Over the past four years I have watched as all of the families I know because of my May 2006 baby have grown from one, to two, and even three child households. In fact, I can think of only one other family that I meet as a result of my having Michael that has not added another child. It's been interesting watching everyone expand their families while we have kept ours small.
This was highlighted last week when Laura sent me the article "One and Done", by Lauren Sandler from the July 19th issue of Time Magazine. (She sent me the actual pages cut from the magazine through the US postal service. Isn't that like, so retro?) I thought it was a very positive article about singletons, and I hope that it gets a lot of readership, both with families with singletons and those without.
I think the most surprising thing that came up in the article was the fact that a large number of people think that only children are odd, peculiar, and somehow damaged by not having siblings. I've always known that people assume that only children are a bit spoiled and over indulged, but I never realized that so many people think they are practically freaks of nature. I will say that it does make sense of some of the odd responses I've gotten when telling people that we don't plan on having another child. Some people are completely offended by it and strongly insist that I must have another child. I guess if you think only children are ruined for life, a strong response is understandable.
All I can say to that is, really? Only children are damaged goods? All of them? Please.
Of course, it's easy for me to dismiss that idea. I read the article while we were at the shore last weekend. My only child father was sitting across the room from me eating his breakfast. My only child husband (until he was 9 or 10) was getting a shower, and my only child son was trying to get me to read him Scooby Doo books. While I tend to agree that all three of them may have been over indulged in some way as children, none of them were sitting there sucking their thumbs while rocking back and forth trying to sooth their damaged souls.
The good news from the article is that only children tend to turn out pretty well as a group. They do better in school and on SATs, they have higher self esteem, and they tend to be more successful than children with siblings. The idea is that because there is only one child, there is no division of resources, so the child gets more attention and does not have to make sacrifices so other siblings can do activities as well. There is also no indication that receiving all of the attention and resources makes the child selfish.
The article also made some good points that I do need to remember. We need to make sure that Michael has an opportunity to develop friendships and he'll need to be give time to nurture those friendships. It also means that when Andy and I get old, the entire burden of caring for both of us with fall solely on him. We need to plan for that to ensure that we counter as much of that burden as possible with finances and long term care planning.
I'd say my take away from the article is that single child families are just as valid as multiple child families. You do what works for you, and don't worry about the choices of other families. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
I do want to go back and address the many, many comments I've received from people about only having one child. I don't mind people asking me if we are going to have another child. It's nice talking about my family, and I don't mind saying that we are on and done. But I do wish people would think a little more before they respond in a negative manner. First, who really thinks they have a right to judge another family's decision? Most of the strongly negative reactions I've gotten are from older men who had wives that stayed home and cared for their children. They always push me on it even after I politely try to change the topic. I now end those conversations with, "unless you are going to pay for the child's college education and get up with him or her in the middle of the night, you don't have any say in the decision."
And people say I lack subtlety, can you imagine?
But really, that's what it comes down to. Most people don't decide to have only one child simply because that's all they want. We normally have a number of reasons for the decision, and they are typically fairly personal. Please don't make parents of singletons justify their decision by forcing them to explain things they shouldn't have to. Singletons are on the rise right now, just like the last time they were common. That was during the Great Depression. (When my dad was born.) Having a second child during a financially uncertain time is scary for many people, and they shouldn't have to explain that they are afraid they will lose their job to make a stranger feel better.
Even harder on parents of singletons is when they only have one child because of medical reasons. Secondary infertility is fairly common and it's heartbreaking for parents trying to have a second child learn that they can't. It's just adding insult to injury to lecture them on how selfish and horrible it is for them to not have another child. And yes, people do tell parents of singletons that they are horrible and selfish.
The other family I know with a singleton would love to have another child, but due to a health condition, they cannot take the risk. The poor mom has found herself giving out her medical history a number of times trying to justify their decision to other people. It makes me really angry that she's been put in that position. She's not nearly as blunt and confrontational as I am, and therefore doesn't feel comfortable just telling people to mind their own damned business.
So I'll say it for her. Negative people who think I should have another child to live up to your standard can all just mind their own damn business. We have made our decision for good reasons, and you just have to trust me on that.