I never in a million years thought I’d have an only child. I am very close to my older sister, and my parents endured two stillbirths between me and my sister in order to have two kids, so I know how hard and long people sometimes have to work to have bigger families. I was very clear with my husband when we started trying that I wanted two, and he was on board.
But then: life happened. We had our first. She was a total delight, but becoming parents was… hard. We were living in Europe with no family support, and weren’t sure when or where we’d be forced to relocate. As it turned out, we moved back to the states right after her 3rd birthday, right around the time when we might have actually considered trying for a second. That move was so consuming it threw the baby discussion out the window, at least temporarily.
And to be frank: becoming parents took a major toll on our marriage. It was hard enough to parent with one easy, perfect girl and still have the time and energy to tend to our relationship, our careers, health, well-being and sanity. How on earth could we handle another?
So we decided to cut our losses and stick with our one. This is not to say it was an easy call. It took four years of discussions and heartbreak and adjusted expectations for me to come to terms with it, but now, with an almost-7-year-old, I can say that our trio works quite beautifully. We have a fun, adventurous life, full of travel, quiet evenings without multiple tantrums, and dinner parties our kid can partake in — all because she is an only.
But let me tell you something: when you defy the two-or-more-kid model, people are apt to voice their confusion/jealousy/disdain/disapproval/unsolicited opinions. And even though I like my life and am content with my decision, it still hurts. Here are a few comments you might make to a Mom of one that you think are totally benign but… aren’t:
“Your life must be so easy.”
This is by far the most common — and baffling — comment I get. Yes, we all know that having multiple kids often requires more juggling than having one. But the number of children one has is not the only measure of ease in a person’s life. My husband and I decided not to have more than one in part because it became clear that given my husband’s work schedule, I would be doing 95% of the childcare alone while trying to grow my own career and tend to a recurring back injury. Although I know plenty of mothers who do this, I did not want to. Many families with two kids have four (or more) hands on deck. So I find myself asking: How can we compare ease? Is it one kid with one hands-on parent? Or is it two kids with three hands-on adults? How is this a contest? Who can calculate whose life is harder (and why would we?)?
“But did you want another?”
Welllllllllll, that’s a loaded question if I ever heard one. Maybe I had multiple miscarriages. Maybe I had a stillbirth. Maybe I desperately wanted another one but we couldn’t afford it. Maybe I wanted one but my partner didn’t, or vice versa. Maybe I found out I couldn’t get pregnant a second time, or it would seriously compromise my health. Maybe we got pregnant with the first through IVF and couldn’t imagine going through that again. There are so, so, so many reasons people end up with one child and it’s not always a happy one-and-done situation. I know the assumption is that two (or more) is better, and that if I love my kid as much as I do, I should want to do it all over again, but there are so many other factors that go into these decisions. This is a question you should only ask of someone you are already close to
“You’re not too old! My sister just had her second at 45!”
This one (unsurprisingly) comes from younger women. Okay, yes, technically a person can have a baby at 42, or even at 45 (although it is exceedingly rare). But this is not something I want to do. I had my first at 35 and told myself I’d have a second by 40 or not at all. I extended my deadline somewhat, as my husband and I discussed the possibility of trying after my 40th birthday. But by 41, I genuinely felt too old to start over, and was too nervous about what kinds of risks pregnancy at that age would involve. Nobody—but nobody—can tell you when or how to have a baby, and certainly no one should tell you that you should take on a geriatric pregnancy because their sister/cousin/BFF pulled it off.
“You should get her a pet.”
Okay, to be fair, this was only said to me once but it really got under my skin, mostly because it was said in the following sentence: “Nothing beats a sibling, but there’s a whole lot of science on the lifelong benefits of childhood pets. Get the girl a dog.” When I mentioned to said-person that my husband was allergic to dogs and cats, she said we should get the kid a snake. Because apparently there is nothing more pathetic than an only child without a pet snake.
“Won’t you regret not having another later?”
Yes! Very possibly! Is there anything more profound, life-altering and significant than making another human? Regret was my biggest fear when we were going through the turmoil of the “should we/shouldn’t we” saga about having a second. But do you think that asking me this is going to make me feel any better? Do you think I will instantly jump in the sack with my husband? Do you think you will point out something that hasn’t occurred to me? You can safely assume that I’ve thought of absolutely every pro and con. I might very well find at some point that I regret it–that’s how regret works! It can sneak up on you! But I also knew that I didn’t want a life of marital discord, arguments about division of labor, carpool schlepping, or worries about resources (time or money). I knew that I would regret giving my child a home life that I imagined would be stressful, even if, later on, she got a sibling out of it.
At the end of the day, we all make the decisions we make for purely personal, and often incomprehensible-to-other-people reasons: a complicated equation of love, money, stamina, family history, physical health, career ambition, family help. And we all fall where we feel is best for us and our families. Rather than point out where someone else has gone wrong — or how easy their life, or how lonely their child — just remember this simple fact: families come in all shapes and sizes. And three turns out to be great company.