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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Stay in a relationship without kids or go?

Last week we talked about the big gamble. Should you leave a partner who is unable or unwilling to make babies with you in the hope that you can find someone else with whom you can have children? Most of the people who responded had decided to keep what they had. They treasured their relationship enough to work it out. That’s what I did, too.

But that leaves a lot of people still in the gray area.

Ideally, we work these things out before we’ve made the commitment to another person. We discuss it, and if we disagree, we either decide to accept it forever or we walk away. Right? Not always. There’s a third response, the one I made and the one lots of us make. We tell ourselves that he will change his mind, that she will get the urge to have babies, that the physical impediments to conception will miraculously disappear. For those of us raised on fairy tales and Disney movies, it makes sense. If you wish hard enough for something, your dreams always come true in the end. If only real life worked that way.

Back in my mother’s day, kids were part of the package. If you didn’t want to have children, you didn’t get married because marriage meant babies. But nothing is guaranteed anymore. We have to discuss it and be clear on what we want. If a person is unable or unwilling to have children, that’s probably not going to change. Can you live with that?

Of course many of you are already in the relationship. It’s too late to work it out beforehand. So now what? Ask yourself some questions and try to be honest.

1) Am I happy with my life as it is right now? If nothing changes, can I remain happy with this person?

2) Do I love this person enough to choose him or her over the children I might have had?

3) Will I be devastated if I never have children?

4) Am I will to willing to risk ending up childless and alone–or becoming a single parent?

Tough questions. The hard part is that your answers may change over time. So might your partner’s. But I think we have to assume that things are not going to change, that there will be no miracles, and act accordingly.

I wish none of us had to deal with this, but we do. What do you think about all this? Please share in the comments.