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Still Stuck On The Fence…

Walter and I are still undecided on whether or not it would be best for us to extend our family with another child. This consideration is quite different when you have one child in comparison to what it was when we were childless. When we were childless there was never a question that we’d probably like to be a family of 4, but that changes when that one little miracle comes into your life, when suddenly you’re faced with making the decision and now the decision doesn’t just impact on your and your partner but also on a child.

This is a contentious issue, one that everyone seems to have strong opinions on and it would seem that regardless of what choice we made, we’d have to listen to people’s opinions on the choices we made, on our values etc etc.

I have gone over the pro’s and con’s of a singleton versus 2 children a million times in my head and still I find myself undecided.

Yesterday, my attention was drawn to this fascinating article in the Time magazine, which kind of gave me permission to say that if we were only to have Ava, she would be ok, she would turn out to be a valuable, sociable member of society and not the selfish, self absorbed unsociable brat that so many perceive singleton’s to be:

It’s a conversation I have most weeks — if not most days. This time, it happens when my 2-year-old daughter and I are buying milk at the supermarket. The cashiers fawn over her pink cheeks, and then I endure the usual dialogue.

“Your first?”

“Yup.”

“Another one coming soon?”

“Nope — it might be just this one.”

“You’ll have more. You’ll see.”

I offer no retort, but if I did, I’d start by asking these young minimum-wage earners to consider the following: The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the average child in the U.S. costs his or her parents about $286,050 — before college. Those costs have risen during the recession. It’s a marvel to me these days that anyone can manage a second kid — forget about a third.

Since I celebrated my 35th birthday, I have to ask myself not when, but if. “The recession has dramatically reshaped women’s childbearing desires,” says Larry Finer, the director of domestic policy at the Guttmacher Institute, a leading ­reproductive-health-research organization. The institute found that 64% of women polled said that with the economy the way it is, they couldn’t afford to have a baby now. Forty-four percent said they plan to reduce or delay their childbearing — again, because of the economy. This happens during financial meltdowns: the Great Depression saw single-child families spike at 23%. Since the early ’60s, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, single-child families have almost doubled in number, to about 1 in 5 — and that’s from before the markets crashed. (See pictures of famous only children.)

The entrenched aversion to stopping at one mainly amounts to a century-old ­public-relations issue. Single children are perceived as spoiled, selfish, solitary misfits. No parents want that for their kid. Since the 1970s, however, studies devoted to understanding the personality characteristics of only children have debunked that idea. I, for one, was happy without siblings. A few ex-boyfriends aside, people seem to think I turned out just fine. So why do we still worry that there’s something wrong with just one?

The Lonely Only?
The image of the lonely only was the work of one man, Granville Stanley Hall. About 120 years ago, Hall established one of the first American psychology-research labs. But what he is most known for today is supervising the 1896 study “Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children,” which described a series of only-child oddballs as permanent misfits. For decades, academics and advice columnists alike disseminated his conclusion that an only child could not be expected to go through life with the same capacity for adjustment that children with siblings possessed. (See “The Case Against Overparenting.”)

No one has done more to disprove Hall’s stereotype than Toni Falbo, a professor of educational psychology and sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Falbo began investigating the only-child experience in the 1970s, both in the U.S. and in China, drawing on the experience of tens of thousands of subjects. Twenty-five years ago, she and colleague Denise Polit conducted a meta-analysis of 115 studies of only children from 1925 onward that considered developmental outcomes of adjustment, character, sociability, achievement and intelligence.

Generally, those studies showed that singletons aren’t measurably different from other kids — except that they, along with firstborns and people who have only one sibling, score higher in measures of intelligence and achievement. Of course, part of the reason we assume only children are spoiled is that whatever parents have to give, the only child gets it all. The argument Judith Blake makes in Family Size and Achievement as to why onlies are higher achievers across socioeconomic lines can be stated simply: there’s no “dilution of resources,” as she terms it, between siblings. No matter their income or occupation, parents of only children have more time, energy and money to invest in their kid. (Comment on this story.)

But in that case, is there truth to the stereotype that they’re overindulged? In Austin, I seek out psychologist Carl Pickhardt, who tells me, “There’s no question that only children are highly indulged and highly protected.” But that doesn’t mean the stereotype is true, he says. “You’ve been given more attention and nurturing to develop yourself. But that’s not the same thing as being selfish. On balance, that level of parental involvement is a good thing. All that attention is the energy for your self-esteem and achievement.” But, he adds, “everything is double-edged. And everything is formative.”

Will It Make Us Happier?
As parents, we tend to ask ourselves two questions when we talk about having more children. First, will it make our kid happier? And then, will it make us happier? A 2007 survey found that at a rate of 3 to 1, people believe the main purpose of marriage is the “mutual happiness and fulfillment” of adults rather than the “bearing and raising of children.” There must be some balance between the joy our kids give us and the sacrifices we make to care for them.

“Most people are saying, I can’t divide myself anymore,” says social psychologist Susan Newman. Before technology made the office a 24-hour presence, we actually spent less time actively parenting, she explains. “We no longer send a child out to play for three hours and have those three hours to ourselves,” she says. “Now you take them to the next practice, the next class. We’ve been consumed by our children. But we’re moving back slowly to parents wanting to have a life too. And people are realizing that’s simply easier with one.”

As I enter what my obstetrician calls advanced maternal age, it’s a choice my husband and I need to make soon. How we determine our happiness and our daughter’s will be based on the love we feel for her and the realities — both joyful and trying — of what a larger family would mean.

If we end up having no other children, we’ll have to be mindful to raise her to be part of something bigger than just us three. But must we share DNA to do that? As Newman tells me, “What really changes, the fewer siblings we have, is how we define family.” I’ve been part of this redefinition all my life, casting cousins and friends as ersatz siblings since I was a child. For now, my kid is happy enough to dance down supermarket aisles by herself or with her friends and cousins. And with her, sometimes, I do too.

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13 Comments

  • Reply holland713

    Hi Sharon,

    I thought you might like to take a look at this online magazine – http://www.onlychild.com/. It might give you some additional insight. Unfortunately you have to subscribe to the magazine – hope it helps. Remember other peoples opinions are just that – go with your heart and your feelings and you can’t go wrong.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:18 am
  • Reply lisab809

    Just what I needed to read. We are also undecided as to whether or not we should have another child or if just one is enough for us. Before Gabriel came along we said it would always be 2 children but since having him and seeing the impact he has on our lives we have had to change our thoughts somewhat. This article has really given me something to think about.

    Hopefully you and Walter will be able to agree which path to choose. Either way whatever you decide just know that your choice is the right one because it is the choice that is best for your family 🙂

    July 15, 2010 at 10:21 am
  • Reply Nisey

    we also read this article and it gave us a lot to think about…

    July 15, 2010 at 10:52 am
  • Reply mayflowerladybugs

    I think this is the type of thing that one thinks about so much that it almost becomes a circular thought; and there are so many pro’s and cons, that in the end there really isn’t one definitive answer. I think it must come down to what you and W think is best for you and Ava in your particular circumstances. It is true that whatever is noted in statistically studies, although showing a definite trend, cannot be applied to individuals – we all need to go the way of our hearts. Good luck!

    July 15, 2010 at 10:59 am
  • Reply vroutjie

    Shaz,

    I have always said that there is nothing wrong with just having one child!!! But this is a very interesting read!

    July 15, 2010 at 11:02 am
  • Reply ksmind

    Hi! Haven’t had a chance to read it thoroughly but no doubt its not something that can be generalized and some ‘only children’ will be brats (as will kids with siblings) and some won’t.. what I do want to add tho’ is that you’ll need to have thought of an answer for Ava, when she inevitably asks about having a brother or sister.. Even my kids – who have brothers / sister – ask “why cant we have another (sister / brother)”,or “why did you only want 1/2/3/4 children mom?” (or “why isn’t my brother a sister?”) etc.. it helps when you’ve thought through your answers and have thought of a way to translate your feelings into ‘little people’ language 🙂 …Truth is, she’ll catch you off guard a 1000 times with her ‘why’ questions soon enough! (and its harder when you cant say ‘lets google that!’ hee hee) xxx

    July 15, 2010 at 11:22 am
    • Reply Sharon

      Kel, that’s soo true! I was actually saying that to someone yesterday, that regardless of circumstance, or of how our children come to us, they will always ask questions that catch us off guard. With Ava I’m trying to brace myself to deal with questions surrounding her adoption and the why’s of that. But if she weren’t adopted there would be something else to worry about. If we gave her a sibling she’d probably wish it was a brother or a sister or vice versa, or perhaps she’d wish to be an only child. If we don’t give her a sibling she’s probably going to ask why not? So many things to consider… navigating the minefield of parenting!

      July 15, 2010 at 11:37 am
  • Reply lea2109

    Ignore the opinions – only you will know what is right for you. If you have just Ava then maybe that is fine, you might find that through her life she is happy and content being your only child, or she may be like some and wish to have a sibling – who knows? You won’t know until that day comes and when that comes you deal with it. Or maybe you choose to have another child. Sure it changes the dynamic, it is harder work, there are sometimes sibling rivalry, but the siblings might also love spending time together or maybe they might not be all that close – once again, not something you will know now. But something that you will deal with when the time comes.

    So whatever path you end up taking, you will know that it is the right decision for you right now. You can’t base decisions on what ifs and maybes and what tomorrow might bring, you have now and the puzzle pieces will fit regardless of the questions you might deal with one day.

    What I love about having 2 kids is the fact that they play together, I see how Caitlyn adores her big sister, how she says “Bianca is my best friend”. How Bianca loves helping her little sister with things. I remember when Caitlyn was really little how proud Bianca was to show off her little sister. Sure they have their moments where they fight over things, but for most of it, just to hear them giggle and laugh and play that is so cool. But having more than 1 kid is not for everybody and for some they prefer to have many kids like this one lady who has 7 boys and she likes to homeschool – definitely not my kind of scene.

    Sharon, FYI Bianca has never ever asked why we chose to have 2 kids or why she had to have a sister rather than a brother or why could she not be the only child, so you may actually find that Ava never really asks, although I think it is a bit more common when they are an only child that they might be asking to have a brother or sister (but not necessarily because they want you to have another baby, but because they imagine the brother or sister will be as big as they are and will be playing with them).

    Personally I think that whatever the future holds, whatever questions Ava might be asking going forward, you will know how to answer when the time comes. You will be prepared even if it doesn’t feel like that right now.

    It is a difficult decision. And I guess an even more difficult decision when ppl end up throwing all their opinions at you and what they think you should do. Whatever you choose to do, I wish you luck. It is never an easy decision to make.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:21 pm
  • Reply lea2109

    I also should just say, I think when you make that decision it is important to base it on what you and W would want. Not on what Ava may or may not want one day. It sounds selfish, but at the end of the day you and W will be raising this child if you choose to have another and not Ava. She’ll adjust, she’ll fit in. you can’t control whether they will be close or not or whether she might really want a sibling. Bianca has no memory of a life before Caitlyn, as far as she is concerned Caitlyn has always been part of our family. She has never questioned that fact.

    There is no way that you can predict how Ava might feel about a sibling or about being an only child. There is no way. So the only way you can really approach this is to ask yourself, would you like to have just one child or more than one and once you have answered that question then you’ll figure out going forward. Maybe Ava asks questions one day, maybe she doesn’t, but you can’t let that put you off from what you want for your family. But whatever you do, don’t let others make you feel guilty for your decision. If you choose that Ava will be an only child, then so be it. She’ll have friends. And you feel proud of that decision because you will know it is right for you. If you choose to have another, then don’t feel guilty because of how Ava might feel years from now.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm
  • Reply hcouperus

    I hope I won’t get ‘shot down’ for my five cents worth. It is NOT a personal attack please do not take it that way. I disagree with having one child purposely as opposed to circumstances beyond the parents control ie infertility. I’m not a natural nurturer and yet we chose to have four. I have NO regrets and I can see the huge benefits of having siblings, yes granted, they cost more in time, energy, money etc but it is so worth it from our point of view. I do think however though that what ever decision you make you & Walter have to live with it and so make sure you have no regrets! AVA will thrive regardless of having a sibling or not!!

    July 16, 2010 at 9:13 am
    • Reply Sharon

      You won’t get shot down, its your opinion and you’re more than entitled to it. I have no problem with people sharing their opinion, what I cant’ stand is when people peddle their opinion as fact. Know what I mean?

      July 16, 2010 at 10:45 am
  • Reply thebsdiaries

    No matter how many siblings you have there is no guarantee you will even end up talking to them. I have no contact with my sister and very little with my brother and am basically left alone looking after my elderly parents. So had my parents known this would they have bothered with more kids? Sometimes I think we overthink our decisions. Sometimes we need to make a decision that feels right for right now but may not be the best decision in the long run. How will we ever know? Well we can’t which is why life is so unpredictably crap and wonderful.

    July 16, 2010 at 10:57 am
  • Reply adeleida

    I loved the article. My hubby and I have been pretty torn about whether to try for another one, and slowly over the last few weeks he decided one is enough, and I was miserable, then I read the article and realised that, indeed, we are going to stick with one. It is such a personal decision though and nobody could ever say this or that is better or not. But for OUR situation and OUR needs, one is going to be amazing enough. I want to be a bit selfish, have that bit of time in between loving my girl where I just love myself and do something. I just don’t see that happening with more than one, my ability to multitask and my energy levels just can’t cope with it. I am amazed how other moms do it, and still put on the make-up and treat the husband, but I can’t do it. And I love the current equilibrium too much also – don’t want anything to disturb it! So, the article was a great way to say, hey, I’m ok deciding this. She’ll be just fine.

    July 26, 2010 at 1:56 pm
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