In Defense Of The Only Child

By Jess
14 Feb 2022

Marin turned 2 earlier this month, so naturally the question of if and when I’ll have another child has come up quite a bit. People first started asking when I was pregnant, because creating one human life isn’t enough, you must be thinking about more!

I vividly remember an encounter I had with a contractor at our house a few weeks after Marin was born. He asked if she was our first, to which I replied “first and last.” I laughed. I was also dead serious. He looked at me almost puzzled, and replied “No don’t say that. She needs a sibling.”

Does she though? The look on my face must have displayed rage because it got awkward and quiet, and I don’t remember where the conversation went after that. My inner monologue went something like, how about you vomit so hard you pop blood vessels in your face? Throw up so much you lose over 10 lbs and are so weak you faint, a lot. At the time, I was still bleeding from childbirth and only a few days recovered from delayed postpartum hemorrhage, an experience where I thought I might die, and which left me with PTSD. But go ahead, tell me how I should do it all again.

Just an innocent comment though right? Or was it a glaring example of how detached our society is from pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum? In a country with no guaranteed paid maternity leave, no universal healthcare, no universal pre-K or childcare, eroding reproductive rights, and a maternal mortality rate that ranks 10th among similar wealthy nations, it’s pretty clear we’re an afterthought.

Speaking on parenthood recently, the Pope criticized people for having pets instead of children, and went so far as to scold those who “only have one.” Pretty rich coming from a childless man. But it speaks to the lack of care and understanding around what it takes to carry a pregnancy, birth a child, and then care for it.

The average cost to raise a child according to the USDA is $14,846 for a middle class two-parent household. That’s interesting, because a little back of the napkin math puts my childcare bill at around $17,000 (just for the school year) and that’s considered “affordable.” I’m curious how they got those numbers. With insurance, the cost of my pregnancy was somewhere around $4000, the cost of childbirth another $3000 ($1200 for my epidural, because it’s not “medically necessary”), and then another $1200 for my postpartum hemorrhage because there’s no free rides, even if you’re bleeding out! That’s over $8000 during the time I should have been saving to take time off postpartum, because I’m self-employed and have no paid maternity leave.

Of course I’m one of the lucky ones, because I was able to pay those bills. In America, nearly 11 million children are poor. That’s 1 in 7 kids, who make up almost one-third of all people living in poverty in this country. America’s economic systems are not designed to support families, and the US has no comprehensive social safety net.

The truth is though, I never wanted more than one kid, and that’s ok. You don’t need a reason or an excuse. Infertility, medical concerns, the cost of raising children, job security, climate change, all valid reasons to stop at one, but simply not wanting any more is valid too.

The myth that only children are spoiled, bossy, lonely, and “maladjusted” dates back to the 1800s thanks to G. Stanley Hall, an influential psychologist and first president of the American Psychological Association, who said being an only child was “a disease in itself.” He was also a proponent of eugenics, so there’s that. The truth is, the myths have been debunked. Can only children be spoiled, lonely or bossy? Yes, and so can kids with siblings.

About 20 percent of US households are single child families, and it’s the fastest growing family unit in America. I don’t care if you have one, none or six children, to each their own. I’m happy with the one. That should be reason enough.

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48 Comments

  1. Betsy Z wrote:

    Thank you for this. I’m an only child and have loved being an only child my whole life. It teaches you independence, curiosity, and self-worth. I learned to never be afraid to be alone, and thus was able to build meaningful relationships and wait for a partner that was the right fit for me. All very important things. ❤️

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That sounds absolutely wonderful. Thanks for sharing Betsy.

      2.14.22 | Reply
  2. Victoria wrote:

    Not medically necessary? It’s anaesthesia ffs.

    Good for you.

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Welcome to the American healthcare system.

      2.14.22 | Reply
  3. Jessica Camerata wrote:

    Say it louder for the people in the back! We don’t talk about this enough thank you for bringing it to light! I’m hoping through conversations like this we are raising a generation that won’t make a lot of these same mistakes.

    xo Jessica
    an indigo day

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thanks Jess

      2.14.22 | Reply
  4. I think the stigma, as you said, around only children is just so strong in the minds of older generations that it takes stories like this to show that one, two, or seven kids are just fine! It’s all about the parents who raise them and the mental and physical well-being of all parties involved.

    We hope to have a 2nd one day but that’s our own opinion and I’d never press that on anyone.

    Thanks for the great blog post, Jess!

    xx
    Cathy, your Poor Little It Girl
    https://poorlittleitgirl.com

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thanks Cathy!

      2.14.22 | Reply
  5. Kristen wrote:

    I love this post! I’m an only child and although I always wanted a sibling, I can see the positives it created for me now. My parents were older when they had me and they were happy with just one, it was the right decision for them and I can respect that. I wish others would not project what they want for themselves onto others. When I was pregnant with my second and had him at 27 weeks, there were still people (including family members) that asked me if I was going to have a third. The rage I felt with these questions after spending 70 days in the NICU, sent me through the roof. People need to remember that they have no idea what others have gone through and what has brought them to these choices and should therefore keep their opinions and prying questions to themselves. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Ugh I can imagine that would be so painful and rage inducing to be asked those questions after such a traumatic experience. Thank you for sharing Kristen.

      2.14.22 | Reply
  6. Laure wrote:

    Same same same! I often think that even one child is a compromise for some. A beautiful, joyful compromise to be sure, but not everyone wants 2 or even 1. For me, one has been wonderful. And I know I would have had a full and amazing life child free.

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Yes totally agree.

      2.14.22 | Reply
  7. Laura wrote:

    Thanks for this! We’re thinking of starting a family and one seems enough for us.

    2.14.22 | Reply
  8. Sallie Simpson wrote:

    I feel seen! Thank you, thank you for your words. I too had similar pregnancy and delivery issues, and could not imagine having any more. My almost fifteen year old daughter is my world and I often feel there are so few families like ours. We shouldn’t have to justify our decisions. Truly wonderful post.

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thank you Sallie!

      2.14.22 | Reply
  9. Rachel wrote:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m always curious at people that say time will erase the effects of a traumatic childbirth and make you ready for another — as if it won’t continue to affect you. It doesn’t have to be that way and children can thrive no matter how many siblings they have. Have a great week, Jess!

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That’s the truth! Thanks Rachel.

      2.14.22 | Reply
  10. Maria wrote:

    I have one child. I’ve mentioned this on your other platform but up until the time my child was 20 years old, I kept getting asked about a second. Now the comments are geared more towards, “you should have” or “don’t you wish…” I do not and have never wanted a second. There’s nothing wrong with more than one but it was wrong for me.
    I don’t live in the US. It cost me nothing to have a baby and I had a decent paid maternity leave. But if I knew having a baby would have put me in debt before even being born, I wouldn’t have done it.

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Pretty wild how expensive it is to have a child in America.

      2.14.22 | Reply
  11. Samantha wrote:

    I loved reading this! I am an only who comes from a line of only children and my husband I have an only(a son). I had a wonderful life and I’m very grateful for the special bond my parents and I have. Having a child later in life was eye opening and a learning experience for me and my husband both. I try to show myself grace as a mama and when someone tells me that my son needs a sibling, my reply is that he needs a sane parent even more.

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Yes that is so true! It’s really interesting because there have been studies that show onlies end up having onlies and are very happy with their decision. I haven’t read it but Susan Newman’s book looks interesting on raising only children. She speaks to that.

      2.14.22 | Reply
  12. GB wrote:

    *applause* I have one child after battling years of infertility and then suffering post-partum anxiety and depression. I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t go through all of it again. But the comments from both family members and strangers alike about my only child are infuriating. (Thank goodness for my tremendous friends who have been there for me through it all.) Thank you, thank you for this!

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thank you. I’m sorry you went through that and I’m happy you have your one!

      2.14.22 | Reply
  13. Krista wrote:

    When you’re married and don’t yet have a baby, people ask when you’re going to. When you’ve had a baby, people immediately start asking when you’ll have another. When you have two children of the same sex, people start asking if you want another of the other sex. I have two boys and I’ve been asked many times if I want to “try for a girl.” On another note, the cost of giving birth in the US is staggering. I live in Canada and I paid a grand total of $0 for medical care. And we were able to upgrade to a private hospital suite (which is $200 more per night) through my husband’s work insurance.

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Yes I’ve seen this a lot with friends who have multiples of boys or girls. The “are you going to try for xyz” as if it’s like buying a lottery ticket. The cost of giving birth and having a child in America is absurd (even WITH insurance).

      2.14.22 | Reply
  14. Stephanie wrote:

    Thank you THANK YOU for sharing this!! I am an only child and also have an only child – I’m so tired of the “oh he needs a sibling” or “but don’t you want a daughter?!” comments. Um no, raising one human is enough, I love my son, and there’s no way I’m going through another traumatic pregnancy (yes, I know they’re all different, but my trauma says no thanks). I loved being an only child growing up and still love it, and I love knowing that I can provide my son what he needs without having to juggle another person’s needs too (not counting my own of course). The more dialogue about this, the better, so again, thank you!

    2.14.22 | Reply
  15. Nora beirne wrote:

    I love how you presented this, Jess! Thoughtful as always. Some of the greatest and most accomplished people I know are only children and regardless of people’s opinions we need to stop making it so common place to ask or worse joke about only children.

    2.14.22 | Reply
  16. Cheri wrote:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing this out in the open. After a similarly life-threatening birth, we are one and done. And the thing is, even though I know the traumatic experience obviously influences our decision (and even though there are bittersweet “milestone” moments, knowing he’s our only) I know, deep down, that this would have been the right decision for me no matter what. I’m just not a nurture-y, baby-doting person by nature, and my son’s first 1.5 years were a blur of anxiety and sleeplessness.

    I have a theory that parents of multiple kids tell themselves the story that having siblings is superior to growing up an only because (since raising kids is so freaking hard) they have to somehow justify their decision to themselves. I mean, once your kid’s born, no loving parent is going to admit: Oops, maybe we shouldn’t have had a second! Or third, etc. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having lots of kids, of course! But there are advantages and disadvantages to all family structures (not to mention reasons for them) and it’s time we acknowledge that.

    2.14.22 | Reply
  17. Haley wrote:

    Thank you for this! I’m currently 34 weeks pregnant with our first and likely last child. People keep joking that as soon as we become parents we will want more children. It’s annoying. Although we may change our minds, we are pretty set and happy with just having the upcoming one. And after some fertility issues, we are honestly excited to have made it this far. We decided early on that we don’t want to put a financial and career strain on our family and relationship with multiple children and that works for us. No one should need to explain or justify whether or not they want kids and how many. To each their own!

    2.14.22 | Reply
  18. Noel wrote:

    Siblings aren’t always perfect either! I grew up with a mentally ill sister and we have been estranged for 10+ years. I hate to be made to feel like if you have a sibling they are your automatic best friend. Sometimes they are abusive, sometimes it isn’t sunshine and rainbows. Normalize different family structures!

    2.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Very true Noel. Family structures are all different and can be complicated and difficult. Thanks for sharing.

      2.21.22 | Reply
  19. Suzanne wrote:

    We have one and always planned for two, but where we live, between the cost of childcare, the general pandemic exhaustion and being career-focused… it’s too hard! This country does not make it easy to have two working parents. Most days I feel like we’re barely hanging on and I think introducing another kid would just totally zap us. So one, very loved kid it is!

    2.14.22 | Reply
  20. Sarah wrote:

    Just another example of how we should be respecting all choices when it comes to creating families–one child, multiple children, no children! Each is valid and it’s none of our business how someone else chooses to live their lives.

    2.15.22 | Reply
  21. Erin wrote:

    Thank you for this! ❤️ As an only child who grew up with a constant questioning of my happiness because I didn’t have any siblings (as if that’s something I could even control), I appreciate you bringing attention to this. I know an awful lot of spoiled, self-centered people who aren’t only children. It has nothing to do with that. And my parents never regretted their decision. In fact, my mom always said how easy it was to just tote me along everywhere. I learned to be ok with being by myself. I go places alone, eat in restaurants alone, see movies alone, etc. I’m very happy in my own company. Not saying those with siblings can’t do those things, but I think being an only child really contributed to it. Again, thank you for this very thoughtful post!

    2.15.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Love this Erin. Thank you for sharing.

      2.21.22 | Reply
  22. Liz K. wrote:

    Thank you for writing this! My husband and I are due with our first child next month and whenever I make the comment that this is our first and last, it’s brushed off or acknowledged with a “you’ll change your mind”. I have had a very easy pregnancy for the most part, my healthcare coverage is “good” (by US standards, whatever that’s worth), and I do get a maternity leave, albeit minimal at best. Having one child is still a very conscious decision my husband and I have made and comments that disregard that are hurtful and thoughtless.

    2.18.22 | Reply
  23. Kelly wrote:

    As a mother of one almost 5 year old, thank you!! We did IVF to have our daughter and while I could do it again, I do not want to. My family feels complete and we are able to provide her a life that we simply couldn’t afford if we had more children. She goes to a wonderful independent school, has deep relationships with friends and extended family, and will travel as she gets older. Even though I am not often asked when we’ll have another, I often feel judged or like my parenthood does not count because I “only have one”. Parenting is hard and wonderful no matter how many children we have 🙂

    2.18.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      “Parenting is hard and wonderful”…that’s the truth! Thank you Kelly

      2.21.22 | Reply
  24. Maggie wrote:

    I appreciate this well written opinion full of awesome stats on families and our less than stellar set up here in the US for rearing kids. I am an only child, who happened to always want a sibling. But I can attest to a full and wonderful life, with 2 amazing parents, who simply couldn’t have another for valid reasons of their own. I truly have to agree with the sentiment of – to each his own. There is no one right way to approach any of this!!!

    2.18.22 | Reply
  25. Anne Walker wrote:

    Thank you for this post! I have a three year old daughter and for many reasons, we are not having another child. I literally got asked while still IN THE HOSPITAL after my emergency c-section, when we’d have another one. I hear from people a lot that she needs a sibling. It makes me so mad!

    2.18.22 | Reply
  26. Lynn wrote:

    I was one of three girls . I think it was because my mom was an only child . It was a busy and noisy household. Even my grandma lived with us for a time . I preferred my friend to my siblings and truth be told we all grew up with our own unique quirks . I have seen raising my own two that life gave them problems no matter how I tried to give them everything I learned in my life. You do your best so you can be your best and the rest one, two or more doesn’t even matter ! She’ll be great Jess!!

    2.19.22 | Reply
  27. Jillian wrote:

    Thank you for this conversation. I was never sure I wanted kids. Then after a four year battle with infertility (and anxiety and depression), I experienced an easy pregnancy and birth followed by a bout with PPD. I had my son at almost 39 and by the time I felt emotionally and physically recovered enough to even consider a second child, I couldn’t fathom going through that experience again. In the meantime, I left the job that paid for all my fertility treatments, medical care, and family leave to work for myself, so we would have been completely on our own if we chose to have a second child. Like you, we could afford it but it didn’t seem justified. When we had our son, our family felt complete. He’s four now, and I love that it’s just the three of us.

    2.19.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thank you for sharing Jillian. Our family feels complete too.

      2.21.22 | Reply
  28. Kirsten wrote:

    Thank you for this! My husband and I have been waffling a 2nd after infertility and a similar pregnancy and postpartum experience to you. So much societal pressure that I don’t honestly know how I truly feel.

    2.19.22 | Reply
  29. Aimee wrote:

    I needed this. I’ve always wanted two children. But after developing pre-eclampsia and HELLP and delivering my first at 26 weeks, followed by a 111 day NICU stay, I don’t think a second baby is in the cards for me. (Not to say that it’s guaranteed I’d have similar complications again, in case anyone is reading this in a similar situation. The risks are higher for sure and I’m just a risk-adverse person.) As I donate her baby clothes rather than keeping them for a possible future second baby, it stings. So hearing so many positive thoughts and stories about only children is greatly appreciated.

    2.19.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I’m so sorry you went through that Aimee. Thanks for sharing your story, and sending you and your family love.

      2.21.22 | Reply
  30. Claire wrote:

    I have one child, age 10. He was adopted at birth. We went through years of fertility treatments and all our dreams came true when our son came into our lives. We thought (assumed) we would adopt another child , but we soon realized that was not the path for us. 10 years in to parenting and we have had a few moments where we wonder “what if”, but more than anything we soak in the moments we have as a family
    Of 3.

    2.19.22 | Reply
  31. lea wrote:

    I wish everyone would read this. I had absolutely no idea about the myth associated with a man who was linked with eugenics. It prompted me to read about it more elsewhere, and this whole concept is so mind-blowing. Society has ingrained in our minds that only children are rotten and narcissistic. As an only child, I am neither of those things. This really was a refreshing and eye opening read; thank you!

    4.3.22 | Reply