The New Traditional Family Gets Respect

The family you grew up in may not be "right" for the family you are growing.

Posted Jul 13, 2010

Having one child seems, at long last, to be getting respect…and the only child and his or her parents the recognition and attention they deserve.

Time Magazine has put parents of one and only children on the map...and on their cover; National Public Radio (NPR) followed suit and broadcast a morning Takeaway show on the subject.

For those struggling with the decision to have one child or to add to their family, this is a welcomed change and hopefully the beginning of a time when parents can decide their family size without badgering from those who cling to old notions of what makes a family. Personally, I’m cheering for what may be a change in attitude and perception about the single-child family.

When I began exploring only children and their parents and published Parenting an Only Child: The Joys & Challenges of Raising Your One & Only (2001) and The Case for the Only Child (2011),  I believed that only children might become the new traditional family. It’s beginning to look that way. The current economy and the cost of raising children is clearly a factor in the decision to have one child. According to the latest available numbers from the Department of Agriculture, it costs roughly $286,000 to raise a middle class child from birth to age 18…and then parents (or loans) add on the cost of college. If you are in a high income bracket, the costs can soar to around $450,000 or more.

Lauren Sandler reports in her Time Magazine  story: "The recession has dramatically reshaped women's childbearing desires," says Larry Finer, the director of domestic policy at the Guttmacher Institute, a leading ­reproductive-health-research organization. The institute found that 64% of women polled said that with the economy the way it is, they couldn't afford to have a baby now. Forty-four percent said they plan to reduce or delay their childbearing — again, because of the economy.”

If nothing else, chalk one up for only children and their parents—they are getting noticed. You can listen to Lauren Sandler and me here: In a Bad Economy, Opting for an Only Child on NPR.   

Possibly this new attention is the beginning of the end of the conversation about the perceived unfairness and selfishness of not giving a child a sibling. And, maybe, just maybe, the “open season” on the only child that has been in full force since 1896 is closing. Maybe parents can choose to have one child without being second-guessed or second-guessing themselves. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful and welcomed change of attitude?

Copyright 2010 by Susan Newman