Sunday, November 29, 2009

One Is One-derful

Several things have been said to me over the last few days on the subject of only children that I finally gave in to writing a post about it. I’ve thought about writing about this subject before and I’ve always backed away because even though I love sharing about the minutiae of my life, I am always reluctant to speak too freely about certain personal subjects. But this subject is very important to me, so I feel compelled to talk about it.

Growing up, I never questioned that I would be the mother to several children. I never really felt I had any special skills or gifts. What I was good at was mothering. I received compliments all the time from grownups (one of the best things a kid like me could have ever asked for!) about how caring I was, how I would be such a good mom when I grew up. I am the oldest of four. My youngest sibling is almost 14 years younger than me, so I got some definite hands-on experience when it comes to babies, diapers, temper tantrums, and being barfed on. I’m bossy, organized, neat, and a control-freak. Perfect mom material! The Army Man is the second of five boys. Large families run in the family, so to speak. I really did come to believe that my purpose here on earth was to raise several well-adjusted children, each of whom went on to be productive members of society.

And then I had Laura. This has nothing to do with her; it has everything to do with me.

I realized almost instantaneously that being a mother was harder than I could have ever predicted. I wanted to fall in humble worship at the feet of my mother, my grandmothers, and the Army Man’s mother. I knew, probably when Laura was just a few days old, that my desire for 3 or 4 kids (was I mad?) had fallen to just two. But still I knew that I HAD to have two children. You don’t just have one kid. It’s just not done. Those kids are spoiled, bratty, and unfit for society, right? And mothers who can only handle one child aren’t really mothers. And I wanted to be a real mother-as opposed to the kind of fake mothers that give birth to a child and raise that child, but never get full “mother” status since they have only one child.

I don’t want to go into all the details about why or when I finally started to think that not having any more children was a good idea. We certainly thought about having another (because it was the right thing to do), and tried for a while. Nothing came of it, and it became known between the Army Man and I that we were done. Our families were quietly supportive, although I always knew that another child was hoped for on our behalves by many loving people. The decision was a personal one between the Army Man and I, and it is one that has proven to be the best thing for our family. I suppose if anyone is to blame, it’s me, but I also feel that it is me who has suffered the most at the hands of this decision. I wrestled for a very long time with deep feelings of failure and guilt over not fulfilling what I believed to be my destiny. If I couldn’t do the one thing I thought I was here to do, then what am I here for? What good am I to the world? Why is having a child so much harder for me than other women? Are they truly better moms, better women than me? Sometimes I feel like I still don’t know the answers to those questions.

Having an only child is an interesting life. I feel like I am constantly expecting more of Laura, because I know that there are plenty of people who already have opinions about her because of her lack of siblings. When she had temper tantrums as a 2 year old, the day care workers told me it was because she didn’t have siblings. I'd say it was because she was 2, and has inherited my temper. And if she had had a sibling at that point, I’m sure the sibling would have been an infant and would not have been teaching Laura any of the things that siblings are magically supposed to teach you. We occasionally get questions from strangers and acquaintances. They all want to know when we’re having another baby. When I say that we’re not, the looks and comments are surprising and sometimes hurtful. Think of what you’re doing to Laura, they tell me. I want to know what exactly I’m doing to her, other than loving her and raising her the best I can. I’ve often been told that I HAVE to have another child. Why, because some stranger tells me to? That’s a great reason if I’ve ever heard one.

It saddens me that so many people feel so negatively towards only children. Do they not realize that those mean things they're saying are being said about my daughter, my sweet little girl? And sometimes within earshot of her? Why is it acceptable to repeat negative stereotypes about a certain class of people? When will comments about only children be considered just as rude and un-PC as comments about people’s race or religion? Would the mother of three find it okay if I started spouting off about how the youngest kid in a family is just a spoiled brat who has everything handed to them? I think not. So forgive me for my attitude when people start bashing only children-that's my daughter you're talking about, and I won't stand for it.

Even more interesting to me, which I think most people don't stop to ponder: it's not Laura who requested to be an only child. My family planning is not up to my 5 year old, so why should she be punished for it? If people want to tell me about what a horrible parent I am, and how I'm so cruel to my daughter, that's one thing. I'm an adult and I can take it. But it's not fair and not acceptable to tell me things that are wrong with Laura since she's an only child. It has nothing to do with her. And if she does grow up to be a spoiled brat who can't share, it will be because I raised her that way, not simply because she has no siblings. The most current research shows over and over again that most only children are very similar to the first-born child in families with multiple children. Speaking as a first-born child, I say that's just fine with me.

When strangers fawn over Laura, talking about how cute and sweet and well-mannered she is, the inevitable question always is-do I have other children? Once I answer no, some become appalled and demand that I MUST have another. And I wonder; does Laura suddenly seem less cute and less sweet and less well-mannered now that they know I don’t have 2 other kids at home?

Someone recently told me that Laura wouldn’t be able to be empathetic if she didn’t have siblings. You mean my daughter who cries when I hurt myself? My daughter who worries about her friends if they have a bad day at school? My sweet little girl who spent one entire day last week giving pep talks to the trouble-maker in her class? And the whole stereotype of only children not being able to share and play nicely with other children? That theory has been dashed to the ground over and over again by Laura. A recent playtime with some of her friends gave me this gem, straight from her mouth: “Why don’t we all share the doll house so everyone gets to play?” That stopped the squabbling of her guests (who are older than her, and siblings to boot!)

Having siblings is wonderful. I have some and they’re all lovely. Sometimes I’m so ridiculously sad that Laura doesn’t have that in her life, but siblings are no guarantee of happiness. Siblings are no guarantee of anything. Siblings are not the be all, end all, in a child’s life. I refuse to have another child simply to give Laura a sibling. I would only have another child if that is what the Army Man and I decided was right for us, the ones who would be raising and caring for that child.

And to reference the title of my post, there are so many wonderful things about having an only child. I don’t want to start listing them all here, because I might make people with multiple kids jealous! Suffice it to say, we are a happy family, and Laura is a happy and well-adjusted little girl. Isn’t that all any parent wants for their child?

(And of course I have to add the caveat that this isn’t to say that I might not have another baby someday. Who knows? I’m only 29 and thus far my life has been the exact opposite of how I planned it. But whether I end up the mother of one child, or ten, I will always say that only children are wonderful.)


Julie said...

I applaud you for speaking your mind. Being the mother of an olny child does not make you less of a mother. I see how you are with Laura. You ARE a wonderful mother. Laura gets to have all your love poured onto just her. What could be better? Wether you have another child someday is not anyone else's decision or business. They need to keep their nose out of it. It is not PC to say rude things to mothers of one. People just have to be rude sometimes and feel they are in control when they are not. You keep being a great mom to Laura and not worry about people who don't get it.

Kim said...

Weird that you've heard so many negative comments about only children. I've never heard anything bad. Ever. And I've been an only child all my life!

Claire said...

Thanks for the support Julie :) I agree, some people will just try to give their opinion no matter what!

Kim, I'm starting to wonder if a lot of it has to do with living in a military town. It seems quite unusual to have less than 2 kids in the military, so we are definitely the odd ones out here. I know if we lived in NYC or something, no one would bat an eye. And I had to laugh about you being an only child all your life. Very true! :)

I did talk to a lady recently (another only child mom) who said that she tries to remember that most people are asking to be nice, not critical. Likely they think her son is great and that's she a good mom and they think she'd do a great job with another child. I think that's a great attitude to have and I try to keep that in mind. Some people though are just plain rude, but that's just like the person at the grocery store who once asked me if Laura is adopted since she "doesn't look at all like her dad".

Patty said...

I can sympathize with the unwelcome comments on my children. What always AMAZED me is that people would feel free to say negative things right in front of them. I can't count the number of people who expressed how sorry they were that I had only boys, and never got "that girl". It used to bother me alot because I had them with me when I was out in those days. If I really look back though and try to remember, I got just as many comments on how good they were, or how cute they were, so at this stage of my life I choose to dwell on those. I think a lot of people just want to connect in some way, and they truly think that we need their opinions, observations or advice. Just be thankful that they aren't running the other way because your child is so horrible in public.

Claire said...

Yep, I think that's exactly what bothers me so much-the people saying things like that in front of Laura. She's old enough now that she understands what they're talking about, which just upsets me so much. I still remember the checkout girl at a store who told me that since she was the youngest of x number of siblings, she always knew how to share and it was obvious to her that Laura didn't know how. She deduced all that from Laura sitting there in her stroller. Seriously? My new plan is to tell people that Laura is the oldest of 8 but I left the other 7 in the car.

And Patty, you're right, thank goodness people aren't running away screaming-at least from what I can tell!

Bee and Rose said...

What a wonderful post! Amen to you, sister! My son was an only child for 6 years and people said the same things to me. (Catherine was a huge surprise pregnancy..) Anyhoo, I think you are a fantastic mother who knows what you want and I applaud you for speaking your truth! All of my best friends are only children and they are amazing human beings!

Only by Chance said...

I think you're right. Military towns are notorious for families with multiple children. Thanks for your comment on my blog guiding me here. It's really hard being in the middle of all the decisions right now.