffy to you and me, it is as real to the person who feels that way as some of the other 'valid' reasons you've listed (health, finance etc.)

    So while I don't understand the choice, I respect it. I wouldn't call it selfish. I believe no child deserves to be brought into the world unless it is genuinely wanted - and if there are parents who feel they do not want another, then it is the right choice not to have one.

  5. Hi,
    I have been reading your blog off and on and this is one post after my own heart.
    Its always been in my mind to adopt a child. I am expecting my biological baby in oct and I am quite certain that I'll have another which will definitely be an adopted one, even if I am able to conceive again.
    Though I have dropped such hints to my husband, I am really not sure how he'll take it. But I guess I'll come through with all the convincing - him and the extended family as well. :)

  6. well thought out and articulated as ever Rohini.. much more than my passionate outpouring on the same subject with much the same argument!!! but i would not have had the courage to say "And depriving your child of one, without a really good reason, borders on being selfish. THat would have brought the sharks in!!! though let me play devil's advocate... as moppet's mom says, the reasons are as real to others as those we consider 'valid' (ahem... the sahm argument :P!! don't kill me - but you consider it not so important to a child's welfare while i do... so...same logic applies.)

    but i reiterate. i support all your reasons and feel equally strongly about them.

  7. A rational, well thought out and brilliantly articulated post Ro. although you say your opinion this is pretty black or white, i am impressed that you have also chosen to explore valid reasons why ppl may not choose to go for a second child.
    btw have emailed this post to P :)

  8. Hi Rohini, Nice post. Having grown up with five siblings, I certainly agree with you that is great to have siblings and it is one of the best things parents can do for their children. Much as I felt strongly about this, I found this to be a difficult decision...well more thoughts on this in a separate post in my blog - so I don't ramble on in your site.

  9. As always, I bow down to your wisdom! And thereby agree to every point you have made. I have a friend who grew up a single child and she is insistant that her son will also grow up the same, fine and on his own. And while they are no doubt fine, I can't help but think how lonely that must have been for her, even though she would never admit it. Her son is a beautiful bubbly child and I so wish she would change her mind - maybe I shall send her this.

    A powerful agrument if ever there were one!

  10. Interesting article. I specially liked the disclaimer at the end - cos there were some things in your post which were more passionate/judgmental outpourings than your usual ones.

    I've always wanted to have 2 kids for the simple reason that having a sibling is definatley more for the child rather than going it alone - when it comes to covering up for each other, collective bargaining with parents, playing any game at home etc.

    But I am very much the "you do whatever suits you and your lifestyle" kinda person. So I respect the decision of parents who decide to have only one child. And I strongly subscribe to the theory that whatever their reason (whether selfish or not), its better they dont bring one more child into the world unless they want to - cos the child may end up suffering.

    on a more personal note - rohini what do you think is the ideal gap to have between ayaan and your next child?

  11. I really think the larger the family you have the greater chance of stability you give it. If you're thinking of the population -- ADOPT. Lots of kids out there how could use a loving home and opportunities.

    But Rohini, I completely agree with you about not belittle the post-partum depression. A friend's sis had three babies in 4 years and she was diagnosed with depression after the first. Asked to go slow. Her husband, though a nice guy, was not very understanding about this. Now she has been diagnosed with pretty severe bipolar issues and has often been suicidal. Children are supposed to round out your life, not make you want to end it, I think.

  12. *not belittling, I meant. Hate shoddy editing.

  13. hi, i'm new on your blog! i quite agree with you on this. especially now when i am a mother of a 3 year old and am seriously thinking of having a second child myself. A friend of mine who lost a parent once told me this " i wish i had a sibling, at least there would be someone who could understand my loss".

  14. I see i am in the minority

    u will have the minority report trow on my blog

  15. [Sneha] Yeah. I've loved my brother at times and hated him at others, but can't imagine life without him.

    [Sunita] Totally. One doesn't always get along with them but it's nice to know they are there.

    [Itchingtowrite] Which last point was that?

    [Moppet's Mom] Completely agree with not bringing unwanted children in the world. My point was not that people should have kids they don't want but that I don't understand some of the reasons I hear for not wanting them.

    [rt] It is really great to want to adopt a second one!

    [MadMomma] Guess some of your courage rubbed off on me ;). And agree with your point of validity of reasons - this is just my opinion of what I think is valid...

    [Aqua] To convince him about the second one? :)

    [Noon] Look forward to your post on this.

    [30in2005] Wisdom?! With just two years of parenting of parenting one child, I am far from deserving anything close to that description...

    [Lawyeramma] Agree on not bringing kids into the world if they are unwanted, just wonder about some of the reasons stated for not wanting them. And on the gap thing, check this out. I personally want an age gap of three years - enough time for you to recover from the first one but close enough in age that they can be peers.

    [Sue] I think it's just sad that people still don't recognise and accept post-partum depression as a genuine problem - it must make life so much more difficult for moms who suffer from it.

    [Harpreet] To me, that is the clinching argument for having more than one kid.

    [Artnavy] Look forward to reading your perspective on this.

  16. Nicely written rohini and inspite of being a single child i kind of agree with almost all you have to say (with the exception of My personal opinion is that children with siblings are likely to be fitter and more intelligent that those without. ).
    I know my parents most definitely wanted more than one child but were unable. Sometimes it really isn't a matter of choice but what fate deals out to you.

  17. hi rohini- it is up- my perspective

  18. Great post, very well articulated thoughts.
    I am with art on this. Although I am not an only child, I do believe that you should bring a second child into this world only if you have the love to give it. I have seen several well adjusted single children and several mal-adjusted children with siblings, as I am sure you have too. There are exceptions to every norm.
    Also, there is a side effect of being entirely self less and having a second child for the sake of the first. If that decision is not carefully thought out, it could end up in a lot of disappointment,frustration and irritation.

  19. Very well articulated Rohini !!

    As an only child, I know only too well the pinch of loneliness - probably children don't realise this till the time they are around 8-9 - cos till then the thoughts are more centered around the fact that their toys are all their own, they dont need to share any of their stuff with anyone at home, they are the centre of their parents attention. The feeling of loneliness grows as the child grows up .....

    When the teens hit, and bring with it all those zings attributed to raging hormones and the resultant confusing phase - that is when I really really missed having a sibling around.

  20. Hey Rohini, that was a great post.. So typical of you (and I mean that in a nice way) to make lists and list out pros and cons.. Helps muddled up people like yours truly :)

    While I am all for 2 kids, I can understand why folks might want to stop with one. I don't necessarily think of it as selfish.. What I feel more often is pity. Pity because they don't look at the big picture and keep focussing on the first 1-2 tough years.

    And quite honestly, it was harder to convince myself to have the first child. Now that I know exactly what to expect and how much fun she is, I'm all raring to go have the second one..

    So any good news ? ;-) (Sorry, couldnt resist)

  21. Hi Rohini....from being on the 'safer' side of the fence, where the decision was made and 'going thru' everything, it is one of the happiest decisions of my life....that sometimes I stop and feel proud of myself for it.

    DO you have any particular thoughts on how long u'd like to wait now after Ayaan?

  22. As always a clearly though out post. But I still cant make up my mind 100% on whether I want a second one or not. Hubby is an only child and he says he was fine and never missed a sibling. I have a sister and shes the world to me. My reason is of course silly and I know it too. But I just dont want to make a bigger mistake. The mistake not being the baby but my decision. Sometimes a couple are just not fit to be a parent again and Im afraid we might be one of them. Dont ask me why. Its just my insecurities acting up. But when I do make a decision it would be the perfect one for our little family and no one can judge that from the outside. As cliched as it sounds, to each to their own.

  23. [M] I guess I went a boit overboard with that more intelligent and fitter one, no? And as Artnavy points out, research actually shows the opposite to be true.

    [Artnavy] That was quick and a very well-done reply to mine, I must say.

    [SM] Agree will all that you say - and a carefully thought out decision would be based on some very good reasons right?

    [Gauri] That's just the age when you need someone to roll your eyes at as if it say 'Well, what're you doing to do - mom's just being mom'

    [Poppins] Well, my writing style might have something to do with the fact that I must make or read atleast one powerpoint presentation everyday. (And sorry to dissapoint you, but no good news yet)

    [Tharini] I am actually quite ready to start with the second baby right way but what with Ayaan and work, there's not much time left for the necessary baby-making activities ;)

    [Boo] All the best with the decision!

  24. I agree with you that most people who decide to have only one child do it out of pure selfishness. And sadly, I find that many parents (especially mothers) with only one child tend more to smother than mother--when you have more kids, you don't have TIME to be involved with every little aspect of your kids lives, which is actually healthier for everyone. They need their space to learn and grow, without parents being there interfering every step of the way.

    Also, you're right about not being double the work--having a second, and a third child was WAY less of an adjustment than the first. You are already "child-proofed", and you have already adjusted your schedule to the demands that having children requires. Plus, you actually get a break from the "entertaining" side of it occasionally, because they entertain each other! (As you said.)

    Good post, Rohini.

    (Disturbing article about the genetic testing of embryos, though. No matter what you are testing for, it seems like such a waste having all those babies "thrown away." That's just my opinion.)

  25. Oh, you busy mummy, I had the audacity to tag you. If you don't have time though, I won't be offended if you skip it!

    Hugs to you!

  26. Great read! Totally agree with what you said. We have three kids and I would never trade our situation for anything else! I'm actually sad in a way that we're done at just three. Siblings build you up when you're down but keep you humble if when you've got a big fat head:)

  27. :) waging a losing battle

  28. very well written.....i wouldnt dream a life without my sis...she is my support will defly give Kaju her sibling.....

  29. Rohini, I think this is one of those issues where generations of ppl have cyclic opinions based on their own experiences. Like how girls with working moms want to become SAHMs and vice versa. I know ppl who grew up as single kids wanting atleast 2 children of their own, and some who grew up with 2-3 siblings wanting to have a single child.
    I for one grew up with one elder brother and believe that they r the best things a girl can have!

    the other problem with wanting or believing in something so bad is that if fate doesn't work your way, u are just left severely depressed (as has happened in the case of one of my friends. she always wanted 2, and she can't have the second one). I'd personally say chuck all the analysis and research and take life as it comes.

  30. Well said Rohini... as usual. I think you missed one +ve - after the parents are gone the siblings will not feel as lonely - and hopefully wil take care of each other, like family.

    especially these days when our extended family / cousin support system seems to be breaking down little by little and nuclear families are becoming common.

  31. i am an only child...( it was HORRIBLE) and im NOT going to let that happen again.
    i firmly believe in the even number system!!

    odd numbers are just that! ODD.

  32. I'm really glad i came across your site-it helped me put things into better perspective as my hubby and i are toying with the idea of adopting a child as we feel our six yr old is beginning to feel lonely and left out-being six he's more verbal and we feel that we've been selfish all this while-as you rightly pointed out.
    thank god for outspoken people like
    you rohini!

  33. its not really that bad...having been a single child myself..and reaching my mid-20s, im content with what life has had to offer. not for one moment, in my growing up years, did i ask my parents for a sibling..never once did i feel like i was lonely or missed out on a companion to grow up with..all through, i had little baby friends..who id play with..theyd bring in their siblings and we'd all play together. sometimes because of the age difference, it would be just our age group and siblings much younger would be left out of the group. im 25 fit, reasonably intelligent :), confident, and social. i turned out alright and i never felt a void during my growin up years. so chill..dont worry about the implications on your child..they'll turn out great with or without a sibling. having a sibling is great while growing up, but chances r reasonably high in this comepetitve world for relations between the two to turn sour..and parents often being in a compromision position in their old age..with a decision of having to choose between the two or facing neglect...ofcourse, i dont generalise! but it exists!

  34. As a teacher of pre-schoolers and mother of 3, I want to say that what to me seems the most important criterion of having a child/children is why you want the child. I do come across women who have become mothers (the 1st time,or 2nd)only from family pressure and I have seen such children suffer. Besides, in today's world, where the day-to-day support of family is hard to come by, I also feel that it's very important that the man & woman discuss relevant issues clearly before deciding on having a child. This being said, I think your post is marvellously well thought out :)

  35. [Talena] I am not sure I can be as honest has you have, but I shall try :)

    [Dawn] That's one benefir I missed out, that of being kept grounded by your siblings

    [Aqua] Awww.. well keep trying

    [ibh] Good for Kaju!

    [Sudha] Well, endless (and maybe useless) analysis is probably my middle name... and I don't think one should stop wanting things just on the offchance that we may not get them.

    [Ranjit] Actually I did say just that - in the part where you got bored with all my preachifying and dozed for a bit ;)

    [Grafx] Well, I guess 3 is ok :)

    [Sharmila] Glad my post was of some use - because it does seem to have upset some people as well.

    [rt] I guess things can turn sour but I'd still rather give my child a shot at having a sibling. Also, in the end there are also selfish reasons - I don't think I am done with this child-rearing thing yet - I want to be pregnant again and I want to have a sweet little baby to care for again :)

    [Suemamma] Absolutely agree with not having unwanted children. My post was more about not understanding all of the reasons behind the decision

  36. Just so you know, they don't have to be "weird" facts--just random ones. I could only think of really odd stuff the night I did the meme, so that's why I said that.

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  38. Rightly said and well written..

    I come from a family of 5 children and would like to go for more than 5 if possible! But time and finance allows only 2. Like most mothers even I had was scared to go for the second one.. but it somehow happened by accident.. and a lovely accident too.. the first one being a girl and the second one a boy! maybe if I had hesistated and planned deeply, I would have never had our bubbly son.

    but one should have more than one child... for your own sake and for your child's...