Disclaimer: The term “only child” carries a lot of stigma in our country. This post is not meant to attack anyone’s decision to have a larger family. It’s simply an alternative view highlighting the merits of raising an only child.
Before Ivy (Hungry Guinea Pig Version 2.0) was born, I always assumed that I wanted children (plural). It’s fairly understood to be the status quo that if you have one child, there must be another at some point. This is reflected in the way our culture tends to respond to the announcement of your pregnancy: “Congratulations! Is this your first?” The obvious connotation behind that statement is that whether it’s your first or not, pregnancy begets pregnancy. I was never friends with any single children while growing up. Knowing someone without a sibling was even more rare than knowing someone whose parents weren’t divorced. It’s interesting to note that studies suggest that marriages involving fewer children tend to be happier, so there may be some causation behind that correlation.
There are stereotypes that go along with being an only child that I’m sure you can identify before I even type them out: “Spoiled!” “Lonely!” “Future serial killer!”. Then of course there is the standard judgment toward the parents of an only child: “Selfish!” The same can be said of a couple who chooses to have no kids at all. Honestly, I find this accusation to be rather ridiculous. It’s a rude assumption on many levels, especially in instances where fertility or other complications make having another child very difficult or impossible. I can only assume that this attitude stems from one of the following places:
a. A person who loves being a martyr for their children is insulted by adults whose main identity does not rely on the failures and successes of their children.
b. A person who hates being a parent is jealous of the freedom that childless couples have.
c. A person who thinks that being a parent means you are part of a special club where you can talk down to people who do not have children “Oh, you think you’re tired?! You should try having kids!”
d. A person who simply doesn’t know any better relying on stereotypes to help them understand another human being (cultural influences).
e. All of the above
I had a less than stellar birth experience (Check out my first post). Once we arrived home with our brand new baby and the feelings of shock sunk in, Derek and I had to keep reminding ourselves (kidding at first), that we didn’t have to have any more children after this. Just saying it out loud helped us get through the day. I purchased a book called One and Only and read it while *cluster feeding my insatiable newborn. It was written by the mother of a single child who is also a single child herself.
(*Cluster feeding is a horrible breastfeeding phenomenon in which a baby insists on being attached to your boob for SEVERAL hours at a time in an effort to “tank up”.)
The basic premise of the book is that (stereotypes be damned!), research shows that single children fare just as well as children with siblings, and sometimes even come out ahead. From an article written by the author:
“…in hundreds of studies during the past decades exploring 16 character traits including leadership, maturity, extroversion, social participation, popularity, generosity, cooperativeness, flexibility, emotional stability, contentment — only children scored just as well as children with siblings. And endless research shows that only children are, in fact, no more self-involved than anyone else. It turns out brutal sibling rivalry isn’t necessary to beat the ego out of us; peers and classmates do the job.“
She then goes on to describe how studies also seem to suggest that solitude is not necessarily synonymous with loneliness and that it may even contribute to character building.
I started to convince myself that hey, I really can have just one! I wondered aloud How could people who have such terrible experiences go on to have more kids?! Several people, including my own mother, assured me that nature would see to it that I would forget: “And that’s how the human race continues”.
Never forget 11.12.2016 became the battle cry in our household. I told Derek to hurry up and get a vasectomy before we had the chance to romanticize the horrors of childbirth and caring for a newborn.
Of course when you say these things out loud, you feel like a real shit parent. We really do love our daughter to death (Nature knows what it’s doing). But with that love comes a lot of god-awful responsibility, guilt, pain, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and missed opportunities. I have had a few moments of feeling as if I might go completely insane (and she’s only 3 months old…)
At first I felt really guilty about our decision. I have two sisters who have enhanced my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. BUT when I really started to take a hard look at the pros and cons of having another child, it became very clear to me that “One and Done” was more than just a sanity saving mantra to get us through the day. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
- Siblings Really Are the Shit (assuming you like each other at least at some point during your lives).
- More Kids Means More Love and (hopefully) Support. You can never have too many people in your corner, especially when times are tough.
- The Times They Are A-Changin’: Climate change has quickly become one of the greatest threats to life on this planet. Having one child in lieu of several means keeping more resource-draining, polluting humans off the earth.
- Health is Really Important to Me: I have fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that demands quality sleep and minimal stress. Also, breastfeeding in awkward positions and carrying around a fat baby all day really does a number on my neck and back. Sleep deprivation makes my natural predisposition toward depression and anxiety a little too sexy.
- Cash Rules Everything Around Me: Kids are expensive. Being alive is expensive. I live in a country that doesn’t offer the kind of financial support to families that most other first world nations are privy to. Subsidized child care? School lunches? Universal healthcare? Free college? Nope! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, American! We work for what we get around here!
- Mommy Dearest: I’m not materialistic, so I’ll never yell at Ivy for putting her clothes on wire hangers. However, I was a high-strung, neurotic nutcase before she was even born. Sibling rivalry? I’m not sure we’d all survive.
- Quality over Quantity: Less is more to me. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I’d rather invest my time and energy into raising one human being rather than multiple. I do my best work when I’m not overwhelmed.
- What about ME, dammit?! (Sounds a little selfish I suppose ;): I am not particularly interested in a kid-centric life. I would rather go dance my butt off at a concert than join a mommy group where we talk about which cloth diapers we like best.
- Modern Medicine is Amazing!: But schedule a date to have another baby cut out of my body? No thanks! I don’t even like having my blood drawn.
Derek is planning to get “the snip” sometime this summer. The next time somebody asks “Is this your first baby?” I plan to smile and reply “And last!”
Sandler, L. One and Only. 2013.