Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have a son, and since we both come from large families, we were looking forward to creating one of our own. But there are two problems. First, we were hit hard by the recent recession, and have yet to recover. As a result, we don’t feel right having children that we can’t afford. Second, because our financial problems have lasted so long, we’re both in our early 40s now. So two questions: Are we too old to have another child? If so, should we have one anyway to keep our son from growing up alone?
A: You’re definitely not too old. Lots of people have kids later in life, so you can take age off the table. The money issue is a little tougher. The economy is supposedly on the rebound, but we’ve been hearing that for a few years and there are still millions of unemployed or underemployed people out there. If you’re having trouble making ends meet now, setting another plate at the dinner table isn’t going to make life any easier. And the associated financial stress could strain your marriage and make it hard for you and your wife to be the kind of parents you want to be. That said, plenty of children grow up in less-than-rich families and do just fine.
As to your other question, if you’re considering bringing another baby into the world simply so your son won’t be an only child, don’t make a final decision just yet. To start with, your son won’t actually be alone. Your family situation (age + financial constraints) is far from unique and has led to an increase in the number of only children.
Second, the myth that singletons are bratty, unhappy, spoiled, selfish, and socially inept is exactly that: a myth. Recent research has found that there’s very little difference between only children and kids with siblings. In fact, by several measures, onlies may actually be better off. Some studies have found that only children have higher IQs, higher self-esteem, and do better in school.
Third, there are benefits to you as well. With only one child to worry about, you’ll be able to spend more one-on-one time with your son. You’ll also be able to spend more money on him, which could mean exposing him to more opportunities than if you had to divide your limited resources among several kids.
If you’re still worried, here are a few things you can do to help.
- Set up lots of playdates so your son will have a chance to socialize with other kids and learn about sharing. Another way to reinforce that lesson is to have him donate some of his toys and games to less-fortunate children in the community.
- Encourage extracurricular activities, especially those where teamwork is required.
- Don’t spoil him. As your finances improve, you may find yourself spending a lot of money material things. Be careful. You don’t want him to grow up feeling entitled or that the world owes him something.
- Take a few steps back. Of course you want him to be safe, but he needs to learn to take risks and experience failure.
A small, but very important note about last week’s column on the dangers of smoking marijuana during pregnancy. I quoted a Washington University School of Medicine study that questioned those dangers, but, as a number of sharp-eyed readers let me know, I left out one critical word. In discussing their findings, the researchers said that “marijuana use during pregnancy should NOT be encouraged or condoned.”
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