Many books have been written in support of the choice to have no children, but not nearly as many are positive of the only-child decision. The Done After One Club, begun in October 2003 by this writer, is adding the collective experiences and observations to the growing number of one-child parents.
The "Done After One" Club began with a segment of the famous "Dr. Phil" program on October 22, 2003, and its title was "Consumed With Conception." It was the third and final guest, a young mother of one named Melissa, who gave me the idea. Her problem was her sisters insistence that Melissas two-year-old son was "missing out" by not having a sibling. Melissas sister clearly had some difficulty accepting the choice to stop at one child, despite the fact both Melissa and her son looked very happy and satisfied with their small family. Dr. Phil came to Melissas rescue by telling her that her sister could have an opinion, but not the final vote, for which she was obviously grateful.
After the show, I began wondering how many more mothers of one were facing the same kind of conflict from family or friends for their choice. Many years ago, I faced the same problem, and I understood what Melissa was facing. When I explored the Dr. Phil message board on the subject, I read quite a few supportive messages for Melissa from several mothers of one by choice. Acting on an impulse, I wrote a message also, suggesting an online email support group for anyone who might be interested. Although Melissa herself never responded, most of the other mothers did, and the Done After One Club was born. Next month, our group will celebrate our first birthday.
Although many books have been written in support of child free (no children by choice) men and women, not as many have been written for parents who are firm in their decision to have a one-child family. We decided to add our experiences and opinions to the growing number of happy parents who have stopped at one child. We feel its time that society in general woke up to the fact that a family doesnt have to begin with the number four. It can also consist of two or, in our case, three. We also wanted to share our observations and experiences with anyone else who may also be considering what we call the DAO choice. The following is an online "interview," if you will, with four of our club members.
Had you always known you wanted only one child, or did you decide on just one afterward?
Jen: Afterwards. Motherhood is not easy! Every stage my son went through had very difficult times. I am thankful I only had to do it once.
Katharine: I figured I would wait until I had one before I decided how many to have. After we had our daughter and saw the time and expense that a child entailed, we decided one was the right number for us.
Martha: I never wanted any children until I met my husband at age 30. After meeting my husband, I changed my mind enough to feel strongly about having a child with him. Once I had my daughter though, I have never once felt any desire to have another child.
Shannon: Originally I had wanted two children, and I was convinced about that until Dahlia was around a year old. Now that I realize how much time and energy ONE child takes up, Im not prepared to make that commitment to a second child.
What are the things you like most about having one child?
Jen: We can focus our attention on our son. The stress level is much lower then larger families. Financially its much easier with only one.
Katharine: I love that every moment with Emily is special without having to spread myself over other children. Since I also work, I feel like I am able to give her the attention that I want and don't feel like I would be able to give if I was trying to divide my evenings.
Martha: Balance! Both my husband and I feel that having one child allows us a really good balance in that we can be great parents with a lot of quality family time, but we can also have our own individual time for our hobbies as well as what we call "connect" time as a couple.
Shannon: I like the fact that I can focus my undivided attention on just her. I feel as though I can do a lot of things with one that I wouldnt be able to do with more than one. I also like the fact that Im starting to have more time to myself to go out and do things that I enjoy.
How often do you get negative reactions from family/friends and how do you counter them?
Jen: Not often. Family and friends are fine with our decision.
Katharine: In the beginning we got a lot of people who seemed to think that we didn't know what we wanted. They said that we would change our minds as Emily got older. Most of the family hasn't been too critical, though I think a lot of them think we are eccentric for having one.
Martha: My family has always been completely supportive of our choice to have one child. My husbands family has been supportive also, but to be honest, most of them still dont know of our choice, and I dont know what their reaction will be when they find out.
Shannon: I havent gotten that many negative responses to my decision to have just one, but members of my family seem convinced that I will change my mind. They swore they only wanted one and ended up having more, so obviously my mind will change too!
Why do you think other people get angry or upset that you have only one?
Jen: Most people don't get upset.
Katharine: I think it is a combination of things. Some of it is old stereotypes that only children are brats or spoiled. On the other hand, some parents who have more children seem upset that my life looks easier than theirs.
Martha: Ignorance, mostly. There are a lot of only-child stereotypes that are really nothing more than myths, but people believe that somehow they are thinking in the best interests of your child to try and talk you out of your choice.
Shannon: I think my daughter is still a bit young for people to get angry or upset that she is an only. Im sure that in a few years, I will experience more of the questions and ridicule.
What advantages do you enjoy that moms of two or more may not enjoy as much?
Jen: I think we have a little more freedom and less stress.
Katharine: I think time and quiet are two big ones. I have more time than most mothers I know with more children (whether they work or stay at home). I also have more quality time with Emily because I don't have to spread my time.
Martha: As I said previously, I have a balance in my life. I get to do things for myself as well as for my child. I perform music, I go to the gym and to the movies. My husband plays on a local soccer team.
Shannon: As it stands now I am able to go out a few times a week and do things that I want to do. I have extra money to spend on things for myself each week, whether it be clothes or ordering in for the night.
In what ways has your marriage benefitted by having one child only?
Jen: We have more quality time to spend together. Less worries.
Katharine: Well, with one child time alone occasionally is still a possibility. As she gets older if she is with a friend, or at camp, we will be able to have time together.
Martha: Again, balance is important. Because we only have one, we have more time and energy to focus on our marriage and spending time as a couple than we think we would if we had more kids.
Shannon: Since Im not currently married, I cannot answer this right now.
How do you react when you hear statements like: "Having only one child isn't a family. Two children is a family?"
Jen: It doesnt bother me as I feel a family of three is perfect for us.
Katharine: This makes me angry! My husband and I were a family even before we had a child! What about infertile couples, or couples who are not medically able to have a child? Are they not families either?
Martha: Ive never heard anyone make that particular statement, but to be brutally honest, I think that anyone who believes that a family must be a certain size to qualify as a "real" family is an idiot.
Shannon: Nobody has said this to me, yet, but I have seen it brought up on occasion on different message boards that I post on when online. It doesnt anger me, but it does make me laugh.
What stresses do you observe large families having that you're happy not to have?
Jen: Time and financial.
Katharine: I think it is the little things....trying to get multiple kids ready in the morning, trying to get dinner ready for a large number of people, etc. The big one is sibling rivalry!
Martha: Juggling quality time between multiple children, struggling with time management issues when each kid has several hobbies and activities, plus having a constant mess around the house, dealing with the constant fighting, utter chaos, and most of all; the noise, noise, noise!
Shannon: The stresses of not having enough time or money. The bickering that occurs when theres more than one child. The lack of freedom.
How has being parents of an only child strengthened the sexual relationship with your husband or partner?
Jen: We feel we have more time together and a lot more energy.
Katharine: Well, as I said earlier, you have a bit more time, which is essential for a sexual relationship!
Martha: Well, our sexual relationship is definitely not as frequent as before we had a child, but clearly there is more time available to us and we have more energy than if we were chasing two kids around all the time.
Shannon: I cannot really answer this, other than to say that I have a bit more freedom to go out and date.
Do you think you may have regrets about stopping at one child someday?
Jen: No. We feel our decision is the right one for us.
Katharine: No. Occasionally I worry about when my husband and I pass away. But then I think that we will raise Emily to be a person with lots of friends and an extended family. A child can be happy, well adjusted and fulfilled as an only child!
Martha: No way! Every day I am happier that we stopped at one. I cant ever see us regretting our decision, not even for one minute.
Shannon: No, I dont. I know the things that I want to accomplish in life, and having more than one child wont allow me to accomplish many of those things.