No, I’m Not Less of a Mom for Having One Child

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.

Melanie with her husband, Perry, and their daughter, Caroline.

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.

Mom-Shaming Is Rampant – Inside the Growing Trend of Mom Bullies

Blame evolution: A study by researchers at Simon Fraser University found that bullying provided an adaptive edge for our ancestors. Bullies often have high social status and tend not to be anxious or depressed, which Markman attributes to the fact that “successful narcissists surround themselves with people who increase their confidence, then use their power to keep themselves at the top of the heap.”

Nowadays the victims of those bullies end up, more and more often, on the therapist’s couch. Heather Quinlan, a psychotherapist in Connecticut, has many patients who deal with the mean mom issue: “Whether it’s a mom being snarky, exclusionary, judgmental, manipulative or outright cruel, it can cause major distress in the women on the receiving end of the behavior, and creates hugely unhealthy relationships,” she says.

Even celebrities, as perfect as their lives may seem, aren’t sheltered from mean moms. Chrissy Teigen’s refreshingly honest social media presence is a repeated target for mom-shaming, resulting in everything from criticism for a date night not long after her baby was born to reproach of rosy eczema on her daughter’s cheeks. Hilary Duff was chastised for kissing her son on the lips at Disneyland (he’s four years old). Kristin Cavallari was told that her children looked too thin after she posted a photo of them in swim trunks. All three women used their status and social platform to fight back.

Teigen came to Cavallari’s defense: “I will never know why parents criticize others so harshly, knowing they’d go insane if they were on the receiving end ALLTHETIME,” she tweeted. “NO parent out there thinks they’re perfect. I loathe these sh**head commenters. Who would want to make someone feel horrible for fun?”

Apparently, a lot of people. (Duff’s post, for one, received more than 8,000 comments.) Because the hate, while often masked as looking out for the child’s well-being, isn’t even necessarily about motherhood—it’s about interpersonal habits. “Yes, at times the behaviors are a result of women trying to compensate for low self-esteem,” says Quinlan. “But sometimes mean moms are mean to other people in general. Family members, co-workers, waiters, cashiers—it’s just the way they go through life.”

Wherever it stems from, the aggression has been enabled and enhanced by social media (no surprise here). Jona Garrett, 36, of Rogersville, Missouri, says that her first experience with mom bullying was while she was pregnant and joined community boards online. “First-time moms would ask a reasonable question—not like ‘Can I give my baby heroin?’, but about when they could introduce solids, that sort of thing. The women on the boards would shame them, saying that their child would never amount to anything. I was too afraid to ever ask a question.” Her son is now eight, but the pressure hasn’t let up. “My son’s class has homeroom moms that go all out,” she says of the expectation that you should do the same. “When I was little, you were lucky if you got a juice box and a cookie in school, but these moms recently put on a sundae bar with more toppings than a TCBY. The kids didn’t even know what to do with it.”

How Can I Make My Husband Like My Mom?

Relationships are weird, don’t you agree? Other people are unpredictable, and the endless combination of human interactions leads to some pretty frustrating encounters. In Nicole Knows, Nicole Cliffe helps us navigate all the ridiculousness relationships come with. If you have a question for Nicole, email [email protected]

Dear Nicole,

My mom and my husband really do not like each other. I basically can’t talk to either one of them about the other without, at the very least, getting some sort of snide comment in response, so I just try to avoid bringing them up. It is particularly difficult not to be able to vent about my mom, who is a crazy person, to my husband. I want to be able to tell him about the crazy without him adding extraneous negativity. For example, I told Husband that Mom started a new therapy program and that I’m proud of her taking a step in the right direction. Husband’s response is, “I doubt this will change anything. She always says she’s going to change and then doesn’t.” How do I get him to be more tolerant of her? Is there a way I can convince him that there’s some good?

Ah, the eternal struggle: in-laws, boundaries, difficult personalities, venting versus asking for solutions, mothers. Before we get into it, I’m going to assume that by “crazy” you mean “irrational and difficult and a huge pain” as opposed to “has a diagnosed mental illness with particular symptoms that result in her being tough to interact with.” My advice, in this situation, would be similar for either definition, but if you do mean the latter, you’ll want to seek out additional external resources for you and your husband that are above my paygrade. Okay!

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What I’m noticing right off the bat is that both of your specific goals—getting your husband to be more tolerant of your mother, convincing him that there’s some good in her—involve him adjusting his thinking to your own. This is, generally speaking, not ideal, nor is it really that feasible. (I sympathize completely, however, as if everyone came around to my way of thinking, we would truly live in a land of milk and honey.) Blessedly, it’s also not necessary for resolving your situation.

A better question, I think, might be “how can I arrive at a place where I can have brief, supportive conversations with my husband about my feelings for my mother?” We can work with that!

What many people discover, when they really begin scratching beneath the surface of “why do you hate my mom,” is that it’s a partner problem and not a mom problem. I mean this very gently! If your mom is a huge pain and your attitude towards it is like “God, mom is a huge pain, thanks for powering through Thanksgiving dinner, Husband, I can’t believe she took a literal shit in the punchbowl, I’m going to pour you a glass of wine,” you often don’t have a problem at all, you have an amusing story.

Instead, what often happens is a slow accumulation of incidents and moments where a partner perceives that you are not drawing or maintaining appropriate boundaries with your mom, resulting in a sense that you’re not on the same team. If she keeps taking shits in the punchbowl and you keep assigning her the job of making the punch for family gatherings, you have a problem.

This is a good time to think about what your ideal amount of interaction with your mother as she currently is looks like, as well as how much interaction you expect your husband to have with her. (It sounds as though they do not hang out a lot, and your problem is more that you want to be able to talk honestly about your complex Mom Feels with the man you love, which is a much easier situation to work through than trying to play referee over terrible disastrous evenings together.)

It sounds to an outside observer as though your husband has reached BEC status with your mom. If you spend less time on Relationship Internet than I do, this may be a new acronym for you: it stands for “bitch eating crackers.” This is, regrettably, usually a permanent transition from “mild dislike/irritation” to “literally everything this person does now makes me furious,” as in “look at that bitch sitting there, eating crackers.” It’s hard to come back from that place, once you arrive there, which is why I want you to uncouple your hopes from the idea that your husband might come around on the general concept of your mother. You love your mom, but he loves you. If he’s watched your mom drive you nuts and manipulate you and borrow money and mess with your head for several years, without the lifelong scaffolding of love and responsibility and frustration and hope that you probably feel for her, he may just be done with her. That’s okay. They don’t have to have a relationship.

If you can distill your husband’s obligations towards your mother down to “occasionally listen to me talk about my feelings towards her,” I think you have a real path forward. That may involve discarding everything outside that job description. If she visits, she stays in a hotel and you go meet her for dinner at a restaurant. If you’re at a gathering that involves her and she says something snide to your husband, you leave. I think it’s reasonable for you to want to be able to talk about your mother with the man you love, and it’s reasonable to expect him to put on a listening face and power through for ten minutes once a week without saying “your mom is terrible, why are you still talking to her.” That’s marriage. Your mom is not your frenemy from college that you really need to stop getting coffee with because you secretly hate her. It sounds like you are planning on having your mom in your life for the long haul. I get it. Relationships are complex, families are intricate.

I recommend sitting down with your husband and saying “if you literally never have to interact with my mother again, apart from eventually attending her funeral or occasionally seeing her at the next table at a family wedding, and I support you in this, can you, in turn, give me the gift of listening to me complain about/express tentative hope about her no more than once a week?” I think that’s a good ask. I think a reasonable person should say yes to that, especially when you trot out the bog standard “I’m not looking for advice, I just want to vent,” which after nineteen pop-psych books about marriage and how women are from Klepton IV there’s really no excuse for not being able to grasp as a concept.

I hope that your mother grabs her new therapy program by the balls and gives it her all and makes wonderful changes in her life, and I hope that your husband is able to be happy for you when things are looking up, and warmly sympathetic when they are not. Don’t let anyone shit in your punchbowl. Best of luck.

What Kind of Mom You’re Going to Be Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Motherhood, particularly the idea of motherhood, can be a scary thing. While you might want to be a mom, see yourself as a mom, and even act sometimes like a mom—to bring a kid into this world is a big leap of faith. But what kind of mom will you be? The AstroTwins delve right into that very topic—and even how to raise different signs/quiet those tantrums—in their book Momstrology. Here, a look at the type of mom you’re destined to be.