|by photoloni via Creative Commons|
This is a guest post written by my friend Meredith, mother to one beautiful daughter. I’ve written several posts recently about helping kids adjust to an older sibling, and the timing seemed just right to talk about how having multiple kids isn’t the “right” decision for everyone. Yet, how do any of us know whether we should add to our families? By following our instincts and listening to our hearts. Much thanks to Meredith for sharing her reflections on what can be a very personal issue.
Maybe One. That’s the
name of a book written by Bill McKibben (Maybe
One: A Personal and Environmental Argument for Single-Child Families, 1999). It also captures my current thinking about
whether or not to have another child.
Maybe one is enough. Maybe one is
just right for our family. And yet, I
question this notion because it’s a minority viewpoint in our country, and many
countries for that matter. Approximately
80% of Americans have siblings. What’s
that order from the Judeo-Christian tradition? “Go forth and multiply.” Don’t most women want a house full of
children? And besides, aren’t most only
children spoiled brats?
I suppose some context is in order, for those do not know me. I am the proud mama of a girl who recently
turned two. She is bright, she is
verbal, she is fiercely independent, and her calm demeanor belies an ornery
streak! I have loved every minute she’s
been with us. Okay, that’s a
stretch. I didn’t really love being
pregnant the way that some women do. And
I didn’t love it today when she ripped
my Whitney Houston sheet music that I purchased as a kid. But by and large, I have loved watching her
develop before and after she was born.
Every milestone, from rolling over, to walking, to her first word, has
been captivating. I keep a private blog
about our family, and I frequently say, “I love this age…I want to keep her here.” Because I kept saying this, I’ve come to
realize that, for me, kids just get better with age. The funny thing is, as much as I loved her as
a newborn, I have absolutely no desire to go back to that stage. Sleepless nights. Indiscernible crying. Poop
explosions. I don’t get “baby crazy”
when holding others’ newborns, or watching One
Born Every Minute, which is my latest favorite show. All I do is just reflect on how lucky I am to
be my daughter’s mommy. And how much I
love our family of three.
likely two.” I grew up in a relatively
large family (well, large by modern standards), the co-oldest of four
girls. Being an identical twin, I’ve
literally spent my whole life (in utero
and beyond) with a sibling, so I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be
a singleton, let alone an only child. I
suppose my childhood experiences of siblings were fairly typical, you know, the
love-hate variety. Loved having built-in
playmates; hated the arguments that invariably ensued. Loved being able to talk or complain about
our parents and yet struggled with jealousy about who mom loved best. In sum, a house full of girls is what I
knew. And I just assumed my husband and
I would have “more than one; likely two.”
I continued to feel this even after my daughter was born. When people would ask it there was another
one in the works (which people seem to start asking the second your first is
born), I’d reply, “Probably, but not for a while.” And even leading up to her first birthday, I
still kind of assumed we’d have a second child, ideally spaced three years
from working full-time to part-time just before my daughter turned one. After slowly settling into a new routine, I
realized how perfectly content I was as a mother. My little girl has fulfilled all maternal
yearnings I possessed. Somehow, I just
get this peaceful sense that she’s enough. I know this is different from a lot of other
mothers who have this vision of a large boisterous family, and feel motivated
to keep having babies until they get there.
I see nothing wrong with that.
It’s just that I already feel like my vision is complete. It’s almost like I didn’t know this was my
vision of family, until it happened. And
I realized how wonderful it was.
devote to her. I love that our sleeping
schedules coincide (she’s a late riser like me). I love how quiet our house is most of the
time. That may be changing, though, as
our daughter seems more extroverted than either of her parents! I love it when
she holds our hands and says, “We’re together.
Mommy, Daddy, and me.” I love
that we don’t have to worry about financial resources—that if she wants to go
to an expensive college, we can likely afford it. I love that I had a daughter
and got to name her after a favorite childhood book. To a lesser extent, I feel grateful that we
may be placing less of a strain on the environment. But I’ve heard compelling arguments to the
contrary—that what’s most important is raising conscientious citizens who can
make a positive impact on the planet, perhaps coming up with solutions to
problems of pollution and over-crowding. Mostly, though, I love the serenity that comes when I think how complete
I feel as a mom, and collectively, as a family.
|photo by iMorpheus via Creative Commons|
Do I ever have doubts?
Of course. I tend to over-analyze
things. And I’m a researcher by nature
and training. So let’s just say I’ve
looked into the supposed dark side of having an only child. You know, the claims that onlies are spoiled,
selfish, and do not interact well with peers.
It turns out that a psychologist at UT Austin has made a career out of
studying these myths. Dr. Toni Falbo’s research has consistently shown
that the negative stereotypes are not true. Only children were not lacking in social
skills and did not grow up feeling lonely and isolated. Nor were they more mature or emotionally stable
than peers with siblings. By and large,
only children were just not that different. One of the few differences she did
find were actually advantages for only children in the area of academic
achievement. “These children tend to
score slightly higher in verbal ability, go farther in school and have a little
bit higher self-esteem, and a lot of this just has to do with more parent
involvement and uninterrupted time with adults.” Despite some of the small advantages,
Professor Falbo minimizes the role of birth order on children’s
development. “It’s important to note
that, overall, the differences between only children and other children were
very slight,” says Falbo. “Factors like education level of the parents, the
financial state of the family, emotional health and values of the parents,
individual parenting styles and the genetic predisposition of the child have
far, far more to do with how a child turns out than birth order and family
size.” For an excellent summary of her
out this article. I also recommend
this brief video, a 20/20 report by JuJu Chang about the
myths of only children and why the rates for one-child families are on the
selfish child to rest. And yet, one
nagging doubt remains. Do I want to give
my daughter the experience of having a sibling?
In this light, having more children would be for her, and not really for
me. I can’t decide whether this is a
selfless act of motherhood that is to be commended, or a set-up for
resentment. But I digress. I do think there are benefits to having
siblings. I have many, many fond
memories of playing school with my sisters, of putting on Christmas concerts
with them, and begging our mom to let us keep swimming in the summer. As an adult, I treasure the friendships I
have developed with each of my sisters.
Yet, I know that not all siblings magically get along once they are
grown. When I’m not staying at home with
my daughter, I have a part-time private practice as a psychologist. I hear too many horror stories about families
being split apart due to old and new sibling traumas. I’ve also seen them play out in my own
extended family. I’d like to think,
“That won’t happen to my children,” but what parent would expect this? I guess like most things, it’s a gamble.
Like my (ir)rational fears about having a second child with significant
health problems. Somehow, I was able to
tolerate this fear, this unknown, with my first child. And yet, now that I have a healthy child, it
seems too risky of an endeavor. Maybe
it’s because I’m getting older (let’s just say I’m half-way to 70), making
pregnancies higher risk. But maybe it’s
because the risk somehow doesn’t seem worth it, when I feel so perfectly
content with one child. With my
beautiful bright-eyed baby girl.
otherwise? More than likely – minority
viewpoints typically are. But I have to
remember that maybe one isn’t the loneliness number. Maybe one is just right…for us.
What’s right for you? And how did you know?
reminding herself that it’s a process.
She lives in the Midwest and is grateful to share childcare duties with
her husband, who watches their 2-year-old daughter when she works part-time in
private practice as an eating disorders specialist. When not finger painting, dancing to Elmo’s
Song, or reading a Mo Willems book, she can be found playing the piano,
researching her family tree, or watching Modern Family. She also keeps a blog of family goings on,
but has kept it private thus far due to privacy concerns and a fear that others
might not find her life as interesting as the grandparents do.