Parents of more than one child are eager for others to join them in expanding our species. They always inquire about plans for a second or third child, feeling that there is room for such inappropriate discussions possibly under the assumption that the couple, having already conceived one child, do not face any fertility issues; itself an unwarranted assumption.
The discussion is quite peculiar; they are acting as if they are members of an exclusive group from which they would rather escape. There is always the same deplorable slogan thrown around, one child equals no child, which is typically the starting point of the scaremongering regarding the reportedly exceedingly difficult affair that is raising two or more children. Following that, comes the guilt trip; a judgmental insistence that single children are somehow handicapped when compared to children with siblings.
I think this is bullshit. Childbearing should be a selfish decision, something that one does for oneself, for otherwise it will be a matter of time before resentment – towards the spouse, the grandparents, society at large, or even the firstborn – start to creep in. Given the toxicity of resentment as an emotion, it is fairly self-evident why such decisions should be made and owned by the adults making them.
I previously wrote about my reluctance and subsequent decision to have a second child. Looking back, I realise that I fell victim of the scaremongering of fellow parents, expecting that our lives would turn upside down with the arrival of our baby daughter. Maybe this is the experience of those without a strong network of social support in the form of grandparents and close friends. These are not our circumstances.
The second child found us quite comfortable in a lifestyle already tailored to accommodate children. The addition of Despina did not change much besides the temporary inconvenience of breastfeeding, which curtails Sunshine’s ability to socialise to the extend that her social butterfly temperament dictates. But we’ll get there. Which is not to say that the addition of a second child does not impose additional demands on our already limited time. It does and there is no way around it. But since space for children was already available, these demands are modest and manageable; certainly, less than what the self-proclaimed advisors professed.
In trying to rationalise the behaviour and attitudes of these parents, I can only assume that they have fallen pray of age-old and well-established social pressures, particularly on two fronts. First, is the social expectation to have multiple children and the taboo surrounding any discussion to the contrary, even where there are obvious and legitimate constraints and limitations (not that there is a legitimacy metric for these things – “I don’t want to” should suffice as a good enough reason). The second is the pressure to conform to a conservative image of parenthood, whereby a parent is someone who must forego any personal pleasure that do not involve their offspring, essentially detaching the well-being of the parent from that of their children (I previously wrote about this here).
I don’t claim knowledge of absolute truths, nor do I have any expertise on the matter; I just talk through my very own, very particular and, admittedly, privileged experience. What I can, however, confidently say is that in many societies, especially conservative ones with high prevalence of religiosity, traditional norms are maintained through the effective utilisation of guilt. And as it should be obvious by now, guilt is the least effective counsel for any substantial, life-altering decision-making. Given, however, that we are social animals and that it sometimes takes a village to raise children, one cannot – and I believe should not – ignore all parenthood-related advice. Rather, parents should be vigilant when advice is offered in order to scrutinize it, being mindful to filter out any guilt-driven guidance.
There are many good reasons to have a second child and plenty of equally valid reasons to remain with only one child or none. Each of us face differing circumstances and have specific personal needs, which must be accounted for in any decision-making. Such life-altering endeavours should be unapologetically selfish – it is the only way to own them and in doing so build resilience and a positive mindset to handle whatever comes our way.
This is part of a series of entries titled Fatherhood Diaries where I record thoughts on life as a new dad. Click here for all the Fatherhood Diaries.