Early April this year, my family and I embarked on a trip to visit my Shosh, up in the hills of Othaya. A green desert of tea farms, and dwindling coffee plantation, up and down we were, taking sharp corners underneath unbothered deadly rivers making their way to distant lands. Othaya, a very fresh environment courtesy of the unrivalled abundance of rare indigenous trees, tall and gigantic, placed on top of hills and down south along the slopes, bending and singing smoothly – what a purified air! And this journey is never enough without passing by Tums. Well Tums is a small getaway, sandwiched by weather roads, red in colour and inside a sleepy village called Giakaja. Here, the best of kuku and mbuzi choma invites you from the parking bay, and soon you spot the busiest of waiters speeding like rally cars, balancing their trays with the dozens of orders playing in their heads. Tums being a gazebo-like layout, the laughters from happy people enjoying every bite of the meat and ambience waft easily all across. Normally, Nairobians who live for discovering hide outs, will be found here on a Saturday afternoon, flanked by their glossy wives, and their beguiling looking, smooth skinned girlfriends with sweeping elegant weaves, and their boys in expensive pants while some will still insist on puttting on coloured shorts in the year of our lord 2017. Usually, their tables will be dotted with Tuskers and silver-like melting meat. They will smoke arrogantly, speak louder, laugh more and ask for more beer and choma.
Now, we make our way to Shosh’s place, eat, drink, chat and then by coincidence happen to meet a number of my cousins who have also checked in for other engagements here. So, as the evening gets weary, one cousin rises to give vote of thanks but sneaks in an interesting conversation. That as cousins, they are considering awarding whichever family that will reach the target of having at least five kids. Currently the top contenders which is a tie of a few, has four kids each. Actually they are three families out of thirty something. SADLY, SHOSHO PASSED ON RECENTLY AND IN FACT LAID HER TO REST ON 16TH JUNE 2017. Rest in eternal peace dear pillar of my heritage.
Moving on…Our generation is breeding far fewer kids. Two utmost. Three if one is damn rich. Some one. Well the commonest reason being the “harsh economic times”. Quite logical. I mean how and why should one agonise over raising more kids when Unga is neither affordable nor available. When you can’t place food on the table, why more? Dear Andreaders, can our economy encourage contemporary parents to get more or few?
Well, I sampled a few of my friends asking them: Given a choice considering the status of our economy, would you go few or more kids? Kindly give reasons. Only one out of twelve respondents was for four to five kids regardless of the economic status. Three respondents were for very few kids. The rest had no clear answers. Simply put, they were nor here nor there. Just a bit confused. Sometimes back, my siblings and I visited mum by surprise. She was extremely happy and sensational. One thing I fondly remember her saying was; “Assuming I had one or two kids, would I be this happy?” You can imagine a family of slightly many siblings , armed with their spouses and curious teenage-like kids, and few more delicate and restless ones less than a year old, who can cry all night. We were scattered in one house, unbowed by the crying ones annoyed by the new environment they were not used to and the laughters and dealing with not-so-familiar faces plus the undoing of low temperatures of Nyandarua. Kids can be sensitive? My mum now savouring the beauty of watching her grandchildren whirl up and down while the shy ones sat attentively as they gazed at the hearty conversations. The shy ones in this instance had to be the teenagers getting acquainted to adolescence stage of life.
While working on this article, I stumbled on a research report named, Kenya: The Demographic of a Country in Turmoil which gives a chronology of Kenya’s population. Digging in, between 1970s and 1980s Kenya had one of the fastest population growth rates in the world. It experienced an economy slow down thereafter, which prompted the government to advocate for family planning to lower fertility rates. In 1960’s an average family would have 8 – 10 kids. As of 1990’s, that dropped to about five kids. With the AIDS epidemic which eroded health and mortality progress, Kenya has had to review life expectancy from an average of 60 years in 1980s to 53 in 2007.
But while the poor are having more kids, the middle class are siring few! Seemingly, the former are putting up with a fight of survival while the latter are toying with pro-westernized ideologies where getting more kids is no longer fashionable and worse still – very demanding and expensive, so to speak. But demographic pundits have it; that with an effective government and stable economic environment, population increase leads to steady economic growth.
The worry is, many alike, in our classes of life are bringing up fewer and lonelier families. Where, a couple gets two kids, educates them and by the time these children join University at about 19 years, the parents being anywhere from 45 – 51 years, are left to live alone while the kids run to Nairobi. These are the same kids who never get married nor visit home. So the closest these parents get to meet their grandchildren, unfortunately, will be in their sorry state – feeble and draining their family savings to medical bills besides dealing with two kids who haven’t stabilized in life. Forgive me for entertaining the thought that, there is fun in more numbers.
Thinking rationally, clear advantages of having relatively more kids include; Family projects become easier and attractable to finance based on the numbers, the few less-fortunate in life get pulled up by the rest of the siblings, the diversity of careers and lines of incomes brought about by different interests for each sibling increases chances of survival, such a family has a bulk of knowledge and forum to exchange ideas and increase business networks. Moreover, economies of scale have never been more plausible than in families – Utility bills are far cheaper in a house of more, than of few. Clothes and toys can be passed on to the younger ones. Parents who are pro-more can be in a position to enjoy freedom earlier since the teenage kids can be left to guard the little ones as they attend a dinner date, or rush for urgent issues out of the house, and can be caught up in traffic without worry of house girl drama.
Medical researchers have disclosed that growing up with a brother or sister can reduce food allergies, multiple sclerosis and some cancers. Obesity and depression is potentially reduced by exposure to more siblings. Parents with one or two kids, spend lots of money in Day-cares while the pro-more can have that aspect taken care of easily. Research have shown that ‘siblinged’ children will have stronger soft skills and keener emotional intelligence than single children. In most cases, siblings make up the best of friends. Mistakes and confessions are first told to close siblings meaning a good support system can be nurtured within siblings. Further, one or two kids can choke from over attention and pressure. Relatively more kids dilute the attention awarded to each kid hence aiding in making a child mature quicker.
Few or more, the jury is out.