|by photoloni via Creative Commons|
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.
But I didn’t start out that way. I always assumed I’d have “more than one; 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 apart.
But things have changed in just the past year. We moved to a different state, and I switched 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.
So what do I love about our small family? I love the amount of time and energy I can 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|
Okay, so the research puts my worries about raising a 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.
There are other gambles. 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.
Will I be judged for this decision, silently or 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?
What’s right for you? And how did you know?
Meredith is always in search of family/work/self balance, frequently 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.