Only Child vs. Sibling: How many kids make the perfect family size?Thalia A-M Bruehl
I was a 13-year-old only child when the director of my dance studio pulled me aside and asked if I thought my family might have room to house another student, Lydia, while she worked out some issues at home. Lydia was 19 at the time, and though she wasn’t quite ready to move out on her own, she was very ready to move on from her own family.
The first few weeks she slept in my bed next to me, ate macaroni and cheese with me, watched bad movies beside me and occasionally drove me to school. Things became slightly more permanent within six months; Lydia was given the downstairs guest room and joined us on a family vacation. At 22, she asked to take our last name, and just after Lydia turned 23, my father put on a suit, my mother a dress, and we took an afternoon trip to court and legally carved out a place for her in our family. Yes, there is such a thing as adult adoption.
Living my first 13 years of life as an only child, then becoming a younger sister has provided me with an unusual perspective on the only child debate. In the days that it was just me, I was privy to adult nights out with my mother, a little mini-me dressed up and taken to drag bars in Manhattan, and special father-daughter bonding moments – a scratchy cheek against my head, catching hail in red plastic cups on our old wooden porch. I have fond memories of those times when I was all that held their attention, the days when it was only my hand in my father’s. But we were three, and as I experienced daily until my early teens, groups of three are difficult – someone can easily be left out.
I have told my husband multiple times that it was Lydia who completed my family, that we didn’t feel quite whole until she arrived. Suddenly I had a playmate. When my mother was with my father I could be with Lydia. When my mom and I made dinner, Lydia and my dad watched golf. It was a perfect math problem, a human game of pairs, and everyone had a dance partner. And maybe best of all, I no longer had to sleep on a cot in my parents’ hotel room when we traveled; Lydia and I got our own room, and our own large room service bill. (Note: Getting in trouble is also more fun when you have a partner in crime.)
My husband and I weren’t together for more than a few weeks before the topic of children came up. Though we’re not yet ready to start expanding our brood beyond our dear dog, kids are very much on our minds; I have written more than 8,000 words on bathing babies. I teach children when I’m not writing, and I make videos with my husband for our future child, whom we call “Lovie.”
When I think about our theoretical Lovie, this child who I am so excited to meet, it occurs to me that as much as I will want to be there to support him or her, hear the juicy secrets and witness the important moments, Lovie may not necessarily want to share all of it with Mom or Dad. Oh, how I loved calling my sister to tell her about new boyfriends, my first tattoo, a cockroach in the kitchen, new shoes, etc., etc! I want that for Lovie, the ease of talking with family without the pressure of talking to a parent.
I am also clear on this: I want time with my husband. He is in every sense of the word my partner, and I plan on keeping him as such for the rest of my life. I never want any child feeling like the third-wheel, but I also don’t plan to give up my relationship with my husband for my children. To me, the greatest gift a child can receive is a loving family in which the parents have a healthy and thriving partnership.
What I hope for is what Lydia gave my parents and me, a family of four. I want to be in the kitchen with one child while my husband is out in the garden with the other. I want to have date nights without feeling like I’m leaving a child behind alone. I want eight arms and eight legs all wrapped around one another on the couch in front of a fire at Christmas. I want each member of my family to know they’ll always have a partner.
When I’ve finished the great American novel and my husband has written a Broadway-worthy play, we’ll see if we’re lucky enough to realize our dream. We’ll see if all the parenting conversations we’ve shared will hold any weight, if we’ll be able to maintain the laughter we engage in so frequently, if Lovie will have his eyes or mine, and what Lovie will want to name our fourth.