Size of families in Ireland
Tricky stuff

Size of families in Ireland

The average size of families in Ireland is continuing to decline. Father of one Ken Phelan finds there are benefits to all types of family sizes.

If you took a stroll through any 1950s housing estate in Ireland, the streets were littered with children, bustling to and from in a cacophony of endless noise, their siblings teeming from front doors, windows and overflowing dustbins. Children were everywhere. Families of 10, 12, 14 or more were common, while a family of one child was simply unheard of.

How many is enough?

Parents, defeated and exhausted, could be forgiven for occasionally forgetting the names of so many offspring; indeed, if one or two extra children appeared for tea it would largely go unnoticed. As children rushed in and out, tripping over the unfortunate dog, mother ironed eight school uniforms and prepared eight school lunches. These, of course, were simple times, and despite undoubted hardship, happy times too. Contraceptives (and perhaps common sense) were unheard of, but moreover, Ireland was simply known as a country of large, Catholic families.

Modern-day Ireland is a little different; economic hardship, job instability and couples settling down relatively later in life has meant smaller families and couples re-assessing how they will provide for their children. Many couples who bought houses during the Celtic Tiger years now find themselves in negative equity with homes simply too small for larger families. For these couples, two children or even one child seems like a more sensible option. Of course, the Catholic church has less of a stranglehold on modern Ireland, and family planning thankfully now rests entirely within the control of the couples themselves.

size of families in ireland

According to the latest CSO figures (2011), the average size of families in Ireland is continuing to decline, but at a slower pace than previous years. The average number of children in Irish families at census was 1.38, down from 2.0 in 1991, while the number of one-child families increased by 13% at 339,596 families.

With one-child families in particular now appealing to a greater number of couples, what are the advantages and disadvantages of a one-child family and a larger, more traditional ‘Irish’ family?

One-child families

Some would say that less is more. Parents report a stronger bond between parent and child that lasts throughout childhood and into adulthood. With one-child families, greater time, commitment, attention and resources can go towards the child; in times of economic hardship and uncertainty, resources, in particular, become paramount.
Myths surrounding only children have largely been discounted; the notion of spoiled, materialistic, unsociable and lonely

‘Little Emperors’ is a fabrication made perhaps by those who favour more than one child. True, the only child lacks siblings, and this is an issue worth noting, but once friends, nieces and nephews are available, this need not be a cause for concern.

According to psychologist Susan Newman, author of Parenting An Only Child, studies suggest that only-children have closer relationships with parents than peers, have higher IQs, better verbal skills and may excel at school because they tend to be read to more often. The key factor here is time; quality time with parent and child that may understandably be lacking in larger families. It can be quite difficult to sit down and read a bedtime story to six different children.

In terms of financial concerns, only-children would appear to be in a better position, since finances can be more easily directed towards raising and providing for the child – food, clothing, leisure activities and educational needs are all more manageable with one. Also, only-children provide much-needed space for couples to have dedicated time for themselves – an idea unheard of even a generation ago.
Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Eleanor Roosevelt were all only-children. So too were Elvis Presley, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Anthony Hopkins. So you see, despite the naysayers, being an only child could lead to greatness and fame!

‘Traditional’ families

Leaving the idea of having ten or more children to the confines of Irish history, modern ‘traditional’ Irish families, i.e. two or more children, have their own advantages.

The first advantage of note is that of siblings. Siblings play an important role in the development of other siblings, in terms of relationship skills, conflict resolution and play. In fact, it is believed siblings learn more from each other than they do from parents.
Siblings also provide an invaluable service to parents – playmates and babysitters. While only-children may have to play on their own or with parents, having siblings provides playmates, while mum and dad will be quite happy to allow older children to babysit their younger siblings.

size of families in ireland

Having more than one child means that clothing, books, etc can be passed on to other siblings, unlike the one-child family, where clothes are worn a few months and discarded, and books are useless once bored of.

There is a unique bond found within traditional families; birthdays, Christmases, etc are events unto themselves, simply because of the sheer number involved. From the parents’ perspective, having more than one child means a greater number of children to look after you in old age. This may seem selfish, but nevertheless is a genuine concern. Also, having more than one means that when, God forbid, you pass on, your child is not left alone.

Finally, an obvious advantage is that many parents simply want more children. Even those who swore they would never have more become weak at the knees at the sight of a newborn baby; even the most resolute amongst us sometimes succumb to such broodiness. Mother nature, in her wisdom, conspires for us to breed.

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Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….