Yesterday, the Huffington Post resurrected a clarion call sounded earlier this year by author Lauren Sandler: If you want a successful career while pursuing motherhood, it’s possible—if, that is, you limit yourself to one child.
“The second child makes it more than twice as hard,” feminist writer Linda Hirshman said in a Huff Post Women column written by Keli Goff. Goff helps make Hirshman’s case by citing data showing that women suffer more economic penalties for every child they have.
Sandler, the author of the book “One and Only,” takes both a narrow and wide view in a piece published on her website, citing her own happy, close-to-carefree experiences as the mother of one along with research that shows singleton parents are able to “balance the profound joys of parenting with the constant clamor of the rest of our lives.”
For women who have decided to have one child, this is encouraging news. For women who are still in the throes of family planning, this is helpful information.
But for those of us who already have more than one child, let’s not mince words: It’s downright depressing. It’s hard not to take these reports personally and draw an unfortunate conclusion that, unless we’re superwomen, we might as well start using our resumes to line birdcages.
The optimist in me, however beaten up and battle-scarred she may be, is fighting this thought. I’d like to believe that I didn’t sacrifice my career satisfaction to have a second child. But even if it turns out I did, I won’t let it get me down.
Here is where I make a statement so uncontroversial it borders on banal: I don’t regret having my second child. I think most mothers, even the most driven career women, would say the same. The reasoning is obvious: How can you look at your child’s beautiful face and regret your decision to have him?
But I’m going to go one step beyond the obvious and say this. I wanted a second child not just for myself but for the sake of my first son. I know that research highlighted by Sandler shows that only children fare no worse and often better than those with siblings, but I was motivated by personal experience. I grew up with a sister. We remain close to this day. Our shared childhood means that she understands me in ways that no one else ever will. I can’t imagine my life without her.
I’m not saying every child must have a sibling or that parents should feel guilty if they choose to have just one child. Plenty of siblings don’t get along or are estranged. I knew that before I got pregnant with my second child. But my thinking was that if there was even a chance I could help give my son something similar to what I have with my sister, I wanted to do it.
So I did.
But to accommodate that life-altering choice, I made another. I chose to leave my full-time job. Like so many other women, I scaled back. I still do what I’ve always done. I write, report, edit, and make wisecracks when appropriate (and often when inappropriate because I really can’t help myself). But I now do less professional work because Hirshman is right, the second child makes it more than twice as hard.
For now, I’ve learned to relish small victories from the work I manage to do—an encouraging word from an editor or a thoughtful message from a Facebook follower. Does it compare to the thrill of landing a big-name interview or breaking a story? No, it doesn’t, but it’s something.
Combine that with the moments I witness every day between my two young boys—the jumping, the tickling, the smiling, the giggling—and it adds up to a lot.
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