One and Done: Answering the Call for More Kids (for Parents of an Only Child)

one-and-done

By Nancy Arnold

If I had a nickel–no, let’s count for inflation–a dollar for every time someone asked me when I was having another child, I’d actually be able to afford having another child.

Depending on how I answer this question, I am met with a variety of reactions. People’s responses used to result in me feeling bad about our decision to have an “only child.”

However, since I’ve been fielding this question for nearly six years I’ve learned a few things and have come to understand why people feel compelled to ask you this and what they are really asking.

Let’s start at the beginning…

I never thought I’d have only one child. I always figured I’d have about three. My husband is the youngest of four and I am the youngest of two. A big family was something I’d always craved. When we got married we waited a few years to start our family. Once we looked at each other and decided it was time, I was pregnant.

My pregnancy was difficult and nothing close to the glamour they sell on the cover of Vanity Fair. Admittedly, I did love the idea that a little person was growing inside of me. Feeling the movement, hearing the heartbeat, getting kicked in the cervix and punched in the liver; I tried to take the highs along with the lows and just embrace it all.

Our beautiful baby boy decided that he wanted to come out early. Six weeks early. My water broke one afternoon while checking my email and I was put on bed rest for one week at the hospital. I had to lay flat for five days. I completely shut down to the outside world. My only concern was keeping my baby in my body for as long as possible. I didn’t want to see anyone. I was a mess and at the same time very calm and focused on my baby. The C-section was scheduled and we were going to have a premature baby.

An early arrival

The procedure itself was fine. The aftermath was not. They whisked my baby from the OR to the NICU through what looked like a drive through window and then I didn’t get to see him for four hours. A mother and a newborn should not be separated for four hours after birth. It’s cruel to both. Needless to say I was not a happy camper and was thankful when an empathetic nurse broke the rules and brought my baby to me. It helped but it wasn’t the same as getting to hold him right after being born.

Our son had to stay in the NICU for 11 days. I was discharged after 4 days. We had to carry an empty car seat out of the hospital. It was not the romanticized experience that I was expecting when we decided to have a baby. It was traumatic. For the next week while our baby was still in the NICU, I spent 12 hours or more there every day. I occasionally would go home to sleep because my husband made me leave to get a break. My only goal was to get my baby to meet the criteria he needed to go home.

Dark days

When he did come home, it was great for a little while. Then I got a wonderful case of postpartum depression. I could barely leave my house for nearly two months. You couldn’t even ask me how I was doing without me bursting into tears. I had so much anxiety and trauma from his birth, I was terrified something would go wrong and he’d have to go back to the hospital.

Postpartum depression is a terrible thing to manage. It’s like having an out-of-body experience. You can see that you are acting irrationally but you have no control over it. This lasted for nearly a year. A year.

Then more fun came. My husband lost his job. This was in the time when the real estate bubble burst and he was working in the real estate industry. I was only working part time so I wasn’t in position to support us.

We went into survival mode and eventually sold our house because we were quickly depleting our rainy day fund. We moved into a tiny rental home and my husband continued to look for work. The unemployment rate was at an all-time high during this time period. Things were pretty rough. It took its toll on our marriage.

It’s hard to lose so much in such a short amount of time. We had this amazing child and it was difficult to enjoy our growing family. Everything felt like stress. We were both just maxed out.

Dealing with unsolicited advice

As our son turned 2, things were getting a little better. That’s when people really started asking us if we were having another baby. I wanted to say yes but the thought of starting all over with another baby was way more than either of could even fathom right now. So we’d try and give a light hearted answer, “Oh maybe soon” or, “We’ll let you know when it’s time.” Our little guy was growing into one great kid and people would always bombard us with some version of the following:

“Why aren’t you having another one?”

“You guys make such cute kids!”

“He needs a sibling.”

“You’ll regret it if you don’t have another one.”

“You aren’t getting any younger.”

“Oh you can handle another one, it’s easier with two.”

“It’s like having two dogs; they’ll play with each other.”

“Only children are weird.”

“It’s not that expensive to have another baby.”

“You don’t want them to be too far apart so you’d better have one soon.”

And so on. Truthfully, most of these things my husband and I had already said to each other when we discussed it. It wasn’t that were hearing anything groundbreaking, I just couldn’t believe the nerve people had. It’s precisely why I didn’t want to share the name of our son until he was born. I didn’t want unsolicited opinions then and I certainly didn’t appreciate them now.

Enough, already!

At first, I used to entertain people’s inquiries and let them know that we would like to have another but we are still working on recovering financially, we don’t have great insurance, etc. Then I’d go cry by myself because I did want another child I just didn’t think our life could handle it. The sad turned to mad after a while. I was annoyed with the audacity people had. How dare you ask me when I’m having another child – that’s none of your business, do you know how traumatic having this kid was? I’d start responding with, “Well you’ll be the first to know if we do” or, “When I look like I’ve put on 10 pounds, you’ll know.”

By the time we entered preschool (he was 4) we had pretty much decided another kiddo wasn’t in the cards for us. When a fellow preschool mom said to me, “Won’t you be so lonely at the holidays when he is grown? Don’t you want a full table of kids and grandkids?” I was so unnerved by what she said. It got me second guessing our decision. Would we be lonely? Should we have another baby in spite of the fact it would but so much stress on family and we couldn’t afford it, should we do it because that’s just what you are supposed to do?

It’s not you, it’s them

The mom that said this to me has five children. The last two were twins and they were a surprise pregnancy. Her husband scheduled his vasectomy when he found out she was pregnant. She has since confessed she has nightmares about being pregnant again. I realized her statement to me about having more kids wasn’t about me at all. She was justifying the fact that her family would forever be gigantic (and a tiny bit overwhelming).

This is when things changed for me. I started learning that when people would ask me about having more kids and they found my answer unsatisfactory; they’d start projecting their values on me. If they had a huge family, they’d insist having more kids is the best decision. If they had kids that were close together they’d say well maybe I missed my window because having kids too far apart is not ideal. I started really listening to what they were saying instead of just reacting to it. I started to get smart.

I began to detach myself from people’s response. It started to anger me less and it didn’t make me sad anymore. Once I would answer the more kids question with a simple, straightforward answer like, “It’s just one and done for us,” I started to get more responses like:

“One is nice. I think we went crazy with the kids.”

 “One is great.”

“Your son is lucky because he will always have so much support from you guys.”

“It’s so much easier to manage just one.”

“You guys are smart to be so honest that you only want one instead of having more out of guilt.”

“We should have only had one, too.”

I’m not kidding; these are actual responses I got from people. They would even say these things in front of their multiple children!

What’s the moral of this story?

Guilt is a useless emotion. It doesn’t do anything but make you feel like you aren’t living up to someone else’s standards. If motherhood has taught me anything it’s that you have to be confident in your decisions and trust that they are right for you. Every decision has consequences good and bad.

Having one child works for our family. My husband and I learned that we are the best versions of ourselves when we have less on our plate. We figured out that we will be better parents to one child than we could be to more than one. We know that raising an only child has its disadvantages too. We work to educate ourselves on those obstacles and address them as they come.

There are no guarantees in life. You can’t guarantee that your kids will get along, that your table will be full at the holidays, that you’ll have the right number of children, or that you won’t regret your choice in the future. Disappointment is part of life. So is making tough choices. Having children is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Everyone has different things to take into account. It’s not always a simple decision.

The other morale of this story is to consider if you really need to ask someone if they are having a second child. If you do ask, be sensitive to the answer. There are many reasons people only have one child and they may not want to share those reasons with you. So don’t make them feel bad with responses like, “Oh you’ll regret it” or “You make such cute kids” or even with a “Why not?” People are never as simple as you would like to pretend they are. You will never know the hard road someone may have endured to have just the one. And it shouldn’t matter either way to you because you already have your two-plus kids so you’re all good.

To my fellow parents of only children: If you do get asked when you are having another kid, just keep it simple and say, “It’s one and done for us.” High five your co-parent and then tune the inquisitor out. Trust me, it feels great.

Nancy Arnold is a Seattle Washington area blogger and marketing consultant for luxecards.com. She lives with one husband, one son and one cat. She enjoys reading, blogging about motherhood and work balance as well as marketing for small businesses.

 


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Comments

  1. This is a great post! Thank you for sharing your story and perspective.

  2. We have an only also. I enjoyed reading your post because it spoke to my feelings about physically having another child.

  3. My husband I can relate to your post in many ways. Thank you for sharing your story!

  4. Thank you so much for this post. My husband and I struggle with whether or not we should have another. I also had a terrible pregnancy and am not sure I can do it again. Also, we are really happy with it just being the three of us (and the dog). On the other hand, I do feel guilt about the thought of her being an only child. Our daughter isn’t even 2 yet, so we haven’t decided, but hearing reading your post makes me feel like we aren’t the only people in the world who would be happy with one child.

    • Hi Becky,
      Just remember it’s up to you and your husband to do what’s right for your family. Whether you have one or five children, it should be a choice you freely make without having to worry about what others think. Best of luck.
      Nancy

  5. Thank you, helpful point of view. We have a 2 year old daughter who fills our hearts and our lives (and all those around her) and we really do not feel an urge to add a sibling. Its not off the table , but I think we would be happy with just one and done. I am good with letting go of other people’s opinions about other child related topics, but for some reason when people guilt me about this… it gets to me…. Letting go… letting go… letting go. Thanks for the post.

    • Hi Katie,
      Don’t feel guilty about your guilt! :-) It’s normal. You have the freedom to feel whatever you need to feel. Just be confident that it’s ok to do what works for your family. Sooner or later you’ll find it easier to detach from the opinions of others.
      Nancy

  6. Thank you so, so much. We did 11 IUIs before conceiving our son, and then went through an almost equal number of fertility treatments trying to have a second. Now I’m at an age where people have started asking. However, earlier, after I started answering the questions with “We tried to have a second child but couldn’t,” people started to shut the hell up. I’m very happy to be “one and done”…but wondering what to tell my son when he asks for a brother or sister.

    • Hi Cynthia,
      When my son asks about a sibling, we are simply honest with him. We tell him he is enough for us and that we love our family just the way it is. We tell him that it is wonderful to have a brother or sister and we are sorry if he feels sad he doesn’t have one. We point out all the wonderful people he has in his life (family and friends) and tell him he’s so loved. Cousins and dear friends may not be the same as siblings yet they still are an important part of his support system. I have found that kids are far more interested in the plain truth than sugarcoated fluff explanations. Hope that helps.
      Nancy

  7. I agree with all that you said. I have 2 beautiful daughters and I constantly get the “When are you going to try for a boy” AGH!!! But I will add one thing, and this is the only thing I say to people, if they ask what I thought about having more than one. I come from a family of 5 and my father died very young, 59 years old. The only thing that got me through my father’s death were my brothers and sisters. They knew what I was going through, because they were going through it too. It was their strength and emotional support that I leaned on. And, honestly that is the main reason we decided to have a second. It is hard, very hard to go from one to two, but I am glad I did it. I do, however, understand wanting only 1. Especially with tough pregnancies, both of mine were awful. Nicu, Pre-eclampsia, c-sections, pre-term labor. The thought of going through it again almost depresses me.

    • Hi Jenny,
      I would never advocate that having one child is the right choice for everyone. I simply want to help empower the parents who have decided it is the right choice for them to not feel guilty about it. Siblings are wonderful there’s not doubt about that, especially in times of a family crisis.
      Nancy

      • Nancy
        Thanks for your response. I hope you didn’t feel that I was coming down on you. That isn’t what I intended. I just wanted to share why I went for the second one. That’s all. I appreciated your POV and agreed with all you said. Thanks again for putting yourself and your thoughts out there for us all to share with you. That takes bravery.
        Jenny

        • Hi Jenny,

          I didn’t feel you were coming down on me at all! I just thought I’d clarify that I am advocating for parents of “Only’s” to feel good about their choice – not declaring it’s the best choice for everyone. Here’s to being proud of what you choose not matter what others think or say!

          Nancy

  8. Well, I completely understand that people get bothered with others when they question your decisions! I thank you for explaining why you are “one and done”. You did had a traumatic experience, and it’s hard to imagine something like this when you haven’t gone through it yourself. I just think it’s natural for people to wonder why some people choose to have just one kid. Granted, curiosity doesn’t justify asking it. But, if somebody does feel guilty, I truly believe it’s not much because someone made you feel that way with their questions and remarks, but because you are not entirely sure about your decisions as well. Maybe you stopped felling guilty when you’ve made up your mind. And although sometimes people will want to impose you the same thing they have to make themselves feel better about it, sometimes there are sincere advice on it. Of course, sometimes what works for one person doesn’t apply to others, that’s why giving advice is tricky. I had my second baby after my first born was 2.5 and I really regret not having them closer, so I can see myself offering advice for people to have babies closer out of pure sincerity. So, while your perspective about the matter truly makes sense for your situation, it might not be the best advice for everyone still deciding on it either. Bottom line, not everyone who asks is a bad person, just trying to justify themselves, or trying to make others feeling guilty. Some people are sincere about it, and others are simply and plain nosy.

  9. After reading some of the comments, I would also add that one need not have a “justifiable reason” for having one child. One child may be enough for a family, and no further explanation should be necessary.

  10. My husband and I were that young couple that said we were NEVER having kids. I mean, we started dating at 16, so I think that was a healthy decision for the first decade! Approaching our 30s, with education and professional milestones out of the way, we decided we were ready. I knew I’d be bombarded with the “I told you so”s and “Yep, I knew you’d change your mind”s, but I didn’t realize I’d also set myself up for defeat when this question came along. My son is a little over a year and we have no plans to have another. Unfortunately my “one and done” response is usually met with “Well you changed your mind once already”. Arrrgh.

  11. THANK YOU!

    Our only is turning five this fall and I’m starting to realize that people who question our decision are just insecure about theirs.

    (I still feel that the constant comments – even the well meaning ones – are obnoxious and hurtful. We’re not judging them, so I’m not sure why it’s okay to judge us.)

  12. Thank you so much for this! I had complications after my daughter and therefore will only have one child and it is incredibly hurtful when asked if we are having more I don’t need to share my story with every stranger who asks. We love our small family, thanks again for your input on the subject.

    • I started replying to people (mostly my husband’s family) with the truth: “Actually, we tried really hard to have a second child and we weren’t able to.” The first time I said this, the person was so stunned she didn’t respond. I haven’t really had to answer that question since. ;-)

      Emily, thank you for your post!

  13. What I loved about your article is that the moment you changed your feelings about your answers to others (or the fact that you were being asked in the first place), you started getting lovely positive comments back. I have experienced this also. The same goes for how you respond to your lovely one child, if you are confident and happy when giving the reasons for having just them, they will feel at ease with it also. I hope you don’t mind, I have included the link to something I wrote regarding my feelings about having one, I do this only so that we Mums and Dads of one realise there is a lot of support and families just like us out there. Thanks for your article, it made my Sunday. http://www.mamamia.com.au/parenting/only-child-families-we-are-not-selfish/

  14. Great read. My wife and I just decided one was good for is. It took us a few years and 5 failed fertility assisted attempts before we got pregnant on our own. We are both 34 and do not want to go through that stressful situation again. There were also financial considerations. We feel that we will be able to devote more time to one kid than we would with multiples. Also, I believe parents need to have some personal time every now and then and that is even tough with one kid. FYI: Just had my vasectomy a few days ago and felt like it was one of the smartest decisions I’ve made. By doing so, I feel as though I’ve pledged to provide the very best for my son.

  15. I’ve just had my first and last baby. A little girl called Alice.

    She’s 5 months and I had just pushed her out and already people have been interrogating me about when number 2 is coming along.

    If infuriates me and I get really upset when they have a negative reaction to the fact that we are happy with one. I’ve even been called selfish.

    I know in my heart Alice is absolutely enough for my husband and I.

    I wish people would back off though.

  16. Advice is based on experience. And one thing I learned is that people will give me their “advice” whether I like it or not because of their personal life experiences. Sometimes it’s great, you don’t have to repeat unnecessary mistakes because someone else has already gone through it. For that, I appreciate it.

    As far as our decision to be one and done, thank you for writing this. You articulated your point of view so well. People have a tendency to look for justification in their choices via the choices of others. It’s a natural reaction. But when we choose to respond not out of trying to prove a point but out of respect for their choices and explaining these our “my” choices, the defense guard comes down and people open up and become honest. And that’s exactly what you have experienced.

    Thanks again for a great article!

  17. My husband and I have recently decided that we are one and done. Our miracle was an IVF baby and whilst we have 3 embryos in storage, financially, we can’t afford to even consider trying again. I have battled many demons attempting to rid myself of the guilt of only having one child. Our daughter, Aubrey, is now 3.5. She’s in full time daycare because we both have to work. Having another baby is just not viable. Oh, people say, you just make it work. But actually, to make it work we would have to change our lives so radically by selling our farm, getting rid of all of our pets / farm stock, that Aubrey’s life would be altered for, I believe, the worst. She loves our life, our animals, our pets (they are her siblings). I am not prepared to do that. That’s the guilt. Not prepared to sacrifice what we have now and can give to our one child for the what could be’s for another. I am ok with one and done. She’ll have the best of what we can give, when we can give it. There will always be a part of my heart that is sad I couldn’t give more. But sometimes, money can’t buy everything.

  18. Heather copeland says:

    Thanks for this article!! We tried to conceive for 8 1/2 years and finally were blessed with a precious, healthy, baby boy. I had always envisioned having more kids, but after our struggle with infertility, we are pretty sure we are going to be content with our one, healthy baby. It is difficult though to watch others around us having two and getting the question from them. The other issue is our age–since it took so long to conceive-I’m scared of the risks.

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