Choosing to Have an Only Child

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This is part 1 in a series on Raising Only Children

Go Forth and Multiply?

By Heidi Lindelof

One of my favorite things about traveling to foreign countries is meeting people and seeing how they live.   I’m curious about our differences and I’m always struck by how similar we all really are.

Ruth is a friend I made in Nigeria. Like many African woman I know,  Ruth is deeply loving (sits very close), incredibly funny (laughs very loud) and is fascinated by others (some might call it nosey).  One afternoon, while playing with my stringy blonde hair (something that amused her to no end), Ruth asked me how many brothers and sisters I had.  I told her none.  She blinked and jerked her head back as though I had said a terrible word.  She asked me to repeat myself thinking she must have misunderstood.  “I’m an only child,” I clarified.  Tisk-tisking, she shook her head.  “Awwwww Heidi, I am so, so sorry girl.”  Ruth was genuinely heartbroken for me.

I found this riveting.  Ruth has HIV.  Her husband died of AIDS and her daughter has tuberculosis.  She works in a hospital where she sees people die every day and in this moment, she felt sorry for ME.  Completely.  Like, a real sense of sadness, and even loss, for ME.

I understand that Ruth’s happiness and wealth are defined by her family.  Although she only has two daughters (because of her illness, she is not having more), she is surrounded by brothers & sisters, aunties & uncles, in-laws and all of their many children.  She assumes I am lonely.  That I grew up alone and therefore sad and in her word, “without.” I assured her that I was not only okay, I was great!  That being an only child was a wonderful experience for me, and that until that moment, no one had ever really felt sorry for me for this reason.

I reassured her.  “I loved growing up this way.  I wouldn’t change a thing.”

She didn’t believe me.  And I understood.  It’s so ingrained in the African culture – have children young and have many – thus is a full and rich life.  Theirs has often been a struggle to raise children healthily into adulthood.  And so this makes sense.  While I may not understand it in my head (hello, you can barely afford to care for one child, why are you having five?), I completely get it in my heart.

It’s been eight years since I met Ruth in Africa.  Since that time, I’ve gotten married and had a child of my own.  It will probably come as no surprise that in every correspondence we have, Ruth asks me when I’m going to have another.  She simply does not understand my desire to stop at one.

And here’s the interesting part.  Neither do my American friends.

Since my son’s birth six years ago, I have been a little confused, mostly amused and a few times offended by the issue people take with my choice.  I’ve been called irresponsible, mean, selfish, and have even been told I was hurting my son by not giving him a sibling.  Mostly, by total strangers.  Sometimes, by dear friends.  I had no idea that our decision to not have multiple children would even register for other parents, let alone be so taboo.

While most people don’t call me mean on a regular basis, many think nothing of asking WHY.  “Are you going to have more?”  This is usually asked with the assumption that the answer is some form of YES (yes, we’re trying, maybe, we’ll see, we’re thinking about it), but never a straight up NO.  So when many folks get a straight up no, the next question without hesitation is, “Why?”

I’m not sure how to even answer this.  Because I was an only child and my husband was an only child and it seemed to work out for us?  Because I’m lazy?  Because our son is perfect and we knew we couldn’t do better?  Because I forgot?

And I’m not sure I should I have to answer it.  I mean, can you imagine if a friend who already had a child, announced that she was pregnant with her second, and I looked at her and asked, “But … WHY?!”

In the beginning, it was our biological imperative to have multiple children.  And although our earth is significantly (overly?) populated, and we have a choice, it’s still very deeply rooted in the culture.  Obviously, there are many reasons parents decide to expand their families with more children.  I don’t question those reasons, because I have to believe a lot of time and thought went into that choice. I cannot tell you the number of hours my husband and I have logged (usually late at night, usually with me asking, “are we ruining our son?”) discussing whether we are ‘doing the right thing.’ But I think it’s time to move on.

We love shows like MODERN FAMILY with its depictions of all the many ways families are made today.  Yet, many still define the nuclear family as a man, a woman and two children (preferably a girl and a boy, right?).  And maybe a dog and a cat.  But as we redefine what family is, let’s consider all of it.  One mom.  Two dads.  Five kids.  No kids.  Adopted.  In vitro.  One and done?

I know in my heart that people are not trying to be cruel when they ask why we would “do that” to our son.  But it’s still a drag.  Like everyone else, we’re trying to make the best decisions we can for our family.  And for now, it means stopping at one child.  We’re a happy threesome.  And if you asked me today I’d still say, “I wouldn’t change a thing!”

Heidi Fugeman Lindelof  hails from Lexington, Kentucky.  And although she moved to Los Angeles 15 years ago to work in feature films, she is still a down-to-earth gal.  Lindelof left her 74-hour-a-week job to get married and raise their son, not realizing her new job hours would be WAY more!  (In both number and satisfaction.)

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out the first episode of our children’s series, “Ruby’s Studio: The Feeling Show,” along with our beautiful children’s booksmusichandmade dolls, and more.  Our mission is to “Help Parents Raise Good People” – we hope you will join us!

Posted in: Family, Mindfulness, Parental Wisdom

Comments (41)

  1. Tami Friedkin

    I wanted to comment on the only child issue. Not to be mean, but so many people are just not intelligent and don’t think things through. For people who say “It is rude or mean or selfish to not have more than one child for the sake of your little boy” there is nothing more false than that. I grew up as a middle girl with two brothers. The older brother was mean and abusive and the younger brother had his own issues, 7 years younger and it did not help me at all having siblings. In fact it made my life more painful. What brings happiness and well adjustment is love and kindness and caring. Wether it is s one person family, two person or 15 person family. Love, kindness, caring and good communication, those are the ingredients fir a healthy happy person. Don’t get sucked into the ignorance or such silly comments that people say about having one child. I wish my parents just had me so I could have had a more peaceful and happy life. It’s never the number, it’s the quality of people around you.


  2. judy

    I have 1 child who is 27 years old. I never even imagined having 2 children. I am the youngest child and one of the younger cousins on both sides.I babysat as a teen maybe twice and didn’t like it.As someone told me once, I’m just not a “kid” person. For me the choice was always between one and none. I was 24 years old when my son was born and almost immediately people started asking when (not if) I was going to have more kids! I adore my son and loved not having to split my time between multiple children. I get overwhelmed easily by multiple stimuli and organization is not my strong suit. I enjoy alone time more than most especially reading. So I had my tubes tied at age 25 (had to bug my OB/GYN to death about it until he gave it) and never looked back. I think God must have been telling me something because it was the best decision that I ever made. It turned out that my son had severe developmental disabilities which were not evident until he was a toddler
    and I was at increased risk for having another affected child. It would have been unmanageable. My son had a wonderful childhood full of field trips with Mom,going to the zoo,beach, amusement parks etc. Because he remained toddler-like and required hands-on constant supervision his childhood would have been severely limited if I had younger children. I also learned that it is entirely possible to love your own child like crazy and still not really care for children as a whole. No thanks, I cannot babysit for you this weekend! LOL!


  3. Jessica

    Thank you for writing this article. I have a 16 month old daughter. Before we got pregnant we decided that this would be our one and only child. I have been criticized so harshly by a family member (who is a mother of 5 boys-one of which was adopted). She does not understand my choice and says that i should not be so selfish. I have really been struggling with her words, it is good to know i am not the only one who feels this way.


  4. NANCY

    THANKYOU! you make me feel normal :) my daughter is 4 and just started kindergarten and i still can’t stop crying… literally… i’m trying to find an article that could help me with that cuz i’m “overly” emotional over having my one and only child start school and me letting her go somewhere i’m not present!


  5. Nancy

    My husband and I had one child by choice. It was wonderful until he married. Our daughter in law doesn’t care for us. Her family dominates. We raised him to always spend equal time between families when he married. I would seriously give people advice that if they have a boy they might consider having another child. It seems that having girls as an only child does not raise the same problems. I never would have dreamed that would be a reason not to have an only child.


  6. Dee

    Thank you for sticking up for all of us that chooses to have one child. This was BRILLIANT. As an only child married to an only child we are happy to have an only child.


  7. michelle

    thankyou for putting down in words what I confront nearly every day..and my daughter is 4. I too have been called cruel, evil, etc.. having one is great. more opportunities for them and tine devoted to them my daughter is a confident all rounder. proud to be done at one!


  8. Sharice

    Thank you so much for this article! I often question my decision to stop at one, and the effects it will have on my child. This article is very encouraging and reassuring, and I’m glad to know there are others in my shoes and it is ok!


  9. Aly

    Halla-freakin-lujah! My husband and I have been through a second trimester miscarriage, a stillborn at 38 weeks, and now have a 9 month old perfect daughter. I’m told all the time how I don’t know what I really want (when I tell someone I’m “one and done”). I’m so incredibly thankful and blessed to have my Elleigh, but pregnancy wasn’t fun for me physically or emotionally. Sometimes I just wish people would be happy for what we have –and they are..sometimes they just need to shut it!


  10. Allison Bruce

    Thankyou so much for an objective and respectful expression about choosing what works for one’s family. Im an only child in my late 30’s and a few weeks away from giving birth to my first child. Truth is when I was growing up I never missed a sibling since my mom made sure cousins and neighbors were included in my life (swimming lessons and family trips). As an adult I did miss a sibling only when both my parents were ill at the same time and felt overwhelmed but still, even in large families not all of the kids are devoted to their parents as adults, fortunately relatives and neighbors always lendme a hand. Given my age, finances and experiences, its highly probable that my daughter will be a happy and strong only child. :)


  11. Gab

    I’m rather delayed but thanks for a wonderful read! After giving birth to my daughter (and a horrific labor), I vowed that I would never, ever, EVER go through that again. About 3 years later when all of my friends were up to the socially acceptable “2 kids” (and my two older siblings had 4 kids each), the pressure was definitely on and the questions about our next child started and seemed to be more hard-pressing and way too often. I also received comments that I was lazy and selfish and hints that being a stay at home mother of 1 wasn’t the same as being a “real” mother. For me, this then made me doubt our decision and feel a constant guilt for my daughter being an only child and me not returning to work, which led to us deciding that we would try for another child. After 2 years of semi-trying (on and off due to the heartache of continuously seeing a negative result), I still carry this guilt but am trying to reassure/convince myself that my daughter is perfectly fine as an only child and our family is still a family regardless of the number of children we have. The biggest problem I currently face is that I am the middle child of 5 daughters and growing up we often spent time with other large families so I am VERY familiar with how things operate in big families… but I have no idea of how things work with just the one child.



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