This post is in response to Smaller Families Mean Fewer Siblings to Care for Mom and Dad by Barbara Ray

There is much talk about children needing siblings so they can all rally around their parents’ bedsides if and when parents are frail and in need of attention. In all the chatter are worries of our shrinking population with arguments on both sides: the eventual disproportion of the elderly and the question of who will care for them is one position, while environmentalists warn of resource depletion.

Having children is an emotional as well as practical decision in the current economy. I don’t believe that the millennial generation and most others of childbearing age worry about an aging population or the environment when considering family size—surely not their top concerns. There are so many more pressing issues that men and women weigh: their ages when starting a family; their resources; and the lifestyle they want to lead, to name a few. Today 20-somethings wonder if they want children at all, or if they want children, they are most likely to decide on one or two.

Who will care for parents?

Those contemplating second or more offspring fantasize that their children will come to their aid peacefully. The facts prove otherwise. Granted in some families, siblings support each other in parents’ care. In just as many families, intense disagreement, hurt feelings, and discord exist among siblings.

More often than not, when you need your children, the one child closest, most financially able and usually a daughter makes health decisions and provides the bulk of the care. When doing research for my last book, The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide, the only children seemed prepared for the future: they are well aware that they will be in charge. Many told me that they were glad they would not have to argue with siblings about parental care.

One extremely anti-only child journalist sent me an e-mail in which she quoted her mother: “After a week of vicious fighting with her two brothers about how to best care for my grandmother, my mother just called me and said SHE wishes she'd been an only child.” (More about this only-child bashing journalist in my next post.)

For a detailed discussion on this subject and solutions some Chinese parents adopted to the elderly population problem, see Planning for Your Parents’ (Or Your) Old Age and Who Will Care for Mom and Dad? When parents need support which siblings respond?

Copyright 2012 by Susan Newman

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