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July 17, 2008

The one and only

Kid_crop_61608 A friend of mine sometimes agonizes over her decision to have only one child. She had that child several years ago, and she and her husband are actually pretty content with how things are going most of the time. The agonizing starts up when she starts feeling judged and second-guessed by other people over something that really shouldn't be anyone business except hers and her husband's, and that's when she'll ask her friends for support and validation.

I'm happy to offer her that support - although I wish she didn't feel like she needed it. I made the same decision - just one child - many years ago, and I really didn't do much agonizing or second-guessing over it at all. I was quite certain while still in my teens that one child would be enough for me. And even though I was barely out of my teens when that one child was born, I remained quite certain that one would be enough. It just takes one child to make you a parent; the way I see it, any following children don't make you more of a parent, because your identity is already established.

But I also felt pretty strongly that I wasn't, as I usually put it, "temperamentally suited" to handle more than one child. One might say that this certainty showed some self-awareness. The truth is that a lot of it was probably, more simply, self-centeredness, or perhaps self-preservation. I really didn't want to lose myself in raising children, or find my entire life revolving around them, and having only one made that seem a little more controllable.

I've known so many moms who complain and fret about never having time for themselves, and even with just one child, I've struggled with it too. The needs of the many end up outweighing the needs of the few, and the dual full-time jobs of a career and a family exert their pulls in various directions. But without at least a little time for myself built in every day - for reading, mostly, and lately for writing too - I'm just not going to function well for anyone, and as the saying goes, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Come to think of it, that's not just self-preservation - it's family preservation too. Conservation of resources, in a way.

I'm sure that other people have viewed my decision to stop with one child as suspect, and may have picked up on the aspects of selfishness within it...but people will think whatever they think, and there's not a lot you can do about it. I had several stock responses to the "Are you going to have any more?" query, and one of my favorites was "I want to see how this one turns out first." After 24 years, Son is a college graduate with a good job as an electrical engineer and a decent social life, living on his own and NOT on my couch, and a smart and personable guy to boot, so I think the verdict may be in on that one - besides, at 44, I may finally be old enough to avoid getting the question in the first place.

Then again, it's possible that no one asks that question anymore because it's apparent that I have two children now - the proverbial boy-and-girl matched set, actually. (Well, actually I have three, but anyway...) They were part of the deal when I married their father two years ago. I love them dearly, but honestly, I like it best when they're able to be with us separately. The sibling squabbles are definitely one of my reasons for describing myself as not temperamentally suited for more than one child. Again, I can see the selfishness there - there was something I didn't want to deal with on a daily basis, so I made sure I wouldn't have to. But come to think of it, now I DO have to deal with it, and it really isn't as painful as I would have thought (most of the time, anyway).

There's a five-year age difference between my stepchildren, and Stepdaughter is ten years younger than Son. After she turns eighteen, we'll probably have several years of Stepson unaccompanied by his sister all the time. Maybe what I'm suited for is "one at a time" children rather than strictly "only one" child...but I still don't question that for me, the decision to stop the child count with one was right. I hope my friend is able to stop agonizing and come to the same sense of comfort about her one child - unless she changes her mind about wanting another, of course. Then I hope she'll be just as OK with that decision - it's not for anyone else (except maybe her husband) to judge that.

An original Los Angeles Moms Blog post

Florinda also blogs at The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness, where the content includes all three - it's not just a title, it's a mission statement.

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