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Within a few months of my son’s birth, I was put on the questioning block, “When are you having another?” I heard that almost as frequently as, “What a cute guy he is.” My husband and I had some questions of our own: Would our son be lonely, spoiled, bossy as people tried to tell us. What would it be like for him to grow up without siblings?

The “have-another” campaign intensified as our son got older. Some comments were harsh: “How can you do THAT to your child!” “He needs a sibling.” If you are considering or have a singleton, you undoubtedly will hear a variation on the theme, “You are being selfish.” Were we?

Friends, neighbors, parents, and in-laws — even perfect strangers — have no qualms about inserting their opinions into your reproductive life. It’s enough to make you wonder if you are being selfish or potentially damaging your child. For parents of one, the attacks may not stop until you are too old to have or adopt another child.

The admonishments are surprising given that the single-child family is the fastest growing family unit — not just in the US, but worldwide in most developed countries. In England, for example, 46 percent of families have one child; in Spain and Portugal, 30 percent. According to the US Census, one-child families represent 22 percent (and climbing) of families — and 30 percent in major metropolitan areas. The Traditional Family as we knew it — “a boy for you, a girl for me,” dad at work, mom home — has changed dramatically. In fact, new Pew Research Center findings confirm that women are holding off on having babies; declines in birth rates were particularly sharp between 2007 (before the recession) and 2009 (the latest data available). Provisional numbers for 2010 reveal the decline continues.

Realism vs. Selfishness

Women are marrying and starting their families later than in previous generations and often face infertility when attempting to conceive a first or more children. For the first time in history, there are more women than men in the labor force. Over 70 percent of mothers with young children work — some because they want to, most because they must to help support the family. Holding down a job and raising children at the same time is stressful and difficult, carrying risks in pay increases and in job security.

A job can be the thing that dissolves uncertainty about having more children. The impact of a second maternity leave, for example, can be extensive, particularly in the current economic climate; someone is always waiting to take your spot. I spoke with a woman who took what she says is the shortest maternity leave on record — two weeks. When her boss was out on maternity leave a few years earlier, she stepped into her boss’ job. As she explained, “I know this can happen, and I’m not about to let it happen to me.”

Compounding job security uncertainty is “The Motherhood Penalty.” Children help men advance, but mothers pay a price. The biggest gap is between mothers and childless women. Mothers’ starting salaries are seven percent lower than women without children; and over the course of a career, the penalty is conservatively five percent per child!

When you combine employment concerns with the high cost of raising children, the trend toward one-child is likely to continue. Although no one likes to put a price tag on children, raising them is expensive. According to the Department of Agriculture, families with an average income between roughly $57,000 and $98,000 will spend a little over $286,000 to rear one child from birth through age seventeen — college not included. About $46,000 is for food! Those of us who choose one child for whatever individual reasons — age, infertility, finances, health, lifestyle preference — are being realistic, not selfish.

Article Courtesy of The Huffington Post

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