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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

More Than One Child No Reason to Whisper

While everyone is busy counting votes and defining electorates, a tectonic turnaround is happening in Russians' attitude to having babies. Whenever there's a tea break in my company, chat inevitably drifts toward dogs and their habits but never centers on children, which occasionally leads me to remark provocatively that while some men breed animals, "real men breed humans."


Meant as a joke, the response can be downright aggressive, but the fact remains that it is not the done thing to discuss your kids. While it's all right to own several dogs, having more than one child is still considered either a mistake or a social faux pas. My boss, who has two lovely kids, confides he "already feels like an Uzbek" -- refering to the Central Asian nation known for its high birth rate in Soviet days when demographers were "appalled" to register two births a year into some families.


Indeed a quick poll in my workplace, the newspaper Izvestia, revealed that only four employees have three children, and only two of them within one marriage. One is a man of my father's generation and another, about my age, is considered an object of curiosity due to his three sons -- even though his wife had twins the second time around. His family is known around the office as the "hockey team."


Of course, life is difficult in a transitional economy, but it is not so much economics as social attitudes that count. On the birth of our second child -- my third -- colleagues commiserated: how do you manage? We don't manage; we enjoy it. There is no warmth to beat the sight of the two of them giggling together over a messy kasha binge, but still Russian women sigh, "Ah, two is too many: You only breed poverty."


For the past few decades, beginning with the Bolsheviks who needed revolutionaries and the Stalinists who needed cannon fodder, the state has tried to persuade women to have more babies -- even offering medals to "hero mothers." But nothing seemed to work. The process was considered an endurance test rather than a pleasure.


At last statistics show Russians are voting for reforms by having more children. Not surprisingly, as one 50-year-old babushka who spends her days with her newly born grandson told me, "had we all the Pampers, bottles, non-drip mugs, sterilizers, bouncers and high fashion maternity clothes -- everything that allows you to enjoy your motherhood, forget about the prices, we would certainly have more babies. For ourselves and," she adds with newly fashionable patriotism, "for the country."


A colleague, 35 years old, has just had his second baby 11 years after his first. "You know what," he whispered, "I am the happiest man on earth now that I have two." But will he consider a third?