My husband and I recently made a pact to have no more children. We have just one daughter, who is still a baby. To some people, choosing to only have one may not seem like a big deal. To me, it’s a huge deal.
Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of having a “big enough family to play baseball.” It used to really upset me that our family of four could never orchestrate a full baseball game in our backyard. But even my wiser adult self longed for multiple children—the thought of epic family gatherings, the fascinating dynamics between us and the somewhat reasonable logic that if something, god forbid, were to happen to one of my children, at least I would have others that would go on living.
Another reason I wanted more than one was because of my own wonderful experience growing up with my little sister, Emily. She’s two years younger than me but we’re as telepathic as twins. We have a tendency to speak broken French and get all existential when we’re drunk. We both know just about every horrible, embarrassing, asinine thing each of us has ever done and we still love each other. When my parents die, Emily will be the only one who will understand what I’m feeling.
So how did my husband and I come to this decision to have just our one daughter? We stepped back and took an objective look at our lives, and what would be best for each of us. I have deeply neglected my husband since our baby’s birth, and it’s taken a sledgehammer to our marriage. I hate to say it, but I fear another baby would push us toward the “D” word. I’m also very career-driven. I know that these things can coexist for some women, but I’m not one of them. The idea of putting my work life on hold another 10 years so I can squeeze out a couple more kids is devastating to me.
And then there’s our daughter. Yes, a sibling may enrich her life. But it may not. And there’s money. Having another baby may mean waiting years until we can buy a house. It may mean skimping on healthy food, or going back on food stamps, which we had to use for the first few months of baby’s life. It may mean having no money for our retirement. It may mean a lower quality of life for everyone. Though nothing compares to that surge of joy when you first lay eyes on your newborn baby, this is what logic is telling me: Having another baby is irresponsible.
Still, I’m struggling to abandon my prejudices against onlies and families of three. This is terrible, but I’ve always viewed parents of one child as weirdoes or a pair who doesn’t really love each other. I’m pretty sure this goes back to my family’s opinion of onlies. I can’t even count the number of times my mom or someone in my family told a story about a bizarre or antisocial individual and followed up with the disclaimer, “she was an only child, you know.”
The family we bought our house from in Texas was a single mother and her only child. Somehow we learned from a neighbor that they used to swim naked in the pool. I got it in my head that this mother and her child were pervs, and it was all because this depraved single mother didn’t bestow a sibling upon her poor daughter. Then there was my mother’s childhood friend, a girl who was always a weirdo and grew up to be a “fat, divorced weirdo.”
“She was an only child, though,” my mom will explain. Duh, everyone knows a lack of siblings is the leading cause of obesity and divorcedness.
Then there’s the prevalent belief that only children are destined to be spoiled. This is my grandpa’s favorite argument against only having one. But what an antiquated notion! In this era, I’d be more apt to blame consumerism and “special snowflake” parenting for spoiling children. Hell, I had a sister but that didn’t stop me from feeling entitled to stuff. I had a computer at age 10 (this was in 1996) and a car at 16. When I went to college, I didn’t know how to boil water. I didn’t know the difference between a washer and a dryer, and I thought something was wrong with the air in our dorm because I’d never seen dust collect before. I kid you not. If this isn’t spoiled, I don’t know what is. But clearly, having a sibling had nothing to do with it.
When I’m feeling attacked by these opinions, I just have to remind myself that sometimes the smart choice isn’t the one most widely accepted by society. I’m sure many parents tout the line about how “selfish” it is to only have one child because they feel like everyone should have to suffer with the difficulties of childrearing as much as they did. I’m sure others will say it’s cruel to make my daughter bear the sole burden of seeing my husband and I age and die.
Someone close to me is one of five siblings. His father is deteriorating, and his children are repaying the thousands and thousands he owes in medical bills and other debt. They disagree on the best way to handle the situation, often causing fights so horrible my friend can barely focus on simple tasks in his own life. Sometimes his siblings are generous, other times they’re horribly selfish. These grown adults talk behind each other’s backs and send scathing emails and text messages like teenagers. I once asked my friend, “which of your siblings are you closest to?” He responded, “none of them.”
I realize this is an extreme example, but my point is that providing siblings for my child doesn’t guarantee in any way that she will be selfless and loving, or that all will be smooth sailing when I get old. All I have is my knowledge of right now, and right now, I want to do what is best for me and the two people I love most.