Bryce has always been okay with having one child, as that is what he experienced -- the idea of a sibling was foreign to him. When asked if he wanted one, he said, "How you can want something when you don't know what it is?" I have heard Bryce's thoughts on being an only child over the course of our courtship, our marriage, our quest to have a child (or two) of our own. He has said that he never remembers being bored. That he was able to entertain himself without a sibling -- he invented games, sometimes with mirrors; he read a lot; he played with his matchbox cars; he loved having a dog, who he considered a sibling of sorts. He had his things and didn't have to share them or feel any sense of competition over things or time or activities. He liked (and still likes) being alone. He was creative and continues to be that way.
There were downsides, too -- he said he had a harder time developing friends because he didn't really feel like he needed them to fill a boredom hole -- he favored computers and was (is) an introvert. Being an introvert isn't a bad thing, but even now Bryce hates playing cooperative games, because he didn't really learn to play them with a sibling or group of friends. He finds them stressful. He felt that he could be hard on himself and frustrated, with no one roughly his age to talk to about difficult stuff like divorce...it all fell on him to deal with it. There wasn't someone going through the same thing to talk to about it. He also said that as an adult, he now has the sole responsibility for parental concerns as they age -- there's no one to share that responsibility with.
Overall, though, Bryce had an overwhelmingly positive experience as an only child. He said that if he were to gauge his interest in having a sibling on a scale of 1-10, that it would probably be 2-3. He credits being an only child with teaching him how to be bored and resolve that in creative ways, with being independent, with with being a problem-solver...all of which serve him incredibly well as an adult.
I feel like there can be a stigma with "choosing" to have an only child. It's particularly difficult when there really isn't much of a choice -- I would have loved to have had more than one (but no more than two), but circumstances conspired to make that incredibly difficult. If we'd gotten pregnant through IVF and had a baby, maybe two would have seemed manageable. If we'd moved on to adoption earlier, maybe the thought of adopting a second child wouldn't seem so daunting.
The fact is, I'm forty and Bryce is forty-two. It has been utterly exhausting to try to have a family so, so hard and, seven years later, to still not have met that goal. It was exhausting to move from IUI to IVF, even though we were told from the get-go that IVF was our best chance. It was exhausting to move from IVF to donor egg IVF. It was exhausting to move from one clinic to a new clinic and get to know a whole new climate and staff. It was exhausting to realize that donor egg WASN'T the silver bullet and that we would start over with donor sperm. It was exhausting to say goodbye to fertility treatment and the possibility of pregnancy and to move to adoption, even though adoption holds so much promise. And it remains exhausting to be over a year into a wait for adoption, a wait that could resolve itself next week or next year, a sort of insta-baby situation with very little idea of when all this is going to come to a close.
Trying and failing over YEARS to have just one child has been EXHAUSTING. Living in this uncertainty is EXHAUSTING. And so, over the past year or so, I've come to a peaceful place where I am like, I AM OKAY WITH HAVING ONE CHILD. In fact, at this point, I prefer it.
It's not just the financial aspect of adoption, which is definitely a factor. I want to be home for 6 months to a year after our child comes to us, and that sort of compounds the fact that our savings will be virtually wiped out after we settle up with all the adoption-associated fees and costs...making it harder for us to be without my salary for as long as I'd like. To think about then turning around and doing the same thing a couple years later, when I am closer to my mid-forties... it's daunting -- financially and emotionally.
It's also that I think a family of three would be just perfect for us at this point. Earlier in my journey this would make me incredibly angry, because it's a choice made for me. But, I feel that our "decision" is a sound one. And because in the world of infertility, this feeling of being forced into a decision to have one child for a variety of reasons is so difficult, I decided to survey people I know about their experiences as only children, or their experiences parenting only children. It couldn't be all bad, right? I wasn't sure what I'd get, but I thoroughly enjoyed the varied perspectives that did seem to skew more positive than negative. It made me feel a whole lot better.
I thought I'd share their thoughts with you:
- "I didn't have a built-in playmate."
- "I envy people with siblings, though I know from my friends and even my husband that being a sibling doesn't guarantee a close relationship at all." (as an adult)
- "I was an only child and I never knew any different but now as an adult I wish I had sisters/brothers -- like a lot."
- "I didn't go to camp in the summer but most of my friends did, so summers were long and boring and full of lots of whining."
- "I never learned to negotiate or argue."
- "I didn't know what to do with friends' siblings -- do we include them? Shun them? I just didn't know."
- "When I went off to college and had a roommate, I had NO idea how to share a room with someone and I sucked at negotiating."
- "My parents divorced when I was very young. I had a really hard time with the split custody in middle school and hated that I had no one in my situation that I could talk with about it."
- "My dad died when I was 10 and as my mom aged and died recently it was very difficult at times to not have someone to share the feelings and stress with."
- "My mom regrets that I will have to take care of her by myself when the time comes while she shares the burden with five siblings."
- "There were times growing up, especially in preteen and teen years, when I felt a little smothered." (unsure if this was because of being an only, or parental anxiety separate from that)
- "I loved being an only child and wouldn't want it any other way."
- "Being an only child was (and remains) a great experience for me."
- "I loved it."
- "My parents were able to come and support me in all my endeavors. They weren't split between multiple commitments."
- "For me, being an only child did allow my parents to focus on my needs, particularly my education."
- "It's much easier with one child to parent."
- "I got plenty of attention from my parents, and learned how to cope with alone time and quiet time from an early age."
- "My mom gives me her undivided attention always."
- "I never had anyone to compete with for my parents' attention."
- "Competing for your parents' attention lasts forever -- my mom is always available when we need her, but my husband's mom is sometimes already committed to his siblings when we ask her to dinner or to watch our kids."
- "At the end of my parents' lives I had them all to myself and no drama."
- "As a parent to two, it is really hard to split your attention fairly, especially when one is needier. The older child can feel like they aren't wanted anymore and aren't getting the time they need. It's heartbreaking."
- "We were able to travel a lot more as a family because it was a lot less expensive with the three of us."
- "I was able to be signed up for more camps and activities that I wanted to be a part of because they did not have to split funds between multiple children."
- "My parents did always have the resources to provide me with an abundance of experiences and materials -- classes, camps, vacations, art supplies, toys, musical instruments, a used car in high school, a college education, etc."
- "My parents are moving to be closer to us, and if I'd had a brother or a sister then they might have felt that they needed to spend an equal amount of time in another location."
- "I relate to others fine, I just REALLY like my alone time."
- "I never felt deprived and lonely. I played with neighborhood kids and had cousins who, to this day, are more like sisters."
- "I always had plenty of friends, so loneliness was not a problem."
- "There are shortcomings but I have wonderful friends that make a difference."
- "I was never bored."
- "I think it made me more creative, independent, and possibly more reflective."
- "I ended up teaching myself a lot (how to draw, play guitar, code websites, etc) which was fun."
- "The 'spoiled only child' thing that people worry about does not have to be a thing. My parents taught me the values of empathy and generosity and gratitude and sharing. Even without siblings, I believe it can be done."
- "It is SO much easier to travel and afford some extras when you have an only child."
- "We can do more and provide more for him because he is an only child (expensive camps, more trips)."
- "Being a parent of an only child is rewarding, wonderful and challenging. I wouldn't change having an only for anything."
- "Sometimes I feel bad that he doesn't have someone to play with by default. It's either us or by himself if he doesn't have a friend over."
- "In the summer it takes effort to arrange playdates for my daughter."
- "I know she is learning to navigate social situations and share at school."
- "People often ask if she is the only one and then give us a sad look when I say she is the only one. I don't want her thinking it is a bad thing."
- "People feel the need to constantly tell me I should have another like it is something they should somehow have a say in."
- "I had this lady who works with me actually yell at me for having only one."
- "As a parent to an only child, I can share that one experiences a lot of prejudices coming our way, mostly along the lines of how selfish one is not to provide siblings for one's child. There are assumptions that this means they are bound to be spoilt brats with no understanding/sensitivity for others."
- "Children are as empathetic, considerate, or as self centered as they are taught to be. These are learned behaviors. With proper guidance, excellent role models, and consistency (as with ALL parenting) only children are no worse off than those with siblings."
- WISE WORDS OF AN ONLY CHILD FRIEND WHO'S NOT A PARENT BUT SAID THIS: "I think with parents of only children, the worry comes from going through everything for the first time with their child. People who have two or three or six kids aren't more relaxed because of their number of extra children. They just have the benefit of having gone through every stage and milestone at least once, so they know what to expect, and worry less, because the other one(s) made it."
Interesting perspectives, right? I had a cousin who told me once, "All that Pinterest stuff? You can TOTALLY DO IT with ONE child. Have a second one and it's SO MUCH HARDER." I also have a friend who has more than two children and once she had her second, she was like... "THEY NEVER NAP AT THE SAME TIME. I will never sleep again..."
I worry that the inverse of that is that people believe that it's "easy" parenting to have one, that you are copping out somehow. I was both shocked and not shocked that people are so very stupid in what comes out of their mouths when it comes to judging parents of onlys. I mean, heaven help the person who implies that I was selfish to have only one. These decisions should not be up for public debate, but I guess that's the joys of motherhood now -- how you have your baby, feed your baby, parent your baby, school your baby, clothe your baby, diaper your baby... it's all up for debate in real life and social media.
For me, I felt like the positives made me feel better and the negatives gave me food for thought. I guess we should get a dog. I am going to need to be vigilant about setting up play dates or joining groups, because my child's cousins are over 18 (my sister's stepsons will be more like uncles than playmates, and Bryce has no siblings) and so many of my friends' kids will be older. I will have to hope for great connections through day care and possible same-ish-age kids moving into the neighborhood. I guess we'll have to really plan out our elder years to try and take some of that burden off our child. Especially since our child will be fairly young when we hit those years.
It was interesting to me how many onlys did not have an only child themselves. I didn't really feel it was my business to ask about that, as how you build your family is your business, but a few said that they swore they'd have more than one child to give their children the sibling experience they missed. That's great when it's a possibility to do that, when your bodies cooperate or you have the funds and energy/youth to adopt more than once. I really do believe that if we'd come to adoption earlier in our thirties instead of the dawn of our forties, maybe we'd feel differently. Maybe we wouldn't feel so tapped in every way.
Even though your childhood experience/parenting experience is largely individual, I did find it interesting that there were so many similar experiences, so many similarities in perspectives both negative and positive. It's definitely given me food for thought as the prospective mother of an only child, and I hope it does the same for you.