Because I have only one kid — an eight-year-old — I often get some version of this from other parents: One kid, that must be so nice. Or: Lucky you. You must have so much more time!
I get, I get it. Having multiple kids is hard. Like, really hard. Two feels like so many more than one! It’s exponential (say parents of two)! So many people clamoring for your attention, so many colds and stuffy noses making the rounds, so many drop-offs and pick-ups, so much fighting, so many people’s schedules to navigate, so little sleep, so little Me Time.
I know everyone means well — and maybe I’m projecting — but I can’t help but think that some of the subtext here is: Wow, your life is so much easier.
For a long time I resented this. Of course, no one knows the inner workings of anyone’s life, let alone anyone’s family, and for most of the time I’ve been a mother, I’ve done 98% of the childcare/household work and still held onto a career. I’ve done all the pick-ups and drop-offs, all the cooking, all the sick days, all the scheduling. I’ve fit my writing and teaching between the cracks of being her mother.
But there’s another assumption at play, and, maybe, again, this is one I put on myself: Because I have an only, I should show up for more, be the first on call. Need a class Mom? Me, me! Need someone to come in to bake/paint/chauffeur? I’ll do it! I don’t have to divvy up the obligations between kids (or different schools) so I should have more availability and use it to help out the other moms who are worn even thinner.
Here’s the thing about having one kid: It actually is easier, and guess what? I wanted it that way.
It’s true that my daughter doesn’t have a built-in playmate, I often am the one to keep her company on long afternoons, and sometimes I wish that there was someone else for her to hang out with while I made dinner. She gets so much of my attention because I have so much more of it to give than I would if there were siblings.
My instinct — especially lately, as I see fellow moms struggle with multiple children on different schedules — is to offer to help: Oh, I’ll do all the pick-ups! I’ll take her after school! I’ll drive her to dance! Why don’t you let me worry about that, you’re handling so much! I want to be a Good Samaritan, a good friend, and I can plainly see that handling two or three or four kids is harder than handling one.
But I’ve also had to remind myself that I did not want that life. It is not my job to sweep in for the rescue, and, anyway, perhaps (shocker!) no one actually expects me to. I had one kid, in part, so that I could have slightly more space in my schedule for… whatever: work, exercise, reading, friends, marriage, my own sanity. So that I wouldn’t have to spend 33% of my time driving around, picking up small people and dropping them off, worrying whether I was always dropping the ball (I still do worry about this, and I still do drop the ball). I have to remind myself that I don’t need to fill in those spaces to accommodate the people who chose a life in which there would be fewer of those spaces.
Does this all sound like one big reminder to myself to appreciate the choices I made and not turn my life into something not of my own design? Perhaps. In a world of multi-kid families, it can sometimes feel like you’ve failed in some way by having “just” one, even if having that “just” one child allows for a life that is better suited for you as a mom. And while I will almost always offer to help other parents, I need to remind myself that there’s nothing I need to make up for. We all make the choices we make, and our lives are equally — albeit differently — full. I wouldn’t want it any other way.