Motherhood: Two for One


Michelle and Jessa converse about the reasons we chose to stop at one child.

Jessa: So let me check I have it right: you’re an only child yourself and have an only child as well?

Michelle: That’s right, and I always thought that if I became a parent I would have an only kid. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. What about you? Do you have siblings?

Jessa: Yes, I have an older brother. I know a lot of people seem to recreate their own family structure when it comes to forming their own, but somehow that didn’t really figure in for me, for whatever reason.

Michelle: You have a boy, right? How did you decide to have only one child?

Jessa: Yes, I have a three-year-old son. It’s really a combination of factors. I think I got away with murder in terms of the personal freedom I still have, even as a mother of a young child. Mostly as a result of him having a very involved father. And I don’t want to push my luck. What was your transition to parenthood like?

Michelle: Funny, it sounds like there are some similarities — my husband is self-employed, like I am, and he was willing to share care of our daughter. So while our transition to parenthood was exhausting and confusing in all the typical ways, I really had a lot of freedom to continue my career — and I don’t think I would have the same kind of flexibility with a larger family. In some ways, I think of my job as a second child! My daughter would win in a pinch, of course, but my job is something I love and want to nurture — and it’s something that would and could take all my time if I let it. How did you and your partner arrange care?

Jessa: To begin with, Sam had nine months of paid parental leave through a government job. But Oliver’s also had full-time childcare from a very early age. And it’s one of the reasons I don’t worry so much about the cultural truism that only children are poorly socialized — in daycare, Oliver has a much more social life than I do myself. It’s funny — anecdotally it feels like we’re in a tiny minority and bucking expectations, but single-child families now make up almost half of Canadian family units, according to the latest Canadian census. Doesn’t feel like it somehow, perhaps because for every four-sibling household, for example, there are four people telling their friends they have a big family. So it starts to feel like big families are the norm. Did you have outside pressure to have another?

Michelle: Our social circle has a lot of one-child families in it, so I don’t feel pressure from friends to have another child — and of course my parents only had one, so they’re happy with one granddaughter. I’ve wondered when and if my daughter would ask for a sibling — she loves babies, and often talks about other kids’ sisters and brothers — but so far she hasn’t. Sometimes she’ll say “Some people have two sisters, or two brothers, but you and me, Mama, we don’t have any sisters OR brothers, just us!” That doesn’t seem to be a bad thing to her, at least not yet. Does your son ever talk about siblings?

Jessa: It hasn’t come up yet, but then it’s still a novelty that Papa is Daddy’s Daddy, etc. There’s plenty of time for it to come up, but he has cousins around his age. For me also, resources are an issue. Not just financial ones — although it takes about a quarter-million dollars per child to raise them, not including help with college — but also time, patience, and attention, all of which are finite. I really admire people who can make room for three, four, five, or more people who need all of that — but I’m not sure I’m cut out for it, and I wouldn’t want to try only to find out that I’m not!!

Michelle: I know what you mean — and since I didn’t grow up with siblings, I feel clueless about sibling rivalry. I’m afraid I wouldn’t have the energy to handle it, and I’m also afraid I wouldn’t know how to — while in raising an only child, I can draw on my own experiences. As far as resources, I’ve thought about all the ones you mention, and also about planetary resources — I know some people feel very deeply that they don’t have a complete family without multiple kids, and I wouldn’t want to restrict or criticize people who have larger families. But I’m glad, just for resource-use reasons, that I feel like our family is complete with one child. Is that something you thought about?

Jessa: Honestly, I doubt it would have kept me from having another. I think I can understand people who feel two or more children make a complete family, because it’s a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference — the same reason I decided against it. As soon as the children equal or outnumber the adults, the culture of a family becomes kid-centred. The degree of chaos seems to increase exponentially. I value my peace, and with one I can still have it. Also, it’s quite an elegant and portable (quite literally) number of children, in my mind. I’ve heard people talk about worrying that if one child’s life goes awry, you’d still have another to bank on. Do you ever worry about all your eggs in one basket?

Michelle: I think I worry about that on a very deep gut level, for instance when it comes to my daughter’s safety — maybe I’m unconsciously aware that my entire genetic heritage is running around in one tiny package! But on a more conscious level, no, I’m not worried about that. Maybe one of the advantages of being a somewhat older parent — I was 34 when I had my daughter — is that I had my own identity well established when I became a parent, so I don’t worry about her life going “awry” for anything but her own sake. I don’t feel attached to her attaining any kind of traditional success, unless that’s what she wants for herself. Does that make sense?

Jessa: We’re totally in line on that one — I resent the notion that kids are just future adults, too. I think they’re legitimate humans at every age, and a lot of people lose sight of that!

Michelle: Do you ever think about having another? I don’t in any serious way, but sometimes I have the urge to witness the whole awesome transition from infancy to kidhood again — now that I’m more awake and not so shell-shocked. It’s as if I’d like to watch the movie a second time.

Jessa: Many of my decisions are very context-driven, so I wouldn’t rule it out. This is going on the internet forever, so if my future second child is out there reading it, I’m sure I had a great reason for having you!!


Image: iStockPhoto

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5 thoughts on “Motherhood: Two for One

  1. Love that last line! We’re thinking of stopping at one but feel a lot of pressure to keep going. It’s tough to know the *right* thing to do but if we just stay at one, I think that will be okay, too.

    This is a great series — thanks to all of you!

  2. All fine and dandy, but if you are really certain you only want to have one child, be sure to have whatever surgery is necessary to keep it that way! I believed all of what you say, until my second arrived 10 years after the first….surprise!!! Nature often has plans different than yours!!

  3. Thank you for writing this! I’m the daughter of an incredibly engaged mother (and father). I have two siblings. My mother was a dedicated stay-at-home mom and did an amazing job of it.

    I am continually in awe of the fact that she managed to nurture three children into well-adapted, functional adults, but I’m not sure I have the ability to do that. A family with one little one seems like a much more attainable goal for me, particularly since I have neither the option nor the desire to give up my career.

    I have nothing but respect for the women who do, but I am not emotionally or intellectually geared that way. Now, if I find myself in a position where my partner wanted to be a stay-at-home parent and I could financially support that, I would consider having more than one child, but not in this situation. It’s lovely to read about other women who have made similar decisions, if for different reasons!

  4. It is attachment that matters.My mom could manage to nurture four of my siblings singlehandedly.

  5. Nice discussion.

    People who are interested in the question of having one vs. more than one child might enjoy reading Bill McKibben’s book “Maybe One”. There are a lot of things to like about the book, but science-minded readers will especially enjoy the author’s skewering of bad 19th-century research that led to a century of biases against single-child families.

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Categorized in: Jessa, Michelle, Miscellaneous