Would Just One Child Be Enough?

Something has been niggling around in my mind this week. So many times here, we talk about having “a child,” about trying to get our partners to agree to have one baby, or about struggling with IVF to have “a baby.” But when we were young and dreaming about having “a family,” didn’t that include multiple children? Don’t most people who want to be parents have least two? We didn’t fantasize about being a mother duck with just one duckling swimming along behind us, did we?

What if, God forbid, something happens to that one little duck?

While many of us are just trying to deal with the fact that we’ll never have children, others are fighting to have at least one child before they’re too old, with partners who are reluctant at best. I started this at 3 a.m., but now in the bright morning light, I’m thinking this is nonsense. How can we stay with someone who has such a drastically different view of life? But maybe that’s just my lack of sleep talking.

Think about it. If we succeed in squeezing one baby out of this relationship, that child will be an “only child.” Much has been written over the years about the disadvantages and advantages for children with no siblings. Experts warn they may be selfish and self-centered loners who identify more with adults than with other children. Others say it’s great because they get all of their parents’ attention, and there are plenty of other kids in the world to hang out with.

I have one younger brother. He drove me nuts when we were growing up, but he’s a treasured friend now—and the person I have entrusted with my care and finances if/when I become disabled or die. He has carried a lot of the burden of caring for our father. I wish I had more siblings, especially a sister, but my parents felt their family was complete once they had one girl and one boy. My brother is the only person in the world who shares the same history and the same family, and I can’t imagine life without him.

So why are we weeping and grieving as we try to convince our mates to have just one child when what we really want is at least two? Often the discussion is happening so late biologically that our only hope is to have twins.

In “The Case Against Having Only One Child,” Elizabeth Gehrman, herself an only child, reports that the percentage of mothers who have only one child has doubled, from 11 percent in 1976 to 22 percent. She credits dual-career couples, the cost of raising a child, and having only one child becoming more accepted. But she advises parents considering having just one not to do it. There is no other relationship like one has with siblings, and it can be a lonely life with no brothers or sisters.

On the positive side, Carol Burnett, Laura Bush, Chelsea Clinton, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Charles Lindbergh, Joe Montana, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, and Robin Williams were all only children, and they turned out pretty well.

So I have to ask. Maybe one child works for you, but is it fair to the child, especially in these days when couples are waiting longer to have children, which means their offspring will lose their parents at a younger age and may not have a chance to know their grandparents at all? Who will they turn to?

Perhaps this is a non-issue. Perhaps some of you reading this are “only children” and glad about it. I’m just saying it’s something to consider when you’re struggling to get acceptance of even one child. What would it take to have more than one? Is that even an option? And if you have to beg your partner, why are you with him or her? We come back to the essential question: which do you want more, him/her or children? We shouldn’t have to choose, but sometimes we do.

Remember Heavy Heart, the reader whose comment we discussed a couple weeks ago? She had decided she would ask her husband one more time if he was willing to have a baby, and if he said no, she was going to leave. Well, she reported that he “wasn’t 100 percent,” but he agreed to start trying to get pregnant. So that’s good news, but I think her situation is what got me thinking about this only child business.

So it’s your turn. What do you think? I know many of you are thinking you would be over-the-moon just to have one baby, but would you feel bad about not having more?

Please comment.

Here are some more articles on only children:

“Raising an Only Child”

Thirteen Things Everyone Should Know About Only Children”





11 thoughts on “Would Just One Child Be Enough?

  1. One factor people often consider is money. A decent person might see that they can only afford one child, and so they have only one. If a parent knows they will struggle with two, maybe even to the point where the food budget will be too tight, they might choose to stick with just one child.

    When it comes to children, there is no guarantee. No guarantee that one is better than two, or that three is better than two. No guarantee that they will take care of you when you age (as many people often assume). No guarantee that they will be who you want them to be.

    So, have as many (or as few) children as you want, and do your best! That’s all we can do, IMHO.

    Take care,


  2. I would be fine having one child. I’d support them finding and nurturing friendships. Hopefully I could impart the benefits of being alone and with others. I have siblings. We are in the 50-60’s range and have grown vastly apart. There are no guarantees that a sibling guarantees a friend for life.


  3. I am an only child born 10 years into the marriage. Yes, there are benefits. BUT I grew up quite over-protected because I was an only. I was also the only grandchild on one side (virtually ignored by the other). I also have no close relatives, cousins, etc. My mother only had one because she felt she couldn’t handle more than one. Thus, she was not interested in my having friends over, sleepovers, etc. However, because she was a helicopter, I couldn’t go to other kids’ houses as she felt their parents didn’t supervise closely enough. My mother had little interest in providing any sort of extra curriculars and they were discouraged. So yes, I was very much more at ease discussing finances and investing at 12 than talking with kids my age.
    It was sad and lonely. I was not prepared to date because I wasn’t allowed the boy/girl social time. Got into a rather early marriage (fail) as a result. I simply didn’t have good social skills or boundaries.

    Now, I’m in my 50s spending part of my time dealing with my elderly mother. There are no relatives left, none to help, and my parents’ friends are all gone. So, I’m still the dog and pony show for every holiday, birthday, need, appointment driver, etc. I planned on flying after my divorce…..I’m stalled out. I’m working part-time in a dead-end job so that I can be available for needs.

    My advice: If you feel you want to have one child, so be it. But please, please make sure there are adequate resources, family, friends, etc. Have a plan other than your only child in your later years. It isn’t fair to expect one person (I am divorced and childless) to put everything on hold (when I really need to start retirement savings) to care for you. Be prepared to be flexible in allowing other drivers, housekeepers, etc.

    Make sure that one child has a village. It really isn’t fair otherwise.


    • Wow, Mdoe37 – a lot of what you wrote resonated with me. My parents were overprotective and old-fashioned. I was expected to be mature, sensible and calm. So I didn’t mix well with my peers, especially when the teenage years hit. I wasn’t allowed to get excited about music, crazy about boys, or clutter my walls with photos of my friends or favorite movie stars. I was grudgingly allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities but I didn’t have much support so I never really excelled. At anything really.

      No experience, boundaries or confidence meant I had a lot of superficial friendships and a string of failed relationships. I cringe to think how awkward I was when I first started dating. Not surprisingly, I never felt worthy enough to start a family, even after my husband and I straightened ourselves out in therapy. Life has always been confusing and complicated for me, and I never wanted to bring a child into the mix and make it awful for them. When my husband and I finally decided that maybe we could be parents – nothing happened. And we easily accepted this. Investigating fertility or pursuing adoption didn’t appeal to us.

      I’m in my 40’s now and realizing that nothing about this journey has been easy. The past was not easy. Feeling happy for the happy moms and dads around me is currently not easy. I don’t anticipate that the future will be easy as we get older and need more.

      Taking so long to get myself in order means I squandered years of good fertility or mileage ahead of me to weather the adoption road. Still, I don’t know how I could have “cured” myself any sooner. I feel like the victim in my own life story and I was actually the villain, cutting myself short at every turn. And I really just want to feel like the heroine.

      I live each day with joy and purpose, but it’s hard. And I feel that sort of dejection in your message. I really hope you find a way to light up your life. Maybe do something new, meet someone new. People light a spark all the time – so can we!


    • Siblings guarantee nothing down the road They don’t mean you will have help with aged parents. They don’t mean you have a close bond. Everyone sees big happy families on reality TV or famous large families like the Osmonds or Jacksons, but are the siblings really close? Did they all get attention? One child in a large family can be over-indulged and a dozen kids can lack social skills if the parents are overly strict.

      Even if they all seem happy and bonded, wait until it’s time to divide assets. Lisa Marie Presley had no one to fight with over Graceland. If you feel this way, it isn’t because you’re an only child. It’s on your parents. If it happened to you it would have likely been the same for more kids. I think society just likes to shame people for knowing what they can handle, and we take a bad example or two of an ‘only’ and run with it for everyone, which is so not true..


  4. This is a fab topic and piece of writing, Sue. I am an only child, but I consider myself to be very lucky. I was brought up in a mid-sized village in northern England in the 1970s and 80s. I had an older cousin and one almost exactly the same age as me. We lived just streets away from each other, and from age about 5 or 6 were allowed to wander to and from each other’s houses, to our grandma’s house, and to play in the streets with the other kids. No need for pre-arranged playdates. I do not remember ever being lonely and I know my parents were proud of everything I did and loved me. I could see it in their eyes. As a teenager, we had a great youth club that got me into sports that I still play today and others into music.
    Basically I had the village around me, in terms of people and state-provided extracurricular activities. My parents still live in the village, and my cousins are a great support and source of company for them. I should add, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, lots of family fall-outs over the years (I don’t want readers to think lots of families are like the Waltons and it is just theirs that is lacking!).
    One of the reasons my hubby and I stopped fertility treatment was we didn’t really want to end up with just one child. He said, “I hate spoilt kids.” (a bit of an underlying assumption that only kids are spoilt). Turns out he regards any support with extra-curricular activities as spoiling a child. I’d have wanted kids to try lots of different activities, to find what they are good at and to build their confidence. I’m okay that we didn’t have kids together.
    You are right, Sue. There was a vision of more than one child for us, probably the standard two. And all the comments made by your readers about parents pushing forward for that one child late in life are very valid considerations. It is really going to help the child if there are cousins and other extended family, either nearby or who will keep in touch and visit. And a community, where people of all ages get out and mix.


  5. I don’t know the answer to this question. I was childless by marriage for over ten years, divorced, met someone who wanted a family, got pregnant, but then he firmly insisted we would be only having one. I want another baby, I’m almost 36, so I do have some time, but not that much. He says it’s because of money. I was raised Catholic and they always told us you can’t put children on a balance sheet. I do not care how much it costs. Just yesterday, we were talking about our future house we are dreaming of buying. We have a small two-bedroom now and it’s tight. He was talking about buying a 70 inch TV, etc. We just had gotten a dish with the hopper and he upgraded to a “smart” remote which was an extra $100. Okay, so we can’t afford another child?? Based on our combined income, which is well above the median income for our area, if we can’t afford it, then no one can. Again, I don’t care if it costs us everything. I would also like to do foster parenting, but again he is opposed. I am still hopeful for another child, but time will tell.


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