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An ode to the only child

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Families with many children and families with one child have a lot in common. As a mom with many, I feel a special bond with moms of only children.

I understand what it’s like to field deeply personal questions about reproductive habits, fertility, and ethical and spiritual beliefs while waiting for library story time to commence.

I’ve been asked when we are going to stop as much as my sister, the mother of one child, has been asked when she is going to have another. I’m guilty of asking her that question, until the moment I realized it must feel just as intrusive and obnoxious for her to hear it as it feels for me to field the opposite question.

So I stopped asking. My niece is an amazing, lovely girl. She doesn’t need a brother or a sister to form her into some Better Version of herself. I think that’s pretty insulting, actually, to imply a person is less-than if they don’t have a sibling to spur them on to bigger and better things.

Our choices are outside the societal norm which gives everyone else in the room special license to gawk or opine on the perceived dangers of our family structures.

While my kids are probably starving for attention, her daughter gets too much attention. Bad on both sides.

While my kids don’t get anything they want, her daughter must get everything she wants. Bad and bad.

Society is built for families of four. When was the last time a vacation sweepstakes gave away a fabulous trip for 9 or for 3 to the beautiful Waikiki Hilton? In our family, we joke about who would have to stay at home for the 7 days, 6 nights. In families with an only child, they probably sit around trying to figure out who gets to tag along. May I make a suggestion?

Take my 3-year-old. You thought I was going to say take me, but she could use a vacation.

I realize this is purely anecdotal evidence, but every person I know who grew up as an only child is a wonderful individual. They are thoughtful, hard-working, and seem deeply interested in others. I believe they grow up feeling cherished and important. That is never a bad thing and it serves them and our society well. But I don’t know what it’s really like to be an only child because I grew up in a family with 3 children.

It’s a good thing we never won a sweepstakes where the prize was a trip to beautiful Waikiki. My brother would have had to stay home alone.

Families with one child face unique challenges, aside from the obvious where everyone wants to know when that little brother or sister is coming. I have nothing but respect for parents who need to carve out a parenting style in a world where there aren’t a lot of resources or others in their same boat.

Author: gretchen

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  • comment avatar Lori in Denver February 2, 2010

    I’d never thought of the two situations as bookends, but it makes perfect sense.

  • comment avatar Heth February 2, 2010

    Good stuff, Gretchen.

  • comment avatar Jenn February 2, 2010

    Well said!!

  • comment avatar JoAnn February 2, 2010

    Gretchen, what an awesome post! Of course, I’m a tad biased since I’m the mother of an only child. It’s so hard to get people to understand that this is what we want! And, it’s frustrating to be put in a position where we have to defend our choice. Your post brings tears to my eyes. I love it when I find complete understanding in the most unexpected of places.

  • comment avatar Beth - Total Mom Haircut February 2, 2010

    This is a really interesting point, and one I’ll admit I had never really thought about. Well-said.

  • comment avatar Rach February 2, 2010

    I clicked over because I was curious how they are alike. I get it!

    I used to ask people, “When are you having another?”

    Due to how it feels to be asked that question and to see people’s horrified faces when I answer honestly, I don’t ask it any more. πŸ˜‰

  • comment avatar Angi February 2, 2010

    Thank you for this post ~ as a mother of one child due to fertility problems I always thought that the grass is always greener on the other side. Thank you for opening my eyes with a new twist on family dynamic and bringing attention to the thankfulness that sometimes runs low in my heart. That is a tough question ~ when will you have another ~ I have learned how to answer by quickly turning it around. Loved this post ~ thank you for sharing!

  • comment avatar Daneen February 2, 2010

    Great points. For what it’s worth, I think no matter how many kids you have (or don’t have) you will be questioned. It’s a sad state of affairs, but there are people in this world who want to give their 2 cents whether it’s wanted, warranted or whatever.

    I have two daughters; many, MANY people ask if we want to try again for a boy. Rather than screaming at them (my urge) or trying to explain the heartache of 10+ years of infertility, multiple failed adoptions and two challenging – albeit successful – adoptions, I usually smile and say “we feel blessed with what God decided we needed.”

    Besides that, when people find out our girls joined our family through adoption, they want to encourage us to “request a boy” this time. Right. Because it’s that easy.

    For the record: we are completely satisfied and overwhelmingly in love with our girls. And we thank God daily.

  • comment avatar Adventures In Babywearing February 2, 2010

    Love this, Gretchen.


  • comment avatar Rachel February 2, 2010

    Lovely thoughts and so so true.

  • comment avatar Emily February 2, 2010

    Great post, Gretchen! You are so right. We always feel entitled to judge, don’t we? I love your perspective.

  • comment avatar becca banana February 2, 2010

    Thank you! Very thought-provoking.

  • comment avatar Robin February 2, 2010

    Well, as an only child myself, I say thank you for the compliment!

  • comment avatar Gretchen's brother February 3, 2010

    Hey! πŸ™

  • comment avatar bonnie February 3, 2010

    Oh Gretchen – as always, a wonderful post. As a mother of an “only” who has been asked countless times “why don’t you have more” I so appreciate this perspective!

  • comment avatar edj February 4, 2010

    I know! What is WITH that mythical “family of four” thing? Did you know in Europe the law is that hotel rooms can only be for 4 people? So what do you do when you’re a couple with an 8 y/o and 6 y/o twins? (Hint: you find a really nice receptionist and you never all leave together.)
    Great post. And I feel sad for your brother too! πŸ˜‰

  • comment avatar Laura February 4, 2010

    Great post, Gretchen – so true, even though I never thought about it that way. I’ve been in both places – my oldest was an only until she was 8, then my 2nd husband and I had our two sets of twins. Now we’re a giant family. Both situations had their ups and downs, for sure!

  • comment avatar Elizabeth February 4, 2010


  • comment avatar Suzie February 4, 2010

    You’ve received many thanks, but thank you again. I was an only child for 13 years (’til my sister unexpectedly arrived to my 40+ year-old parents!); my husband is an only child, and we have decided our son will be our only child. I definitely feel like an outsider for choosing this – I even had a (unmarried, childless) coworker tell me that we are making a selfish choice.

    Yes, I know there are many advantages & disadvantages to having zero or one or two or six children, and it all involves choices and circumstances that acquaintances or strangers (or even relatives)are not aware of. What is most important to me is that we strengthen our community and give our kids with or without siblings a great chance to feel a part of something bigger.

    Thank you for your ode – it is appreciated!!

  • comment avatar [email protected] Lane February 9, 2010

    “I understand what it’s like to field deeply personal questions about reproductive habits, fertility, and ethical and spiritual beliefs while waiting for library story time to commence.”

    That’s all you had to say!
    I couldn’t agree with you more!