Greatest gift to give your child is a sibling or two

Having more than one child changes family dynamics and siblings can turn to one another when parents are busy

You probably tested it wrongly, or you used a faulty made-in-China pregnancy test kit.

I still remember vividly my words to my wife when she told me over the phone that her home pregnancy test result had been positive.

That was almost six years ago, after we had already spent seven years raising two daughters - which took all of our time, energy and freedom from being able to do what we felt like doing without a second thought.

Our plans to tour Europe had to be placed on the back burner as we embarked on the tour de force of parenthood.


ST ILLUSTRATION: FRANCISCO

I left work early that day, swung by a nearby pharmacy and bought one of every brand of home pregnancy test kits that I could find on the shelf.

Having more than one child in the family creates special dynamics. I believe there is truth in the belief that an only  child is more likely to grow up spoilt and self-centred. When there are two or three children, they learn early  to live together with others and about the importance of give and take.

After three more tests - during which I looked on to ensure my wife was doing it right - all with the same result, my disbelief soon turned to shock, and then, to acceptance.

The year before, we had taken our children to the Sunshine Coast in Australia, the first time we could finally have a nice decent holiday overseas, beyond Malaysia, as a family.

We had waited six years for that trip. By then, my two elder girls were six and three, old enough for us to enjoy a holiday in a faraway destination.

We had planned for more of these trips, but with the impending arrival of our third child, we knew that it would be another long wait.

Truth be told, we did not plan for our second child either. She just came along because we weren't taking any birth control measures.

We didn't think my wife would conceive naturally as we had a tough time the first time, when we had succeeded only after years of seeing fertility doctors.

News that I would be a father for the first time had arrived during a planned visit to the gynaecologist to get the results of a fertility procedure. It was a very different feeling when I was told about my second child.

My wife also broke that news to me over the phone, after an unplanned urine test at our family physician's clinic, which she had visited because she had a bad cough.

Our careful doctor had wanted her to do a pregnancy test as a precaution before dispensing strong cough medicine.

I was also in disbelief at first when I heard the news, and I remember asking my wife to check if the nurse had perhaps accidentally swopped the litmus paper.

Life really is strange. I am the kind of guy who never really planned for anything in my life, yet today, I am the proud and happy father of three amazing daughters aged 13, 10 and four. I wish I could say I had planned for all three of them, but I would be lying.

However, I have since discovered the importance of having more than one child.

We fussed over our first baby so much that we would be frantic and run over to her at the faintest whimper. Until she turned three, we could not eat in nice restaurants because she would cry if there were too many people around.

Once, my wife was treating me to a sumptuous buffet dinner at a restaurant in a hotel here for my birthday, but my daughter would not stop screaming.

In the end, we had to take turns to eat. One of us had to stay outside the restaurant carrying our baby, while the other feasted within.

Other times, our epicurean adventures also ended badly at restaurants with less tasty fare because we chose them for their serenity and not for the flavour of their food.

Things changed when the second daughter came along.

Our eldest girl became very protective of her new sibling and spent a lot of time helping Mum to care for her younger sister. She became less self-centred and started focusing on her charge.

When my second child became older, the two started playing together. Sometimes they quarrel and say hateful things to each other, but most of the time, the two are the best of friends.

If they have a secret, they would tell each other first instead of their parents. They spend an inordinate amount of time talking to each other over nonsensical stuff which I have given up trying to figure out.

They share many common interests and often embark on new experiences together. Their favourite pastime these days is watching anime together.

Both my older daughters are also very close to the youngest girl. The baby of the family has mastered the art of running to her parents to complain about her sisters over everything, but the two elder girls still spend a lot of time caring for her and playing with her, even though the age gap is quite big.

Having more than one child in the family creates special dynamics.

I believe there is truth in the belief that an only child is more likely to grow up spoilt and self-centred. When there are two or three children, they learn early to live together with others and about the importance of give and take.

I believe the greatest gift you can give to your child is a sibling, or two.

For parents who are thinking about doing so, worried perhaps about going through another few years of suffering, I can only say that things get better.

The arrival of my second child eventually meant that my two elder daughters had each other as playmates and confidantes, instead of only their busy parents.

By the time my third daughter was born, we started taking a more laid-back approach to parenting, and so, were less stressed about it.

Once, when she was still a baby and cried in the middle of the night, I told my wife: "Don't worry. Let her cry a bit more, lah. If she's still crying, it means she is still alive."

•Previously the technology editor of The Straits Times, the writer is now a public relations consultant.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'Greatest gift to give your child is a sibling or two'. Print Edition | Subscribe