James's blog: Only child syndrome

There has been quite a bit in the press recently about the growing number of one child families. My wife and I both have siblings – my wife is the older of two sisters and I have an older sister (although when talking about my childhood my mother frequently says that, had I been the first-born, there would not have been a second…). I had always envisaged having more than one child. I cannot recall why, but I always wanted three. My daughter is now 4 and a half and I'm slowly starting to accept that she is unlikely to have siblings. My wife has always only wanted the one, although her attitude towards us having more children has recently started to soften. While she used to be adamant that we would not have any more, she has now conceded that we can so long as we win the jackpot on the lottery.

So what are the reasons for the increasing number of one child families? I imagine these are varied. My wife did not particularly enjoy the early days of parenthood during maternity leave. We had only recently moved house and she felt a bit isolated. She also found the lack of interaction from our daughter at that young age rather unrewarding. I suspect that this coloured her views on having more children. With the ability now for parents to share leave during the first year, this is probably no longer such a key issue for us, although there are other obvious burdens for the mother in having children beyond looking after the baby once born.

In our case, the reason for having one child ultimately boils down to the money/time dilemma. My wife and I are both lucky enough to be able to work part-time in order to juggle childcare. The juggle is still difficult even with the extra time off work, with our routine balanced finely on a knife-edge. If we were to have another child we would both likely have to go back to work full time in order to be able to afford some additional childcare assistance. This would lead to us having less time to spend with a larger family.

As parents, we are prone to worry, always questioning whether or not we are doing the right thing. The decision about family size is no different and I frequently find us discussing how to address the possible drawbacks for our daughter of not having siblings. An obvious one arose while on holiday over half-term. Our daughter started school in September and this is the first holiday where we've realised that she really needed much more interaction with other children, rather than just spending time playing with Mum and Dad. I would be interested to hear about the issues other parents have encountered in their decisions to have a single child.

There are, however, clear positives to having only one child. We get to spend plenty of time with our daughter at a key stage in her development, and can devote much more time to playing with her, reading to her and helping her to work out the world around her. It also means that we don't need to buy a bigger car! So for the time being, I will be focussing on these positives and, although I know that I'm already a winner with the small family that I have, I can't resist continuing to play the lottery.

 James is a lawyer in the City.  He recently moved on from a Magic Circle firm, where he had spent eight years, in search of a better work/life balance.  He now works a four day week at a smaller City firm and looks after his 4-year old daughter on his "day off".

Category: A Cityfather's Diary

Comments
Michael Green - 01/11/2017 - 13:48
An interesting and thoughtful post.  I completely agree that the decision about family size is incredibly difficult and almost inevitably involves compromise.  As an only child myself, I think one factor that is often overlooked in discussions about the relative advantages/disadvantages of being an only child is the issue of care for elderly parents and, ultimately, dealing with their passing.  My personal experience of this has been very difficult and it was certainly a factor in my wantng to have more than one child.  That said, just because you have more than one child doesn't mean that they will share the responsbility and support one another.  Certainly something to think about though along with all of the many other factors to weigh up.
Sally Taylorson-Lavers - 01/11/2017 - 14:24
As an only child myself, I often get asked whether I enjoyed growing up without any siblings, and my response is always no. Yes, I had the luxury of full attention from both of my parents, more disposible income within our household which meant nice holidays, private tutoring, and a 'hang out room' in addition to my bedroom.  But it was also an incredibly lonely upbringing.  My familiy moved around when I was young and as a shy child, I felt that I had very little support in a social situations.  I felt that being an only child impacted my social intelligence well into my 20s.  My views are quite strong that children need support from siblings as much as from their parents.  As I've grown up and life throws more serious challenges my way, I really feel that I am missing the support of sibling who can relate to our family dynamic and situations. I also felt that all of my parents hopes and wishes for their offspring rested on my shoulders - they weren't overly pushy parents, it was just a natural consequence of only having one child.  I feel it is important for children to have siblings if the parents are capable.

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