The Economy As Birth Control?

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I are in our late thirties. We have a 4-year old daughter and would love to have a second child. But with the financial crisis, we’re having trouble keeping our heads above water and feel that we’re in no position to bring another child into the world. We are both heartbroken about it because we come from large families, and we certainly didn’t want our daughter to be an only child. How do we make sure she turns out ok?

A: Since plenty of couples have kids well into their forties, being in your late thirties shouldn’t be a deciding factor. However, the tough economy is forcing all of us to reorder our priorities and reconsider a lot of big decisions. And having a second child certainly qualifies. If you’re struggling to pay your bills now, imagine how much more difficult it would be to provide for an additional member of your family. (If only that mother with the octuplets would have been thinking as clearly as you are.)

The economy is almost sure to rebound, but it’s safe to say that won’t be happening for at least a year. So you may not want to make your final decision right now. If you’re worried about having another baby simply because you don’t want your daughter to be an only child, you might want to hold off on making a final decision on that as well.

Plenty of people argue that only children are lonely, spoiled, self-centered, friendless, and generally unhappy. That may be true in some cases, but millions of kids without siblings have somehow grown into well-adjusted and caring individuals. And millions of people who grew up in large families feel they were shortchanged by their family’s financial and other constraints, such as not having any privacy or getting enough individual attention from their parents.

If you do end up deciding that one child is it for you, there are plenty of ways to help her develop social skills, learn to play and share with other children, and grow into a happy, well-rounded person.

  • Since you and your husband have large families, I’m guessing there are lots of cousins for your daughter to interact with. She may not have a little brother or sister, but she should know she is part of an extended family. Family functions are a great way for her to get to know those cousins and establish close ties with them.
  • Similarly, arrange frequent play dates for your daughter with other children in your neighborhood or school.
  • It’s never too early to start teaching your daughter the importance of sharing with others. For example, encourage her to regularly donate some of her toys to needy children in your community.
  • As she grows, encourage your daughter to get involved in after-school activities, especially team or group activities.
  • Even if you have the financial means in the future, don’t go overboard with the material things, which may give her a sense of entitlement and make her feel that the world revolves around her.
  • Don’t overprotect her. Parents of only children are sometimes afraid to let their kids take any risks. But exploring the world outside—safely, of course—is essential to building your daughter’s independence.

Bottom line, it is possible to raise a happy and well-adjusted only child. When it comes to families, size doesn’t matter.