Q&A: only children

Too many irons in the fire! Sorry about the skipped day.

To the Jill who had the friend who would talk to K, could you email me at AskMoxie@gmail.com with your contact info so I can put you in touch? Thanks.

I've discovered several things in the past few days:

1. In order to use the auto-post feature of Typepad effectively, you have to know what day it is.

2. Green smoothies are excellent, but raw arugula does not taste good in them. (Current green smoothie recipe: raw spinach, mung bean sprouts, greens powder, kefir, raw almonds, a packet of Emergen-C for the winter season, frozen mango, frozen acai or blueberries.)

3. What was I thinking with all the skirts for work? I'm a skirt-wearer by nature, but between dropping my older one at school, walking to the subway, and walking from the subway to my office I walk 1.2 miles every morning. In the freezing winds of NYC. And I work in an office with only men, and my only contact with clients is by phone, so who even cares what I wear? I need more pants.

4. Have you ever been post-shower naked brushing your teeth in the morning, when suddenly both kids and one of the cats bursts in because the older child has decided to be Batman, "but not the real Batman, Mom! I'm a guy with two bats who attacks his brother--Batman! But they're just pretend bats!" and the little one is squealing and laughing and trying to hide behind your legs, and the cat just wants to be part of the action? And then when everyone's finally stuffed into clothes and ready to go, the little one poops? And people wonder why I leave the house with my hair wet.

Now on to today's topic. After that post a few months ago on spacing kids, I got a couple of responses from people about only children.

Lysa writes:

"My husband and I are in our mid-thirties.  We have a 15-month-old son.  We are university professors so money will never be aplenty (but time, at times, will).  We're really on the fence about having another child, for several reasons: resources (we want to give our child/ren everything we can and with two, as crass as it sounds, there'd be less to "go around"); timing and age (again: we're in our mid-thirties and *very* tired); selfishness (as much as we adore and utterly cherish our son, we secretly can't wait to get even a remote semblance of our old life back -- i.e. Preschool era approaching).  And yet, we feel strongly that siblings are somehow essential to well-being and adjustment (I hate that word).  I'm very close with my brother.  An only child himself, my husband feels indifferent: having never had a sibling he doesn't really know what he's "missed," but he also recalls wanting a larger family growing up (never had a dad).

Question: are there significant (i.e. Scientifically proven or obvious) disadvantages to being an only child?  What do people with only children notice?  Any major observations/experiences worth taking into account as we struggle through this indecision?"

Then Lisa wrote:

"Here's my context.  I'm a young, spry 30 year old Canadian that had a very normal childhood.  I have one sibling, 3y9m younger than me.  We fought a lot when we were young and once I hit high school, had very little to do with each other (mainly because of the age difference, dating, etc).  We are much, much closer now and have been since I left home 8 years ago.

My daughter is 17 months old.  Gentle, loving, sweet, beautiful.  Pregnancy was fine, delivery longish, but fine.  Normal breastfeeding challenges in the beginning and we're still going strong.  Sleep is a huge challenge, but we're coping through co-sleeping.

The reason for this preamble: I can see no glaring reason for my unending feelings of NOT WANTING ANY MORE CHILDREN!!!  Not just that I'm not ready for another, but I really don't want to do it all again.

I feel like a freak because of it.  For now, I can just tell family/friends/strangers that I'm just not ready as N is only 17 months, but that will change.

Is being/having an only child really that bad?  Am I a bad parent for only having one?"

You know, I don't follow a lot of the research on the optimum number of siblings to have, or how far apart they should be spaced. But I'm suspicious of a lot of that research anyway, because I think so much of how you relate to any siblings or to being an only, and how you feel about it is a heady mix of 1) how your parents dealt with the situation, and b) luck. And how do you control for that in research studies?

You know, there are people who love being onlies, and are very motivated and feel like they're lucky not to have had siblings. And people who feel desperately lonely being an only. People with one sibling who wished there were more (like me), and people who think one was enough.

One thing I'm pretty sure of, though, is that if parents don't have the emotional resources to deal with more than one kid, they shouldn't set out to have more.

[Before I go on with that, let's point out that you can't always control it. Some people struggle for years to have one, and don't have the luxury of considering having more than one. Some people have one and then can't have another. Some people only want one and then have a surprise baby. So, to a certain degree, this is all hypothetical anyway.]

But back to resources. If you don't feel like you can handle another baby emotionally or in terms of energy or time, you're going to put yourself in a really bad situation by having another one. You'll be stretched too thin to parent as well as you'd like to, and you just won't feel good about your life or yourself. I don't think the same argument can be made as strongly about financial resources, since having two kids isn't two times as expensive as having one. And your financial situation will, presumably, improve over time. You do have to consider how having less money will affect your parenting, in the sense of childcare, working hours, choice about where to live. Giving your kids "the best of everything" doesn't resonate with me personally, because I'd trade anything, including my college education, to have my brother. But there's a big difference between not being able to afford the very best thing because you have to buy two, and being stretched too thin with daycare or having no options for schooling.

So, yeah. You're not horrible for only wanting one. Or for wanting two. Or three, or four, or however many. If you feel that having a sibling is important, then have one. If you don't, you will have to do extra work to set up playdates and activities for your child. But if you do, you'll have the extra work of two kids, so it probably comes out even in the wash.

One thing I would like to say is that when my older one was in that 15-20-month age range, I couldn't even imagine having another child. That period was so lousy for me with the emotional stage of early toddlerhood that the thought of having another child in the mix was enough to drive me over the edge. So my advice for people wondering about this when their child is 15 months or 17 months is that if you think intellectually that you want to have another child, but emotionally don't want to, just make the decision to table it and revisit it in 6 months to a year. Once you're in a new stage, and your child is more verbal, it will probably become more clear to you whether you really want only one, or would like (and could deal with) another one.

Thoughts from the readers? If you got to decide about siblings, how did you decide? Did your decision change at all over time? If you didn't get to decide, how did you reconcile yourself? Regrets? Things you're happy about? Post anonymously if what you say could hurt your child's feelings someday.