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The Case for Siblings

Jun 20 2013
In an only-child boom, reconsidering the lifelong value of brothers and sisters.

Nothing gets parents talking quite like starting up a conversation about family size. How many children are too many? How few are too few? When should a couple decide to start having children? When should they stop? Should children be spaced out or should they be close together?

Parents-turned-grandparents, brand-new parents, and even those who haven't become parents yet are ready to share their preferences on how many kids to welcome into the world and when.

Despite all the talk about whether you should have as many kids as possible or if three kids is really the most stressful or if it's just a better financial option to forgo kids all together, the numbers show that most American women have between one and two children, or 1.9 on average.

That means more children than ever are growing up without siblings, and the stigma of being a lonely or spoiled only child is fading away.

Families aren't one-size-fits-all, but I'm struck by how narrow a view some parents take when considering their plans to have and raise kids. Many look for what's easiest, what's most affordable, what they can imagine in their own home right now, instead of taking a long-range view. The view the journey to parenthood as one more thing they can control in a society that is ever increasing in its grasping for control over our very lives.

Lest we forget: The babies and kids we welcome into our families will go on to have lasting relationships with each other as adults. They will be the ones to support us in old age. Even supporters of only-children see that the added burden of having to take care of aging parents alone is a daunting task.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Frank Bruni wrote that while many get bogged down on the impact of children on a couple, it's the siblings who benefit the most from having each other around:

My siblings have certainly seen me at my worst, and I've seen them at theirs. No one has bolted. It's as if we signed some contract long ago, before we were even aware of what we were getting into, and over time gained the wisdom to see that we hadn't been duped. We'd been graced: with a center of gravity; with an audience that never averts its gaze and doesn't stint on applause. For each of us, a new home, a new relationship or a newborn was never quite real until the rest of us had been ushered in to the front row.

I can relate. As I've gotten older, I have grown closer to my three younger brothers. As each of us has moved into varying stages of adulthood, our friendship only deepens, in ways I never expected and my parents may not have dreamed of when they found out they'd be welcoming another child into our family decades ago.

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