The other day, I saw a woman wearing a shirt that read, “Oops! I forgot to have children!” across the front, and I wanted to run up and give her a hug. Except that would be weird on many levels, so I buried the impulse.
I didn’t forget to have children. I just had a child. One child. And lean in closer while I make this confession: My partner and I made that decision on purpose.
It’s not really what I’d planned for myself when I was younger and daydreamed about my future family. In fact, I went through a phase in the ’80s when I imagined myself with five children who I would name Mandy, Randy, Candy, Sandy and Andy.
I certainly never envisioned myself being any kind of spokesperson for the only-child crowd, but over my last 11 years, the most-asked question I get is whether or not I have regrets that we never gave my daughter a sibling.
That’s a hard question because the number of kids you and your partner decide to have is an extremely personal decision—although you wouldn’t necessarily know that by all the complete strangers who regularly ask, “So, when are you going to have another one?” or, “Don’t you worry about what will happen to her when you die and she’s left all alone in the world?” People, even well-intentioned, can be extremely insensitive and feel like they have the right to get in your business even if you just met them on an airplane.
When my daughter was about to start kindergarten, I began to think I wanted another child. I shared my feelings with my partner and he really didn’t agree with me. We both agreed we would pray about it and see where we landed, but I was plagued by questions.What happens if we mess her up and end up as two old people who have to spend holidays with just the dog? I’d Google articles about only children, reassuring myself that they often end up being higher achievers, leaders and, most importantly, okay in life without a sibling.
But then I’d see a picture of her as a squishy toddler and nostalgia would make me wonder if I wanted to do it all over again. Would I regret not doing it again? Would she really be okay without a brother or a sister?
Ultimately, I began to realize that while some of my concerns were legitimate, the majority of them were based on my perception of what a family was supposed to look like. It’s the American ideal, right? Two cars in the garage, at least two kids (preferably a boy and a girl), and a chicken in every pot. However, when I blocked out the external noise, the well-meaning questions, and my own insecurities making me feel like I was less of a mom for having just one child, I focused on what was really best for our family.
I felt completely secure in our decision to have one child. I need to do what works best for me. I need to realize that someone else’s decision to have multiple kids has no bearing on my decision to have one and vice versa. I believe that rather than a selfish decision, having an only child was accepting what we were emotionally, physically and financially prepared for.
It really dawned on me one day when our daughter and I visited the home of one of her kindergarten classmates, who happened to be the youngest of four kids. As that mom and I sat and attempted to visit, there was a constant stream of yelling, jumping, crashing noises, and shrieks as what seemed to be a pack of wild children ran in and out of the house. This mom wasn’t fazed by it in the least; she kept up her end of the conversation and never skipped a beat. It was like she was having high tea at a fancy resort, and I was a frightened dog at a fireworks show.
Later that week, when I saw my fellow moms chasing toddlers all around the neighborhood pool, I realized I had entirely lost my nostalgia for those days and felt nothing but reliefto be able to just sit and watch my independent big kid jump off the diving board. I didn’t miss the days of praying that swim diapers wouldn’t explode or having a little person do that thing where they make their whole body go stiff and you have to carry them out of a public place like they’re a fifty-pound log who’s kicking and screaming—and that’s okay.
My partner and I have each had plenty of time to cultivate our own unique relationship with our daughter because she has all of our focus—for better or for worse, in her opinion, depending on the day. It also helps that she is completely content with her only-child status. However, we have worked hard to make sure she doesn’t live up to the stereotype of the only child. Yes, she probably gets a few more gifts at Christmas because she’s the only one we have to buy gifts for, but we have raised her to have character, integrity and a heart that focuses on those around her. The character of children is ultimately determined by what is instilled in them by their parents, not by how many brothers or sisters they have. We have worked hard to make sure our daughter treats the world around her with kindness and respect, and in some ways, I think being an only child has helped her focus on her friendships even more because her friends are the closest thing to family she has outside of us.
These days, I’m completely at peace with having an only child unless I’ve watched an episode of Parenthood on Netflix. How fulfilled can you be in life if you aren’t a Braverman who regularly dines outdoors under twinkly lights with your grown siblings?
But as I watch the woman my daughter is becoming, I believe all the more that our decision was the right one for our family because it was what God called us to be. We are a little band of three, and that has been the perfect fit for all of us.
Taken from On the Bright Side by Melanie Shankle. Copyright © 2020 by Melanie Shankle. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.