It’s a question that, inevitably, anyone whose first child has reached two or more, will hear: “are you planning another?”
My answer will differ depending on who’s asking, because if it’s someone I know and like – and luckily it usually is – they’ll get a fuller response whereas if it’s not they’ll get a polite shutting down of the conversation (my womb is not public property, which is why you’re also not going to get the answer here). But invariably what follows is a discourse on whether having an only child is ‘fair’. I’m not going to go into all the things I found – shall we say – problematic in this well-meaning but rather weird article, for example but I do think it’s a sterling example of the job lot of assumptions – from ‘selfishness’ to a ‘lack of peers’ – that are very common when people talk about only children. I’m actually not one, but I am married to one, and right now my daughter is one too.
So here, with tongue tucked just a little bit in cheek, are my five best things about having one child.
Money Money Money
Unquestionably, there is more of it to go around. In a household with two working parents, who already have to rely some of the time on very obliging grandparents, budgets are tight and childcare is at a premium. Three afternoons a week of a childminder and a full five-week summer camp – not to mention holiday costs, uniform, school visits and trips, general household bills and the size of the property we live in (and therefore the mortgage we pay) – add up. The added costs of just one more child can radically change your lifestyle, and we really like ours where it is.
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
I have no idea where the selfishness thing comes from. As my friend Anna once said, “only a child with a sibling knows the exact mid-point of a Mars bar”. People assume that – a bit like manners, or liking vegetables – sharing has to be practiced or you won’t know how to do it. But sharing is something us social human creatures only seem to object to when we’re forced to do it. Think about it: what feels better, offering your seat to someone on the Tube or being asked for it? Both husband and child are considerably more natural and happy sharers than I am, because they’ve routinely had the security of knowing their stuff is their stuff. Not communal stuff. Not a hand-me-down. Not limited to ten-minute turns. Then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a single adult where I could tell if they had siblings or not by how ‘selfish’ they were. I suspect it makes no difference at all, but if I had to argue for more selflessness on one side, it would be in favour of the only child.
The Winner Takes It All
Having said that, I’ll tell you what I’m overwhelmingly glad my daughter doesn’t have to share: a bed. On holiday (particularly in the US) it’s frequently the case that you’ll encounter hotels that have two double beds per room – and she gets it all to herself. No squabbling, no problem. I don’t have to share with her, as I did with my mum until my sister and I could be trusted to actually sleep and not have a kicking contest, and she never has to wake up freezing cos her sibling has made a burrito out of the bedding (naming no names, sister mine). If there is only one bed, she’ll slip happily into a single roll-out camp bed.
Knowing Me Knowing You
I think the “what about their peers” argument is closely related to the anti-homeschool argument, though I’m not a homeschooler myself. There’s this assumption that if kids don’t have another child at home or don’t spend all day every day with at least 15 other kids of the same age (because in the workplace we’re all segregated by age and ability all the time), that means they’ll never have any friends. There are no cousins, no friends at school / clubs / swimming lessons, no family friends and relatives, no neighbours and absolutely no other opportunities to socialise with other kids. At all. Ever. Right? And we all know that having absolutely no personal space or way to get away from the person who’s driving you round the bend is very conducive to healthy friendships, and siblings never, ever argue. Ahem.
Also, might there not be something to be said – particularly, again, with two working parents who are out of the house a lot – for having a guarantee of your parents’ undivided attention? I can tell you that, for me, spending more time one-to-one (and less time refereeing) is a really precious gift; one I don’t take for granted. No, I don’t get to see those loving sibling moments – though I’ve seen some downright adorable cousin moments – and I only get one amazing small friend rather than two or more; my loss, indeed. But the flipside of that is that jealousy is a rare emotion in this house (except when the cat monopolises my lap for too long) and I only have one set of tantrums to handle.
My Love My Life
The fact is that I breathed a bit of a sigh of a relief when the baby milestones were done. I adored my daughter at all her stages: tiny, scrunched and helpless, snoozing on my chest; chewing her feet and making da-da-da sounds; taking her first wobbly steps. I hated potty training with a vengeance, but I celebrated with her when she nailed it, and I delighted in dispensing with nappies and bedtime pullups. I really, really, really love having an older child now, with whom I can have conversations, properly read books, watch films in the cinema, go to museums, travel and go out and about without the sponge shaped like a teddy bear and the teddy bear shaped like a sponge. I can also let her go for grandparent sleepovers without concerns – albeit not without missing her – and have more date nights, theatre trips and catch ups with friends.
Having one child – unless your first two children are twins – necessarily means reducing the length of time that you are parent of an infant; even if you have them back to back, each time you’re tacking on another year of those moments. And they’re beautiful, and wonderful and you do them willingly and sometimes you marvel in them but – to my mind – they’re not as good as the much more fully rounded person you get a few years down the line. (See? Told you I was the selfish one.)
When all is said and done, there are some serious things to be said about the only child discourse – including how hurtful it must be for people who did not choose to have one child but were forced into it by circumstance. And of course there are some very wonderful things to say about having more than one child, as many of my friends and family do. But just for once I wanted to celebrate the advantages – material, practical and emotional – that come with being a mum of one.
Whether or not I’ll stay that way… well, that’d be telling.