This post was originally published in The Grid
Remember that Seinfeld episode where George Constanza learns to leave on a high note? "Showmanship, George," Jerry told him adroitly. "When you hit that high note, you say goodnight and walk off."
That's what my wife and I have decided to do as parents.
We have one son, Emile, and he's pretty much perfect. The kid's an angel on airplanes, in restaurants and at movies. He's cheerful yet chill. Goes to bed at 7 p.m. and sleeps through the night; has since month seven. Even his allegedly terrible twos have been a breeze.
So we're exiting stage left. I joke that it's because I'd resent our next kid for undoubtedly being difficult (it's funny 'cause it's true!) but we're serious about the not-wanting-a-next kid-at-all. This astounds many people -- who often judgmentally tell us it's unfair to our son to deny him a sibling -- despite the increasing numbers of single-child families. The percentage was a full 41.6 per cent in the 2006 Canadian census and is sure to rise when the rest of the 2011 stats roll out this fall.
But societal pressure to reproduce twice remains strong. It's largely based on an old wives' tale -- or rather, an old psychologist's tale. As revealed by a Time magazine cover story called "The Only Child Myth" that came out just before E's birth, the stereotype of only children as being emotionally and socially stunted can be traced to a single study from 1896 (!) called "Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children." It's not that Granville Stanley Hall meant ill when he claimed "being an only child is a disease in itself" but that psychology at the time was an emerging and very imperfect science. Hell, they were called "alienists" back then.
But even if one were to buy the argument that not growing up with a sibling would make one selfish, spoiled and unable to socialize, it's not the 1890s anymore or even the 1980s. Most kids are no longer raised by stay-at-home moms. Emile has been at daycare since he turned one, which means that every day he spends eight hours with three care providers and 15 other children in the toddler room, not counting the other adults and children occupying the older rooms. He interacts with more people every day than I do.
Another argument for siblings verses playmates is simple blood ties. It's a strong one, to be sure. I have a sister whom I love fiercely, but only get to see a couple times a year since I left Vancouver. But E has three cousins (so far) and when he grows up his kids and their kids will still be blood tied, even if they didn't grow up under the same roof. My closest relative in Toronto is my cousin Mike, and technically he's my mom's cousin's son, which makes him, well, we're still not entirely sure -- second cousin once removed, maybe? Third cousin? Doesn't really matter because he's my age, my blood and my friend. That's more than family enough for us.
In the past, multiple children were born to help work the farm or run the family business, but my wife and I are downtowners working with, respectively, textiles and words for big multinationals, so that hardly holds water (not to mention the fact our house only holds three people comfortably).
My mother-in-law worries that by having one child, we're going to one day saddle E with our senior-citizen selves. But by not having two, we'll be able to afford a retirement that doesn't require Emile's financial support. The cost of raising a child to the age of majority in Canada, not counting college or university, is estimated at $243,660. That's a lot of scratch, never mind doubling it.
There are other reasons, too -- including further helping overpopulate the planet and a lack of interest in going through all the parenting stages a second time -- but the strongest reason for me personally to stop at a single is not one of logic. It's that I love Emile too much.
Being a parent is a feeling of such jolting intensity that it's unimaginable until you have such a creature built from your biology and shaped by your personality, yet somehow utterly individualistic at birth. I want Emile to have absolutely everything I can possibly give him, and yet my resources are finite.
I have only so much time and so much money, and can't bear the thought of having to divide that with a theoretical second child. Not diluting limited resources is the reason why onlies are higher achievers. With only one child we can afford orthodontia, extracurricular activities and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. With only one child we can give him all our available attention. Then there's the thought of having to find more space in an already bursting heart. I know -- and my parents, sister and friends with multiples would reiterate -- that's not actually an issue, but I still find the idea unfathomable.
So we're walking off with our high note. Goodnight, everybody.
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