20 Dec Family – When Less May Not Be More
From the Desk of Tori Black:
Russell M. Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has said, “The home is the laboratory of love, and in it resides the most important unit of the Church and of society—the family.” We live, however, in a day and age where people, while extolling the virtue of family, are not creating them. Historian James McPherson recently noted that many of Europe’s political leaders have no children, including France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British prime minister Theresa May, Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of Holland, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of Sweden, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, and president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. What impact does it have on society, on the world, when adults have no physical, familial connection to the future?
McPherson makes the point that, “One of the benefits of parenthood is the daily confrontation with free will—a human nature. Parents may have their child’s life, career, and happiness planned out, but a child has other ideas -constantly. Love, patience, teaching, negotiating, scolding— nurture—can help direct the child, but the overwhelming otherness of the child is undeniable. They are not blank slates upon whom the parent exercises his will. Political leaders without this experience of parenthood may be susceptible to the idea that people are blank-slates, interchangeable units of human capital.”
These days, those who are having children, are having ever fewer. It has been noted that sibling relationships provide a “natural training ground” for important life skills. What is the impact of smaller families and fewer or no siblings on the lives of children, and what will be the ripple effect felt in our communities? At this holiday season, may we extol and be ever thankful for the lessons taught and learned as siblings and parents in that great laboratory of learning, the family.
Tori Black, President
United Families International
Family – When Less May Not Be More
United Families International: Dedicated to informing you about the issues and forces impacting the family.
As a child, I remember bundling up in my winter coat with the rest of my siblings for a drive around the neighborhoods each Christmas season. We loved to look at the decorations that adorned nearby houses. Some had subtle decorations, others moderate, while still others seemed to have more decoration than our minds could process, leaving us feeling a bit claustrophobic. It was on those drives that I remember my mother teaching us kids that, in the world of decorating, sometimes less is more.
In society today, the motto “less is more” is applied to many aspects of life. From fashion trends to architectural designs, many have welcomed this idea with open arms. But is less truly always more, or are there times when that isn’t the case?
With our nation’s fertility rate at a record low for the second year in a row, it appears that “less is more” has also been applied to matters of the family. Near the end of the 1970s, the average mother gave birth to over three children. In contrast, the average mother in 2015 gave birth to 2.4 children. Additionally, a recent survey performed for the New York Times found that some young adults are having fewer children than they themselves consider ideal. These participants provided a wide range of explanations, such as having fewer children is more affordable, more feasible, more convenient, or less worrying. Though these concerns are understandable, and are likely felt by most of today’s parents at some point, fewer children also results in fewer sibling relationships. By having fewer children, are parents limiting significant opportunities for the children they do have?
Nina Howe, Concordia University’s research chair in early childhood development, has emphasized the significance of sibling relationships, discussing how they create a safe context and natural laboratory for learning and growth. In addition, these relationships can provide important opportunities for children to learn about emotion identification, understanding, and regulation. Researchers suggest that, because siblings are so informed on the emotional experiences of their brothers and sisters, they may even take on the role of coach, aiding one another with responses to emotional situations. This can be a helpful tool for a child to have, as siblings may help them learn to process and respond effectively to emotionally challenging situations. Results from longitudinal studies have also found that sibling relationships can be a source of protection against family stressors. It may be tempting to think that the parent-child relationship can provide similar if not equal benefits. However, as described by researchers, Feinberg and associates, “the daily companionship of siblings in childhood and the lifelong nature of sibling bonds, combined with the intense positive and negative emotional nature of sibling exchanges, yield a family relationship whose power and importance has frequently been underestimated.”7
Of course, the nature of the sibling relationship may vary depending on contextual factors. Research suggests that spousal conflict and parenting behaviors can predict the quality of sibling relationships. In addition, the differing temperaments and personal characteristics of siblings can support either prosocial or antisocial behaviors. Simply having more children does not guarantee smooth sailing. However, research suggests that externalizing behaviors, such as physical aggression, disobeying rules, cheating, stealing, and destruction of property, are less likely to occur when warmth exists within the sibling relationship. Fostering warmth in familial relationships should be a goal for parents as they strive to combat potential negative outcomes.
As I reflect back on those family drives during the holiday season, though I did learn lessons about decorating, what I cherish most are the laughs and memories made with the ones sitting next me. The sibling relationship is unique, and can be one of the most enduring relationships one has throughout life. With the various factors parents have to consider when determining number of children, the impact of the sibling relationship should certainly be among the list, for in some situations, less may not always be more.
Mariah Sanders is a senior undergraduate student in the Human Development program at Brigham Young University. The author wishes to thank Julie Haupt for her suggestions and careful review of this blog.