Thinking about: An only child?

With Hudson’s second birthday fast approaching, I find myself asked more often: “When are you planning to have a second?” Granted, not everyone starts with the “when” in that sentence. Some start with the “are.” I don’t mind the question from friends; it’s nice to be given permission to turn it around and hear more about their plans, or their reasons for their family’s size. I suppose I’m particularly interested because I don’t have a good answer. All I know right now is that we are having a lot of fun as a family of three with Hudson (who was just a baby yesterday, right?)—and love sleeping through the night.

(Okay, that last bit is maybe a euphemism for the hesitation that surrounds all of the ways parenthood changes you and your day-to-day life, particularly in those early days months.)

Aron gets to ask patients about their opinions on family size and family planning pretty often, usually when giving them a vasectomy. Truth is, for most people I know, there seems to be a momentum-factor to the choice—based on a vision or expectation that stems from their childhood. “I don’t know, that’s the way I pictured it.” (None of this, of course, takes into account the reality that for plenty of people the choice doesn’t exist.)

It’s a big factor, that vision. I remember going over our pros and cons list when we were deciding whether to stay in New York or move to California. It’s completely bizarre (because driving Hudson around is nowhere near the top of my daily highs), but my vision of parenthood always included moments of driving a car, looking into the rearview mirror, and seeing my child seated in the backseat. I was a bit sad to think that—if we stayed in New York—I might miss out on that. More on point, fear of regret is another strong motivator.

The New York Times published two articles recently that could give a stronger voice to either decision (the decision between having one or many children).

Frank Bruni, in his op-ed, “The Gift of Siblings,” talks about being graced with brothers and sisters, “with a center of gravity; with an audience that never averts its gaze and doesn’t stint on applause.” His description of family is enough to make you run home to your bedroom.

But his use of the word “gift” takes on another meaning if read through the prism of Lauren Sandlers’ opinion piece “Only Children: Lonely and Selfish?,” published a month later. Citing studies that show that only children score just as well as those with siblings in all kinds of qualities and “had demonstrably higher intelligence and achievement,” she writes “Most people say they have their first child for themselves and the second to benefit their first. But if children aren’t inherently worse off without siblings, who is best served by this kind of thinking?”

(By the way, have I mentioned that I’m an only child? You can bet I forwarded those statistics to a few people right away.)

There’s a review of her book (One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One

) that teased out some other interesting points. For example, the idea that having only one child allows for ‘“the rich experience of parenting without the consuming efforts that multiple children add: all the miracles and shampoo mohawks but with leftover energy for sex and conversation,”‘ and the notion that parents considering making that choice have to fear being called selfish for denying their child a sibling.

Ultimately, these articles are probably only compelling as far as they support our own decisions (or situations, as it may be for those with multiples or difficulty conceiving), but I enjoyed reading them in concert and I think it’s all in the service of conversation and, more important, open-mindedness.

What do you think of their points? Are you finding yourself in the “how many kids?” conversation a lot these days? What do you say? Might you have an only child?

P.S.  If we do (down the road) decide to have another, I love picturing this photo my friend Leigh shared of her sons, the older welcoming the younger on the day he was born, and her words on the capacity to love many: “One of the things that has struck me the most … is how instantly upon meeting the new member of the family it becomes absurd to imagine life without that person in it.”

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