One. Enough?

I know, I know. I wish I had a good reason for not blogging often. It’s time! I have lots of ideas, but not enough time to get it out.

I promise I will update you all on my 30 Day No Yelling Challenge. Which is almost over, and has been, overall, a good exercise.


We get questions from people, sometimes.

Just one child?

Is he your only?

Most people don’t know that it took us three years, one chemical pregnancy, two surgeries, three fresh in-vitro fertilization cycles, however many frozen cycles, and ten embryos to get pregnant with our son. They also don’t know that after he was born, we spent another two years on three more fresh IVF cycles, a couple of thaws, and ten MORE embryos. Which, this time, resulted “only” in two early miscarriages. No baby.

Last fall we found ourselves in a place utterly without hope. And so we walked away from fertility treatments.

Since then, we’ve been working on getting more comfortable with the idea that Owen will, in all likelihood, be an only child.

Changing our focus on our one son has been good for us in so many ways. Instead of the fail of all the years we spent trying for the family we dreamed about, it’s really made us focus on the family we DO have. I will often look over him and be struck with this thought: we are SO lucky to have him here with us.

And really, there are so many benefits to having a family of three. We’re closer. More focused. Owen doesn’t have to share a room, or his space, or my attention with another sibling. Jeff and I get to parent to HIS personality, his quirks, and we can focus on him when we need to. We can also switch off and get space when we need it.

Which for me, is a big deal. Me time, space, I’m finding, is important.

But it’s also tough in a lot of respects.

Like with fielding the above questions.

People mean well, and often they will ask us if we have more children because they’re interested in learning about us. I do it myself, when I meet people. And arguably, I could be sensitive to the question simply because we’ve struggled so much with family building over the years.

But I have also noticed how it’s phrased. The words “only” and “just” are used; which, to me, infers that there’s something wrong with the choice to have one child.

A couple of weeks ago, good friends of mine forwarded me links to op-ed pieces by Lauren Sandler. Honestly, until I read the articles, I had never heard of her. It seems she has a new book: “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.”

In each one of her articles, like the one I read here and here and here, she takes apart, bit by bit, the myths surrounding only children.

Further than that, though, she goes on to propose that having an only child can actually make parents happier.

Since I’ve spent the six months sitting with the idea of Owen being an only child, trying to sort out how I feel about it, this is an issue that’s fairly close to my heart.

First of all, I like how Lauren Sandler addresses what I, too, have noticed. There is this idea out there that only children are lonely, and not well adjusted, and socially awkward. Only children are missing out on something.

I mean, hell, *I* have struggled with this idea. Whenever Owen asks us if we can play with him, kind of longingly, or remarks, Mommy, you NEVER play with me! I wonder. Will he grow up to be lonely? Should I do MORE?

This kind of thinking makes it hard for me to balance fostering his imaginative play – I feel strongly that my adult intervention in his playtime unwittingly teaches him rules that he maybe doesn’t need to learn until later in his life – and making sure I give him the attention that he needs.

And then there’s the worry that I’m giving him TOO much attention. I often joke about being THAT mom, the one my future daughter (or son) in-law would loathe – being too involved in his life, having him orbit my life too closely.

And then there’s the fear that I’m somehow robbing Future Owen. I feel so lucky to have siblings. Maybe not everyone feels like this, but I feel like the three of us have this bond of years of shared history. All of us are similar, yet different – and we have a relationship that will always be there, regardless of distance and history and life.

Owen has his cousins, and Jeff and I, but I worry that he’ll feel like something’s missing.

So I take great comfort in the studies done that reassure me that only children are intelligent, engaging, HAPPY people as adults. Because I don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, I read the studies Lauren Sandler mentions in her articles with relief.

The issue I have with her stance, though, is where she talks about the choice to have one, and that parents of only children might be happier than parents of multiple children.

I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t have CHOSEN to have my one son, if my hands weren’t tied, medically speaking. I still struggle with feelings of being forced into our situation by circumstances not within our control.

That said, I cannot understand how she can suppose that she is happier than any other person, all because she chose to have a single child. Because happiness is relative, and it’s based on criteria that isn’t the same from person to person. Perhaps a career-oriented woman who loves flexibility like she does might be happier than a woman who finds happiness in taking care of people. Maybe she’s happier because she had an element of CHOICE, where we did not.

But it’s not for her to say that she’s better off than any one else.

Ultimately, I’m glad that someone is raising the discussion about the unspoken bias we have as it relates to only children. I feel it whenever anyone asks me if Owen is our only and we answer in the affirmative – that the click of judgment happens in that moment and the person thinks of Owen: Ah, poor lonely, maladjusted child. I love the reassurance in the DATA that my only child will be FINE as he grows.

But I disagree when she says that deciding to have an only child will make you happier.

Because for me, that is not the case.

12 comments on “One. Enough?

  1. Turia says:

    I was just thinking I should e-mail you to check in given you’ve been quiet!

    I totally agree with your thoughts. I think the data are wonderful to have. But I don’t get her need to then moralize about it, to impose judgment.

    And I think there is a BIG difference (a chasm, really) between those one-child families where the parents always knew they only wanted one, and those one-child families where there is forever an empty seat (or seats) at the table, and the parents have broken hearts.


  2. Delenn says:

    As usual, your honesty about this is very well written.

  3. Ellen K. says:

    I would like to read that book. A friend who is PG in her late 30s, and not expecting to have more children, is currently reading it. Isn’t Sandler an only child herself? Did her parents have this choice as well, or was it imposed on them?

    • Karen says:

      She is herself an only child. yes. In the articles I’ve read, she doesn’t talk about whether it was by choice or not. But she does talk about how she’s an only and never felt as if she missed out on anything and how her upbringing played into her decision for her only child.

      I am interested in reading her book as well. Not sure if it’s on shelves yet, but when I can get it from the library I intend to do so.


  4. Esperanza says:

    It’s good to hear from you. I’ve missed your words.

    I have been reading books about having a second child and all the data on that seems to indicate it makes families significantly more unhappy, at least for a few years–maybe indefinitely. So it doesn’t surprise me that people are claiming families of three are happier. Frankly I’m surprised MORE people aren’t saying it.

    And yet. It’s not something you can just declare because, like in any situation, there are so many different stories and experiences. Clearly the families who desperately wanted two children but only had one are going to FEEL very differently. Of course the IF community members are always the outliers and we rarely feel like general findings apply to us, because 99% of the time, they don’t. That is what makes our experience so isolating and makes the messages of others sting all the more.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. It’s so important that the IF/loss point of view is also heard.

  5. KeAnne says:

    I’m eager to read her book too. I’m an only (sort of by choice but maybe unwillingly b/c my mom wanted more kids but felt they couldn’t afford them) and due to our IF and circumstances, there is a very good chance my son will be an only.

    Just…yeah. I fully admit that I had a pretty good childhood and never lacked for anything, but I lived in a rural area, miles away from my friends, and I really wished I had a sibling. My husband and I always wanted more than one child, so the fact that we may not be able to expand our family is yet another cruel blow from IF. Of course, I am beyond grateful and thrilled to have our son, but when I think about a second, I’m so angry because again, it’s out of my control. And then I think about how simple everything is as a family of three and wonder if I really want to return to diapers and sleepless nights. My husband and his brother are 7 years apart – almost like two only children. He swears it’s not there age difference that keeps them from being close but the fact that his brother is an asshole.

    I can vouch that as an only, I am (relatively) normal and well adjusted. I know how to entertain myself and was always more mature than my peers. On the downside, since I was accustomed to being in the spotlight and/or the center of attention, I bristle at perceived slights. I know that my son will have a different reality as an only child than I did since we live in a more urban area. It won’t be the end of the world if he’s our only, but yeah, it’s not what I dreamed of.

    Great post and I’m glad I found your other blog 🙂

  6. KeAnne says:

    Oh, one more thing. Another blog I follow posted a similar post about her son being an only yesterday. I gave her the link to your post and will do the same for you:

  7. Oh my friend, it is so good to read this post from you as I have been thinking of you a lot, lately, and how life is sitting with you, you with life.

    Yes, when we were struggling, struggling, struggling to have #2, I read similar (and relatively new) articles championing the benefits of having one child. And, intellectually, I got it and believed it and tried to own that it would be so for us (and it would have been because it would have had to be).

    But you hit the nail on the head in that when having one child is a choice, THE choice, that is a whole other sack of potatoes than when having one child is a forced choice. To set out to have one, then have one and feel that your goal was satisfied makes the ‘one is easier; parents of one are happier’ argument palatable.

    I am in no way suggesting that one can’t and won’t come to terms with having one even if that was not the original intent because I think that we evolve through life and we don’t stay the same. The coming to terms, though is HARD, and the ache and longing may continue to live on, coexisting with the gratitude and lifestyle that having one affords.

    I do think, though, that taking the time away, to be one with your life instead of a myopic focus on some other life, is a good thing. It will truly inform your future.

    I ❤ you and think of you all the time.

  8. Yes, I think there is a big difference between having and not having a choice. But all those observations about families of three sound reassuring, at any rate. I’m sure o will be fine, but it’s harder for you to be.

  9. The line about happiness being relative is so true. I have a sibling that I adore and someday I would like to have more than one child, but that’s never a guarantee. I think it’s all about raising your kids right- wether you have one or seven.

  10. GeekChic says:

    Here from Mel’s Round-Up. I always find these types of conversations interesting because I am an only child and never wanted a sibling nor did I feel lonely. Once my mother left (she was abusive), I really enjoyed my childhood as an only. Whether I’m well adjusted or not is something others would have to say… 😉

    I’ve asked my Dad in the past if he wanted more children and he said that at first he did. After all, he was one of 16 (yes, 16) so he was used to large families. However, his job involves lots of travel and after my mother left he was glad that he only had one to deal with. He doesn’t remember anyone commenting on the fact that he only had one child – they were too busy commenting on the fact that he was the sole parent!

  11. catwoman73 says:

    I couldn’t agree more- those who choose to only have one child can not be compared to those who have one NOT by choice.

    I am an only child, though I did grow up with a whole bunch of step siblings. But for the first decade of my life, I was an only. I don’t recall ever feeling lonely during that period of time. I think I was a little on the shy side, but I was also an independent, imaginative child. Not such a bad deal.

    Interestingly, it’s only in recent years that being an only has become an issue. With aging parents and a small child of my own, I feel the huge weight of all that responsibility pressing down on me. If one of my parents get sick, I’m IT. I’m the only one who can care for them. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s a bit scary. But like so much of the shit that life throws our way… we’ll deal with it when it happens.

    When I think about my daughter as an only (and she will be. For sure. Vasectomy is booked!), I know that in the short term, she’ll be just fine. Particularly because she’s a much more social kid than I was. She’ll make friends- particularly once school starts in the fall. But I do worry about the long term. I don’t want her to be saddled with aging and ailing parents while trying to have a career and a family of her own. Fortunately, Hubby and I have done a good job at planning for our future, so I don’t think our daughter will be inconvenienced by us in our senior years. I do hope she visits us in our nursing home now and then though! 🙂

    Anyway- that was long winded… but as an only who also has an only, I think I have a unique perspective. Owen will be fine- as long as you are fine, and looking out for yourself over the long term.

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