Earlier this month one more article extolling smaller families hit the newsstands – it was titled, “One and Done.” It claimed that the notion of the only child being spoiled and maladjusted was unsubstantiated; just a deeply held myth. While conceding possible societal and individual costs if one child families became prevalent, the author argued that in tough economic times, limiting family size offered great benefits.
Only relatively recently has family size became a choice so easily decided by humans. Not surprisingly, religious families tend to have more children as they view God as a third partner in family planning. As China has discovered in the aftermath of its one child policy, people are often myopic in seeing the long-term consequences of actions.
I am re-running a piece I wrote about a year and a half ago after reading reports of couples reacting to the economic downturn by choosing not to have more children. Like so many decisions in life, there is only a small window in which to rethink fertility options.
A FALSE ECONOMY?
There has been a wave of newspaper articles examining how people are cutting back expenses in light of lost jobs and economic uncertainty. Not surprisingly, most Americans are eating out less often, buying only necessities and postponing vacations and remodels. But among the budget busters, what really got me thinking was reading of those who were considering not having a second or third child because they are worried of depriving their existing child(ren).
As someone who didn’t think of checking into respective jaw sizes before marriage and thus ended up with seven children needing orthodontia, and who spent enough on diapers to feed a village, I know how expensive raising a family can be. And that is without feeling compelled to cover the costs of the latest (expensive) shoe or clothing fad, must-have gadget, or even college tuition. But on the other hand, I well know that just the basics can add up to quite a bundle and I am not immune from feeling badly when a perfectly reasonable request needs to be turned down because money only stretches so far.
One of the advantages of getting somewhat older is being able to see a larger picture. I know that young couples beginning their families measure the value of things like art, sport and music lessons; private schooling and summer camp. But, of course, it is terribly easy when we are raising children to forget that childhood and young adulthood will most likely make up a short part of our children’s lives. We too easily forget that we aren’t really raising children; we are actually taking care of children in order to raise adults. Does a man or women contemplating conception think of the yet unborn baby at forty or fifty?
Well, usually not. After all, young parents are often far from forty themselves. And projecting ahead like that would start getting into terribly uncomfortable territory, such as picturing aging, perhaps illness and dying. But the truth is that deciding to limit the size of a family is making a decision for the life of that future adult. Will he or she possibly have the entire burden of aging parents to him or herself? When his or her parents are gone will there be no one who can share old memories? Will his or her children miss having a support network of aunts, uncles and cousins? Are friends, no matter how close, the same as blood relatives?
Prosperity comes and goes. My grandparents, struggling to feed five children during the Depression, weren’t determining whether they afford karate lessons or not. They were helpless as they sent those children to bed hungry. But all five children grew and thrived. And the older they got, the closer they got to each other. Together, they dealt with the deaths of their parents and shared good and bad times with each other. Through the years siblings became an increasingly precious treasure.
My husband and I are now seeing the benefits our own seven children enjoy from having each other. Were there fights and tears and less individual attention when they were younger? Did we decide against music lessons because we couldn’t let one or two children’s interests dictate the family schedule? Certainly. But as badly as we sometimes felt when they were young, we now see them becoming trusted sounding boards for one another as they face major life decisions, we watch them take care of each other when flu or morning sickness strikes, and we get huge comfort from knowing that while we might be kept in the dark about certain antics “Big (and little) brother and sister” are watching.
Bringing a child into the world always means taking a leap of faith. We have no way of knowing what lies in wait for any individual or family. In thinking of the future, there is a razor thin line that divides being responsible and realistic from being short sighted and falsely imagining that we are in control. I don’t envy those who need to make decisions that will impact decades to come while the immediate horizon looks scary. But I do hope that young couples take a moment to reassess whether thirty years down the road what they consider to be indispensable or critical might end up being of less value than a brother or sister.