First And Only Time Around; Enjoying The Only-Child Benefits
In the February issue of PARENTING Magazine, their "Second Time Around" article is adding more fuel to the fire of a growing "only versus multiple" parenting debate.
As a mom of one by choice and the moderator and participant in several online support groups for "done after one" moms, I have to wonder why PARENTING and similar publications are feeling the need to push the "two is better" argument so hard. After all, if having two children is as easy as they want us to believe, why are more mothers choosing to stop at one lately?
When my friends and I were growing up in the late fifties, two was the minimum number of children for parents, expanding to three or even four. In my mother's generation, having one child was unheard of, and in the rare cases it did, it was due to unhappy circumstances. But, as Susan Newman's book Parenting An Only Child notes, "the tide has shifted and swelled in the direction of, and in favor of, the only child". Newman also points out that "studies done in the 1990's offer further confirmation, some of it startling, that only children fare extremely well." Armed with such strong and comforting knowledge, having an only child is occurring more often by choice than by chance, freeing women from the guilt they used to face for their one-child decision.
Several of the moms in my forums feel as I do that the information provided in "Second Time Around" is misleading. For my own part, there were several points in this article that I have strong disagreement with. One mother of two stated, "in talking with other moms, many of whom are just having their second, I'm relieved to say that the fears you have when you're pregnant with the second are often out of proportion to two-kid realities." Often, but not always. So what happens when the fears a mom may have with the second materialize, and are even worse than she expected? The information on this question is sadly lacking.
Another quote that raises my eyebrows is, "the most surprising side of parenting two kids is how day-to-day issues get easier." Really. In my experience with moms of two or more children, the day-to-day issues look to be much harder, especially when the older child is between eighteen months and two years old and mom has the challenge of looking after a baby and a toddler. It certainly doesn't look easier to me, to try and keep one hand on the toddler while trying to push baby's stroller. Some moms just tell their older children to "hold on to the stroller," but that is usually easier said than done. Especially when the toddler gets bored with hanging onto baby's stroller and would prefer to play or explore the park or playground. In my earlier days with my then-toddler-age son, it wasn't uncommon for me to see upset moms trying to chase their energetic toddlers and two-year-olds while having to keep one eye on the stroller as well. All I could feel was relief that I only had one child to chase after.
One mother of two believes that when the older child can be enlisted as an aide, "many of the parenting problems you had with one might disappear with two." They might. Then again, they might not. It is also very likely that the problems you had with one child might turn out to be a walk in the park compared with the new ones you could have with two kids. That possibility isn't considered either. And although it is generally expected that the
siblings will play together, there's no guarantee that will happen either. Especially if the older sibling is jealous of the baby, and the attention his new brother or sister is getting from mom -- attention he used to have and no longer does.
In her excellent book I'm Okay, You're A Brat, Susan Jeffers asks the question, "Why do people have more than one child? In too many cases, they have two or more children for all the wrong reasons, and end up deeply regretting their decision later. Some of the wrong reasons she cites include trying for the boy or girl they didn't get the first time, having two kids close together to get the "bad stuff" over with quickly, or having more babies to replace the one who grew into the toddler and two-year-old stages. Unwanted advice or opinions from parents or in-laws to "provide a playmate" for their first child is another common reason that happy parents of one are pressured into becoming parents of two. Unfortunately, the grandparents are usually not around later on to deal with the problems their meddling created.
Jeffers recounts a few stories in her book that paint a far different picture from the one painted in PARENTING Magazine's "Second Time Around." These parents with two or more kids report that their stress levels have dramatically gone up while the quiet and serene quality of their lives has gone swiftly down. The quiet family time they used to enjoy as parents of one has been replaced with more noise, fighting between children, and in some cases, the parents themselves. Some of these parents of two in the future may end up spending more time playing referee to battling siblings and less time as a couple after the contenders are asleep.
Whether the editors of publications for parents want to admit it or not, it remains a fact that sibling rivalry and jealousy can cause serious problems in families that were once happy and thriving. And while some of these problems may disappear as the children get older, it creates a tense and unhappy environment for both parents and children while the problem continues. In some cases, the jealousy may never go away entirely, but might only disappear temporarily, to resurface many years later.
Having a second child only to create a "playmate" for the first can have serious consequences when the parents' expectations aren't met due to circumstances they didn't consider before going ahead with a second pregnancy. So if you're considering having a second child only because a magazine article, family or friends are telling you it's what you're "supposed" to do, please reconsider. Your single child would prefer having a happy mom instead of an unhappy and over-stressed one.