Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Just One?

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My husband and I both knew we wanted one child before we even got married. In part, it had to do with our own failed sibling relationships and with wanting to be able to afford many of the things our own parents could not -- exotic trips, after-school activities, expensive colleges. But whatever our motivations, they were just that, our motivations. Although I expected some dissent from both my parents and in-laws, I never imagined the public's disdain for my decision or its strongly self-imposed inclusion in it. So many people could not imagine how we could want just one child.

"Isn't she cute," someone would comment.

"Thank you," I'd reply.

"How old is she?"

"Three," I'd answer.

"Oh, well, time to get started on the next."

It was unsettling to hear a person I didn't even know suggest that I "get started." I couldn't help but think about how hurtful those words could be. For me, having a child was, thankfully, easy. And having one child was a decision. But what if I had gone to unbelievable lengths to have a child and was unable have another? Or had lost a child? Or had suffered a miscarriage? I would have been crushed by such words, regardless of the speaker's intentions. Child-bearing issues necessitate privacy -- particularly from perfect strangers, let alone friends or family.

My parents' and my in-laws' desires are understandably selfish. They want more grandchildren to love and spoil. But someone at the pharmacy checkout? It's as if once a woman has a child, her life suddenly belongs to society rather than to herself, justifying and entitling any and all intrusions. Now, I understand that all children affect all of our futures. But wouldn't that be reason enough to prompt people to have fewer children and raise them better, instead of have more and risk not having the time or resources to raise them?

The first argument I hear is that a child needs a sibling -- to learn about life and love, about sharing and individuality. Good lessons. No contest. But does a child really need a sibling for that? My daughter is as compassionate and well-balanced as the next kid, siblings or not. She has plenty of interaction with other children both at school and in our neighborhood. Besides, I know just as many selfish and unkind children with siblings as without them.

Another argument I hear is that my child will grow old alone and be left the burden of caring for my husband and myself in our old age.

"She'll have no family," they argue.

But having siblings is no guarantee for staving off loneliness or ensuring assistance with family issues either. We may not even know our siblings as adults, let alone be close enough to them to rely on them -- for anything. Families are made up of the people who you love and who love you, not of the people with whom you simply share a bloodline. Those are relatives but not necessarily family.

My husband and I made our decision to have one child based on many factors, not the least of which was our desire to "outnumber" our offspring. We are afforded the glorious luxury of the "hand-off" by which only one of us has to be "on duty." A "duty" made all the easier by having one child to care for. Having time and space to attend to myself helps me to be a better spouse and a better parent. And family, friends, and sitters alike are always more willing to take one child.

Where a person stands on children without siblings isn't the issue. The problem is people imposing their uninvited opinions on others, stomping all over personal boundaries. It's an exceptionally personal issue that involves so many finely woven factors that it simply isn't appropriate to discuss with strangers. Can you imagine desperately wanting, but being unable, to have another child and enduring admonitions from some stranger? Or spending years and every last dime to adopt one child only to have people suggest you are doing that child an injustice? And what shame one must feel knowing another child is not economically feasible and yet hearing that it is nonetheless required?

Having children is a sacred right, a private joy, and a personal responsibility. Choosing to have one child is my decision. She's not just one or the only one. For me, she is the one. And that is no one's concern but my own.

Jenny Block is a full-time professor at Strayer University, where she teaches writing, speech, and humanities. She also works as a consultant for the Newsweek Magazine Education Program (NEP). Jenny writes, edits, and presents at academic conferences throughout the year for NEP. She resides in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, Pete, and their five-year-old daughter, Hannah.

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