Prior to comments on this blog I never knew that some people believe it is important to have an even number of children. The idea seems to be that as long as there is an even number, the siblings will be “paired” with each other and no one will be left out.
As someone who grew up in a fairly large family, I find this idea intellectually and emotionally overwhelming. It is hard enough to arrange to have an even number of children, let alone to determine that they will arrive in pairs!
The preference for an even number of children does not make sense to me for many reasons:
Developmental issues: even aside from severe handycaps, children naturally develop differently. So, even if you have all of your children 18 months apart you will find that they don’t progress at perfectly matched increments. So your third born child who was supposed to be “paired” with the fourth born may actually out-pace your second born in verbal skills and have no interest in engaging in baby-talk with the youngest.
Sex: if you are intent on pairing your children, then wouldn’t it be important to either pair them with siblings of the same sex so that they can have more in common, or else to pair them with the other sex so that they can be different? I don’t know which way the pairing philosophy would work, but I don’t imagine that someone who cares about pairing would think that the sex of the children paired was inconsequential!
Personalities: children somehow manage to be their own little selves despite their parents’ best wishes. This means that their personalities might conflict, and they might not happen to feel like being best buddies with the sibling the parents believe they should. A first born may care far more for shepherding all the little ones than she does hanging out as an equal with her second born sibling. A third born may be a complete introvert who simply does not want to spend any more time with his brother than is absolutely necessary. A fifth born may love music and math while her sixth born sibling prefers dolls and drama.
Large families: large families tend to have families inside of families with multiple “first borns,” “babies” etc. And this isn’t something parents can control. It is not as if the first four will be the first family, the second four the second family, and so on. Furthermore, it isn’t clearly driven by spacing. Parents cannot simply choose to have six children, take a bit of a break, and then have four more children with the idea that the seventh child will be an “eldest.” He might just turn out to be a “baby” who is doted on by the first six children and never accepts the role of leader for the youngest four.
Change: even if everything does match up and one manages to say have two perfectly healthy sweetly outgoing girls and then two nerdy little boys who all get along perfectly with their respective “match,” things change. The eldest may go off and do her own thing while the second born and baby find that they want to start an online baby-entertainment business. And then, despite all of the parents perfect pairing, the third-born is still “left out.” Then, of course, things can change again just as quickly and it will be a different child who does not “fit in” with the rest.
And of course, it is impossible to overstate the very real difficulties of exact family planning. It is one thing to plan to have two children and then be sterilized, but for Christians who are open to life at least in a general sense, things are far from simple. A couple may determine to have four children, but then experience secondary subfertility which leaves them with three. Or a woman may give birth to four children and have a complete surprise 15 years later. Even those couples with no qualms about anything from IVF to sterilization may find themselves remarried and wanting to have another child with a new spouse. Life is, quite simply, never simple.
Reality and all of its challenges aside, I do not know whether it is desirable to have an even number of children. I have always thought that 3 and 5 were perfect numbers for their own reasons and the idea of being a part of a pair always seemed inferior to being part of a little community. But others, no doubt, have experience with perfect pairing which was the best part of their childhood.
What is your experience?
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