Most couples who get married or decide to live together generally plan to have children. Several years ago, having big families was common and this was seen as an advantage. This was mainly because children began working at an early age to help provide for the family. But with the changing times and with the cost of living getting higher every single year, having a big family is no longer considered to be a practical option. In fact, more couples are now considering having only one child and some do not have any desire to become parents at all.
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, by 1986, women aged 40 to 44 years, “were considerably more likely to have given birth to two children than three children (36% vs. 27%) or four or more children (19%). However, taken together, women were still more likely to have had three or more children than to have had two children (46% vs. 36%).
In recent years, “women were more likely to have had two children than three or more children ” a trend that was most marked in the most recent period (38% vs. 25% in 1996; 38% vs. 22% in 2006). These days, most families in Australia have two children. But the number of women who had given birth to a single child increased progressively from only 8% in 1981 to 13% in 2006.
The U.S. Census Bureau states that there are approximately 14 million only children in America today. This comprises 20% of the children’s population compared to only 10% around fifty years ago.
Stigmas With Having An Only Child
Despite the fact that we live in this modern age however, there are certain stigmas that have been attached to an only child:
- He/she is lonely.
- He/she is self-centred.
- He/she is a spoiled brat
- He/she is selfish.
- He/she always wants attention.
- He/she has a greater tendency of playing with imaginary friends.
- He/she has difficulty socialising.
- He/she is more prone to get sick.
These characteristics however, are not always apparent in all cases of only children. But there are distinct advantages and disadvantages of having just one child:
Advantages of Having One Child
1. An only child gets very attached to his/her parents and has a great relationship with them.
2. An only child gets the best in everything ” material things and otherwise.
3. An only child gets his/her parents undivided attention.
4. An only child does not have to deal with other siblings
5. An only child does not have to compete with other siblings for his/her parents’ attention.
6. An only child will not be compared (intentionally or not) with another sibling.
7. An only child is more independent.
Disadvantages of Having One Child
1. An only child may grow up lonely.
2. An only child has no one to grow up with.
3. An only child may get too much pressure from parents, to perform well or excel in school and other activities
4. The parents of an only child tend to be overprotective.
5. An only child may get bored of parental involvement
6. An only child may have a harder time making friends.
7. An only child may be pressure to have children in order to carry on the family name.
8. An only child may become burdened about being the sole caregivers of elderly parents.
9. An only child will never have the experience of having nephews and nieces.
While these advantages and disadvantages focus mainly on the child, the parents also benefit from having an only child while undergoing some negative emotions due to their decision to have only one child.
The most obvious benefit of having only one child for parents is ” they are able to give more to their child in terms of material things as well as their love and attention. But despite this fact, parents of only children these days still undergo some challenges:
- Parents of only children get strange looks or rude remarks from people when they say they have only one child.
- Family and friends tend to pressure them to have more children.
- Parents of only children sometimes feel guilty for not giving their child a sibling.
- Parents of only children are worried about their child being alone after they die.
Deciding to become a parent is already a major decision in itself. Planning on how many children to have is equally important. But whether you want to have one, two, three or more children ” you should always remember that each child that you raise entails having a set of responsibilities.
There are so many dysfunctional families these days because of broken relationships ” between couples and between parent and child. That is why it is imperative that parents are equipped to raise children.
Despite the wealth of information that we have at our fingertips however, there is no perfect way of raising a child. Even if you grow up in a loving family ” that is not a guarantee you will have the same success when it’s your turn to raise your child. You can read all the books that you want and visit so many websites on the internet ” but nothing can totally prepare you for the actual experience of being a parent.
For new parents, perhaps it would be ideal to start off with just one child. Like any other experience, it is best to feel your way through this one. Even if you’ve read all the available material about parenting, you will learn much more.
For many parents these days, having the experience of parenting one child is enough for them and that is fine. For others however, they want to have more and that is okay too. But you always have to consider a few very important things:
- Does your partner want to have another child?
- Are you financially capable of raising another child?
- Are you emotionally capable of caring for another child?
- Are you physically capable of taking care of another child?
If you answered yes to all these questions, then you are ready to add another child to the family but if you hesitated on even one of these questions, think carefully. Remember, that the number of your children does not define who you are as a parent. What is important is that you raise your child to be a loving, respectful and responsible person.
For the first five years of my daughter’s life, I was frequently told that I should consider having more children. I was still in my early 30s, after all, and had no fertility issues holding me back.
“Don’t you at least want to try for another?” people would ask, genuinely thrown.
“No,” I’d answer, “I just want one.”
Then would come the litany of reasons to procreate again: Single children tend to be spoiled. You can afford it. Children need siblings. There will be no one to share her burden when you get old. There will be no one to share her grief when you die. Don’t all husbands secretly pine for a boy? Won’t she feel pressured to be a perfect child? And what if she dies? WHAT IF SHE DIES?
But my personal favorite, a direct quote delivered by a family friend, without a hint of facetiousness, was this: “You make beautiful children. It’s your duty to make more.”
For me, the decision to raise an only child was almost instinctive, the way I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my husband. I was never on the fence about having more kids; one just seemed like enough. Then, when we brought our daughter home from the hospital, I was more convinced than ever. Our family was complete.
With every year that passes — it’s been nine so far — I become more and more relieved that I didn’t marry a man who desired a bigger family. We always said, early on, that we’d be open to adopting a child down the line, but today is “down the line,” and the only-kid thing is better than ever. Do we arrange more playdates than the average family? Undoubtedly. But when we nestle down at night for books in our pajamas, it’s just the three of us. And three truly is a magic number.
Wendy Thomas Russell and her daughter Maxine in April 2009. Photo by Suzanne Mapes
Hey, I know I’m a bit unusual.
Of all my married friends and family members, most have at least two children — or aimed for that many at one time or another. And, even though U.S. families are shrinking, the Central Intelligence Agency puts the average number of children per family at 2.01.
So I understand the questions, and even the comments, and they don’t much bother me. Whether to have children, and how many, comes with a laundry list of pros and cons on both sides. (Laundry being an operative word.) But, to add some much-needed balance to our “more-than-one” culture, I wanted to share a list of my own.
Top 10 reasons to have only one child
1. It’s eco-friendly. You’re replacing two trash-accumulating, water-wasting, gas-burning individuals with one, which means your impact on the environment is drastically reduced. You get to be a mother without destroying Mother Earth.
2. Your whole family fits into one row of an airplane. And if you’re a person who gets stressed traveling with small children, this little gem is pure gold.
3. You can invite your childless friends over for dinner without scaring them off. Well, maybe you can’t. But you believe you can, and that’s the important thing.
4. You save money – and who doesn’t want to save money? All the money you don’t spend on medical bills, child care, diapers and birthday parties — to say nothing of the Disney store — can do a lot to relieve those worn-out pocketbooks. Plus, with all the cash you save, you can expose your kids to things they normally wouldn’t get to see or experience as children.
5. You avoid being cliché. The expectation is that you will have two children because that’s what people do. Let us embrace these small rebellions.
6. You don’t feel compelled to buy a minivan. No, there’s nothing wrong with buying a minivan. I’m just saying.
7. No one will quibble over your will. You know it’s true: Great families have been toppled over little more than crappy coin collections.
8. You have time and energy to pursue your own interests, socialize with friends, and devote to your marriage. If you want your child to have a happy, fulfilled life, you have to model that. And if all you do all day is try to keep your head above water, because society (or your co-parent) pressured you to expand your family even when your gut told you not to, you’re not modeling that.
9. You can hold hands with every single member of your family at once. And, come on, that’s just cute.
10. You get to focus on quality — not quantity. Having one means you can give your child undivided attention when she’s having a hard time and needs you to be there, really be there, for her. It means she will grow up knowing that she was all that was needed or wanted. “It wasn’t about having kids,” you can tell her. “It was about having you.”
Maxine and her father Charles Russell in 2011. Photo by Wendy Thomas Russell
Listen, I’m not saying the only-child scenario is a perfect one. I’m the first to acknowledge that there are some disadvantages to capping our family tree so soon.
Once, at a hotel in San Diego, Maxine, then four, found a friend and began skipping along the concrete rim of a courtyard fountain. The rim was plenty wide and not much more than two feet off the ground, but my husband was hovering. Every 30 seconds or so, he reminded Maxine to “slow down” or “be careful.”
At one point, he turned to me. “I know I’m over-protective,” he said, “but I can’t help it. She’s our only one. We don’t have a backup.”
And it’s true: If we lose our daughter, we lose everything. It’s like we’ve put all our money into one stock without knowing whether it’s a high- or low-risk investment. Parents who have two or more children are diversified; the experts would surely agree that’s a smart way to live, right?
Smart, maybe. But it’s not foolproof.
There isn’t, and would never have been, a replacement for my Maxine. A second child could not lessen the grief of losing her. Perhaps the distraction of a second child would help me get up in the morning during those early months — but I don’t believe in bringing children into the world to act as a distraction in the case of some theoretical tragedy.
Having a child is a risk of the heart. Every day we parents get to experience the unrelenting joy of watching our children drink from the fountain of life while crossing our fingers that they don’t fall off the edge. We all do. Whether we have one child or five.
But what about when we die? That’s not a theoretical tragedy; that’s just a fact of life. I admit that in those early years, I sometimes experienced moments tinged with guilt when I thought that Maxine would never have a sibling of her own to lean on for support. My older sister, Jennifer, is — and has always been — my most trusted friend and confidante. I cannot imagine my life without her, just as I cannot imagine a world without her. And yet, I am depriving Maxine of a sibling all her own. Harder still is the fact that she was such a nurturing person — a sensitive, kind and thoughtful kid, already a great friend to so many other children. She has always been very close to her cousins, too — five girls and a boy — and her interactions with them leave me convinced she would have made a phenomenal sister. The kind I had. The kind who helped shape the person I am today.
Aye, there’s the rub.
At some point during Maxine’s toddlerhood, I began to brace myself for the day when she’d ask me why she was an only child. Would she feel deprived? Would she blame me for leaving her alone in the world? Would she plead or cry?
Then something remarkable happened.
She was around five years old at the time and was in her room dressing a baby doll, when I heard her yell, “Mommy!”
I came to the door. “What do you need?” I asked.
“Mommy,” she told me, “I want to be a sister.”
She was absorbed in getting the clothes on her little doll, so I doubt she noticed me stiffen. Here it is, I thought, the Sister Talk. What would I say exactly? How much did she want to know? How should I play this?
But before I could answer, she spoke again.
“I want to be a sister,” she said, “but I don’t want a brother or a sister.”
Then she looked up at me with her clear, sweet eyes and waited for me to figure out this conundrum of hers. If only, I thought.
And then it occurred to me: Being a sister or brother isn’t just a condition of biology, but a condition of friendship. It’s a frame of mind. It’s a desire and willingness to protect, empathize and support. You don’t need to share a room with someone to be a sister, or to share a mother, or to share a bloodline. You simply must share yourself, and allow others to share themselves with you.
“Yes,” I told Maxine. “Of course, you can be a sister without having a brother or sister. Of course you can.”
You already are.