My husband and I have a daughter. And this is how it will be for the rest of our lives. The decision to have a single child was tough for us. Listening to my friends' stories of siblings having each other and deepening their bonds, makes me question our decision of having a single child. Are you having doubts about this too?
In the olden days, it was normal for families to have several children due to reasons such as:
A high mortality rate (not all children made it to adulthood).
Having more hands to work in labour intensive occupations.
And of course, having sons was considered important.
However today, changing mindsets in society and advances in medicine have given way to a new ‘normal’. When I look around, I find most of my friends having 1 or 2 children. For the ones like us who have a single child, there is constant advice pouring in from well-meaning family and friends on the benefits of having another child.
I must admit, their comments cause grief even though we have made a clear choice to have only one child. I have a younger brother and know how enriching life is when one grows up with a sibling. Since the time my daughter was 3 years old, she’s been wanting a sibling. Her longing still tugs at my heart. Whenever I see a family with two children, a tiny part of me yearns for a sibling for my daughter. I wonder what it would be like if we had another child and whether my daughter is missing out not having a sibling. Do you get such thoughts as well?
One way that has helped me resolve this dilemma is to decide on having a second child, and then explore all the thoughts and feelings that come up with this decision. Then, decide on not having another child, and examine the feelings and thoughts that emerge with that. I have found that allowing feelings to come up, processing them by writing in a journal, talking to a friend or a therapist helps. As one processes their thoughts and feelings, it might bring up some revelations, which could make one rethink their previous decision. Whatever one decides is okay!
One of the biases against having an only child is that they are insensitive, selfish, and do not share with others. In fact, ‘the only child syndrome’ refers to single children as spoilt brats. Because of this stereotype, I would worry if my child grew up to be self-centered. And then, I noticed her actions spoke differently. She is more than happy to share her toys with her friends, feels sad when her friend is sad, cares about animals and is inclusive of her classmates from different cultures.
Another fear I battled with is about our child being alone in this world after we’re gone. Will she be lonely with no one to share a deep bond with? Quotes like ‘blood is thicker than water’ amplify this fear. This 12th century proverb refers to the blood shed on the battlefield by soldiers is stronger than family ties. Ironically, it does not refer to family bonds being better than friendship, the way it is commonly used now.
The bond between siblings grows due to the experiences they share. And, we can create opportunities for our only child to have enriching experiences with friends in school or through exploring a hobby/sport together. When friendships are nurtured, our children will share their joys and challenges with their friends. We experience doing this with our friends, don't we?
Having an only child is a personal choice. Yet, what is perceived as ‘right’ still weighs heavily on us. It isn’t easy to keep getting messages that having a single child is a great dis-service to our only child. Having another child may be difficult for a couple. For some, there may have been trauma of a miscarriage. For another, the first pregnancy may have been agonizing and the thought of another would be scary. Yet for others, it may be raising another child with the looming threat of climate crisis seems ridiculous. Many may have an economic hardship involved. In some cases, perhaps the mother wants to focus on her career.
Every woman has a right over her own body, her womb. She gets to be at the center of why she makes that choice. And every couple has a choice about how many children they want to have. Whatever their reason might be, the decision to have an only child is the couple’s. No one can say that one particular decision is the best decision. But it is true that whatever you decide will hold good for you and your family. Your family will still be complete. Your child will still be okay.
Every child – whether an only child, or one of the many children, deserves to be celebrated. Every parent, no matter how many children they have, deserves to be acknowledged, appreciated and valued. No one can take this away from you because you have one child. You are still a parent. You have permission to celebrate your only child!
With love and empathy,
Mom of an only child
Author: Manasi Dandeker is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connections in families.