No only children for me

I know some of my regular readers and friends are either only children, or parents to only child families.  This post is my thoughts and rationales, and in no way a judgement I pass on you and your circumstances.  I know that whilst at this juncture it may seem for me to be a choice, it may well become out of my hands what the size of my future family will be.  That being said, I enjoy my views being challenged, and welcome healthy and respectful debate!

Little Sarah with my family friend

I grew up as the eldest of three, with the second sibling being born when I was two.  That is to say, I’ve never (really) known what it’s like to be an only child.  So I think the circumstances of your upbringing can have a large impact on your choices.  I had a happy childhood, and didn’t suffer any great injustices from having siblings.  I believe having siblings helped me to learn (and re-learn) to share, that life’s not fair, to wait my turn and so many other things.  That being said, those things can be taught in extended families and close friendships with other families.

However, I think the key reason I’d not like an only child is that one child means an ability to provide undivided attention to all ages and stages. One of the detrimental parts of parenting is that the second child never gets quite as many baby photos.  And the eldest never gets the luxuries and indulgences that the ‘baby’ does (enjoying all the work the elder child have done to wear down the parents!).  Having parents that need to cater to the needs of more than one child is ultimately incredibly humbling – to realise you’re not always the most important person.  I don’t think any level of socialisation with cousins or peers will ever quite achieve the same level of split attention.  Certainly not unless the non siblings live in, and are around the clock demanding the same level of care and comfort from the same two people as your child.

Do I think only children are spoilt?  Yes and no – again it depends in the context of their extended family and social networks.  Just like a ‘baby’ of an extended family (ie a child born a decade shy of the nearest cousins/siblings) will always enjoy more spotlight than broods, and then yes, they are spoilt in the sense that they bathe in attention.  Of the newess of youth to the community.  However, does an only child mean those around it have the means to provide more to the one, than if there were more children?  Not necessarily.  One child may in fact be a function of a financial imperative.  An inability to stretch the budget any further.

I would expect that some only children are the result of painful and horrible pregnancies or births, if not critical natal health issues.  In this sense, it makes the life of the only child held incredibly high – lauded for surviving against the odds (or the agony).  (And since I first drafted this, one of my regular readers has shared this in fact was her experience)

Lastly, and perhaps most devastatingly, is that some sole children families end up as sole children, sole parent families.  In these instance, I grieve heavily.  There is no simple solution, although ‘have another kid’ is hardly a simple process, nor a ‘solution’!   The challenge of childrearing is difficult, and to do it alone is that much harder.  Would I wish children outnumbered the parent, singular?  In an ideal world, no I wouldn’t.  No matter the circumstances of the sole parenting arrangement, there’s a great burden on the parent that does need to be added to by another child.  That being said, the social stigma that can be attached to sole parents with children from multiple partners is particularly gruelling.  Whilst it may be no one’s business, like so many things, that does not silence people from passing hurtful judgement.  And even if nothing is verbalised, I know I would struggle with the stigma of having children from multiple fathers.

What are your thoughts, wiser and older readers? Young readers – how do you feel about this?

This entry was posted in Issues

4 Responses

  • I don’t judge. There’s too many reasons people have one or none. I don’t ask either as I know the answer may be painful. I’m glad I had two children. Just as I am glad I have my sister. My boys are friends and get on well. As do my sister and I. It wasn’t always so for my sister and me. But now we are here for each other. And no matter how people say their friends are their chosen family, they are not family. Even though we didn’t always get on, we are sisters. We are always here for one another. We can never not be sisters. Friends can not be friends.

    I’ve seen many children grow up. Thousands. Not all single children are spoilt. Just as not all children in families with siblings are not spoilt. It really is the parenting. But it is more likely a sole child will be “precious”, or as parents say without realising the implications, “he/she gets on better with adults”. (The parents don’t realise that is because the adults humour the child. They are not friends with the. Hold. They don’t and won’t hang out with the child. Often the child is annoying and whereas another child will say piss off, the adult will put up with the child but be glad when the child is sent away.)

    If I only had one child, I’d be glad I had it. It’s not like most people plan to have only one. Or know before their first pregnancy they can only have one. And some people become only children due to tragedy. My cousin had a sibling who died as a teen. I know she would love a sibling and as much as she is close to me, she’s not my sister. She’s my cousin. A close cousin. But a cousin. Not a sister.

    My boys have moments of selfishness. And are spoilt in many ways. (They don’t know how to wash dishes. Or claim not to. And they don’t cook.) They didn’t use to share chocolate or other treats. Yet they are honest in other ways. They’d never take money from me or one another without asking. (Though one boy was known to take socks!!!) The best thing is they get on. And love each other. And go out as friends with each other. And celebrate each other’s unique talents.

    And when I am old they can share visiting me and whinging about how painful I am as an old woman and stress together about “what are we going to do about mum” and be there for each other when I die.

    My favourite photo of them when they were little was the younger one looking up with pride and awe at his big brother and trying to sit like his older brother was. You can see the love in his eyes. And the older one? He had a list once that I asked what it was. “The songs my brother can play on the guitar.” He was proud of his brother who did poorly st school but could play the guitar and spell and speak Japanese. All things “the academic one” couldn’t do.

    Really that sums it up. They are unique. So different. As my sister and I are. Nothing alike. Except we are siblings. And it would be so lonely not having a sibling there

  • It’s good to read your thoughts, Sarah! (They weren’t as scary as I was expecting!)

    As you know, I have an only and you know the reasons. There’s nothing can take away from the fact that he will be always alone in the world. That’s my one, huge, frightening element of regret. But it is what it is. Life deals us certain hands, so we make the most of it:

    Like Lucinda, I’ve seen thousands of children grow up as a teacher. Some of the very nicest kids I’ve ever taught have been only children. I feel quite confident that being an ‘only’ isn’t being fated to poor social skills. It does get down to parenting as well as the child’s personality. I think only kids can take much longer to socialise and teach to share, mingle etc. But my ‘only’ is more outgoing than the average sibling because he’s had to always, every day of his life, go out and find people to be with. He’s really resourceful and adaptable and very resilient.

    I’m also a twin (and one of 4 siblings), which makes me nearly the opposite in life experience to my only child. I never spent a single moment alone in my childhood. But as adults…we 4 siblings do have schisms in our relationship, especially over politics. Some of my siblings I hardly see.

    And so here’s the thing: I do have friends that I think are closer now than my twin sister. Sure, friends can always leave. But the longer I have my close friends (some, over 40 years now, since childhood) the more I find it hard to believe they would ever leave my life. Siblings are no guarantee against loneliness. I tell my ‘only’ to make and keep the closest of friends and never make excuses for himself to be lonely.

    Of course, I’d love if he wasn’t alone genetically in this world. But there are worse hardships and bigger battles to fight. I tell him: make your own family and guard against the future.

    I guess one thing to add to this post…never in my late 20s did I hear alarm bells ringing about fertility! I do wish young girls had that element added into their health classes, to think ahead about their life timelines. We are one of the first generations ever who have had to make those choices with careers and biology entwined.

  • I find there are two things it’s impossible to debate: whether or how much mothers should work outside the home, and how many children one should have (if any). Both are so personal and so specific, I almost find them beyond debate. I think there is also debate about whether those who want children should just go ahead and have them regardless of their relationship status, but people are even more judgmental about that.

    I think a lot of couples who desire children are meeting later in life, having fertility difficulties, have children from previous relationships, and/or child support and visitation difficulties (financial hardships, financial obligations, neglectful or controlling ex, etc.)

    I know two couples, both of whom are madly in love with each other and enjoyed their time without children. In both couples, one of them wanted children and the other would rather have continued on without. In both cases, the couples “compromised” on having one child, which they felt honoured one person’s desire to be a parent, and the other’s desire to have more independence. All four ended up being excellent parents.

    One of the most unusual arrangements I encountered was a mom with two children who remarried. She and her new spouse agreed he would not fulfill a parental role and would basically remain mom’s husband/companion. I have no idea how they accomplished this, but they did it!

    I also know some people who are judgmental about families with more than one or two children. Just this week, a colleague made a comment to me about another co-worker who “would have been further ahead if she hadn’t had the new baby.” She wasn’t referring to career goals, but to the new mom’s personal situation – she had been under a lot of health, relationship and financial stress, which she was concerned would increase with a second child.

    When I was younger, I thought I would like 3 or 4 children, but soon realized, like many others, that 2 would probably be the max that would allow me to remain working full-time. Any more, and the daycare costs plus job expenses would make it prohibitive to work. In that situation, I think a choice has to be made: have a family/work balance, or be a full-time parent. I suppose high incomes would erase that choice and allow a nanny, etc. As a full-time parent, your children are your life’s work, and that path is not for everyone. Because of my past relationships, I was not willing to be financially dependent on a partner.

    As for parental attention, I have come to believe that all children benefit from a little “benign neglect” as I call it!

    I do think blended families and families of choice are growing and that fewer people are hung up on blood ties. I hate it when people make a point of saying that my nephew’s sister is actually his half-sister. They identify each other as brother and sister and they are not halves of anything to each other.

  • It’s very hard to predict the future. Any number of things could lead to someone inadvertently having only one child – infertility, death, a change in finances, the first child being born with a severe disability, etc. (Or the other way – I know someone who wanted one child and then was in shock when she found out she was having triplets!)

    Multiple children by different parents doesn’t bother me in the least. I think children need unconditional love and good role models more than they need blood ties. And I know that at least for me, prior to becoming a parent, it was very hard to grasp that having a child is bringing a LIFE into the world. It’s so hard to comprehend! My daughter wasn’t here, and now she is. And she has her own life, mind, choices to make. I didn’t really get that back when I was imagining myself with a child.

    I hope it all works out the way you want!

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