Thursday, August 19, 2010

Only and Only?

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.


MyWorld said...

We are a family with two little girls and I'm constantly getting comments about how we should "try again" for a boy. I can't imagine why on Earth I'd ever want to do that. If you told me today you could guarantee me that my next child would be a boy, I'd still be done. I used to think I wanted three kids, but I've come to accept that for financial and emotional reasons, two is it for us.

A lot of the comments come from the in-law side of the family because "the family name needs to continue." I remind them constantly that my husband is one of four boys and we've recently found out that one of them is having a boy.

I've been told we should have at least one more "in case something goes wrong with one of the first ones." I can't even begin to comment on the depth of stupidity in that statement.

Getting pregnant and staying pregnant has been a challenge for us, too. My two year old is technically my fifth. I can't handle the emotional burden of that process again.

Being subtle is overrated some times. But what do I know?

Maria said...

Dude, I'm an only, and while I wished for siblings, I got to do some amazing things that there is no way I would have gotten to do had there been more in the family. I do wonder about what will happen when my parents are gone, but I have two friends who are as close to me as I can imagine a sister would have been, so I don't worry, really. I have a great support network of friends and I am happy. Will has three siblings, only one he actually talks to, so what's to say having several kids guarantees relationships?I turned out (mostly) normal, and I'm sure Michael will be fine, too. I hate that people feel the right to judge on this issue. I, too get the 'are you going to try for a boy?' line of questioning. Drives me nuts.

LauraC said...

Basically in any situation people are judgy when it comes to kids. People constantly ask us when we are going to try for a girl, like two boys is not enough. I've also found that if you do ANYTHING outside the american dream of owning a big car, a big house, 2.5 kids, and a dog, people want to know why.

I can't even talk about my vegetarian years. That was ten times worse than having twins in terms of stupid questions and issues.

The thing is, there are positives and negatives both. The downsides of twins are obvious. The upsides are not so obvious. And most people in this country grew up with a sibling so there are lots of pre-conceived ideas about what is good and not good about single kids.

LauraC said...

PS next time I will send you the link, I thought it would be something you would want to refer to over and over again bc it had so much info!

Lindsay said...

Great post, Joanna. I'm going to pass the link along to a friend who is considering one and done.

Karen said...

My dad was an only child and my mom is the oldest of 7. I think there is good and bad to both sides.

If Michael been born without Marfan syndrome, we also would have been one and done to keep from passing it on.

And I completely agree with you on the secondary infertility aspect. People have different reasons for choosing the size of their family and others should respect that decision!

Stacey said...

I thought that article was really fair and informative. It's sad that so many people are negative about only children. I've always thought only children were MORE well-adjusted than children with siblings. They seem to move between worlds with more ease and seem less susceptible to peer pressure.

I do agree with the other commenters that people love to be negative no matter what. Everyone wants to know when we're trying for a girl. And risk three boys... I don't think so! ;)

I'm sorry you have to continue to deal with ignorant comments about your very acceptable choice.

Mel said...

I don't know why people have to be so judgmental. I've even caught myself starting to judge couples of a certain age that do not have a baby at all (and have no plans to do so). Parenting is NOT for everyone, and that certainly does not make a person bad or evil for not being a parent. It does seem like people with LOTS of kids judge people with only 1 or 2, and vice-versa. When I was pregnant, I walked into a local donut store here that is run by some very nice Chinese-American folks (they make really good donuts). He asked me if I was having a boy or a girl. I answered girl (I had already had the big u/s) and his response to me was, "Oh, you have boy next time." My blood started to boil just a little underneath, but I just politely smiled and took my donuts with me, knowing that there were probably some cultural differences there. Anyway, if people would just respect each other's privacies and decisions just a little, the world would be a MUCH nicer place!

Mama Mia said...

I too am an only, and I don't think I am odd...I have LOVED being an only child...and to agree w/ my world since finding out we are having another boy, I am already getting asked when we will try for a girl! HELLO I am still preggers w/ #2, and we are not sure we will try for a girl...

Kara said...

Someone is always going to have something rude to say no matter how many children you have....

I get asked all the time if we are going to try for a boy. I am so damn tired of that question! Look at me I have three girls. 10, 4, and 2. What is wrong with only having girls? I have started answering this question very rudely because honestly I'm just tired of it!! Hello, this should not be a conversation starter!

I have a friend who has tried for many years to have a baby. They finally turned to fertility meds and they now have triplets. She gets asked all the time "are they all yours?" she responds with "yes, they are" then she gets the whole "I feel sorry for you" spill. That upsets her more than anything. She responds with "you shouldn't feel sorry for me I am very blessed."

Beth said...

We love Seth to pieces and he adds so much to our family, but that said, I think Ed would have been completely happy to have stopped at one. And I also believe people can be very fulfilled and happy not having kids at all. Knowing if and when to start having kids, and then knowing when to stop, is the sign of very enlightened and wise people. The unhappy parents and screwed up kids are the ones who didn't get it right.

HeatherV said...

I jumped over from Beth's blog today when I saw the topic. Good for you for being direct about what is YOUR choice for YOUR family.

It never fails that people will push their judgement for what they envision the perfect family to look like no matter how insensitive and hurtful it comes off.

Seriously, I want to punch anyone else who looks at me with the all boys sadness and shout "Thanks you a**holes for taking away a piece of my happiness." We had the one kid has to be enough discussion going through IVF more times than I ever want to recount and for us we were beyond lucky that it worked the way we wanted.

Good for you for not defending or even tempering anyone who asks why.

I'm considering making t-shirts that read, "Parenting is not for Pussies", want one that reads Team 3 and Don't Comment! on the back?

windycityvegan said...

People always have to have an opinion, don't they? My favorite is how people in smaller towns seem shocked that, at the age of 37, I don't have a kid in high school and three more trailing behind.

Other than that, I just shrug off comments, judgments, etc. Family size is a personal matter and not up for discussion, just like religion and politics. Unless someone wants MY opinion about their state of affairs, of course. Then the gloves come off.

Anonymous said...

I was an only child and loved it, however there have been problems adjusting to being married with kids. I'm used to my privacy, and my space...that doesn't exist any more.

The downside to being an only child, my mom died when I was 20, and my dad had alzheimers, so I was all alone. My friends could sympathize, but no one was there to share that pain with.

That was the deciding factor for me when it came to having kid, versus, kids. I couldn't stand the thought of my child going through that pain alone.

claudia said...

Bravo! Clearly you are a good and involved mother who is working hard to nurture a happy, well adjusted citizen. I have more trouble trying to understand those "quiverfull" folks who apparently feel that their DNA is so superior that they need to personally repopulate the earth.