One of the most common arguments against stopping at one child is the fear that caring for elderly parents alone is an overwhelming burden for an only child. Surely they'd be better able to cope with the help and support of siblings, right? Well maybe, or then again maybe not.
Here are three reasons having that extra child might not be the best way to prepare for your old age.
1. The cost of raising that extra child or two could have paid for your aged care and more.
It’s estimated by the USDA that each child in the US in 2015 costs at least $245,345 to raise to the age of 17, that doesn't include college or the fact that many children stay at home living off their parents long after this. Also, this is for an average middle class family so it can be more or less depending on your circumstances and how much you lavish on your children. In other countries the costs are comparable to income so it works out the same.
So for every additional child that's $245,345 that you could have spent paying off your home mortgage, or saving for your retirement and aged care. You could argue that rather than being burdened with their aging parents, today's only children, Generation Only, are more likely to have aging parents who can fund their own care.
Let's not imagine that $245,345 isn't a lot of money, it is. Just imagine that because you didn't have that second child someone gives you all the money you saved as a lump sum at age 55. What will it turn into when you need it later, let's say when you're 70? According to Investor.gov if you invest $245,345 securely at 5% that money will have doubled to $509,000 just in time for your 70th birthday. Not bad. But if you want to take some risk in the stock market you could earn more like 9% in which case the money has more than tripled to around $892,000, an even better birthday present. Now imagine you avoided having two extra children, you can pretty well double this amount which makes you well off enough to buy that convertible you've always wanted and live in considerable style.
Stop at one child and when you are old you can be sure your child's visits are for pleasure not to change your adult diaper.
Not only that, you can look forward to a less stressful or even abusive quality of care thanks to my next point.
2. Adult children can make stressful carers.
Relying on the adult child for your primary care in old age is a great way to sour your relationship at a time when you should be enjoying those final precious years together.
A recent study authored by professor Merril Silverstein from the University of Southern California compared the relationships between adult children and aging parents in various countries around the world and found that the most harmonious were those in which aging parents didn't have to rely on adult children to look after them. Relations in the US were less harmonious compared to those in Europe and Israel where government provided care is more comprehensive. In fact 20% of US parent/child caregiver relationships were deemed 'unharmonious' which is another way of saying sour. In the study, the most amicable relationships were seen in Norway and England countries where strong social programs ease the financial burden of caregiving and lessen the reliance of parents on their adult children.
The message from this study is that parent child relationships are better the less aing parents rely on adult children for their care.
When you add in the complexity of siblings, caring for elderly parents is even more fraught.
Research by Gerontologist Jill Suitor and Dr Karl Pillemer has shown just how sibling relationships can descend into acrimony as the rivalry that has laid dormant for decades re-emerges when adult children step up to take care of Mom and Dad.
Their research suggests that aging parents return to their old habit of playing favorites when choosing which child they want to look after them. They are more likely to choose a child that is closer emotionally or they have a history of care with, usually a daughter. If their first choice is ignored and the most accessible or available child is assigned the role of caregiver the parent can become unhappy or even depressed and this can lead to poor health outcomes.
Caring for elderly parents is stressful in itself but if you throw in the sibling dynamics of jealousy, rivalry and even jockeying for a future inheritance, it can create enough tension to destroy sibling relationships. It's estimated that 40% of sibling relationships suffer permanently from caring for aging parents.
“The quality of the sibling relationship is cast in bas-relief by the demise of a parent,” says psychologist John Caffaro, PhD, author and specialist in mediating sibling strife and a professor at the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles.
The fact is no matter how many children you raise, the responsibility of taking care of you in your old age is most likely to fall to one. In 43% of U.S. families and 41% of Canadian families, one sibling has the responsibility for providing most or all of the care for Mom or Dad, according to the Senior Care® network in Canada. The research goes on to warn about the particular strain this can cause as the primary carer feels abandoned by their siblings, unfairly burdened or even judged.
When it goes well and siblings cooperate and share evenly the burden of parental care this can be a special time for grown up children as they express their gratitude to their parents for a lifetime of sacrifice and support. But if it's not managed well it can inflict damage on sibling relationships that will live on well past the eventual death of their parents. And elderly parents can find themselves embroiled in a new round of bitter infighting.
3. Only children are closer to their parents.
Research shows that only children are closer to their parents than those with siblings and have a more positive relationship. It stands to reason then that as you age your only child is not only going to be more willing to care for you, but your bond will be stronger and make the quality of your time together better. And you won't be breaking up fights over inheritances or paying for your care or who got a larger piece of pie and more ice cream.
Sure, being an only child and having to deal with aging parents is challenging, but given it is most likely to happen later in life, onlies should have the support of a partner, good friends and even children of their own to help share the burden and the grief.
Just because they don't have siblings, doesn't mean they have to go it alone.