By Sanober Bukhari
If you follow my articles or my blog, you already know I have a daughter who is three years old and I talk about her, a lot! She is the inspiration behind my writing and motivates me to share my stories with you. I couldn’t imagine my life without her (the good and bad) and just recently I started to wonder if maybe she is enough.
Before parenthood, I was not excessively maternal. I tolerated young children but lacked patience. I was amused by babies but didn’t gush with love at the sight of one. In my Pakistan Studies class in school when I learned about the efforts of NGO’s to educate on planned parenthood for the purpose of population control, I too took on the adage “Do Bachay Hee Achay” (Two children are good) seriously. But apart from that I didn’t think much of my own future children.
South Asian’s are known for their large families. My grandparents had a family of 10 siblings, my father a family of 4 children and my mother a family of 3 children. I grew up with two brothers. For me a total of two children seemed like a practical number. Anything less could not be imagined because as a culture it has been ingrained in our teachings that children are blessings. It was understood that God would provide for each new born, so the financial argument was always lost on elders (If only the stork delivered babies with a limitless bank account!)
Even in today’s generation as soon as you get married the societal pressure to pop out baby #1 starts. You already resisted the status quo by marrying late and then put your career first. Eventually you succumb because your doctor has scared your “aging eggs” to lure the next unsuspecting victim (by that I mean sperm of course) into doing the ‘dance’ and conceiving before you turn 30!
So like a good desi woman you oblige and pop one out. No sooner have you done that society is on you to get going on baby #2. They mess with your mind by saying “Oh look at the baby she’s looking through her legs to call her sibling”. We have all heard that one before! Nice try mother-in-law…nice try! But by the time your child is two years old you definitely have been programmed into thinking perhaps it’s time to try for the next one. Your befuddled mama brain convinces you the finances will sort out, may as well make use of these child bearing hips which don’t seem to be going anywhere. You somehow get the hubby on board (quite literally). Then the unexpected happens bringing your cruise control to a shrieking halt. You miscarry.
Having a baby suddenly became serious. In my naiveté I assumed if things worked out the first time around why wouldn’t they the second time. I went through the motions but internally I started to question my position on children. Looking around I realized I was surrounded by parents with an only child, so I paid closer attention.
There is a stigma associated with having a single or only child. In fact just the term ‘only’ implies loneliness and a solitary life. At least the French have a better sounding term for it “enfant unique.” Although it translates to the same thing, wouldn’t it be nice to hear “One of a Kind” child instead of “Onlies” or “Singletons”? Despite this stigma, society is experiencing a shift in family dynamics. According to a US Census between 1976 and 1998 there was a jump in the only-child population from 9.6% to more than 17% and during those same years the percentage of families with 3 or more children shrank by 21%. Times have clearly changed as the single-child family is growing at a faster rate than families with two children. So let’s bust some myths and at the very least shock every family matriarch’s belief system, Saasu-Ma (MIL) included!
MYTHS OF THE “ONE & DONE” CLUB
Selfish Parents: Firstly this decision is not always a choice as an aging biological clock, financial constraints, health concerns or trauma of a previous loss takes precedence over having another child. The adoption route is not necessarily an easy one for everyone either. So it is unfair and hurtful to label them selfish. Secondly, it really is a matter of personal lifestyle & choice so perhaps what works for one family may not work for others. It is no one else’s business.
“Onlies” Are Spoilt: If you’re an only child you will be getting a lot of attention which can make you self-centred however you can still be spoilt in a family of two or three which is attributed to the parenting style of ‘giving in’ to their children all the time. In fact research shows that constant attention to single kids gives them higher self-esteem and self-worth.
Sibling Socialization: An only child will eventually learn socialization and sharing skills in school and through play dates and it is not just learned by having siblings. There is also no guarantee that your child will have a healthy relationship with their siblings. Often competitive & aggressive behaviour with brothers and sisters can be emotionally scarring. Also what the child misses out in a healthy bond with their potential sibling they often find it in cousins or by making close friends who become like family to them. Only children also benefit from both the first born and last born birth order dynamics.
Always Around Adults: Just because there aren’t any other children in the home doesn’t mean there can’t be children in the house. More of an effort has to be made to encourage play dates and forge friendships with other moms (especially in the early years) so your child benefits from the interaction with other children. Only children also benefit from a stronger parent-child bond which lasts into adulthood. The constant interaction with their parents allows them to develop good language skills, confidence and maturity and strong values which help them resist peer pressure at school.
Only the Lonely: To add to the guilt these parents suffer many family members are quick to ask them what will happen when their only-child needs to deal with the eventual death of their parents alone since he won’t have a sibling to lean on for support, or just to deal with the burden of a sick parent without help from siblings? These are rather cruel questions to pose and something that all parents worry about in any case regardless of the number of children they have. I’m sure all parents would like to think their children single or several would have forged healthy relationships apart from relatives to have a good support system into their adult lives.
After becoming a parent, the love I experience daily is extraordinary and I would want to have that again in another little version of me and my husband, if it is meant to be. But I will not let society guilt me into fulfilling some ‘standard’ of the ideal family structure. I know it will take the desi community some time (if ever) to adjust to this single-child concept. Their concern will inevitably be about legacy and carrying on “The Family Name”. Maybe let’s not break the news to your 90 year old grandfather just yet!
As for me, whether I have one or five kids down the line I know that my “one of a kind” daughter will always be enough.
Are you a single-child family? How do you deal with pressure from society? Share your experiences with us!
Source: The Only Child Project The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide Susan Newman: The Case for the Only Child Parenting & Child Health Only Child Guilt: 5 Reasons it’s cool to stop at one
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Love this! As parents who adore our daughter, people always ask when we will have another. My response is simple “Why have another when I feel I’ve already won the lottery with the family I have?” I do not think I am selfish (health issues), I do think my child will be spoiled with love, and I never have to worry about sibling rivalry or being outnumbered by my kids 😉
Thanks Shweta! Glad you have such a positive outlook on it and that is how one should be!
This is wonderful! I have one daughter as well, and quite literally went through what you describe. I had a miscarriage earlier this year, but the pregnancy itself wasn’t planned. We were happy with just one (who is now almost 6) and the pregnancy made us feel like, “Okay, well another one would be great.” When we lost the baby it brought back all the feelings of are we “REALLY” okay with just one, because of the guilt from EVERYONE ELSE who downplayed the emotional trauma of the miscarriage by saying “Oh just try again”. Mostly aunties of course.
You’re right, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having one child. I agree with everything you’ve listed above. She’s a strong, curious, independent yet enormously loving little girl who has absolutely completed my world. Thanks for writing this!
Hi Sarah. The emotional trauma of a miscarriage is difficult so I hope you have given yourself time to heal. It really is aggravating when it gets downplayed. For me I had to learn to look beyond what I had lost to appreciate what I have. Drown out the noise from everyone else and whatever you decide you’ll always still have your one-of-a-kind daughter to cherish!
We also have one daughter. Had a son before her who passed away and a miscarriage after her. Needless to say..having ‘another’ is highly questionable.
I’ve explored the only child challenges and benefits in my parentong blog too. I think the Desi culture has the most difficult time accepting that an only child is as healthy as one w siblings. I suppose as our generation matures, concepts will slowly change.
Ps. Great post
Sarah! It’s moms like you who inspire me with the incredible strength and resilience you possess while dealing with society’s cultural baggage.
I enjoy your posts on Trippy Triangle! My best to your family.
Great thoughts on this topic. My wife writes about her experience as an only child, the pros and the cons. I thought it might add to this already great discussion: