I am a “one and done” parent. This is the phrase I have come to use as my standard response to people who ask, ‘Do you have kids?’ ‘Is she your only?’ or the probing, ‘Are you having any more kids?’ The “one and done” response usually shuts down any further questions for those that might be tempted to ask why. I did not intend to be a “one and done” mama. I am one of four girls and cannot imagine my life without my three sisters. I also always imagined I would have kids. Plural.
But, for reasons both personal and practical, here I am at 42 with one child.
Now, this is not one of those blog posts where I self-righteously justify having one child or pretend to know the benefits of one versus many. I’m not interested in that mommy war. But I have spent the better part of this summer fighting feelings of guilt mixed with a splash of sadness as I watch my daughter play alone.
Battling Guilt, Regret, and All Those What-Ifs
Perhaps it’s because she is home all summer after having been in preschool full-time and surrounded by other kids five days a week. Maybe it’s the fact that she is at the age where she wants to know why there’s just one kid in the house or why I didn’t just make another egg (her exact words) so she’d have someone to play with.
Sometimes I even chase this cocktail of guilt with a shot of regret. Why didn’t I meet my husband sooner? Why didn’t we just have another baby right away before another and then another year went by? I usually finish with a string of what-ifs. What if I’m a burden when I’m older and it’s all up to her? What if she doesn’t play well with others? What if she’s too quirky for the cool kids? And finally: What if she’s lonely?
Rather than continue on this guilt bender, I decided to turn to a couple of my best friends, who also happen to be “onlys,” asking them for some perspective on being an only child. Their honest reflections mirrored some of my concerns about loneliness and the what-ifs of caring for aging parents. They also shared the feeling of abundant love and attention they received from their parents and grandparents and the qualities of self-reliance and independence that have served them well as adults.
Will it be a burden when I’m old?
One of my girlfriends remembered that she went through a period of wanting a sibling when she was the same age that my daughter is now, and also gave me some insight into my concern about being a burden to my only when I’m old.
“I loved being an only child almost the entire time I was growing up. I remember wanting a sibling early on–like around 5 or 6 years old–and feeling disappointed when I was told it would only be me. I would love to have someone to share the responsibilities of making sure our parents’ needs were met, to share calling and visiting, to help make decisions about their care and needs, to reminisce about our childhoods together. Then again, having a sibling would guarantee none of that. We might not get along, and we might have such different perspectives that it would make decision-making harder than deciding on one’s own what to do.”
Will she be lonely?
Another one of my best friends shared that in fact there were times when she was lonely.
“I frequently felt left out when in groups with other kids who all seemed to know each other, and also sometimes within the neighborhood when, at the end of the day, other kids could go home and play with their siblings. I would have to go home alone. On the other hand, I never enjoyed watching my friends fight or argue with their siblings. I was happy and aware that I did not have to share my time, toys, or friends.”
Is she destined to act like an only child?
This friend also addressed one of my deepest fears: That by having an only, I had somehow predestined my child to have a specific type of personality.
“Although at times there is a sense of wondering what it would be like to have siblings, there is meaning in the experience of being an only. Yes, there are stereotypes of selfishness, eccentric behavior, stubbornness, and social ineptitude, but like most traits, these can be useful characteristics in life. It is difficult to really know what aspects of my personality are uniquely tied to being an only, or whether they are my innate personality.”
Their reflections gave me some much-needed reassurance.
Instead of being preoccupied with guilt and regret, I’ll raise my girl with the same hopes and concerns as any other parent. Will she ever be lonely? Sometimes. But hopefully she’ll choose friends that will stand by her like sisters when she needs them the most. And, like most kids, at some point she will probably have to make decisions about her dear old mom, but hopefully she’ll always remember that we love her, that she is our one and only.