It is rare to find, in this day and age, a friend who has more than three siblings. Though there are people in this world who have 19 kids and counting, many people today, like me, have one sibling, there are some who have two but few have three or more. This seems like a strange coincidence when I recall that both of my parents come from families of four children and my grandparents come from families even larger than that. This prevailing trend is no coincidence, we may not have strict family size limiting laws but we do seem to have heavy social pressures that are not-so-gently encouraging couples to keep it down in the reproduction department.
The hottest topic today is the environment. Many people, including reproductive age couples, feel that it’s only a matter of time until the Earth’s population grows to the point that life can no longer be supported. What’s better than teaching our children to reduce, reuse and recycle? Not having those children roaming this soon-to-be desolate wasteland in the first place. People consume a lot of resources; this comes as no surprise considering we got ourselves into this mess. Until recently, having more children would ensure the survival of at least a few of them, now it looks like having fewer children will increase their chances of having a planet to live on at all. We, as a society, have come to agree that spawning but two children to replace yourselves is the responsible thing to do.
How do we account for the fact that this small family trend was just getting its stride a decade before environmental concerns hit the mainstream? Long before ours turned sour, economy, in its broadest sense, was one of the top determining factors of family unit size. To quote one of my favourite movies, Revolutionary Road: “Suppose we just say that people anywhere aren’t very well advised to have babies unless they can afford them.” Although this movie is adapted from a book written in the fifties, this quote has gained relevance as the cost of living has continued to increase. Today, in Canada, it costs approximately $166000 to raise a child to the age of eighteen – this does not include university. That’s about $9000 a year. Many families these days simply can not afford to produce a brood of children. The ones who do go against the norm and have more children than the rest of us, can be viewed as selfish – either hording the resources or burdening the rest of us when they need help. What’s more is, we’ve been conditioned to feel pity for mothers of a few too many children who need to receive assistance from the government, rather than feeling sympathy or, God forbid, empathy. We stand on the inappropriate, yet socially acceptable side of, “it’s not my fault.”
I wonder where the choice to do what is expected and accepted ends and the social pressure starts. Growing up in a family of four, I noticed just how often you hear the phrase, “family of four,” everyday. I always worried about the implications of a family of five winning a vacation for a family of four. Just about every product or service aimed at families has used the phrase in its advertising campaigns. I’ve also come to notice other subtle regularities, such as: tables come with four chairs, game consoles have four controller slots and houses average three bedrooms. Is there a conspiracy afoot or are simply using four as our standard because that is the size that the majority of families fit in to?
No longer are women supposed to be satisfied with the sole accomplishment of raising children and be happy to die in childbirth for the cause. Now that we can choose our own goals in life, people, with and without children, think that two children is as far as any woman should venture into the foray of motherhood if she still wants to balance her work and social lives. With as far as we have come, we still go as far as to judge any woman who does decide to have more than two children and doesn’t opt to increase the priority of that aspect of her life, in some cases, to the extent of making it her prime directive.
The American dream dares us to desire a family of 2.5 children, however, the average number of children born to a married couple in Canada today is only 1.1. I lie awake at night wondering what it will be like when my fiancé and I are outnumber by our children but I know I will only have as many children as I can support, hoping that someday that number will be greater than zero. Aside from the few men who have been consumed by their religion that I have found ranting on the internet about how seven is the perfect number of children for a couple to have, my culture seems to praise those who have two or less and punish those who have more. The western world has set two children as the socially acceptable number to have today, that gives you one to experience parenthood and continue your lineage and one to keep that one company.