Monday, February 28, 2011

Happy with what I have, in spite of popular opinion

Most of my friends and I are rapidly approaching that age at which we must fish or cut bait in terms of family size.

Since R. and I have managed to keep the Grape alive for over a year and a half now, people from family members to complete strangers routinely ask, "When are you going to have another one?" Nosy strangers may get the classic half-smile-and-shrug dismissal, but those closer to me hear the truth: I'm not.

This may seem shocking to those of you who've met me. I have a tendency to always want more. In this area of my life however, I'm content with the family I have.

And no, I don't agree that it's cruel to have an only child. To me, that statement constitutes one of the greatest hyperboles in contemporary discourse.

Yes, siblings possess some clear benefits. As kids, my siblings and I kept each other both entertained and exercised on rainy days and long family trips alike. It's also nice to have someone with whom to share filial duties as parents age. No, it's not ideal for any child to live in an adults-only world day in and day out.

But (and feel free to call me selfish, I've got thick skin), my pregnancy was the worst experience of my life. There's simply no way I would ever do it again, even if it were advisable from a medical perspective (which it isn't).

And no, I will not change my mind.

When people hear this, they assure me I could adopt. As if such an astonishing thought never crossed my radar. If you'd asked me a decade ago, I would have answered that two kids seemed like a good number to have. An heir and a spare, just like my own mom's late best friend often joked.

But today I don't have enough of that insatiable itch for more babies to pursue procuring a sibling for the Grape through adoption or surrogacy. Many of my friends have traveled down those roads and I think they're wonderful options for thousands of families. But, for lack of a better word, I'm content with "just" the Grape.

There are some infrequently discussed upsides to being the one and only. The Grape will get to travel more as an only than he would with a gang of younger siblings. Why? Basic economics, first and foremost. But also parental stamina. One kid on a long haul flight, totally doable. Two, manageable but more challenging. Three, veers close to insanity. Et cetera.

The Grape will get to grow up in the city, because we won't be driven to the suburbs in search of high quality public schools. One tuition bill seems much less daunting than several served up concurrently.

As an urban kid, the Grape sees more children his age on a daily basis than his suburban counterparts, whose parents must arrange play dates and coordinate transportation thereto. We can cross the street to the park and find kids of similar age on just about any day when the weather is halfway decent, which is not a high bar here in Boston. He might be a bit of a mama's boy, but he's not a lonely, under-socialized singleton.

As a tot, he gets more one on one time than any subsequent child would enjoy. We spend hours every day reading books. Such luxuries become nearly impossible for parents juggling a newborn and a toddler or toddlers.

A friend and mother of three (who is considering trying for a fourth pregnancy) recently quipped that everyone after the second or third child is inevitably a little neglected.

Obviously, spacing can play a role here.

But her comment stuck with me, perhaps because I'd just had a conversation with another woman, the third oldest of eight siblings. Her mom had one baby a year for eight years, which must qualify her for some medal from the Pope, right?

Anyway, she and all seven of her brothers and sisters are over thirty. All are childless by choice.

Obviously the younger ones have a few years to change their minds, but it still struck me as fascinating that none of them aspired to replicate their parents' feat. "I love the holidays at our house," she told me, "But the rest of the time it was madness and not in a good way. Our mother was exhausted to the point of illness. All the time."

Another friend, the youngest of four tightly spaced kids, told me the other day that her aging mom insists she read long bedtime stories to her children every single night. Friend, now an adult of childbearing age, swears on all that's holy that this absolutely did not happen.

I assured her that their mom undoubtedly read those nightly long bedtime stories to her oldest sibling, before the others came along rapid fire and diverted mother-child quiet time to more basic tasks.

"Yeah, yeah," you're saying, "There's a huge difference between one kid and four, six or eight little rug rats. Two should seem manageable for any normal, capable adult. Don't you want two? What's wrong with you?"

Who knows? Maybe I just don't miss those newborn months. Maybe I'm not fatalistic enough to need that spare heir. Or maybe I'm really looking forward to all the things the Grape can do and the places he can go - years sooner without a baby in tow. He's already so much more fun than he was a few short months ago.

When many other women see a mom with a tot and a newborn, something warm and fuzzy stirs in their core. When I look at the same tableau I think, she's been sent back to start.

I'm being provocative for a reason.

I understand that many people want big families. I don't presume to tell strangers expecting their third kid that it's unfair to their existing offspring to have to share mommy. Nor do I suggest that they'd better not have that fourth or fifth baby, because they'll change their minds after it's too late.

So please don't try to persuade me that I'll change mine. For once in my life, I'm happy with what I already have.


  1. Mari - this is fabulous! I applaud both your honesty, and your choice!

    Isn't it amazing how people always feel that matters related to others' families and parenting choices are their business? Or how they feel that the choices THEY made personally are the best and should therefore be copied by everyone else?

    And I can totally relate to the rough pregnancy issue. I had debilitating anemia and 6 + months of round-the-clock nausea with both of my kids, and was hospitalized for premature labor then put on bed-rest for 3 months with the 1st. I clearly recall one midnight vomiting episode during my second pregnancy when, head down the toilet, I called out to my husband, "If god forbid something should happen to this baby, there's no way I'll have it in me to try again."

    I think that each woman instinctively knows what the right family size is for her. And luckily, we're all different.

  2. Being an only child was (is) great. You're not doing anything wrong to your kid by not having more. And you have to do what's right for you, too!

  3. I always find it surprising that in the area of family (having children at all, deciding to have more than one, or not) that people feel free to shower you with their opinion of why your choice is wrong. I applaud you.

    If I could find the peace of heart to only have one, I would. But the pull to mother another is so strong that we are walking through the adoption fires to get there.

  4. Thanks for reading. I was frankly surprised when I read my email and saw that so many readers called this post "brave.". Have we women sunk so low that decision making about our families and bodies qualifies as brave if it is anything different from average?

  5. Mari I follow your posts from time to time as we share a mutual friend and i have to commend you on this one. It's not about being brave - to your point, it's 2011, we women have earned the right to make our own calls in life. I think people are more surprised and applauding you for addressing an issue that's so puzzling to breeders of 3 and 4 and 5 children - (gasp) - only wanting and being (eek) happy with one. I am dealing with this myself and have struggled with whether to blog about it. I have a happy, healthy, well-adjusted 2 1/2 year old and I'm perfectly content, while considering myself quite blessed. You may have just inspired me to get blogging. Thank you.

  6. I realize that you wrote this post a while ago, however, I found it wonderful and it resonated with my own life and I wanted to thank you for it. My circumstances are different, my husband was a widower with a 4 year-old daughter when we met. After we got married everyone presumed we would have another child. However, both of really like the dynamic of our one-child family and love not having our home in constant chaos or have children fighting with eachother all the time. But, as you mentioned, people are constantly telling us (me in particular) that we are doing our daughter a disservice by not giving her a sibling...the underlying message is that it is selfish of us. I don't have the biological ticking-clock that I thought I would - I am beyond delighted to love and help raise this amazing little girl and that's enough for me.

    Sorry to ramble, I just found it very refreshing to read about a happy single-child family. Like most things in life, people should do what works for them and their families and only provide advice upon request. Thanks again for your post and your blog...I get a huge kick out of it!