What about elder care?
If you think you should have more than one child to care for you when you’re old, forget about it: there are no guarantees that adult children will equally share the burden. In fact, one child (in our case, my older sister) typically shoulders it anyway, and elder care can be a source of conflict instead of a comfort. Research commissioned by the Home Instead Senior Care etwork found that 46 percent of family caregivers say their sibling relationships deteriorated because of their siblings’ unwillingness to share care.
Making the choice
For most people, the family size “decision” happens over time. It’s based partly on reason, partly on personal history and usually topped off by a large portion of fate. Newman counsels parents who are wrestling with how many children to have to resist feeling pressured and instead ask themselves, “What kind of lifestyle do I want for me and my child? and what can I realistically handle?”
In our case, finances were tight after our daughter was born, because I had scaled back work and my husband changed careers. and I am also a member of the growing Sandwich generation, people who are simultaneously facing child care and elder care responsibilities. I cannot forget the many harried shopping trips during which I found myself chasing my toddler daughter in one direction as my alzheimer’s-stricken dad wandered off in another.
Our daughter is 8 years old now and, for us, the only-child myths have proved to be just that. She even balks at the idea of having a sibling. When a singleton friend announced that his family was adopting, she expressed concerns that we, too, might want to adopt. In reassuring her, I put my own lingering worries to rest. Every family, I told her, has to be just the right size for them, and she is, in fact, just enough for us.
Psychologist Kevin Leman, Ph.D., author of The Birth Order Book (Revell), maintains that only children share some general characteristics, including the following:
- Good decision-maker
- Thorough and organized
- Ambitious and enterprising goal-setters
- Academically minded and good problem-solvers
- Can be self-centered if parents aren’t careful
- May be inflexible and hard to satisfy
- Not happy with surprises
- Can be overly serious, driven or logical
Did you know? The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the average annual spending on one child in 2010 was $13,830, an increase of $4,000 since 2000.