“Is he your only child?”
This question, said with a mixture of curiosity and horror, has come my way more times than I can count. There are a lot of other only-child questions and statements on this playlist, too:
“When are you going to have another child?”
“You need to give your son a little brother!”
And my all-time favorite: “WHY don’t you have more kids?”
Let’s start there.
This is a seemingly harmless question and for the most part, it is. People are just curious because if they have more than one child, why don’t you? But let’s look at it a different way. To the person(s) asking those questions, let me ask you these questions:
Would you ask a single woman when will she get married?
Would you ask a childless couple why they don’t have a baby?
Would you tell a woman with an infant that she needs to breastfeed instead of use formula?
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Unless you know someone’s situation, these questions have the potential to be extremely painful at worst or highly annoying at best. These questions contain in them a perceived judgment, however innocently asked. When you ask a woman, “Why don’t you have more kids?” the query often comes without knowing the road she’s traveled … maybe she’s unable to have more children; maybe she lost a child; maybe she can’t afford more children; maybe she chose not to have more children. Regardless of the reason she has one child and not more. She’s not committing a crime against nature. Right now in reading this, you may be thinking, “Well, geez… I can’t even ask a simple question?” But it’s all in the delivery. Instead of asking, “When are you, you need to or why don’t you have more children?”, consider asking the question in another way: “Do you have more children?” You’ll get the answer you seek, without potentially offending anyone.
Debunking the Stereotypes
By the way: stereotypes about only children are fallacies. One of the biggest myths is that onlies are self-centered. My son and the only-child adults I know are not self-centered. Or if they are, it’s not merely because they’re only children. Multiple factors go into why people are the way they are. I know plenty of people with siblings who think the world revolves around them.
- Only children become too mature too quickly – I can only speak for my child, but he’s 13 going on 13.
- Only children are socially awkward – anyone who knows my son knows he’s very outgoing and has a truckload of friends. The same is true for many people I know who are only children.
- Only children don’t know how to share – this one may have some validity because only children aren’t used to having to split TV or computer time at home. Having said that, it’s how they’re raised that can make a difference and how many social interactions the only child has.
- Only children are headstrong – well, my son IS headstrong … but that’s because his mama is slightly headstrong herself. (Okay, those of you who know me, stop laughing!)
- Only children are brats – another myth that I’m happy to debunk. Since kindergarten, we’ve always gotten feedback from teachers that Christopher is polite and caring towards others. He’s now 13, though, so he’s part alien. But so far, he’s still a nice kid. (Check back in with me in a couple of years, as that’s sure to change.) Also, my friends who are only children are some of the greatest, kindest people I know, and the same for many of the only children of my friends. My Goddaughter is an only child (she’s grown now), and she’s one of the dearest, kindest, most considerate people I know.
It’s all in how we raise our kids that ultimately makes the difference. What we put into them is what we’ll get out of them.
My Journey to One
This was not a journey I set out to have. Having a brother, I’d always assumed I’d have at least two kids. I certainly didn’t think I’d have an only child. In my case, it was neither my choice nor biology that prevented me from having more kids. My ex-husband simply changed his mind on having more children (wait for it, ladies), he didn’t want to risk having a girl. That change of heart was an easy one for him to make – unraveling our joint decision to marry and have two children with the flip of a switch. But it set me out on a difficult path. At first, I assumed he’d change his mind, but as the years went on, it became clear that the situation was not going to change. The dawn of realization that I was finished having kids enveloped me. I even begged him to adopt, but no dice. I didn’t feel my family was complete. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I would likely not bear any more children because of someone else’s choice. I strongly considered packing up my then-toddler and leaving, meeting someone new who wanted a big family. But I couldn’t justify doing that to my existing child, so I stayed. (Although my ex eventually gave me a lot of reasons to leave years later!)
This phrase used to be a cross to bear with me. Only. As if my child were an oddity, or I was someone for people to pity, or that I wasn’t a “real mom” or we weren’t a “real family” because I have only one. Every time I have one of those questions it filled me with such pain because those were the whispers of anguish that I was saying to myself in the recesses of my mind. Every time someone had their second baby, I’d think, “Well, her (first) child is lucky; I feel sorry for my son.” Every old stereotype and thought about only children rippled through me. I worried about my son not having a sibling. The statement, “You need to give your son a sibling!” struck a chord down deep every time, each note embedding itself into my psyche. This was especially difficult for the Type A person I am, someone who set out to accomplish what she wants. So much of my life was consumed with trying to change my then-husband’s mind to have more children … then the all-consuming guilt that would inevitably follow when I thought of the child I DID have. What would my baby boy think that his existence wasn’t enough? Why couldn’t I just be grateful for the child I already had? I was (am) grateful for him, but the guilt of that still brought me to my knees … until the next time I was asked, “When are you going to have another child?” and the vicious cycle started all again. It took me many years to get to the point where I was at peace with having an only child, but I got there (and, to be honest, I just barely got there).
One day I looked up and realized how blessed and fortunate I am to have this child in my life. This boy who calls me Mom. My noisemaker who fills my life with everything good and exhausts me with everything else is my child. I was spending so much time feeling sorry for myself for not having more kids that I wasn’t in the moment of the child who is here. So, I started accepting my small family and, slowly but surely, I realized that much of the anguish I was feeling had nothing to do with what my child was feeling. He was always (and still is) a very outgoing and happy-go-lucky guy, and I just needed to finally come to the party.
The Unanticipated Blessings of One
When I still had the “grass is greener” mentality, I took for granted all the hours of one-on-one time my son, Christopher, and I had (and still have): my undivided attention when we have heart-to-heart talks regarding how he feels about things in his life; playing countless games with him – when he was little like Go Fish. Now we play chess almost every day; having his countless friends come over to play – but then being able to say, “Buh-bye, now!” when they all leave; being able to watch him perform at every single one of his events, because my time isn’t divided.
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I couldn’t see these unexpected benefits of having an only child in the middle of my wallowing at the beginning of my journey. But I’ve come to greatly appreciate this precious time with my son. I’m not advocating for or against having an only child; this journey is one that I found myself on. I now relish it. The choice for any woman – whether it’s the number of children she has or the choice to have children at all – should be based on what feels right for her. And that’s the choice I wanted to be able to make – to decide for myself how many children I would have.
As it happens, for some time now I’ve been contemplating the possibility of adoption. For years, I thought if I ever found myself single again, I would consider adopting an older child and give myself that once-wanted second child and give my son that elusive little brother. Now that I’m in the position to make that possibility a reality, I’m looking at my situation with more clarity – or, rather, from a position of having peace of mind (finally) and acceptance with having an only child. If it makes sense to add to my family that could be an option. But it’s now my decision to make. If I adopt a child, it’ll be out of want, not need … This is the moment where I’ve come full-circle in my journey because I no longer look at having a second child as a way to fill a void in my life. The fact that I’m even contemplating not adding to my family is in itself a personal feat. There are pros and cons to having an only child vs. having more than one child. The point is to recognize the GIFT of parenthood while our kids are still kids.
Isn’t that the point for ALL of us?
Maybe we had one child and wanted more; maybe we have multiple children and we feel overwhelmed; maybe we have all girls and never had that son; maybe we have all boys and never had that daughter … whatever the case may be, we must appreciate the blessings of parenthood that are there for us to enjoy.