“They are spoiled brats, troubled misfits, social aberrations; they’re attention-craving showboats, but also, somehow, reclusive weirdos.” Those are just some of the stereotypes The Washington Post identified in an article about the rise of the only child.
I myself am an only child, and many of these thoughtless judgments followed me like an unwelcome shadow throughout my formative years. But despite popular belief, I never felt any emptiness or yearning for a sibling or maladjustment. In my family, there was a Mommy Bear, a Daddy Bear and a Baby Bear. As the story goes, that was just right; we were a happy trio.
Weighing Whether to Have More Children
That contentment is one reason that, as a mother of a happy toddler, I now am weighing whether to have more children. Sometimes, I feel that my sweet, perfect daughter completes our family. At other points, I am unsettled, unsure; will my husband and I be depriving her of something if we stop at one? Then again, she is utterly and wholly loved and adored; that was plenty for me, wasn’t it? The pros and cons in my mind slide back and forth like a seesaw.
Another reason for my indecision is the eye-popping price of daycare. At the very least, my husband and I agree that we can’t stomach the costs of a second child in daycare — especially on top of other expenses like mortgage payments. (Zillow actually found that those in pricier real estate markets are, in fact, choosing to have fewer children.)
And then there’s the time factor, the feeling that the minutes slip away like rain on my fingertips. I only have a tiny, precious slice of time to devote to my daughter each morning and evening, and already I worry it is unfair; it is not enough. How then could I force her to compete with another child for my attention?
Growing Number of One-Child Families
As my husband and I ponder whether our family is complete as is, I know we’re in good company. According to the Pew Research Center, about a fifth of American parents indeed are opting to remain one-child families, a number that has risen from 11 percent in the mid-1970’s.
The Washington Post explains this in part, saying:
“…prospective parents have struggled to build their careers in the wake of the recession, facing stagnant wages and soaring costs of living. The price tag of raising a child now tops $230,000 (college not included). For those who live and work in cities or wish to preserve the freedom and flexibility they’ve enjoyed well into their 30s, one child may be an appealing solution.”
Society Expects a Second Child
Despite this, when I don’t have a clear answer to inquiries about when I’ll have my next child, the reaction I constantly confront is… disappointment.
My hairdresser, the mother of an only child herself, implored me not to make her mistake. “A child needs a sibling,” she said. Others have made similar judgments, stating flatly that children need playmates, and invoking many of the old, debunked stereotypes that have lingered rotten in the air for decades.
At times, these words haunt me… making me question myself and the future of my family. In a 2011 essay, comedian Tina Fey writes, “I debate the second-baby issue when I can’t sleep. ‘Should I? No. I want to. I can’t. I must. Of course not. I should try immediately.'”
Make Your Own Choices
I remind myself to quiet the voices that don’t matter, the ones that drown out my own; the noise of my hairdresser and others is well-intentioned, but no one else can claim to know what’s best for my family. So to all the moms out there who wonder whether one is enough, or whether it instead is shameful or selfish, throw off the cloud of criticism and instead go inside yourself.
There will always be someone judging us for something, for anything, for everything. But only we inhabit our own lives. And if you do decide to raise an only child, for whatever your reasons, take it from me: the water was always just fine on this end.