The single life: Why are parents pressured to have multiple kids?
Life really isn’t bad for only children
It’s started again. The voices. I can hear them…
They went away for a while and now they’re back.
In the supermarket, the playground, at home, I can’t escape them.
“Your little girl is two now, are you planning to have another child?” “Don’t you think your daughter needs a brother or sister?”
Aaagh, I thought the question section of my life was over when I settled down and had a baby. People finally seemed to be satisfied that this was the right move for a woman in her thirties. But suddenly the interrogation has started up again and I must admit, I don’t have the patience for it anymore.
As an only child, I know that not having siblings isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, I really enjoyed my childhood and can honestly say I don’t remember wishing for a bigger family. This wasn’t because I was spoiled either. My parents were all too aware that they didn’t have to substitute brothers and sisters with masses of toys.
What they did spoil me with though was time and affection. And that’s why, despite loving having my first child, I’m hesitant to have another. I like being able to focus attention on my girl.
While I’m in two minds about a second child, British mum Claire Lamb has decided one is the magic number for her. This hasn’t stopped the nagging though.
She says: “We have decided on just having one and having one was such a big decision for us. I just get the impression some people take the decision to have children more lightly than we did and pop loads out and don't seem to handle it all too well. I have been called mean quite a few times and that I'm selfish and Sol will have ‘Only Child Syndrome’. We have also just moved into a four bedroom house and already heard a few times: "Oh, all these rooms to fill."
“What annoys me, and it shouldn't as it’s not a problem for us luckily, is that for all people know we could be having fertility problems or other issues that are preventing us having another. This could be so upsetting if this was the case.”
Fertility problems aren’t the only issue couples face either. And being quizzed about your plans when there’s a painful explanation isn’t easy.
Jenny Jones says the enquiries started when her first child was two years old.
She says: “I dreaded this question. My answer was always the same until he was six years old: ‘No more for me, we're happy with one’. Most people don’t know what to say to that as they're expecting a rough time. No one knew the sadness behind my answer. That secretly I longed to have more. I wanted a second chance at being a mum because I'd suffered very badly with post-natal depression which lead to extreme death anxiety. It affected my daily life and stopped me sleeping at night. I got through it after counselling and years of antidepressants but It was a hard time and it felt like I wasn't enjoying my lifelong dream of becoming a mum.”
Having broached the subject of more children to her husband who was understandably concerned about her wellbeing, Jenny went on to have two more children. And she has a warning for those who think it’s acceptable to pry into the personal life of others.
She adds: “When asking someone when they are going to have another or suggesting ‘it’s time’, you have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes. You might be annoying, upsetting or taking away from the excitement of their first child. My advice is don’t go there. When people are expecting another child they will tell you if they so choose, it's their choice and none of your business. There should be no expectations or pressure from anyone.”
Jenny’s right, questions often come across as pressure. When people enquire about future plans they make out that having more than one child is the only socially-acceptable way to have a family.
But what if I struggled to be a good mum first time round? Or can’t afford another? Have people considered that?
While I stutter trying to find polite answers to questions, what I really want to say is: “Why are you keen for me to have another when you don’t seem to enjoy the two you have?”
Sometimes those harassing me to have more children aren’t great examples of why doing that is necessarily a good idea. Stressed out with their children, their husbands, with working long hours to pay for their larger families, I often wonder why they’re desperate for everyone around them to pop out more children. However, while they can ask personal questions to me it would be awkward it I voiced my observations wouldn’t it.
Lebanese mother Rania Khoury believes there is even more pressure in the Arab culture where people make her feel like there is something missing in life for an only child.
She says: “As soon as I say I just have one 12 year old, I’m forced to explain why which sometimes is not something I want to discuss with family let alone strangers and sometimes I am lost for response. My response to brush it off is: "Oh, no time for that” or “I’m happy to just have my boy”.
“I often get people telling me I am being unfair to my child if I deny him the presence of a sibling and that is expressed freely without regard to any reason I may have for not wanting or having another child. It almost feels like I am being selfish for not having another child.”
Selfish it is not Rania. To have the ability to consider what works best for your family and not be pressured by strangers is something very special indeed.
In fact, as I continue to ponder my next move, it’s something I’m still trying to master.