The other day I saw a woman wearing a shirt that read, “Oops! I forgot to have children!” across the front and I kind of wanted to run up and give her a hug while whispering, “You, madam, are my spirit animal.” Except that would be weird on a lot of levels, so I buried that impulse.
The truth is that I didn’t forget to have children. I just had child. One child. And lean in closer while I make this confession: My husband and I made that decision on purpose.
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It’s not really what I’d planned for myself when I was younger and daydreamed about my future family. In fact, I went through a phase in the mid-80s when I imagined myself with five children that I would name Mandy, Randy, Candy, Sandy and Andy. And now you’re thinking it probably all worked out for the best that I ended up having only one.
I certainly never envisioned myself being any kind of spokesperson for the only-child crowd, but over the last 11 years as I’ve written on my blog, the question I get the most is from other women who want to know if it’s okay if they decide to stop after one child or asking if I have regrets that we never gave my daughter, Caroline, a sibling.
And that’s a hard question, because the number of kids you and your husband decide to have is an extremely personal decision, although you wouldn’t necessarily know that by all the complete strangers who feel free to regularly ask, “So, when are you going to have another one?” or “Don’t you worry about what will happen to her when you die and she’s left all alone in the world?” People are so great. And by that I mean that they can be extremely insensitive and feel like they have the right to get in your business even if you just met them on an airplane or in line at Starbucks.
Honestly, we didn’t officially arrive at the decision to have an only child until Caroline started kindergarten and, even then, I sometimes second-guessed our decision almost every time someone questioned why we didn’t have more — because what happens if we screw her up and end up being two old people who have to spend holidays with just the dog? I’d Google articles about only children, reassuring myself that they often ended up being higher achievers, leaders and, most importantly, not automatically in therapy over not having a sibling. But then I’d see a picture of Caroline as a squishy toddler and think back nostalgically on those days and wonder if I wanted to do it all over again. Would I regret not doing it again? Would she be okay without a brother or a sister?
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But I began to realize that while some of those concerns were legitimate, the majority of them were based on my perception of what a family was supposed to look like. It’s the American ideal right? Two cars in the garage, at least two kids (preferably a boy and a girl), and a chicken in every pot. I think maybe that was some politician’s campaign slogan in the 1950s. However, when I blocked out the external noise and the well-meaning questions and my own insecurities about people making me feel like I was less of a mom for just having one child and focused on how I felt and what was really best for our family, I found that I felt completely secure in our decision to have one child.
When I blocked out the noise, I found I felt completely secure in our decision.
I believe that instead of it being a selfish decision, it was accepting what we were emotionally and physically prepared for. It really dawned on me one day when Caroline and I visited one of her kindergarten classmates who happened to be the youngest of four kids. As that mom and I sat and attempted to visit, there was a constant stream of yelling, jumping, crashing noises and shrieks as what seemed to be a pack of children ran in and out of the house. This mom wasn’t fazed by it in the least, she kept up her end of the conversation and never skipped a beat. It was like she was having high tea at a fancy resort and I was a frightened dog at a fireworks show. I began to realize that when I saw my fellow moms chasing toddlers all around the neighborhood pool that I had lost my nostalgia for those days and felt nothing but the relief of a prisoner on parole to be able to just sit and watch my independent big kid jump off the diving board.
As we ventured into the world of sports, it was nice that my husband and I were able to attend all of Caroline’s soccer games together instead of resorting to the divide and conquer strategy that families of multiples have to do when schedules inevitably overlap. And we’ve each had plenty of time to cultivate our own unique relationship with Caroline because she has all of our focus. It also helps that Caroline is completely content with her only child status. However, we have worked hard to make sure that she doesn’t live up to the stereotype of the “spoiled only child.” Yes, she probably gets a few more gifts at Christmas because she’s the only one we have to buy gifts for, but we have raised her with character, integrity and a heart that focuses on those around her. There are plenty of kids with lots of siblings who can turn out entitled and selfish because the character of a child is ultimately determined by what is instilled in them by their parents, not how many brothers or sisters they happen to have. We have worked hard to make sure Caroline treats the world around her with kindness and respect and in some ways I think being an only child has helped her focus on her friendships even more because her friends are the closest thing to family that she has outside of us.
These days I’m completely at peace with having an only child, unless I’ve watched an episode of Parenthood on Netflix. How fulfilled can you be in life if you aren’t a Braverman who regularly dines outdoors under twinkly lights with your grown siblings? But as I watch the woman Caroline is becoming, I believe all the more that our decision was the right one for our family. We are a little band of three and that has been the perfect fit for all of us.
And, best of all, I will never have the need to own a minivan.
Melanie Shankle is an author and blogger behind Big Mama. Her latest book, Church of the Small Things, will be published this fall.