I’m the youngest of three children. No matter how many highs and lows my siblings and I have gone through, I’ve always felt grateful that I have an amazing brother and sister to help and support me. I love having siblings. So from the minute I had my daughter, I always imagined her having a little brother or sister to bond with.
From early on, I’ve always parented Brenna like she was going to be an older sister. We discussed learning to share your toys and help those littler than you with the expectation that someday she would have a baby brother or sister toddling around the house. Now that we’re facing the reality of never having another child, I feel completely unprepared. I might have been raising just one daughter, but I never considered that she would be an only child.
Like all toddlers, my daughter has gone through particularly demanding stages when she wants every second of her parents’ time to be focused on her. She wants us to play and to entertain almost constantly. A couple months ago, I would’ve said, “Well, she’ll learn how to share attention once she has a sibling.” I assumed I had the learning tool of another baby in the house somewhere down the road. Then, my daughter would learn that Mom and Dad have other things to take care of.
It’s not that we gave in to every demand before. It’s just that I wasn’t too concerned with making my daughter understand that her parents still loved her, and that she was still a priority, even when we had other things going on. I felt like we had time to learn that lesson.
Now that I’m considering my daughter’s only child future, that concept seems incredibly important to teach Brenna. That age-old stereotype of an only child who feels like the center of the universe is now in the back of my head, haunting me. I don’t feel like I can put off the, “Mom and Dad have other things to take care of” talk any longer.
It’s not only the spoiled single child concept that’s giving me stress. I’m suddenly very concerned with giving my daughter lots of playdates. The reality is that if we got pregnant tomorrow, my daughter would still be more than five years older than her sibling. They probably wouldn’t spend a ton of time playing with the same things. But that specter of a siblings always made me feel like my daughter would have a partner in crime growing up. Now, I feel like I need to provide her with that type of relationship.
I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to invite cousins or friends over to our house, wanting my little girl to feel like she has plenty of close family. She’s always spent a lot of time with her cousins, but those relationships feel even more crucial now that I have to imagine Brenna without a sibling.
When my idea of our family changed, so much of my future plans seemed to be upended. That money that I wanted to hold back for a second college fund, I now feel the need to divert it into my retirement savings. Preparing for old age feels even more important when I realize that we’ll only have one child and I won’t want to burden her. Things as simple as our upcoming vacations can change, because we don’t need to consider traveling with an infant ever again.
Let’s not even talk about giving away all the baby supplies and clothes that I’ve saved. I’m not ready
There is still a very real possibility that my husband and I will adopt a child. If that should happen, my daughter will have a sibling. My “only child freakout” will be meaningless. Still, I feel much less confident in our chances of growing our family now. I think about the years it can take to adopt. I think about the people who spend a decade on a waiting list, or who prepare for a child only to have the birth mother change her mind. (I realize it’s rare, but it happened to a close family friend and it’s a fear that I cannot wipe from my mind.) Adopting seems much less certain, and it’s not something my husband and I are set on yet.
Right now, I have to get used to the idea of having an only child. I have to explain to my daughter that she might not ever have a little brother or sister. She’s been praying for one for almost a year. It doesn’t feel right to string along her hope any further.
Throughout my infertility process, I had plenty of people comment on the fact that I already had one daughter, that I needed to focus my attention on her. The truth is that I’ve always been a devoted parent to her. She’s always been the center of my attention, even when I was writing or speaking about our hope for another little one. But I’ve always approached parenting as if I’d have multiple children someday. The vision I had for our future included plenty of siblings for my daughter to play and grow with.
Now, our future seems a bit less stable. My vision isn’t quite so clear. But I definitely feel the need to prepare Brenna for life without a sibling. I feel like I should be thinking about my daughter as a possible only child. And I never knew how much that could change the way I approach parenting.