A friend of mine made a claim recently that got a group of us into a sort of debate for the next few days. After reading about the difficulties associated with caring for older parents with medical issues, he argued that parents should, wherever possible, have at least two children because of the support that they could provide both for each other and their parents once they required it. More was said on those lines, but I’m leaving it at that for the purposes of what follows.
As some know, I am a father of one son (Casey). He is about two and a half years old, and he is the love of my life. I am also the oldest of four children, two boys and two girls, ranging in ages from 16 (my youngest sister) to 31 (myself). So at this point in my life, I have experience both with having siblings, and bringing up a child who does not. Also at this point–and my wife is aware of this–I really have no intention of having more children. I can say this for a number of reasons, including:
- I don’t know how I could possibly split my attention between Casey and another child.
- I don’t know how I could possibly love another child as much as I love Casey.
- I don’t know how another child could possibly be as awesome as Casey.
- I don’t know how I could possibly provide the support (financial, emotional, and otherwise) that would be required for helping another child to flourish in the world.
You may note that only the fourth item involves something tangible–$–where the rest essentially have to do with my own states of being. And while I have heard other parents say things like “You think you can’t love another child as much as your first, but then you have one and it always works out,” I find myself coming to the same response over and over again. Namely, even though perhaps I could find it in myself to love another child and split my attention between them, I just don’t want to. So with that in mind, I return to my friend’s statement and ask whether this makes me a selfish asshole. Does it?
My friend’s point relies on two premises that may or may not be true for all people. First, it implies that all parents (or at least most) will become elderly and require emotional, physical, and financial support, all of which can be provided more easily by multiple children than just one. Second, it implies that all siblings (or at least most) are able to provide emotional, physical, and in some cases financial support to each other. In my friend’s personal case–from what I can see anyway–both of these implications would be perfectly natural for him. He was raised in a closely knit family with loving parents, under the umbrella of financial stability, and accordingly has developed a good relationship with his sister. Makes sense, at least to me. But the problem that I see in his argument rests on the fact that while he may see his situation as the norm, in reality it may be closer to the exception than the general rule. And if we looks at things with that caveat in mind, his argument becomes less applicable than one might have originally thought.
Consider my case, for example. As I said above, I was raised with two parents in a middle class home with three siblings. My parents were well educated, appeared to make decent salaries, owned multiple cars, and were able to send me to a private high school. So at first glance, you might think that my situation would be the spitting image of the type of familial nexus that my friend seems to be relying upon for his point. In reality, though, it really wasn’t that way at all. My parents did make decent salaries, but they were also constantly struggling from a financial standpoint because of issues with credit, big bills, etc. I did go to a private high school, by my parents had to scrimp and save every penny they had to make it happen. We did have multiple cars, but the payments were often ballooned and late because of problems due to financing. My parents did love us, but they had a very rocky relationship themselves, and this often spilled over into the interactions that had with each other and the four of us.
The point I am trying to make here is even situations that appear to “work” for the type of stability that my friend needs for his argument to go through don’t always have it underneath it all. I speak with my siblings every so often and I believe I am on good terms with all of them. When I see them I am able to have a good time, in spite of our different personalities and lifestyles. But would I classify us as a “tightly knit group” who will definitely provide the requisite support needed if and when my mother becomes elderly? I honestly have no idea. I also have no idea whether we will be able to provide support for each other during this time, if only because times like that–in my experience anyway–tend to be just as likely to cause rifts in relationships (because of opposing desires concerning what should be done, how things should be handled, etc.) as they are to create and maintain emotional closeness.
So getting back to the original question of whether it is better to provide your child with a sibling than not, I think the best possible answer would be “maybe.” It depends on the circumstances, and not just financial ones. Perhaps a better way of looking at it would be to flip the question around and ask it this way: Is it ever irresponsible to not provide your child with a sibling? And for my money (no pun intended), I can confidently answer “no”. There are no circumstances under which a parent should consider having another child out of obligation, or fear of being irresponsible in not doing so. That thought seems utterly foreign to me. I can, however, think of plenty of circumstances where I would find it completely irresponsible for parents to have another child, and I imagine others can as well, whether or not they would be willing to admit it in public.
Having children is perhaps the most important and gratifying experience a person can have, for a multitude of reasons. But the decision to have children is not one that should be based on anything other than free choice. You know why? Because we already know how decisions made by way of coercion (and let’s face it, telling someone that it would be irresponsible to not have another child can be pretty coercive to the decision making process) don’t often end up with positive results. And if we want to take seriously–as I definitely do–the idea that raising a child to flourish in the world requires a great deal of time, attention, love, and positive role-modeling in order to succeed, we need to make sure these components are available and desired completely before we discuss whether having siblings is a good thing to do.