Presented for your headdesky consideration, The War On Only Children:
It’s especially galling to hear the contempt for onlies – that vaguely snide attitude that the real selfishness is on the part of the parents – coming as it does within a culture in which the subjects of infertility, pregnancy loss, deferred child rearing, and divorce are the stuff of idle playground chatter. If a child you know has no siblings, chances are you know the reasons why. It’s rarely because the parents are such big jerks. But whether it’s by the hand of fate or conscious decision, who’s to knock another’s choices, anyway? Why be a self-appointed Goldilocks of family size, bloviating that one is pathetic, five is pushing it, but two or three is juuuuust right?
On the surface, I have no dog in this fight. I am the youngest of seven children…but technically the other six are half-siblings, and the majority of them were teenagers by the time I was born. (My closest-in-age sibling is nine years older, and the gap goes up from there: There’s 20 years between my oldest brother and I.) So I had a semi-in-between sort of childhood: I had a heapload of siblings, but once they all moved out I spent the majority of my childhood as pretty much an only child. In fact, it really wasn’t until I was an adult that I really got to know my siblings as, you know, my brothers and sisters. They’d always been more like grown-up authority figures to me, rather than people I was expected to share my Barbies with.
Those years as an only child were awesome, except when they weren’t. Having siblings is awesome, except when it isn’t. How’s that for the wishiest of washiest perspectives?
And of course, I do not have an only child. That was our original plan — but it turns out my husband and I are pretty crappy planners who were super easily swayed by BABIES BABIES LET’S HAVE MOAR BABIES. But I can swear on my luggage that our decision to have a second…and then a third…had absolutely nothing to do with any deep-rooted belief that our oldest would be “better off” if we “gave” him a sibling.
In fact, we were confronted by the opposite belief: That we were being irresponsible and selfish by having a second baby, because our first baby has special needs. I admit we’re still a bit of an anomaly at class parties and parent get-togethers — the majority of my son’s special ed classmates are only children. Of the ones that do have siblings, the other children in the family are usually older than the special needs child, or the younger sibling is so close in age that he or she was born before the family “knew” they were dealing with a special needs diagnosis.
In fact, of all the families I’ve gotten to know personally through my son’s schools and programs, I can think of exactly two others that actually made a similar, deliberate choice to have more children in spite of “you know, THAT.” Thanks to the Internet, however, I do know that we are far from alone or *that* rare, but in our little IRL world, we are kind of oddballs.
Some of this can absolutely be attributed to statistics: Older parents are more likely to have children with special needs, so it makes sense that their decision might have been made by age or fertility, rather than anything stemming from their child’s issues. (I had Noah a few months shy of 28 years old, which is seriously considered “young” by our area’s standards.)
But of course, I can’t ignore the “other” reasons many of these kids are onlies, the reasons I’ve gotten raised eyebrows from people and a handful of not-very-nice comments on the Internet: What if having additional children takes away time, attention and financial resources that your special needs child requires? What if you have ANOTHER child with delays or difficulties? What if you don’t, and the typical sibling feels neglected while the other child feels frustrated and left behind and instead of a wonderful close relationship there’s one of competition and caretaking and on and on it goes.
Do I think that those other parents did their child some kind of disservice by only having one? NO. Do I think that I did my child some kind of disservice by having more than one? NO. Do I ever just sometimes want to collapse from exhaustion after thinking about all the many, many bajillion different ways we’ve found to judge each other’s decisions and shriek UR DOIN IT WRONG at every possible occasion? YES.
Do I ever wish we could all just get along, or barring that, hand out the following meme like business cards?
Oh, I think you know the answer to that one already.