Why I Chose to Have an Only Child, and the Joy It’s Brought Me
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When my daughter was born, I had a period of euphoria. I would awake before dawn, checking things off my to-do list that had been there for years. I would look at my baby and feel emotions so strong that I thought I might burst. I’d been hesitant about becoming a parent, but in those first weeks, I finally understood why people wanted to have kids. I understood why they might immediately begin planning to have more.
I didn’t know right away that I wanted to keep our little family the size it was. A friend told me not to even think about it until my daughter was 18 months old, but of course I thought about it.
As she met milestones and members of my family, I thought about how our dynamic would change if we added another person to our lives. I wondered what kind of mom I would be to two kids, or even more. I thought about the kind of mom I wanted to be. I felt lucky that I got to make a choice at all, especially since so many of my friends have struggled to conceive, miscarried, or had unexpected pregnancies before they felt ready.
After more than a year of thinking, weighing the options, lingering in only-child Facebook groups, and reading lots of books, I knew that our family was the right size. Thankfully, my husband agreed.
I hadn’t realized the space that decision was taking up in my mind until it was gone. Suddenly, I felt like I’d woken up in my life in a new way. Every step and word and new thing my daughter was learning seemed to stand out. I wanted to be as present as I could, to remember as much as was possible, because these weren’t only firsts, they were lasts, just as it always is, with every kid, if we think about it.
Of course, the days are still long, and the years are still short with one child. I still wish the hard moments to move quickly by and I want to hold onto the good ones just as tightly as I did when joy consumed me after her birth. Still, it’s nice to say to myself, during those three-nager moments: you only have to do this once.
I grew up in a family of four, along with my parents and brother. That was the only family I knew from the inside, and I’m sure that background shaped my expectations about what life would be. But there was a freedom in making a different choice, one that seemed to suit the people we actually were.
Before I met my husband and had our daughter, I bought a cozy little house in my then well-priced hometown. Now, my daughter frolics through the halls, and I don’t have to worry that our family will outgrow it or wonder how we would afford something larger. It’s just the right size.
I love the feeling of going through clothes when she’s growing or the season is over and knowing that there is no reason to hold onto everything. I can pass them down to friends and reclaim the space in my closets. When we no longer need that baby carrier, stroller, or carseat, it can make its way out of my life.
I’m finding that I’m choosier about what I’m buying for my daughter, knowing we’ll only use it once, sometimes for a very short window. If I let that mindset inform me, it reminds me that she doesn’t need quite so many toys, and that the clothes will only be worn by one small person. We can be moderate.
With three, there’s more room for each of us. My husband and I each can take over so the other partner can pursue a goal, or simply take a break from the daily-ness of life. My daughter gets lots of special time one on one, with both of her parents.
Perhaps most beautiful of all: when she naps or goes to bed at night, all my kids are asleep.
It isn’t just about joy, of course, I chose to keep our family small because I’m trying to honor my own limits and needs. I didn’t want to say yes to another child at the expense of the one I have now, or my marriage, or myself. I knew that this choice was the best way to act on my values.
But the truth is, I’m mostly not thinking about the size of our family, or the limitations we might possess. I’m thinking about the beautiful person my daughter is becoming, about the fun we are making now and the adventures we will create in the future. I’m thinking about how lucky I feel to be her mom. To wake in the morning for snuggles, and not have to split my attention.
As she grows, I hope she continues to know what has become increasingly clear to me: she is so much more than just enough. Each of us, together, makes our family whole.