The second child: Do you really need to have one?

Just like magic, as soon as your first child turns one, everyone starts asking the ‘question’. It’s casual, but always asked in earnest, and it goes something like: “So … are you thinking of having a second?”

If the ‘question’ is getting to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Get in the game

There’s something happening out there in parent land. It’s like there’s an invisible scoreboard, and a timer, and all the other parents are telling you that you’re one point down, the clock is ticking, everyone’s watching, and for goodness sake – you only have one child? ‘What are you doing?’ their faces seem to say. ‘Get cracking! You’ve hardly even joined the game! Join us in our two-child heaven. It’s great. Really, it’s great.

But is it so great? Full disclosure: I have two kids. I joined the game. But standing in the arena, with all the other exhausted parents-of-two, I wonder – why the pressure? It’s been on my mind ever since my close friend, Natalie, started getting the ‘question’ when her child turned one. Now, 12 months later, she’s still fielding nosy queries about her unoccupied uterus. As she explains it, she only ever wanted one child, but the constant pressure is messing with her mind.

“My husband is an only child, and we just started out assuming we’d only ever have one kid,” explains Natalie. “Now that our son is two, life is actually getting a bit easier, and I’m getting back some of the things that are important to me, like my career and being able to travel as a family. I don’t really want to give that up, but yeah, sometimes I really do have my doubts. Having one kid feels a bit like a stigma when everyone around you is having two.”

Only the lonely

This is the 21st century and thank goodness we have control over our reproductive destiny, but Nat’s predicament says a lot about the unspoken social expectations of what makes a family a family. Even the outdated term ‘only child’ sounds disturbingly close to ‘lonely child.’ Just try defending the one-baby stance with a group of parents, and someone will inevitably pull out the zinger: “But what about the kid? Shouldn’t they have a sibling?” At which point you usually remember all the awful things your own sibling did to you.

Often, the argument for a second child revolves around the imagined future happiness of the first child. Don’t they deserve a sibling? Won’t they be lonely without one? But maybe the more interesting and relevant question is: are you happy with one? After all, you’re the parent, the one who will be hitting rewind and doing the baby thing all over again. And let’s face it, 1 + 1 equals infinitely more work, noise and effort than you can ever predict.

Going solo

That takes us back to my friend Nat – she’s still on the fence. And recently she wondered out loud if she was being selfish, putting her own needs and limitations before her child’s. In other words, choosing to stay happy with one child, rather than risk losing it all for a second. I said no. I said that having more children does not make you happier. A bold statement, but hear me out on that one.

A second child brings a million amazing things into your life, but I don’t believe adding children to your life is like adding ice cubes to a drink: it doesn’t make the glass fuller. It’s more like adding cordial to water: things get sweeter, but they also get a lot messier.

So I guess the only answer I have for Nat and anyone else pondering the ‘question’ is to stop looking at the scoreboard and just play the game by your own rules.

 

Are you wondering if you should have a second child? Tell us about it.

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