Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hum Do, Hamare Do

A friend, who has a 7 year old child, is in a dilemma – whether to plan for a second child or not. As a father of two kids aged 8 and 3, I have rather strong (and some of you may find, surprising) views on the subject. I am putting them down here, and hope they trigger a chain of thought in you as well.

Of late, there has been a growing (and disturbing, in my opinion) trend among the educated, urban elite to go for only one child. A random check among more than 50 of my friends who are a parent show more than 60 % of them have only one child. This is in sharp contrast to the trend a generation back. Most of these friends themselves have atleast one sibling, but now when it is their turn to ‘deliver’ (literally!), they have stopped at one, giving no such privilege (of having a sibling) to their own child.

 I have heard people give all sorts of reasons on why they don’t want to plan for a second child. “Raising one child itself is too much for me! Look at my kid, she never listens to anyone! I can’t even think of having two!” is a common refrain.  Others want to “give their best” to their child, and so don’t want to have two, thinking that their energies will get divided if they have two kids, and leave deficiencies in their parental responsibilities. Or perhaps, it sounds “hep” and fashionable to have only one child, does it? Does it make a statement that you have “arrived”? Mind you, I am talking about the well educated, double income (often), urban middle and upper class, the well heeled, who have no financial constraints in raising a second child, and yet opt for only one. Why should they not give their child a privilege that their own parents were kind enough to give them?

What happens if you have two kids at home instead of one? Sure, there are some sacrifices involved, especially in the first couple of years of child birth. The would-be mother has to undergo nine months of pregnancy again, and after the child is born, you have to take some extra precautions and restrict your movements around for some time.  The housework goes up, and you might need an extra maid for a couple of years till the child is in its infancy. But these are minor inconveniences, when you consider the benefits that last a lifetime.

When the kids are young and growing, having a sibling at home brings immense benefits. They play with each other, learn to share, compete, even quarrel and then play again. They take care of each other, provide each other company, leaving the parents free to do their own thing. My elder daughter, who is eight years old, readies her younger one for school.  When they grow up, having an extended family only adds to one’s universe of love and affection. Think about it.

Two little emperors better than one!
What are the effects of a child being single on the child’s personality and emotional development? Researchers have studied this for decades, and the subject has attracted widespread attention and debate, especially in China where it is known as the “Little Emperor Syndrome”. A whole generation of Chinese “singletons”, born after the one-child norm was introduced for urban adults in 1979, are now in their youth. Some researchers have reported extreme pressure on these “Little Emperors” (typically, single child of well-to-do parents) to excel in education and elsewhere, and extreme pampering resulting in “stunting of social and emotional growth”. Some have reported these children are “....being over-indulged, lacking self discipline and having no adaptive capabilities”. In March 2007, some 30 delegates in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) called on the government to abolish the one-child rule, attributing their beliefs to "social problems and personality disorders in young people". But some other researchers have reported “no reliable differences between only children and those with siblings”. Some in the West claim single kids “mature early” and are “more achievement oriented”, pressured as they are from their parents for fulfilling their own unfulfilled dreams. (Information in this paragraph sourced from Wikipedia)

Whatever the truth, I do not see ‘single’ children benefiting in any significant way from the so-called ‘extra’ care and attention given to them as a result of their being the only child of their parent. Clearly, love and affection does not reduce if you divide it into two! Benefits of having a sibling thus appear to far outweigh the disadvantages (if any at all) of having one. I see no reason why today’s well educated, double income, upper class, urban elite should deprive their child of a brother or a sister.

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