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 relationship like the 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”

“A Note to Mothers of Only Children–from an Only Child Herself”

 

 

 

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Should you gamble on a partner who says he or she doesn’t want children?

Back in my grandmother’s day, things were pretty simple. You grew up, got married and had babies. Period. No birth control. No legal abortions. No vasectomies or tube-tieing. The only people who didn’t have children, aside from priests and nuns, were the ones who were physically unable. And everyone pitied them. “Oh poor Aunt Martha, she couldn’t have children.”

There was no choice, no changing of minds, no “do you want to have children?” “Let’s wait until we have more money” or “I don’t think I want to have children.” People just had babies, and if it made their lives more difficult, if taking care of the kids meant sacrificing something else you would have liked to do, tough.

Sometimes I wish we were still back in those days. With all the sex my first husband and I had, I’d have at least three children now, maybe more because we might not have gotten divorced. I’d still be attached to a husband who drank too much and didn’t believe in monogamy. Instead, we split up, and I married Fred, who was the best husband ever, except for not wanting to have children with me. Did it turn out for the best? I think so.

Every day I receive comments from readers struggling with the baby question. In many cases, they and their partners completely agreed when they got together about having or not having children. Then either one of them changed their minds or one of them proved to be unable to make babies. And now they don’t know what to do. They’re broken-hearted. They’re talking about breaking up, but they’re still in love and don’t know if they’ll ever find a better mate. I don’t know what to tell them. Things happen. People turn out to be infertile. People who said they didn’t care about having children suddenly realize that they can’t bear living their entire lives without experiencing motherhood or fatherhood. People who thought they wanted children discover they really don’t.

What it comes down to, I think, is making a commitment to another person and sticking to it, no matter what. Relationships are a gamble. Marriage is a gamble. He/she might die, might get sick, might get fired, might not be able to get pregnant, might decide he’d rather have a puppy. People change their minds. If you truly love that person, you don’t leave when things get tough. You talk it through and find the best solution for both of you. When it comes to having children, if one wants them and one doesn’t, somebody’s going to get hurt. So the question it always comes down to is: Is this person worth taking a chance?

What do you think? Please post your comments. I’m running out of answers. 

Can you forgive him or her for not giving you children?

Last week, one of my readers asked if I had written about forgiveness. It’s key to moving on past a lack of children, she said. I had not, but I think we should talk about it.

In a marriage where one partner can’t or doesn’t want to have children and the other one does, somebody is not going to get what they want. There’s just no way around it. Either you split up and look for someone who feels the same way, or one of you gives in. The person who didn’t really want kids agrees to have them anyway or the one did want them remains childless. It’s a painful situation. Do you love the other person enough to make this kind of sacrifice? And if you do, is part of you going to hate them forever or can you forgive them?

I was married twice. Husband number one let me know a couple years into the marriage that he did not want children, couldn’t stand babies and would leave me if I had one. Would he really have done that? I don’t know. After six years, we divorced. Looking back, I know that he was not an evil person. He was just young. He was not ready to be a father, even if I felt completely ready to have a baby. Should I hate him? No. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Then came Fred, husband number two. When we got married, he was 48 years old. His kids were 18, 16, and 8. He and his first wife had spent years raising them, and now freedom was in sight. He didn’t want to start over with another baby. In fact, he had had a vasectomy to make sure he and his ex wouldn’t conceive again. I know that he loved me enough that if I had insisted on having a child, he would have agreed to seek a way to make me pregnant, but I didn’t insist. I just ran around feeling sorry for myself. I can understand all that now, and I can forgive him. He didn’t give me children of my own but he gave me so many other things.

I’m still working on forgiving myself.

If you’re in the throes of unfulfilled baby lust, it isn’t easy to forgive anyone or anything who denies you a child. But try, just for a minute, to see things from their perspective. Maybe you can’t forgive them yet. Maybe you can’t live with this and need to find another mate or another way to deal with the situation. But try to see things from their side. What makes them feel the way they do? Understanding is the first step toward finding a solution you both can live with.

So, in this new year, however it turns out, whatever you have to do, try a little forgiveness.