Dan Kois and Allison Benedikt have a podcast for Slate called Mom and Dad are Fighting. It’s a podcast about parenting issues, and I listen to it nearly every week it's on.
In the latest edition of the podcast, one of their topics was the social stigma attached to being the parent of an only child. Neither Kois nor Benedikt are parents of singletons, so they can’t really relate personally, but they do generally come down on the side of “hey, you shouldn’t judge someone for the number of kids that they choose to have or not have.” (All the while admitting to their own biases: Benedikt doesn’t get the singleton parent thing, and Kois thinks anyone with more than three kids is out of their minds, to paraphrase. Psst, I’m with you, Dan. More than three seems like you're assembling your own army against yourself.)
Anyway, my kid’s an only child, as you may have noticed. We’re not planning on more. Part of that is made easy by the fact of biology – it took a long time to get The Boy, and I was 40.5 years old (almost to the day) by the time he was born. So the odds of bringing forth new life again for The Working Dad and me were slim to begin with.
But to be honest, before we started trying to have a child, before we discovered that I had premature ovarian failure and that having even one would be difficult, we were pretty much planning to have only one. We would occasionally muse on the idea of two (especially in the year or so after The Boy was born), but if I’m honest, we seriously only envisioned a single child.
And there were a lot of reasons for that, but chiefly, we wanted to devote all of our energies to the single child. We both thought that it would be better for the child and for us to have the single focus.
This is no slight to families with more than one child or to our own upbringings – I’m the oldest of two and my husband is the middle of three. But for us, one and only seemed to be the right choice.
I’m not going to say that we gave too much thought to the over-population argument for smaller families, although we certainly were not unaware of it.
I think that, for me, two things were going on: allocation of personal and financial resources towards the child, and odds of my being present for the child through maturity.
It's cheaper with one child. But it's not just that it's cheaper, we'll never have to do the per child budgeting other parents do. No dollar limits on gifts to be "fair." No juggling the checkbook to pay for an expensive activity for one child while worrying about slighting the other child with the less expensive hobby.
And our time can be devoted solely to the one guy. Sometimes, that means both of us are present with our son at an activity. Sometimes, that means one of us is with our son while the other one takes care of family chores like grocery shopping or home maintenance. It's a juggling act, still, but there are fewer balls to keep in the air with just the one guy.
And, of course, you should not underestimate the benefit of not being out-numbered (or even even-teamed) by the children in the house. One child can never gang up on you. (He can still say hurtful things and frustrate you, but he's got no back-up. Which, come to think of it, is good for him too...because a lot of life is going up against someone or something more powerful than yourself, mostly on your own.)
Maybe this all sounds a little selfish to the parents of siblings. And maybe it is a little. But all efforts are towards giving our one child the best start he can possibly have.
Because we won't be here forever. He will lose his parents, in all likelihood, at a younger age than many of his peers because we are older by about (or more) a decade than many of our parent peers. I will be 58 years old when The Boy graduates from high school. I believe my grandmother was younger than that when she became a grandmother for the first time.
We need The Boy to be as well prepared for the world as possible. Better prepared than his parents were so that he can hit the ground running and not spend a decade or more figuring it all out.... And we want to leave him financially secure.
Still, there are all these cultural ideas hovering around that stopping at one kid is a disservice to the child.
"You are depriving your child of the joy of having a sibling." To which many an only child friend of mine might respond, "Why, no. You can't miss what you do not have." Sure, he may wonder about what it might be like to have a sister or brother. But I wondered about what having a sister would be like, so these flights of fancy about alternate sibling relationships are not limited to singletons. AND not all siblings find having their siblings to be a joy. There's no guarantee that your kids will like each other. Some people find having a sibling to be a real chore and a constant source of conflict. We can't all be Jane and Elizabeth Bennett. (Besides, remember, they had Lydia for a sister too....)
But the most annoying criticism that's been lodged against us as parents of a singleton has, generally, come from strangers who make judgements about our son's behavior because he's an only child. Because three-year-old kids with siblings never misbehave in public.... No, kids who live with other kids are always angels, always waiting their turn, never screaming or pouting, never being aggressive on the playground like those awful, spoiled and coddled singletons.
One woman so much as told my friend (also a singleton mom) and me one day at the park that we needed to have another child so to better socialize our kids.
What evs, lady. Our kids play with 14 other kids at pre-school every day -- and were, in fact, playing with each other right that very moment -- so they're plenty socialized.
Study after study shows that singletons do just as well or better than kids with siblings. But there's still the societal myth that two would be better.
Maybe it's primal: more kids equals more likelihood that your genes will survive through the ages.
Maybe that's what the lady in the park meant: She observed my friend and me (and our excellent spouses because we were all four there with the two kids). She saw how delightful all four parents were, and how adorable our only children were, and she thought, "What a tragedy! We need more people in the world like these good people. Please, on behalf of humanity, I implore you fine citizens to reproduce again!"
Yes, maybe that's what she meant.