Cultural Assumptions: Family Size

One and Only Lauren Sandler
Living here in the East Valley this past year has certainly thrown us almost in the middle of Mormon country. I know isn’t as large as the Mormon community in Utah, but I didn’t expect there to be such a large Mormon influence down here. I have friends who are Mormon so I hadn’t expected things here to be so different, but sometimes it really is with strangers down here. We’ve noticed how this cultural influence impacts the local housing market. Homes are HUGE!!! Neighborhoods like Morrison Ranch barely have any small homes and Lennar Homes’ Layton Lakes neighborhood has their “Home Within a Home” concept; these homes are certainly also popular with the Hispanic community as I’ve also noticed how many families support the notion of extended family living.

The downside for us (quite frequently) is that we encounter people who assume that we should have a larger family like everyone else because that’s their religious cultural beliefs. I see many people who happily assume having a large family and others, who struggle constantly with the three children they’ve been bless to see enter this world.

I am thankful for the influence of our friends and family who have shown us that there is so singular definition of “family.” Some people have adopted children, others have biological children, and others still have both. Some people have chosen not to have children and others have used assisted reproductive technologies to add to their families. I know it’s harder to have strangers see that family can mean anything, especially when they corner us at the grocery store and pepper us with questions like “Is she your first?” and statements like how much a child requires the presence of another child in his or her life. That’s why I was happy to find Lauren Sandler’s book, One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One.

Lauren Sandler is an only child and currently her and her husband are raising an only child. They know that some day they may want another child, but she is so open to the fact that they might never want any more. I think it’s incredible to see another woman who feels so confident to explore the subject of only children. I grew up with three sisters and two stepsiblings while my husband has a sister. I know our childhood experiences of having siblings creates a different parenting style for our daughter than if we had been only children ourselves. I am not here to say that one family size is better than another; just like the author, I agree that we should pick our family size based off our needs and not cultural perceptions and societal expectations.

Here’s some of the tidbits I enjoyed most from Lauren’s book:

“Only children tend to develop unusually multifaceted notions of themselves.” (p. 96)

“A 2007 Pew survey found that at a rate of nearly three to one, people believe the main purpose of marriage is the “mutual happiness and fulfillment” of adults rather than the “bearing and raising of children.” (p. 117)

“Robin Simon of Wake Forest University surveyed well-being data from 13,000 respondents and, in a 2005 issue of The Journal of Health and Social Behavior, published her findings that adults with children experience depression and unhappiness in greater numbers than non-parents. That’s regardless of class, race, or gender. Simon understands this phenomenon as a ruthless combination of social isolation, lack of outside support, and the anticipation of the overflow of bliss that we believe is the certain outcome of every birth.” (p. 119)

“The research of Hans-Peter Kohler, a professor of demography at the University of Pennslyvania, and Jere Berman, a professor of economics, gives weight to that idea [that one child might provide maximum personal happiness]. In their much-discussed analysis of a survey of 35,000 Danish twins, women with one child said they were more satisfied with their lives than women with none or more than one.” (p. 120)

“We yearn for more parenting, less parenting, for more work, for less work, for more pleasure-well, never for less pleasure. As a mother named Diana says reflectively when we meet at a bar in Berlin, “When does the yearning for more stop? It never stops. It doesn’t stop with a husband. It doesn’t stop with a better job. It doesn’t stop with more money. It doesn’t stop with a second child. This is life.” She pauses to take a sip of dark beer and shakes her head. “I have to reconsider my notions of fulfillment. We all do. So we can be more faithful to ourselves.” (p. 126)

“Recent US studies show that men are doing more, at least-a third more than they did in 1965-but that doesn’t mean it’s making life easier for women.” (p. 129)

“Each child adds no less than 120 hours of housework a year.” (p. 131)

“[A]ccording to University of Maryland time diary studies, women combine child care with their limited leisure time twice as much as they did in 1975.” (p. 132)

“A survey tracking families from the late 1980s through the early 1990s showed that while a single child decreases a mother’s employment by about eight hours a week, the second kid leads to a further reduction of about twelve hours. A father’s work hours don’t change at all when a first child is born, but an additional child actually increases his time on the job by about three hours a week.” (p. 137)

“[N]inety-one percent of people in France say this [that the most satisfying marriage is one in which both parents work]-only seventy-one percent of Americans agree.” (p. 139)

“At [the 2011 Population Association of America] conference, Kevin Mumford, professor of economics at Purdue University, presents data that directly contradicts the notion that only children come from wealthy families. Each $100,000 in household income, he says, raises fertility by ten to fourteen percent.” (p. 150)

“Churchgoing Americans have on average five more children [than secularists].” (p. 161)

“The rest, honestly, is mindful child rearing. It is for anyone, regardless of how many places we set at the dinner table. To the end I have this to say: to hell with sanctimony. To hell with helicopter parenting. To hell with composting and cupcakes. And if you find yourself raising an only child, there are a few simple things you can do. Provide some diversity in the form of plenty of social opportunities. Keep an eye on your own cocooning habits; breaking out of them will be freeing to you and to your kid. Engage in a much larger world and encourage your child to participate alongside you. Think twice about exurban living. Let go a little. Ask yourself if you lean on your kid as a pawn in your partnership, or as a partner if your partnership has dissolved. But, mainly, don’t parent by fear or by guilt. Don’t live by fear or by guilt either. I know that’s easy to say and hard to do, believe me. But there’s great power in behavior modeling. Making a home where parents live life according to their own mores is worth a thousand tiger mothers.” (p. 203)

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