I am at a point where I honestly believe that my friends who have decided not to have children get less grief than I do for having an only child. No-one should have to explain the decisions they make regarding their family choices, but I hope I am speaking for parents of only children everywhere with the following post:
Please . . . PLEASE every parent of more than one child, by all means ask your friends/acquaintances/mums you barely know if they want any more children, but whatever answer you receive, leave it at that. I implore you not to follow it with any of the following responses:
“Oh no! Why not?”
“That’s a shame.”
“You’d find a way / you just cope somehow y’know.”
Tilt you head in sympathy and look sad.
All fairly polite, true. But really none of your business. I’ve been asked “why not?” countless times now, sometimes by people I have known less than 10 minutes. Just last week I was asked this, followed by”how old are you?” and then “you’d better get on with then!” . . . thanks for that by the way annoying lady at wedding.
I wonder if these people have considered the fact that we could have been trying for years and not managed to fall pregnant? That we could have miscarried or lost a child and found it too painful to keep trying? That we could have medical or financial complications? Although none of the above apply to my own personal reasons, how does this stranger so casually probing me know that? How bloody rude.
I have also been called the following:
“Mean” Really?! Grace sees friends every single day without exception despite not having started full time school or nursery yet. She is surrounded by family, children of various ages, much loved pets, love and fun. What a mean mum I must be!
“Tight ” – See above.
“Cruel.” – Sadly, there are people in existence that actually are cruel to children. We see them on the news, or maybe read the memoir of that child when they are grown. Scariest of all, the majority we will probably never know about. I cannot think of being called anything more offensive, however jovially it is said.
“A wimp.” – This one was said with no malice but cut particularly deeply. As some of you will know, I cared for and had to watch my Mother as she became sicker, and thinner, and weaker, and eventually died when Grace was 10 weeks old. It was the hardest time of my life, and I am so proud of the way I coped and kept myself together for Grace in the aftermath of this (and ever since). I went through it all again last year when her sister, my aunt. and best friend, passed away too aged just 49. I . . . Am . . . Not . . . A . . . Wimp.
We are a unit. A complete and very happy family. I have friends and colleagues who are only children, and are perfectly balanced, stable and happy people with their own families. . . . I know! Who’d have thought, eh? I similarly know people who have nothing to do with their siblings now they are adults and/or never got along growing up together.
After a bit of research, I have discovered some interesting schools of thought on the subject. Here are some thoughts put forward by quantitative and qualitative studies that psychologists have done, quoted here from the book “One and Only” by Lauren Sandler.
“Being an only child can be uplifting and confidence-boosting. There are some wonderful advantages to it; many only kids tend to have higher achievement motivation, and they seem to develop great tools to succeed.”
“Only children tend to have a deeper primary relationship with themselves. Often we don’t think about that; we think of relationships in terms of those with other people, but only children have no choice but to develop a strong relationship to themselves, and it’s an incredibly beautiful thing; it offers such a degree of self-reliance,” Sandler points out. “The greatest armor against loneliness is to learn how to be less lonely when you are by yourself.”
One myth I can personally dispel is that only children find it hard to make friends. This became apparent on our last holiday when Grace thought nothing of inviting other children to play, pretty much daily. She is excellent at making new friends – as an only child herself, Sandler throws some light on why this is -“We don’t take peer relationships for granted,” she says. “Unlike siblings, who will be at the dinner table night after night, no matter how we behave, we know that we have to nurture and protect our relationships with others. We tend to absorb more mature lessons about relationships in terms of responsibility, nurturing and generosity.”
We have very little help as a family. All child care is paid for, my husband doesn’t have a lot of family now and mine live far away. I like to have time to do the things I want to do: writing, painting, going out with my husband and friends, animal rescue. Having one child, for me personally, makes this more attainable. Thank you to all those who have so frequently said”Ah you’d find a way to deal with it” but my current choice is to feel happy and blessed with the family I already have, not feel more stressed, be more strained financially, have less time and be less happy and relaxed but “dealing with it.” It’s good of you to presume you understand what would be best for us, but I am not you. What works for you, actually may not work for me.
“My mother taught me that to be a good mother, it helps to be a happy person. That is something that we have really lost sight of because we are often expected to sacrifice our happiness for the good of our children, and I don’t actually believe it’s for the good of our children,” says Sandler. “So to me, having a little bit more freedom, both in terms of the things that we can measure, like opportunities in the workforce, to the number of sippy cups we have to wash, the hours of housework that each child requires, or the number of sleepless nights that we can stomach, to say, ‘I’ve done that with one child; I love this, but I don’t need to do it anymore,’ is something that should be OK to embrace.”
– my sentiments exactly.
It’s fine to have more than one child. It’s fine to have none.
It’s fine to have one.
I am not saying that any of these are better than another, I myself have a brother I think the world of and have fond memories of growing up with. I may even go on to have another child after all, despite my ancientness.
I am simply putting out a genuine plea – however well meaning you may be, please don’t question us about it. Or even worse – feel sorry for our happy, well- loved, socially well-adjusted kids. Honestly: we’re fine.
By the way – do you have a dog? No? Oh no! Why not? Aw what a shame, you should really get a dog y’know . . .It’d be SO nice for (insert child’s name). You’d cope you know, you’d find a way. . . .