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Will I Remorse Not Giving My Solely Baby a Sibling? 

January 14, 2023
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Not sure whether you should have a second child? A deep dive into the questions below injects a dose of realism into your quandary. Here are a few things to ask yourself as you consider giving your only child a sibling:

  • How will my life change in the short term if I have a second child?
  • Will I be able to afford having another child?
  • How will a second maternity leave impact my work life? Will I be able to meet my professional goals, or will I be penalized for taking family leave again?
  • Mentally review your pregnancy experience and the early year(s) with your only child. What was it like, and is it something you could do again?
  • Will my partner be helpful? Was he or she supportive with our first baby?
  • What other support is available—childcare, financial, emotional—to help me avoid burnout?
  • How will another child affect my relationship with my partner?

A Dose of Realism

Most women, and especially mothers, realize how childbearing takes its toll on female identity whether you have one child or more and whether or not you have a job outside the home. Women may happily welcome motherhood, yet the impact of a second or third child can be life-changing all over again.

Having raised my ex-husband’s four children before raising my only child in a second marriage, I say with conviction, there is no right or wrong choice. Increasingly, however, those of childbearing age are getting over feeling the need to fit the bygone family formula—two parents, two kids. Nonetheless, a nagging feeling may linger.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at The Wharton School and the author of Think Again, suggests, “We don’t have to believe everything we think or internalize everything we feel.” He advises us to “let go of views that are no longer serving us well and prize mental flexibility over foolish consistency.”

The Time Factor

Thinking again from a wide range of angles and a more informed approach to different facets of your life could break down your wall of indecision. Stella,* one of the subjects in my recent Only Child Research Project, tries to be sensible about key aspects of having a second child. Having one child wasn’t in her plans; she thought she would have two kids. “I can argue both ways,” she says. “It’s difficult to decipher what are external factors and what I want.”

Stella’s hesitation centers around the demands of a job that she adores. “My schedule is extremely unpredictable, which makes it very hard with kids, even just one. Complicating my impasse, I’m the only one of my colleagues and friends who has one child. It’s hard to know what to give the most weight to. People tell me I will regret not having another. I don’t fully agree.

“Another factor I consider with having an only is that I can commit to more quality time with my daughter and having a second would make it very challenging to give that kind of attention to both kids,” she adds.

Claudia Goldin, economics professor at Harvard University, emphasizes Stella’s point: “Time is the great equalizer. We all have the same amount and must make difficult choices in its allocation. The fundamental problem for women trying to attain the balance of a successful career and a joyful family are time conflicts.”

Hoping your partner will equitably share in early childcare and be involved throughout a child’s growing up years may be unrealistic, particularly if you both work full time. Generally, moms still do more and carry the brunt of planning and emotional stress. Goldin put it this way in referring to heterosexual couples: “The fundamental time constraint is to negotiate who will be on call at home—that is, who will leave the office and be at home in a pinch.” More often than not, it’s the mother.

The Motherhood Penalty

Your reason for not having another child could also hinge on sticking with a job you love, wanting and waiting for a promotion, or needing the money your employment provides, any one of which can jumble your thinking at the same time that it widens the range of what you consider. Most women today work to support their families partially or fully; their income is essential to the family’s well-being.

Family Dynamics Essential Reads

That is as true now as it was five decades ago when Jessica,* 59, was born—and it is the reason she is an only child. “When my father saw how much work a baby was, he left. Like so many single mothers today, my mother knew that she had to work to support us. Money was always an issue in my family.”

The economics in your family may supersede thoughts of a larger family. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around the fact that motherhood, partnered or single, carries a penalty in terms of slowing your career both monetarily and in terms of the potential for advancement. Doubling up on the number of children can magnify those issues despite women’s many gains in education and prominence in the workforce.

Your job can be “the decider” to stop after one child. In a series of studies, Shelley J. Correll, professor of sociology and organizational behavior at Stanford University, outlined what women are up against in many work settings. She and others found that “The magnitude of the motherhood wage penalty is not trivial: Mothers earn 5 to 7% lower wages per child, compared with childless women who are otherwise equal.”

Gender bias alone creates disadvantages for women, especially mothers, from hiring practices to promotion decisions. The import of these well-documented facts is that having children reduces women’s earnings. In her study, "The Fatherhood Bonus and the Motherhood Penalty: Parenthood and the Gender Gap in Pay," Michelle Budig, professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, found that “Among full-time workers married mothers earn only 76 cents to a married father’s dollar.” She notes that some of this discrepancy in earnings can be explained by reduced work hours, loss of experience, and time at home after the birth of a child.

On the Homefront

The perception that home life and men’s participation have changed significantly is largely fiction. Putting pandemic lockdowns aside, men do more than dads did a decade or two ago, but women still bear the brunt. According to the Pew Research Center, at least now fathers admit that they would like to spend more time with their children. Unsurprisingly, more than half of mothers don’t feel that way. That doesn’t change the day-to-day calculus.

Armed with new information, you may want to revisit the questions above and reconsider your answers. It may be that for you not giving your child a sibling is best for everyone in your family and comes with no regrets.

*Names of participants in the Only Child Research Project have been changed to protect identities.

Copyright @2022 by Susan Newman


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