Have you completed your family? From the widely divergent viewpoint of those who secretly regret becoming parents, to those who would have loved to have had more children than they do, Verne Maree ponders the question of the ideal family size.
Time and place play a role. Some years back, a British expat friend of mine with a six-year-old, a four-year-old and another on the way admitted that she never planned to have more than two children – until she got to Singapore, that is.
With her husband now the sole breadwinner – anyone remember those halcyon days of the generous expat package? – and a Filipino domestic goddess installed, my friend was left with plenty of time to enjoy bringing up her two sons while plotting the addition of a daughter.
It’s no wonder that a stint in Singapore might seem the perfect time to add a second, third or even fourth child to the family. Even if both of you are working, the affordability of live-in domestic help puts a whole new slant on the matter.
Your own family makeup and relationships play a big role. I see nothing wrong with having just one child. In fact, I remember being completely happy until my baby sister came along when I was five, and ruined everything.
The age-gap was too great for us to be playmates. She still claims that I used to beat her up. And that’s how it was right up until she got bigger than me, turned 18, moved into my apartment and became my best friend.
Here’s another true story of inter-sibling violence. South African Emily (35), who’s expecting her first baby this June, is aiming for either two or four children – but emphatically not three. She has such traumatic memories of being bullied by her middle-child sister that she can’t stand the idea of something similar happening to a child of her own.
Two Antipodean tales
According to a 2017 survey, most Australian parents around the age of 40 wish they had bigger families – an average of 1.5 more than the 2.4 children they actually have. No one denied that bigger families are more chaotic and have less money to spare – but they felt this was more than compensated for by the additional happiness that more children bring. (Aww!)
I got the same vibe from a Kiwi expat couple I met recently in Perth, Western Australia. She’s a lawyer and he’s an engineer. They conceived their two children in vitro – a route that’s neither cheap nor easy – yet they’re both dead set on having a third. It helps that they’ve had a succession of Scandinavian au pairs, an increasingly popular solution to Australia’s high cost of childcare.
A lot of parents expect their daughters to have children, whether or not that’s what those daughters really want. As one blogger (thematriarch.me) put it, not wanting children is “the ultimate sin in this culture”. After you’ve had one, the social pressure to have another can be enormous.
My own mother never pushed me to have children. If anything, she warned that motherhood was not all it was cracked up to be. Be independent, she said. You don’t have to get married or have children. Regretting parenthood isn’t as unusual as one might think. What is unusual is her honesty in saying so.
A Facebook group called I Regret Having Children – “a support group for overwhelmed parents” – has nearly ten thousand followers. Its stated aim is to let mothers and fathers know that regretting having kids is not abnormal – and shouldn’t be the taboo subject that it is.
So then, what is the ideal number of children? It may be one, or none, or a dozen. The decision should be yours – and yours alone.
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