Friday, February 25, 2011

In praise of the one child family (so other people can have 6)

The picture was snapped by a street photographer in 1978 in Victoria, the last month that we were a one child family. I find the body language quite fascinating. Note the determined little girl in the middle looking straight ahead, almost pulling the distracted parents who are scanning the scenery. We became a two-child family soon after, with 'one of each' just like we wanted.
But this is about the reactions people get when they have just one child.

Our twelve-year old grandson is an only child. When we visit our daughter's little family I always notice how calm, peaceful and friendly it is. Being a one and only has many advantages. It is just a different kind of family, complete in its own way.

Most parents of a single child of a certain age will tell you there is social pressure to have another one. Somehow there is no taboo against saying things like "So when are you starting on the next one? Don't you worry about little Only becoming a spoilt brat?"  This wrong in so many ways. 

First of all it is of just plain nobody's business. 
Then the couple might love to have another child, but in spite of putting out the welcome mat no new soul is arriving.  Or economic reality has interfered.  If Mom has a steady job and Dad just got laid off  now is not the best time. Every time a well-intentioned relative says  "So, when is little Only getting a baby brother?" it rubs salt in the wound.

I used to worry  a lot about population growth, and for that reason frowned upon anyone who had more than 2.

However, it now looks like prosperity, and above all the education and empowerment of women, takes care of the problem without coercion. Places like Europe, Japan and Singapore are looking at falling population levels. Yes! It turns out that many couples are quite happy with one child, or none. This is excellent news, or it will be once we get over the unsustainable BS that continuous growth is a necessity. That is another topic. 

It means that if we just create decent conditions we can turn things loose, and won't have to resort to horrible measures like forced sterilization and abortions. Focus on schooling women and giving them some options and the population thing will fall into place.

More good news: when enough couples choose to remain childless or have a single their choice creates room for others to have a large family. Imagine a world where every family has one girl and one boy. How boring! 

Some people are brilliant at raising children and choose to have lots of them, or they just happened. The world needs children from such families.

My fond fantasy is a world that is not wall-to-wall people. A world with room for wilderness and other species. It is also a world with many different kinds of families. There are singles living alone or in co-operative households. There are childless couples, small families, and large ones. It is a world where children are treasured, but not everyone feels called or pressured to have their own.  It is a world that honours and respects the hard work of parenthood in all the ways that count. It is also a world that encourages a vigorous role for aunts, uncles, and grandparents, biological or chosen.

Let a thousand flowers bloom.


Jacqui Binford-Bell said...

You pose, as you almost always do, some interesting things to consider. I think it would be wonderful if those good parents that wanted large families and could afford them did. But I have three examples of large families that keep coming to mind on this debate:

1) A very religious right family that believes they need to populate the world with believers. This Red River family has 9 kids which are home schooled. The doctors have recommended her having her tubes tied for health reasons since child five. They receive state assistance for every kid.

2) A lovely family with only a working father living in Albuquerque. They, at last count, had five beautiful girls. Keep trying for that boy. In spite of his job as a journeyman electrician they still get welfare, child assistance and food stamps. But they wanted a big family and were excellent parents

3) A very low income Hispanic family with 6 (1 girl and 5 boys) living in an area with a high gang rate. I met her through peer educators because her oldest daughter was being abused by the father. I asked her once when she was crying after a miscarriage why she was not satisfied with the family she had. She informed me that her husband wanted another daughter as the oldest was leaving home. "Besides," she said, "you have to have a lot so one makes it out of here."

Unfortunately the not so well off, and not educated, and not independent women in poverty areas are often the ones having the largest families. I know a young woman with three children - each with a different and absent father. She seems to believe she has to give every loser she dates a child.

In an ideal world that would not be the case. And the number of children crowding into an SUV would just be because of love of kids.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Thanks for reading. This blog got interesting comments on Multiply. I was thinking about one friend there in particular, who had 6 kids and does so well. you wrote:

"Unfortunately the not so well off, and not educated, and not independent women in poverty areas are often the ones having the largest families"

That is precisely the point!!!
Educate and empower the women and the population goes down!

Jacqui Binford-Bell said...

Sorry, but after having worked for seven years in Taos County, New Mexico with peer educators, etc.I have come to the conclusion that fighting cultural norms is not possible. Ergo empowering and educating women that choose their heritage over freedom is a total waste of time.

I am seldom that negative. But in an 18 year period the Taos County DA never (that word is never)prosecuted a single crime against a woman and I include rape, incest, and family abuse. And the numbers of abused women that actually left for safer territory was so low as to be virtually non-existent. It was very humbling for me. And because of the threats against my life I moved even though it meant a divorce.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Sorry I missed these comments. You wrote:Ergo empowering and educating women that choose their heritage over freedom is a total waste of time"

That is a good point. We were watching a news item on Egypt, and it showed this woman who was a lawyer, and all she wanted to do was being a traditional super-Muslim brotherhood wife. AARGH! nevertheless, in the big picture it looks more positive.