Is my only child some kind of personal statement or a selfish reflection of my desire for more free time? Hell no. It’s just…what happened. It’s life.
My wife and I have one kid. I’m not sure if we’re going to have another one.
There’s a very decent chance that my daughter will be an only child. And I’m tired of how other parents react when they realize that we might only be having one.
Before becoming a parent, it never occurred to me that there’s a stigma surrounding parents of only children.
Granted, I used to have my own prejudices against, what I regarded as, comically large families. I’d look at the Duggar family or even Steve Martin’s brood from Cheaper by the Dozen, and think, “That’s obscene—that many kids. It’s irresponsible.” What were they trying to prove? Who needs that many kids?
And yet, I didn’t realize that that bias had a flip-side. That families with more than one child would look at my lone daughter, specifically our decision to only have the one daughter, with disdain.
Only children—and the parents of only children—get judged by other parents all the time.
There’s this stereotype of the only child: that they’re spoiled and self-centered; that their parents are the worst kind of doting, helicopter kid-worshippers; that they’re inherently lonely.
Other parents love to define only children by their absence of siblings, as if there was nothing else about them worth considering.
When asked, “Are you guys just having the one?” my wife and I shrug, because, to be honest, we didn’t plan any of this. You can always see the questioning parents pause, not sure how to react.
We get a lot of pity. A kindly “Aww,” followed by, “She’s not going to ever get to be a big sister? That’s sad.” Sometimes, we get a sarcastic “Lucky,” and a 20-minute breakdown about how luxuriously easy our lives must be in comparison.
Mostly, there’s this unspoken question in the eyes of the other parents: How could you let this happen? How could you rob your child of the experience of having a brother or a sister?
When my daughter started the third grade, so many of her classmates had younger siblings starting Kindergarten that same year. It was as if every parental peer we knew had decided to try for another at exactly the same time and no one had told us. Was there a meeting we missed? Are we not following the right Facebook group?
The disparity quickly became obvious, even to our daughter. She came home a few weeks into the school year and announced she was one of only three kids in her entire grade who didn’t have a sibling. She didn’t say it accusingly. It was just an odd fact she wanted to call to our attention.
We said, “OK.” And then, without knowing why I said it, I looked at my daughter and said, “Sorry.” She shrugged and asked if we could get a dog.
Why did I feel the need to say, “Sorry”? Is my daughter owed a sibling? Am I a bad parent for not coordinating our reproduction cycles with families in our neighborhood?
I’m not sorry that I have an only child. She’s amazing.
Is my only child some kind of personal statement or a selfish reflection of my desire for more free time? Hell no. It’s just…what happened. It’s life. That is what I wish more parents would understand.
Just because my family looks different than yours doesn’t mean that I’m offering commentary on your family. I’m not judging you. (My former prejudice against large families disappeared once I became a parent.)
You don’t have to flounder to come up with an explanation for why you have four kids and I only have one.
When you look uncomfortable or flail about to make me feel better about my only kid, it suggests that my wife and I have made a questionable decision. And you don’t know us.
You don’t know if we’re perfectly happy with our one beautiful, happy kid. (We are.)
You don’t know if we tried for YEARS to get pregnant again.
You don’t know about the stress, the medical treatments, the failures, the self-doubt.
You don’t know about the adoption discussions, the ugly truths, the arguments, the financial concerns.
You don’t know how years can fade away in the blink of an eye, and how you can find yourself, older than you ever imagined, saying, “I guess this is my reality now.”
I’m not even saying any of that happened. (OK, a lot of it did.) But the larger point is that I shouldn’t have to be ashamed because my daughter is an only child.
She’s not spoiled, selfish, or lonely; she’s brilliant and kind and loves being around other people. She’s wonderful on her own and she would be equally as wonderful if we had 10 more children.
My family isn’t the end result of some grand plan. My family is my family. Like life, it just happened. And I adore it.
So, please, stop assuming that my only child is lacking anything, other than your empathy. She’s an only child, but she’s anything but lonely.
And, yes, we did get the dog. (We’re not monsters.)
Tom Burns is a husband, a dad, and a veteran of the educational publishing industry, living just outside of Detroit Rock City. After years of obsessing about what his daughter was reading, he founded BuildingaLibrary.com, a website devoted to helping parents find the right books for their kids. He’s served as a contributing editor for 8BitDad and The Good Men Project, and his writing has been featured on Brightly, Time Magazine, Reading Rainbow, The Huffington Post, xoJane, and various other sites. He’s also made appearances on The Meredith Vieira Show andHuffPost Live.
This originally appeared on YourTango. Republished here with permission.