Thursday, August 11, 2016

Is One So Bad? Exploring the Only Child Experience

For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to have two children. One for each hand. One for each parent. The same thing that I had growing up -- a sibling to share things with, to scrap with, a built-in playmate for rainy days.

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 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."

Parents of Only Children Say: 
- "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.


  1. This is an interesting survey about only children. Particularly the part about judgement passed not only on the adults, but the kids themselves. What isn't taken into account is that everyone is different in their experiences. Grey is very close to his siblings while I am not (though my brother and I talk more as of late). So the flip can be true where having more kids to provide siblings can backfire.

    It is different parenting one child than two. Just as it's different from parenting multiples vs singletons. It's both a matter of choice and circumstances. Only a few are lucky to truly control all aspects.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    1. It is interesting to see both the positives and negatives in the experience. I will admit that I was hoping for more positives than negatives, but it really did seem like the dynamics between siblings for people who were parenting an only but weren't themselves and the parental styles played such a role in happy onlys. Every family's dynamics are unique and made up of so many factors, but for me it was comforting to seek the thoughts of people who'd lived it or were parenting one child, because that's where we're going to land unless there are some very strange turn of events. :)

  2. I know that IF takes a lot of the control out of family building, but the thing is, when it comes to creating the family we always dreamed of, we have no real control. Sure some people can have the number of kids they always wanted, and some can even space them in the way they hoped to (crazy, I know!) but no one can choose which kids they have, or which ones come first or second or last or how well they get along. We can't determine if two siblings will like each other as kids or adults, or if an only child will feel lonely or be perfectly content. We can't even know how we'll ultimately feel parenting one or more kids. I thought I wanted three kids and then had my first and she ended up being much hard to parent than I was ever expecting. As we struggled to have a second a part of me was thankful it was taking so long because I recognized that I would have been drowning with a two year old and a new born. We ended up having a second, and we feel very thankful, but it's not all that easy for us with our specific kids. Our daughter has sensory issues and needs a lot... of well, everything. She was not at all interested in having a sibling, never asked for a baby sister or brother, never came to look at her peers sisters and brothers when they were born. She threw up for three days after her brother was born. At the time I told myself it was a flu, but looking back I'm sure it was the stress of the transition. She continues to struggle in the role of big sister and my husband is sure that we made a mistake giving her a sibling. He thinks she was meant to be an only child and it was a disservice to make her an oldest. I write this because it's not something most people ever admit to, but some do experience it. I'm ultimately glad we have two kids for selfish reasons (I appreciate the experience of parenting a less intense kid who is more like what I imagined my kids would be--I know that is horrible to say but it's true), but I also wonder if it was the right choice.

    My sister and I are seven years apart (my parents lost a daughter at 3months old and had three stillbirths between us) and we were surprisingly close when we were younger but aren't so much anymore. We used to live across the street from each other and still only saw each other 2-3 times a year. My sister struggles with depression and anxiety and doesn't like kids at all. She has no interest in being my kids' aunt. She never gets them anything or comes to their birthday parties. She barely talks to them at family functions. And it's not like we've ever had a falling out or anything, we just don't have much in common and aren't particularly close.

    I guess my point is just, you never know what you're going to get or what the experience is going to be like, even if you do have the number of kids you always dreamed of. It's all a crap shoot. I know you know this, but I thought it might help to hear the story of someone who had the number of kids she wanted but found it didn't end up creating the family she dreamed of. I hope I don't sound ungrateful, because I'm not. Just trying to speak honestly.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective! I feel that my frustration comes from not having the ability to be like, "Hey, you want to try for another?" and then be able to have two. Having one is proving far more challenging than I ever thought it would be, and I am a little sad that the option of even discussing a second is pretty much off the table now. But, less so with some of the things my friends said! Families are definitely a crapshoot. A good friend of mine said, "Everyone screws up their kids somehow. It's inevitable. You have to just try and figure out how to screw them up as little as possible." So whether our child has a sibling or not, I guess that's the end goal! :) Thanks again for your story, I really appreciated it and it gave me food for thought.

  3. This is such an interesting post! I agree with what Bryce said, about "how can you want something when you don't know what it is?" I come from a big family; I can't even imagine what be an only child (and now, having only one child) would be like. No one in my family growing up was an only, and I don't think I even knew anyone well who was an only, so I truly have no way to understand or fathom that. My husband grew up as an only (although he learned when he was 18 that he had a hav brother from his father) but he had 2 aunts and an uncle around growing up that were close enough to seem like older siblings. His parents split when he was 5 so he lacked the stability a two parent home can bring. He always wanted a big family to compensate, and also didn't want the family name to die with him in the traditional sense of passing down ones last name. Then when we had a boy, he didn't want to leave that sole responsibility of passing the name down to one son. It's funny the things that can come up...I NEVER would have had that thought cross my mind, but growing up as an only that was something important to him.

    1. It is so interesting! No one in my family is an only...Although I do have three cousins who have only children (but they are still young so who knows what lies ahead). There are so many reasons -- infertility is definitely one but there's also health reasons, financial reasons, etc. I just see how big my family is compared to Bryce's, where he is an only child, his mom is an only child, his dad is one of two... and I worry that we are further shrinking the family tree, although there's not much I can do about that! It was definitely interesting to me how many onlys did not choose to have onlys, even though they loved it. Thanks for sharing your husband's thoughts on only childhood!

  4. I think it's great you did this survey, both to ease your mind and because the answers are interesting. I don't think there is anything intrinsically wrong with any family formation, because people are very adaptable and have grown up in all kinds of circumstances in the history of humanity. On the other hand it is good to hear people's thoughts on being an only child do maybe you can anticipate and plan around some of the challenges.

    1. Thank you so much! THat is totally why I did the survey, for mind easing and curiosity, but not as decision-making fodder as that seems so out of our hands at this point. I love that -- anticipating the challenges, and knowing that different family formations have existed throughout history and that people are very adaptable. THanks!

  5. That was really interesting. I loved reading about all the positives people said about being an only child. It does seem nice for the child to have so much undivided attention and love but also to learn how to be alone and creative. It's important that the only kids get to spend time with other kids but I'm sure you'll be able to organize some play dates and bring them to activities so I wouldn't worry about that.

    I really hate all the judgemental things people say to the parents of only children though! A friend of mine is an only child because her mum had eight miscarriages after having her so I can only imagine how hurtful comments like that must have been!

    1. Wasn't that unbelievable? I wish it was more shocking, but people are so judgy judgerson when it comes to families, of any kind. THey don't think about all the reasons that may lie behind that, or consider that whatever the reason, it's NONE of their business. Argh. I'm glad it was interesting to read all the thoughts I collected! I sure hope I can use all the comments as food for thought in trying to compensate for the shortcomings that can exist with being the only child of two older parents.

  6. Thank you for this post. I haven't updated my blog in awhile because I've been going through a lot of pain and processing and it's been too much to write it all down. But we have decided to stop at one and have our family of three. It is not my first choice, but it's something I am coming around to. It is really helpful for me to read the comments above, and to read the comments you've solicited from friends. I'll update my blog soon, promise, but for now, thank you, this has been immensely helpful as I try to focus on the positives of having an only child.

    1. Oh, I'm so glad it's helpful. I was thinking of you as I wrote it, actually, and so many others who find that the choice is really weighed heavily to one side by factors utterly out of your control. It frustrates me, but asking around really helped ease my mind. It seems silly to worry about having one child versus two when one seems so elusive, but it's part of this whole infertility gig that makes a body just so infuriated. It's amazing to me that there are people who get to choose, who plan their family out and make it so without medical complications. That's so foreign to me now. I'm glad the post was useful, and I look forward to an update from you. I'm so sorry for all the pain and processing. This all is just so crappy. Thinking of you!

  7. Such an interesting post. My husband is an only child. Many times he expresses regrets that his parents didn't have more children as he is now the one who provides for them and he worries about them being in India while he is in the states. And these past couple of weeks we have had that discussion of transferring one vs. two embryos, the implication of having twins, how that would affect our finances, and the implication of the financial cost of having another surrogacy pregnancy in the future. The question of one child and be done? Lots of things to think about. So, one child vs. more? It's a difficult decision for us now.

    1. It IS such a difficult decision. I wish that there weren't so many added factors. Thank you for sharing your husband's thoughts on being an only child, and your own thoughts on the choices that lie before you. Oh to have so many less complications in this arena!

  8. I think you do what is right for you, for your husband, and your child, and the collective. People make assumptions and are, as you say, so judgy, that they don't even think about the alternatives, or turn that judgement on their own decisions. Having two or more children doesn't mean that things will necessarily be easier for you or the child - siblings don't always get on, either as children growing up or as adults, they have jealousies, and lifetime personality issues because they think that their parents treated them differently than their siblings, etc etc etc. Whilst two-or-more children families might be the norm, the norm isn't perfect or better than the alternatives.

    1. Wonderful thoughts, thank you! I love that idea that "the norm isn't perfect or better than the alternatives." I remember being sort of astounded when a few years ago so many people were having three children and touting, "Three is the new two!" It seemed kind of weird. I'm honestly happy with the idea of one at this point, I just wish it was a choice that I got to make independent of being funnelled into it. :( But, it is right for us and so I will celebrate it, and try to drown out the judgy people.

  9. I love reading about your journey through the iterations of parental planning because you are incredibly thoughtful. Your survey was a great idea.

  10. Thank you for sharing all of your insights and information gathered about one child families. I had once dreamed of having four to six kids. As I've gotten older, that hope has needed to be adjusted. Time, age and energy play a huge factor. Fortunately, I've known several couples with an only child, sometimes by choice and sometimes not. So, I feel like I've had good role models for happy, small families. It brings me comfort and makes me feel okay if that is how things turn out for my husband and me. As for you and Brice, listen to your inner voice. It will help guide you.