Nothing gets parents talking quite like starting up a conversation about family size. How many children are too many? How few are too few? When should a couple decide to start having children? When should they stop? Should children be spaced out or should they be close together?
Parents-turned-grandparents, brand-new parents, and even those who haven't become parents yet are ready to share their preferences on how many kids to welcome into the world and when.
Despite all the talk about whether you should have as many kids as possible or if three kids is really the most stressful or if it's just a better financial option to forgo kids all together, the numbers show that most American women have between one and two children, or 1.9 on average.
That means more children than ever are growing up without siblings, and the stigma of being a lonely or spoiled only child is fading away.
Families aren't one-size-fits-all, but I'm struck by how narrow a view some parents take when considering their plans to have and raise kids. Many look for what's easiest, what's most affordable, what they can imagine in their own home right now, instead of taking a long-range view. The view the journey to parenthood as one more thing they can control in a society that is ever increasing in its grasping for control over our very lives.
Lest we forget: The babies and kids we welcome into our families will go on to have lasting relationships with each other as adults. They will be the ones to support us in old age. Even supporters of only-children see that the added burden of having to take care of aging parents alone is a daunting task.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Frank Bruni wrote that while many get bogged down on the impact of children on a couple, it's the siblings who benefit the most from having each other around:
My siblings have certainly seen me at my worst, and I've seen them at theirs. No one has bolted. It's as if we signed some contract long ago, before we were even aware of what we were getting into, and over time gained the wisdom to see that we hadn't been duped. We'd been graced: with a center of gravity; with an audience that never averts its gaze and doesn't stint on applause. For each of us, a new home, a new relationship or a newborn was never quite real until the rest of us had been ushered in to the front row.
I can relate. As I've gotten older, I have grown closer to my three younger brothers. As each of us has moved into varying stages of adulthood, our friendship only deepens, in ways I never expected and my parents may not have dreamed of when they found out they'd be welcoming another child into our family decades ago.
My youngest brother visited days after I miscarried our first child. Tears streaming down his face, he grabbed me, hugged me, and we wept together for a long time. His visit was the comfort I needed in our time of loss, comfort that no one else could offer but a loving brother.
A generation of only children, I fear, misses out on this kind of special bond. As Bruni writes, "I sometimes wonder, when it comes to the decline in fertility rates in our country and others, whether the economic impact will be any more significant than the intimate one. For better or worse, fewer people will know the challenges and comforts of a sprawling clan."
The only-child discussions seem to me always to miss the point. We are only children for 18 years, but we are only-children adults for the next 60 or 70. This to me counts as shortchanging one's offspring. We onlies miss the joys of nieces and nephews, support in times of crisis, help in caring for aged parents, and the shared memory of childhood.
I come from a family with four kids and, thanks to the birth of my twin boys, already have two kids of my own. I see how families can display God's glory to a watching world. A happy, loved, and God-honoring family tells a story about God's love for his children.
Though I'm "pro-sibling," I understand that some families may choose to have one child or be unable to make that choice at all. As much as we may set out to have a certain number of kids—none, one, or many—I know it's not that simple, and infertility, economic reasons, or capacity may dictate family size.
The Bible is not clear regarding how many children a couple should have, but human experience tells us that there is great benefit to having another to walk through this life with. Siblings remind us that a shared sorrow is half a sorrow, and a shared joy is even greater.