to have one or more than one (child), that is the question
This has been on my mind a bit, as I’m feeling the need to either make peace with having an only child or think about when or how I could have more than one. It’s a never-ending list of pros and cons. I’ve been reading some books, such as “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One” by Lauren Sandler. This is mostly a book based on both quantitative and qualitative studies, a sort of peer review of literature as seen through admittedly subjective eyes. The author is attempting to back up her personal choice to have an only child with evidence that such a choice is not a selfish one, in other words, not detrimental to her child or society. It’s great fodder for thought, though, when you’re considering having an only child yourself.
The author of One and Only brings more than just personal desires into the picture though. She addresses the myriad of reasons people choose to have small or large broods, everything from politics, to religion, to environmentalism. She actually presents arguments for larger families alongside her argument for only children, and tries to reconcile them with her own choice.
I feel like in the end, my desire for a second child mirrors what Tina Fey puts into words in Bossypants, when she asks herself, “Do I want another baby? Or do I want to turn back time and have my daughter be a baby again?” That struck a chord in me, because wanting another baby, for me, has nothing to do with improving my life or the life of my daughter, and everything to do with my fear of “losing my baby”, a sort of anticipatory grieving that I would try to fix with a second baby. It is the fear of loss, the deep sadness of missing those baby days while thinking forward to my daughter’s teenage and young adult years.
It is also the fear of growing old and having one child who, in this dystopian future that I imagine, wants nothing to do with me. Again, Tina Fey sums it up perfectly: “What’s so great about work anyway? Work won’t visit you when you’re old. Work won’t drive you to get a mammogram and take you out afterward for soup. It’s too much pressure on my one kid to expect her to shoulder all those duties alone. Also, what if she turns on me? I am pretty hard to like. I need a backup.”
Working in the medical ICU, I watch people die, I watch them depend on their children for comfort, security, and life-or-death decision making. I think to myself, I shouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. You never know… your child may grow up to hate you, or move overseas, or just be uninterested in any type of caregiving. And what if, god forbid, something happens to her? I’m left childless, and 90 years old with no living relatives whatsoever. God knows no one’s third cousin or old college friend shows up to their death bed. At least none have in the case of hundreds upon hundreds of the deathbeds that I’ve attended.
But is that really how I want to choose a life for myself and my daughter? I wanted to be a mom, and I’m having that experience, and it’s wonderful. It’s also exhausting and financially straining, not to mention freedom-limiting. A second child would blow those inconveniences out of the water. Both children’s experiences would be limited, and my own own desires would be pretty much squelched completely for at least a period of years. I would be sacrificing not only the freedom (mine and my daughter’s) to do what makes us happy, but possibly the chance to be the best parent I can be. I think of the moments when I’m at my worst as a parent, and it’s always because I’m tired and overwhelmed with responsibility. Isn’t it worth any cost to avoid doubling or even tripling those times by adding another dependent human to the equation? Do the bonds of siblinghood and the reassurance of having split my hopes between two children outweigh the fact that I can’t be the type of mom I want to be if I take on anymore?
In the end, the “pro list” for having another comes down to this: I don’t want to be all alone when I’m old. I will someday long for a large family, won’t I, on holidays and special occasions? I have always loved large holiday gatherings, a sense of belonging simply by being a member of the family, a clan that accepts and wants your presence merely because you exist. My chances of being a grandma also significantly decrease if I have only one. I don’t want to be the one at a nursing home, my only child off living her own life, no grandchildren’s photos to hang on the wall, graduations to attend, family vacation photos to moon over. I worry about those dark, sad times that will exist in the future, but I’m not sure I should make huge life decisions based only upon worst-case scenarios.
If I’m going to do strictly what is in my daughter’s best interest, I do fervently believe that being an only child is a great advantage. Only children are even more successful and mature, birth order studies show, than oldest children. They show greater resilience and coping skills, less depression, higher reports of happiness in life. In general, the traits they tend to exhibit in most studies are the traits I’d like my child to have. They also tend to be closest to their own mothers, and more likely not to sacrifice their own ambitions or needs for someone else’s (or society’s). More only children choose to have only children themselves than any other group in the sibling order. I don’t look on back on my childhood and wish to have grown up with a sibling… in fact, I remember my happiest times when I did not have stepsiblings. I created close friendships in my early adulthood and “adopted” sisters, and went on to be an auntie in every way that it’s possible except by blood. And my mother? She says she is absolutely 100% glad she had only one child.
I think, in the end, not wanting to take any time, energy, or resources from my daughter will win out over fear of an unknown and not-yet-existing future. I think my daughter will be happiest as an only child, even if she sometimes longs for more family ties. As an adopted child, she is likely to long for that anyway. In fact, we all long for something, we all want something more, no matter what we have. We all agonize over whether or not the choices we make today will create a better or worse tomorrow. The important thing to ask ourselves, in my opinion, is what our goals are for this day, this moment, and strive for that.