Dare we ask for more than one child?

Shortly after I was born, my mother used to tell me, Grandpa Fagalde said, “Well, when are you going to have your boy?” Exhausted from giving birth, she wasn’t thrilled about the idea at that moment, but a year and a half later, she gave birth to my brother. Like most of families on our block, our parents had two children, a boy and a girl. A full set. We fit perfectly in our three-bedroom baby boom houses in the suburbs of San Jose.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Childless by Marriage community. So many people here are hoping, praying and pleading to have a baby, just one, but I suspect we really want a full set, too, which means more than one.

If we only manage to have one, he or she would be an “only child.” Although lone children can thrive, happy to receive all of their parents’ attention, they will go through life without the companionship of another person who has exactly the same family history and who will be around for major family events. They might also provide nieces and nephews for you to cherish. God knows I would hate to have gone through the recent loss of my father without my brother. We were a team throughout that ordeal and he has handled the brunt of the estate management.

In so many situations we read about here, a person would be lucky to have a single child. The partner is already reluctant, or the body is not cooperating. If one sperm and one egg actually get together and if the pregnancy lasts the whole nine months and if the baby is born healthy . . . dare we ask for more than one? Should we just pray for twins?

Sure, having more than one child is double the cost and double the effort. My mother always said she sometimes thought she’d lose her mind those first few years with the two of us both in diapers and into everything while Dad was at work all day. But it was good for us. We always had someone to play with when other kids weren’t around. We fought a lot, but we were united against the world. Now that our parents are gone, we still have each other. I have always wished I had a sister, too, but Mom and Dad didn’t cooperate.

As Catholics, if they were following the rules, my parents would have had more children, but honestly most Catholic couples use birth control of some kind. As a working class family living off my father’s income as an electrician, they would have struggled to take care of a larger family. Two was enough for them.

Many of our readers have married someone who already has children from a previous relationship. So did I. Two of my friends in that situation had one more child together. For medical reasons, they could not have more. Others had more than one. I’m not going to say the children from the second marriage blended perfectly with the kids from the first. They did not turn into the Brady Bunch. They got along, but it was always clear they came from different tribes. But both partners in the marriage got the children they wanted; no one was left childless.

Back to the original question. While we’re asking to have one child, dare we ask for two—or more? What do you think? Are any of you “only children?” Do you wish you had a brother or sister? Would you like to have more than one child with your current partner? Dare you ask? Or would negotiations completely shut down if you went that far?

Driving down the road, I often follow cars with stencils on the back window representing their families. Have you seen them? There’s the mom, the dad, the multiple children and the dog. How many people would we like on our back-window stencil?

I look forward to your comments.

Interesting reading:

“The Rise of the Only Child,” Washington Post, June 19, 2019

 “The Truth About Only Children,” The Guardian, May 31, 2018

 

 

 

Stepchildren and holidays always a tricky mix

Thanksgiving is next week. Christmas follows shortly after. Will your stepchildren be with you or their biological parents? Holidays get tricky when two sets of parents claim the kids, shuttling them back and forth according to the terms of custody agreements.

I feel for the children. Back in the days before Fred’s youngest turned 18, he was always coming or going. For years, his mother lived in Texas and we were in California, so he flew back and forth, often arriving with headaches and an upset stomach from the stress of traveling alone and facing a different family.

When he came to San Jose, we would take him to my family’s holiday gatherings, but the poor boy didn’t know half those people, and suddenly he was expected to call near-strangers Grandma and Grandpa or Aunt and Uncle. Here are your cousins, kid. No, they weren’t.

If he stayed with his mother, then he had to deal with her boyfriend’s people and he didn’t get to see his dad. After he moved in with us, his mother would take him away just when he probably wanted to stay home with his friends and his toys. She and the kids partied together while Fred and I cooked a turkey for just the two of us.

Meanwhile, looking at it from the view of the childless stepmother, having Fred’s son with us at family parties gave me a certain legitimacy, especially if his older siblings joined us. See, I’ve got the whole package, the husband and the children, just like everyone else. When they were with their mom, we were the childless ones who didn’t fit in. Sometimes we all got together, bio- and step-families. That was weird, all of us making nice and pretending we were family.

The best Christmas of my life was the one where somehow we had all the Lick children and grandchildren, plus my parents, at our house. I don’t remember why, but nobody had to leave for another party that day. I remember music, laughter, wrapping paper and ribbons everywhere, and smells of turkey and pumpkin pie. I remember little ones calling me “Grandma” as we sat at the piano singing “Rum pa pum pum.” It never happened quite like that again.

When I was growing up, everyone came to our house, both sets of grandparents, my aunts and uncles and their kids. No one was divorced. Nobody had anyplace else to go. My mom said grace and thanked God for everyone being there. Dad plagued us with the bright lights of the movie camera, and we celebrated as one happy family. Things are so different now. Complicated.

Step-relationships are often troubled. Has anyone heard, “Leave me alone! You’re not my mother (or father)!”? Who hasn’t? Sometimes it’s easier to get through the holidays when the kids are somewhere else. Sometimes it just hurts. You buy presents and get nothing back. You watch the bio-parents get all the love. You hug the dog and wish the holidays were over. Right?

Of course sometimes, the holidays are great. The kids are great. You feel blessed.

So, how is it for you? If you have stepchildren, how do you handle the holidays? What are the best parts and the worst parts? If you were a stepchild, what was that like? Feel free to vent here in the comments.

Graduation and the childless stepparent

It’s graduation season. Does the thought make you feel a little queasy because your stepchildren are graduating and you don’t know where you fit in? Welcome to the club. I know you don’t all have stepchildren, but enough do that graduation issues are starting to come up in the comments. Graduation can certainly magnify the awkwardness in the family when there are both biological parents and stepparents.

Let me share some of my experiences.

The first graduate was my stepdaughter Gretchen, who had dropped out of high school when she got pregnant with her first child and went to an “adult school” to finish her classes while she was pregnant with her second child. Her mother was living in Texas, so the “family” that attended was her father, her brothers, and me, the new wife. Honestly, it went great. I took lots of pictures and had this warm mushy feeling that I finally had a family. Whatever arguments we had had before didn’t matter.

I was also the mom on duty when Michael, my youngest stepson, graduated from middle school a few years later. Again, his mother was not there, but my parents joined us for the outdoor ceremony. I was working for the local paper and ran around taking pictures for a story, split between my roles as reporter and mom. I loved it.

Four years later, when that same stepson graduated from high school, everyone was there: Fred and I, Michael’s siblings, my parents, his mother and HER parents, all sitting in the bleachers on the football field. Now, this was June in San Jose, so we were dressed in our summer clothes. The few clouds overhead were a welcome relief from days of relentless heat. But shortly after they got through the L’s and Michael received his diploma, the clouds turned black and it started to rain, a hard soaking deluge that sent people scattering for shelter.

At that time, Fred, Michael and I lived across the street from the high school, and the party was happening at our house. I handed my mom my keys and asked her to put the lasagna in the oven while we looked for Michael. Soon we were all gathered at our house, and I was handing out towels. Although things could have been weird, we all got along and felt like one big happy family, laughing over the rained-out ceremony.

Of course there are always those awkward moments. “This is my mom, this my dad, this is my, um . . . .” Know what I mean?

Years later, when Gretchen’s daughter Stephanie graduated from high school, I wasn’t there. Fred was in a nursing home, and my nephew was graduating from a college nearby on the same day. I went to his ceremony instead. There was still time afterwards to get to Stephanie’s graduation, but I was riding with my dad and he didn’t want anything to do with my step-family. (Someday soon I should do a post on the relationship between our own parents and our stepchildren. Now there’s a tricky relationship.) Anyway, I missed it.

And when Gretchen graduated from college a few years ago, I was widowed and living in Oregon and was not invited. Nor did I expect to be, even though I’m very proud of her. I’m proud of all of them, but sometimes that “step” between us is huge, especially with their father gone.

None of the kids came to my late-life master’s-degree graduation from Antioch University in Los Angeles. Fred was the only family there while other grads had big groups, including their children. But then if I had children, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to go back to school.

Enough about me. Graduation can be tough. When your stepchildren graduate, whether it’s from kindergarten, high school or Harvard, are you pitted against their biological family? Are you not invited? Are you expected to smile, give gifts, and be the hostess for kids who aren’t your own? To make nice with people you can’t stand? Are you gulping back tears because you may never watch your own children graduate? When you hear the band play “Pomp and Circumstance,” do you think back to your own graduations and how you never imagined things would turn out the way they have?

Let’s talk about it. You can let it all out here. I look forward to your comments.