To sibling, or not to sibling? That is the question.
Okay, I’m talking about kids, not actual potatoes. What got me going was a recent cover for Time magazine depicting a smiling young boy, above him it read, “The Only Child Myth.” The story inside, One and Done, was a look at the rising single child demographic. The article included all sorts of interesting facts like: 46% of Americans think that two is the ideal number of children to have, and that Franklin Roosevelt and Frank Sinatra were both singletons. It also completely debunked the myth of the “lonely, selfish, maladjusted” only child. Well, thank goodness, because I think I will be joining this crew of folks who opt for just one.
For the record, I am not an only child. In fact, I hail from a large and multi-layered blended family and my sibling count tips the scales at eight. Since I am one of many, but have only one, I feel comfortable offering suggestions no matter what your family size. Studies show that for kids, the outcomes are all pretty good. Children from small and large families do well across similar socioeconomic levels. As for parents, it really is a rollercoaster ride no matter how many you have, so here’s a look at how the inevitable peaks and valleys can vary:
One: HIGHS: If you have a partner, you can get a break without hiring a babysitter or having to do double duty. A single parent is at least not yet outnumbered. LOWS: Extensive play-date planning may be needed for adequate social interactions; otherwise, you are your child’s only playmate. TIPS: Network with other parents of “singles” to ensure your child gets a chance to engage in healthy conflict resolution. Resist the urge to indulge—I find myself not saying “no” enough with my one. The fact is we do not need any more trucks, cars, or construction vehicles in our home.
Two: HIGHS: Once you make it through the grueling initial phase, you get frequent breaks because two children will often entertain each other. LOWS: A twosome can quickly become ultracompetitive; you may have to put on your referee gear. TIPS: Spend time with each child individually and notice aloud what is unique and wonderful about them (à la I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse). Stay mindful of gaps in age and ability. Jump in and moderate only when necessary, sometimes they can work it out alone. (My brother and I proved this was true on rare occasions.)
Three: HIGHS: Three can definitely entertain themselves long enough for you to get something done. And you can officially refer to your kids as a “brood.” LOWS: With three in the mix, two can sometimes exclude the other. Keep watch for “middle child syndrome.” (My husband is afflicted.) TIPS: One-on-one time is still a great idea. Pay attention to gender. Because I was often the lone female among five boys growing up, my parents would let me invite a friend so I wasn’t the only girl in the mix. For this I will remain forever grateful—I could only take so much lizard hunting on a weekend-long camping trip.
Four and beyond: HIGHS: You can practically field your own baseball team! A mom of five recently posted on Facebook that she was picking up her oldest daughter from camp and that it was “good to have the band back together again.” There is camaraderie and a definite “were all in this together” feel with this many kids. LOWS: This is controlled chaos—you are seriously outnumbered here. Case in point: My parents were unimpressed when my brothers and I raided the Christmas tree at 2:00 AM one year. TIPS: Individual attention is more needed but harder to execute—try short weekly dates with each of your children. Make sure older kids aren’t burdened with too much responsibility.
I suppose the answer to the opening question is, “I don’t know.” It depends on so many things: what community resources and support you have, you and your partner’s personalities, (not to mention the personality and temperament of any child(ren) you already have), and expense is certainly an issue. The Time article claimed that it costs $286,050 to raise a child in the U.S. today, not including college costs. In this economy, that is a major factor.
The truth is that we are all part of a very recent history where one can aim to plan how many offspring we have. I feel lucky to even be able to ponder the subject.
First published as: “One Potato, Two Potatoes, Three Potatoes, MORE!” in the September/October 2010 issue of Parent & Family.