In her National Post article “Only planet: Why one child is often enough,” Connie Jeske Crane reviews Susan Newman’s book The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide. The book challenges the negative stereotypes surrounding the phenomenon of “onlies” — children who grow up with no siblings.
She confronts the societal notion that only children are spoiled, lonely, bossy and funny talkers. She claims this is a product of the brainwashing we’ve received that every child needs a sibling. Through 30 years of research, Newman attempts to show that onlies turn out just as well as other children their age, namely that they are “as socially competent, well-adjusted and successful as their peers.”
She quotes statistics to prove her point. In Spain and Portugal, 30 percent of families have one child; in Canada, its 43 percent; in England, 46 percent. As for the US, “in the last 20 years, the number of singletons … has more than doubled to between 20 and 30%.”
The question must be asked: Is this a good thing? Is it good for individuals, families and society to have more and more children grow up without siblings?
Newman claims that “If you’re happy (as a parent), your child will be happy.” We need to ask: What is truly going to make us happy? In our society, happiness has been reduced to what makes us as individuals feel good. Thus if we’re not doing what we want, then life should change to suit our fancies.
If a vast majority of people take this view of life and pursue happiness from this perspective, what we’ll see, as we do now, is a society full of people who only live for themselves: spoiled, perpetual adolescents with a bloated sense of entitlement who believe their own (limited) happiness is the most important thing in the world. People who, when they don’t get what they want, cry and complain that life’s not fair, and fight for their “right” to have everything handed to them on a silver platter.
Yet we can have our happy meal; but after 15 minutes, we want more fries. And we can have our happy hour; but if we’re not careful, we’ll be worshiping the porcelain god. If we’re truly honest, we want something more than five minutes of momentary pleasure. We want more.
What’s going to give us this “more?” To answer this, we must remember one key rule about life: We weren’t created to be merely “happy.” We were created to be joyful. This is what Jesus was referring to in the Sermon on the Mount with all the “Blessed are’s.” It is a seeking out what is beyond the mere temporal to the eternal. Thus, what we want, in the depths of our heart, is everlasting joy.
Yet how are we to attain joy? By being holy, or becoming the best version of ourselves. We were created by God to make a sincere gift of ourselves. Yet the tension of this world is that it doesn’t encourage us to make a sincere gift but instead to make selfish choices. And it is this selfishness that is killing our capacity for joy.
This brings me back to the main point of this article: One child is not enough. Without other siblings in our family, our opportunities are reduced to learn those very traits that make us human: namely patience, kindness, giving and self-control. We don’t learn to put others first and that we’re not the most important person in the room. We don’t see how the many sacrifices that a family has to make build us up into people that will honor God, family and our nation.
Why has this situation come about? Essentially, married and unmarried couples have accepted wholesale a contraceptive mindset, founded upon the notion that sex is merely for pleasure. Openness to children is not viewed as an essential element to fulfilling ones marital vows, but as something we might get around to if we can squeeze it into our schedule or our financial plan. Nor are children created within the loving embrace of dad and mom, united in marriage, and loved into existence for their own sake, but as a means to complete that “one-more-thing-to-check-off-my-life-goals” checklist. The view of children has been transformed from being considered the supreme gift of marriage to something we have the “right” to obtain. In a sense, children have become commodities, and now we get to determine if, when and how they should be created, with very few limitations.
The entire world is beginning to feel the weight of the choices of two selfish individuals multiplied a million times over. For what we are facing in the not-too-distant future is massive under-population. Newman herself acknowledges this by stating that “UN figures show that 25 developing countries, including Iran, Sri Lanka, Cuba and North Korea, are already at or below replacement-level fertility,” but glosses over this as a non-issue. On a very practical level, this is a MAJOR problem, for world economies are made up of people filling jobs. And if there literally are no people to fill those jobs, what we will see in our lifetime is a shrinking economy, and thus less money in everyone’s pocket (see the documentary Demographic Winter for more evidence of this). If things don’t radically change, the same kind of rioting in Greece will happen here in America, and it will make the Occupy Wall Street gathering look like a Sunday picnic compared to the civil unrest that will be unleashed when entitlement babies grow up and are told there are no jobs to be hand.
To quote Blessed John Paul the Great,
“Decisions about the number of children and the sacrifices to be made for them must not be taken only with a view to adding to comfort and preserving a peaceful existence. Reflecting upon this matter before God, with the graces drawn from the Sacrament [of Matrimony], and guided by the teaching of the Church, parents will remind themselves that it is certainly less serious to deny their children certain comforts or material advantages than to deprive them of the presence of brothers and sisters, who could help them to grow in humanity and to realize the beauty of life at all its ages and in all its variety.” (October 7, 1979, at a Mass on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C.,)
To quote the Carpenters, “what the world needs now is love.” Is anyone listening?
If we truly want to be joyful, we need to return back to God’s original plan and intention for marriage and the family and learn that if we’re married, we need to see children as a beautiful part of the package, not an optional add-on. This doesn’t mean that married couples who (through no fault of their own) can’t conceive are to be viewed as less than spouses blessed with multiple children. Whether a child is conceived is more God’s doing than our own. But we must constantly be open with each and every marital act, living a hopeful expectation that God wants to create something even more beautiful in our marriage.
It’s not so much about how many children we have, as it is about our attitude toward children. The Church does not require that we have as many children as possible. The Church also does not require that we only engage in marital union in order to have children, but that we can receive children lovingly through adoption. The Church’s teaching on marriage and family life, at its core, protects the dignity of each and every human person, and encourages us to do everything we can to ensure that we and the world around treat every person as a person to be loved and welcomed, and not an object to be used and controlled for selfish gain.
We have a duty as Catholics to give witness to the hope within us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15), and as husbands and wives, it is our duty to make sure in and through our families this is accomplished. Is not each child a sign of new life and a spark of the divine? Do we not see that not just the future of humanity but the presence of God is manifested through each and every child conceived? Is not our duty to give our children not every material thing but what they need most, a family? Thus we must say yes to giving them brothers and sisters. It means we must say yes to God’s plan for love and life.