Why I said no to having a second child in my family
Published: Nov 09, 2015 07:28 PM
The other night over supper I joked with my family about the idea of having a second child. The central government's historic news amending its three-decade old one-child policy had just been announced, so it seemed like a fitting occasion to raise the topic.

My 14-year-old daughter looked at me quite seriously and asked, "You sure that you can? You are in your forties!" My mother-in-law likewise appeared frightened at the thought, hastening to say, "If you really want another child, you'd better find somebody else to help."

My dear mother-in-law is only 20 years older than me and was in excellent physical health when she first came to live with us back in 2001 following the birth of my little princess. As every Chinese family knows, it's uncommon to raise a child without help from their grandparents, especially in Shanghai where both parents usually have to work in order to make ends meet.

In spite of his busy work schedule, my husband is in fact a very attentive father, spending nearly every night reviewing mathematics, physics and chemistry lessons with our daughter. His reaction to my query was also quite comical. "I dare not imagine that when my hair turns grey in 15 years I still have to solve science questions for our second child!"

My husband and I are among the millions of those born in the 1970s, before China's one-child policy was put into effect, with a sibling, so we know the value of having a brother or sister. Siblings make great playmates and help share household, family and, later, financial responsibilities. In theory, giving our daughter a younger brother or sister would ostensibly solve my mother-in-law's and my husband's concerns, as she would be taking over both of their roles.

But here in China, where having only one child in a family is deeply embedded in our collective psyche, I fear that introducing a toddler into our family would doom us to an unharmonious household. Chinese media are constantly reporting on conflicts between rival siblings suing each other for the bigger stake in their family inheritances, or some grossly spoiled "Little Emperor" who forced their mother to abort their unborn second child because they wanted to retain their family status.

The mental shift that our daughter would be made to undergo from knowing that everything in our family "is all yours" to "you'll have to share" would certainly pose the most challenges for all of us to overcome. Just to gauge her reaction, I jokingly prepared her for the worst, saying "Right now our apartment goes to you, but if you had a little brother or sister you'd have to fight over it."

I expected her to have an adolescent conniption, but she surprised me by shrugging her shoulders and caustically retorting, "Do you think you still have the ability to have a child?"

I don't know if she meant physically or financially, but either way she unwittingly raised a valid point. Even if Chinese mothers can physically have a second child, do we have the mental energy to? I recall very clearly how much effort I and my husband have spent the past 14 years to raise our daughter well, from playing with her as a toddler to working tirelessly at our jobs in order to afford good schools for her to sitting with her every night while she does her homework.

We are comfortably middle class, but my husband and I have worked very hard to get here while also remaining present in our daughter's upbringing. Despite Shanghai's soaring real estate prices and ever-increasing cost of living (the highest in all of Asia), money would hardly be the most important variable when considering having a second child. Being able to devote the same emotional and physical energy to that infant as we did with our first child is the priority factor.

As we are right now, we are a very happy and content one-child family. There is mutual love and respect between each member of our household, and we are secure in the knowledge that we will continue to be able to provide for our daughter's forthcoming teen and college years. A second child would certainly disrupt all of that, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm not willing to make that sacrifice.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.