To have or not to have (five years down the line)

This post is specially for Swati who left me a note on another posting on this blog.

Swati wanted to know whether my view on having or not having children has changed after becoming a mother. My response may confound the readers further because I still believe in everything that I listed in my previous referenced blog and yet I am glad for embracing motherhood. Pregnancy and the first few months as a new mother, and then the next three to five years after that, provides the most indescribable time in the life of any woman (and also the man if he wants to feel involved and responsible.) Motherhood is stressful; it is a stress that makes you strong physically but extremely weak emotionally.

Having said that I also want to point that having enjoyed the bliss of motherhood, I do not feel inclined towards having another child. A child brings immense joy and fulfillment to one’s life, but a child is not a toy, and is not a tool for self-aggrandizement. A child is not meant to be brought into this world to fulfill your selfish interests and desires, be it of familial acclaim or social acceptance, or to carry on the dreams and aspirations of the parents or extended family. A child is a responsibility and a responsibility that you need to fulfill without any expectations from the child. So, whether you have one child or more, remember to appraise yourself on the grounds of how capable you are of fulfilling your responsibilities towards your child – emotional, physical, material, social, educational, and medical – and the list is inexhaustible!

Whatever your decision be, don’t ever have a baby just because someone told you to (such as friends and neighbors), demanded it of you (as mostly the case of in-laws) or because everyone else you know is adding to their litter (such as colleagues). I find myself increasingly in the situation where people ask me if I am planning a second baby, since my son is now 3.5 years old. I find a lot of first time mommies discussing plans for a second child.

Many feel that a single child is lonely and spoilt. This may be true in the lives of many single children and I myself know of young adults who have faced lonely childhoods because they had no siblings. And yet this may not be true for many single children. I would not have a second child just to ensure my first child is not lonely, because there is no guarantee that the two (or more) siblings may gel well with each other, or be in love as much as we imagined them to be. Sibling rivalry is real and manifests in the lives of many. Such conflicts may leave a child and young adult more perturbed, disturbed and in fact lonesome.

Do you know why families (especially in developing countries) were expected to have more than one child or even a big brood, until a few decades back. Disease, pestilence, war and lowly living conditions resulted in high child mortality. Having many children was a guarantee that at least some children would survive difficult living conditions. Economically backward and illiterate societies still follow the twisted math that many children mean many helping hands. People forget to count the many feeding mouths! Human mortality has improved greatly and the dynamics of bringing up children has drastically changed in the modern, educated society.

Having said that I would like to take up each of the points that I had mentioned in my previous blog post and see where I stand today.

1. Fear of health issues – I had a difficult time getting pregnant and then I had a difficult pregnancy with gestational diabetes. My son was born through C-section and I took time to recover. Aches and pains have been a part of my life since then. However, modern medicine has remedies and treatments for all maladies. Fear should not be the reason to give up on the hope of maternity.

2. Fear regarding career – Good quality day cares have made it easier for working mothers but the career graph may not see a steep incline for many years. Taking it slow may be required for quite some time. So, if one is looking for a jet-setting career, then having a child may not be in their goals to be achieved.

3. Fear about financial drain – If one is able to continue working (even with a perpendicular career graph) usually bringing up one child is not too much of a financial burden. One thing that I had not considered in my calculations was that with each year the income also increases. The hike may go into buying diapers and immunization expenses but middle class families can afford one child at least. I would like to make an interesting point here – if you earn well, and probably exuberantly, and do not have a child (or children), you may not really have as much use for so much money.

4. Fear of losing out on the fun and the companionship with your spouse – This is a real fear. The fun and frolic, intimacy and leisure time with your spouse are literally thrown out of the window, unless you have a strong support system/extended family that allow you free time on your own and with your spouse. The first three years, your entire life is centered around your child. As I read on Facebook, the only vacation that a mother of a toddler can hope for is an undisturbed trip to the bathroom! Things start easing out by the time the child turns five years old. By then your body aches and pains all the time or you want to start concentrating on your career, or are probably planning another child. You can plan vacations and travel after the child is four years old because then the child also starts enjoying things and is eating most of the things that adults do. While you may lament the loss of intimacy with your spouse, you may celebrate the growth of companionship and camaraderie because child rearing is total teamwork.

5. Fear of being left alone in old-age if we don’t have children – The fear is true and should be gracefully accepted whether you have a child or don’t have one. It should not be a reason to have a child. Do not have a child to burden them with expectations and responsibilities.

6. Fear of the bad times – This is yet another big fear and is true, in fact the scariest of all the real fears that you may ever have to face. The world continues to be a big bad place and there are lots of crimes towards young children. Do not have children if you do not have the strength, sensitivity and stability to protect them both within and outside the confines of your home. Nature’s wrath and the impeding destruction of our planet is another reason why we should think twice before bringing children into this world. Unless, of course, you can dream and hope for a life on an alien planet or a miraculous recovery of our planet from black smog to green air!

I have addressed all the points from my previous post but there is one point that I did not mention there because it never occurred to me at that time. It did not occur to me because I was not a mother then but I want to highlight it now.

7. Fear of weakness – This is the biggest fear and the biggest truth of parenthood. If you are in your right senses, a normal, loving person, remember that your child has the greatest strength to make you weak. And this weakness is of the heart and of the emotions and is deep-rooted and incorrigible. The moment the tiny fingers of a newborn curls around your large knotty fingers, you lose your heart to your little bundle of joy and the little imp takes control over your life. Let one tear drop from those fairy tale eyes and you are ready to fall on your knees to wipe away those pearls. One squeal of joy and happiness and you give your heart away to the gossamer purity of your child, and then there is no way to reclaim it. In your loss, lies your biggest victory.

So, here is my verdict. If you are ready for sacrifices, you should definitely have one child. But if you have constraints or are the fun-loving, non-committal person then do not commit yourself to parenthood. Take a small test – meet young parents, spend time with very young children (and not just a few hours, but a couple of days, maybe a week). Evaluate your feelings and take your decision.

When I had to decide about having a second child, this is the test that I put myself through. My husband and I agreed, that one child had exhausted us enough. We love our child, we love all the beautiful memories he has created for us, we are proud of him and gloat over his emerging personality. But we also recall the sleepless nights and troubled days and we know there is a long road ahead of us and him, together. Between the two of us – the man and the woman; the hubby and the mummy – we are ready to reclaim our life! Three cheers to that!

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8 Responses to To have or not to have (five years down the line)

  1. The timing of this post could not have been better because we have also been contemplating about the same thought. My only fear is Mishka should not grow up to be a lonely child. Few weeks ago I was reading an article about the epidemic of lonliness due to most parents opting for 1 child. It was a scary post but it also raised many points. For example your only child does not grieve alone when the parents die the sibling shares the grief, the responsibilitu of taking care of parents and both of them have so much in common which no one else in their life can share or understand. I always feel it is important to have a an extended family because that way you will always gave someone to call your own. But the thought of having another child scary too because it physically, emotionally anf financially draining. Its exhausting and the compromises that one has to make are always involuntary and forced. Moreover the world also is surviving on very limited resources why would I add to the burden. I think the best way to deal with it to teach kids tomake ffriends and nurture it. That way they will ayleast make lasting friendships and have a lonely life.
    Love your candid take and 3 cheers for reclaiming your life. Btw I can gladly baby sit Manan someyimes whenever you guys want to go on a date. :-)

  2. Thanks Snigdha – My take on this is that we should not have a child for any reason other than an overwhelming paternal/maternal/familial instinct. If it comes from within you, have a child; dont have child driven by logic, public opinion!

    Children become adults and know how to sort things out in their lives. Many children are closer to friends and relatives than siblings and even parents.

  3. Swati Tripathi says:

    Dear Aneesha Di,
    I am overwhelmed with your elaborate and extensive response in the form of this entire new post. I can’t thank you enough for giving me and my small note such an important place in your blog. Somewhere, I knew as I put in my note that your response would be again a very genuine and honest one as your original post. Having read this one, I must say you have added a now-a-days very important ‘practical’ approach regarding this issue. A very straightforward thought process, which is not a cup of tea for most of the women going through similar situations. I am gradually trying to come to some conclusions, as you know the final decisions are the outcomes of certain other amalgamated factors too. This very beautiful, emotional and at the same time practical insight of yours is definitely going to play a very significant role in our decision and I trust the same benefit for many others like us. The last addition ‘fear of weakness’ has been the most beautiful description I have ever read..and must say it’s the gist of this new post ‘five years down the line’ reflecting the essence of all your experiences in these five years.
    Being a Carmelite I have always admired you since yours days as the SPL, I was a little kid who just entered the school the same year and its so nice a feeling to get connected after a long time..world is really small..
    Many congratulations for all your achievements and yes..this straight from the heart blog of yours henceforth earns a permanent place in my favorite readings :)

  4. Thanks Swati for the nice words. I didnt realize that you knew me and we were from the same school. I am all the more glad that I took time to pen my thoughts. Good luck and best wishes in whatever your decisions in life be.

  5. snigdha says:

    True. That is what I also feel. The reason to have another child should be purely out of love for children not what makes sense logically. To be honest I am still in a double mind. Mishka should not grow up to become one of those kids who blame their parents for not giving them enough time. Not that having a sibling will help the problem. But it might help with the loneliness if you are the onky child. I have great growing up memories of me with my brother. But Vinayak does not have any fond memories so he does not think that having a sibling is so important. I have seen my own friends having terrible time dealing with their parents because they have lost one of the parent, they have no sibling and no other family support as a result are entirely and solely responsible for the aging parent and also take care of her own family. I have also seen sibling rivalry turning so sour. So I think there is no right answer to it. You have a 2nd one only and only when you want it and not what benefits it might bring to your 1st born because chances are it may not even make a difference to anyone after 30 years when the kids will be setelled in different countries, different time zones and you will be in India going through an empty nest syndrome with or without a spouse.

  6. Aneesha, I am in total agreement with you ,that one should not give in to the pressures of the family if one is not ready for sacrifices. But I do feel that one child is a lonely child. I have been down that road – wanted a single child so that I could give my child THE BEST to be told by him “I wish mummy I had a sister or brother”.
    Also I feel- a little hardship makes children stronger for the battles they have to fight when they grow up. A child growing up in the laps of comfort can, I feel face lots of problems later on. But, then those are my thoughts. I believe everyone has a right to make their own decisions. I have lived my life the way I wanted to and letting my son do the same. Its called LIVE AND LET LIVE !!!!!!

  7. priya says:

    Very balanced view. I have a single kid and he is 9. And yes I have been through a lot of sessions with 2 kid pals telling me ‘Oh but what happens to him after you.’ I dont see too many of us in touch/constant touch with our siblings – I have some in my own family who speak to siblings once in 3 months! What I feel is even a relationship with a siblings is something you have to work on – its not something you can take for granted.. Often if/when you need support its your pals who come to the rescue as in nuclear/staying alone families that is where you build meaningful/lasting relationships. Also single kid or multiple kids I would rather live now and enjoy motherhood without the guilt and burden of but what happens when I am dead:)

  8. Rightly said, Priya. Giving birth for the fear of death and what it will bring in the future is a negative life-view. Like all relationships, siblings also come with their own set of responsibilities.

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