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Parenting

Why is There Societal Pressure to Have More than One Child?

Being Careful with the Phrase “Only Child”

Picture this. You are talking with a friend about paint colors. She mentions that her home’s kitchen is painted X color, but her summer home is painted Y color.

“So what color are your kitchens?” she then asks.

“My kitchen is white” you reply.

“Oh…so…you only have one house?” she answers.

How do you feel about this last question? It subtly implies that you should have more than one house. Or at least, that having more houses would be preferable. You feel you have been labelled lesser. You feel a bit offended. Not ashamed, because having more than one house isn’t a need or obligation that everyone should strive for in life. But because the implication is that you have somehow failed by having one house. Why? Because of the word “only.”

Now, people with more than one home do not usually assume that everyone has more than one home, thus this scenario is not realistic.

However, we do often speak this way when we ask how many children someone has, perhaps without meaning to. “Oh, you only have one?” That word, “only.” It is a small and ordinary word, but it implies something. Only, as in, not enough.

When we protest “But I only got one cookie!” we are implying that two, three, or four cookies would have been preferable, and we got the short end of the stick. (And in the case of cookies, it’s true, more is definitively better.)

But why do we, perhaps out of habit, use this word when we refer to number of children? As if more is ideal, and “only” having one earns you a “C” on your report card?

Do We Mean to Imply that Families Should Have More Than One Child?

I venture to guess that we don’t usually intend to sound this way. But I can tell you that I have been asked that question a good number of times since I had my daughter. “Do you have other children or only one?” (or something like it) and when I say I only have her, it feels like I am admitting I am not quite “there yet.”

It may have to do with outdated expectations that a family should naturally contain three or four children. Even millennials may carry this image of a family around with them, despite actual reality. For many reasons, this is simply not the average family size anymore. (In 2019 the average family had 1.9 children.)

Or, perhaps it has to do with the inclination to believe that there are downsides to having a single child.

Are There Actually Downsides to Having an “Only” Child?

The main one that I have heard is “But they won’t have a sibling…” As if this is heartbreaking to think about. Painting a picture of loneliness. A child peering wistfully into a lake at their own reflection. Perhaps a tear rolling down their cheek. Haha!

While certainly sibling relationships can be special, I venture to say that those who grew up as only children do just fine and don’t feel lonely. Now, in my case, I have siblings, but they were much older than me, (12 and 18 years older.) I didn’t play with them as one typically pictures siblings playing together. They were out of the house by the time I remember much of life. I spent a lot of time doing my own thing as a child.

But contrary to the lonely image, I loved to play alone! I think it made me into a person who enjoys freedom, and having space to think. It also made me into a person who isn’t easily bored and can use my imagination. I am perfectly content by myself doing nothing particularly exciting. I do not feel lonely when I’m alone. This is probably because I grew up as an “only” child (in the sense described.) And I like these traits about me.

only child girl

However, while comfortable being alone, I’m not a “loner.” I am highly sociable, the first to greet newcomers, unafraid to talk to strangers, and able to fit in with many different people. Not having a sibling close to my age doesn’t seem to have left any sort of void in my life.

Another I have heard is “but they will be spoiled.” Well this one is simply false. Children are “spoiled” based on how they are parented, not based on if they have siblings. Research has proven this. Check out this study called  “The End of a Stereotype: Only Children Are Not More Narcissistic Than People With Siblings.” We don’t grow up working on our generational family farms anymore with miles in between us and the nearest humans, and no cars to take us anywhere and no chance for social interaction. “Only children” aren’t isolated, weird, or socially inept because they are only children. Enough said.

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A “One and Only” Child

Having said all this, my husband and I may have a second child. It’s in the air at the moment as I recover from the C-section of my daughter. We may, or we may not. That’s not the point.

Nor is the point to put down larger families! I know many large families and I love them. I also know that they love their life.

And if you come from a larger family, and have a single child for whatever reason, perhaps you don’t exactly know how to handle that! You may be used to a very different household feel. I found a great post about ways to help children learn to be happy playing alone at Millenniologyblog.com.

But it occurs to me that “only” can also be used in a positive sense. If someone is your “one and only,” that’s a good thing. It’s special.

So the point is this. Perhaps we should reflect on the reasons we often assume that having more than one child is the ideal and that having one is somehow, unspokenly, “lesser.” We should at the very least be more cognizant and stop implying it to parents of a single child.

They don’t “only” have one. They have one!

And often, they may indeed be trying for another, struggling for a variety of reasons, and would prefer others not to point out that they have not succeeded yet.

So yes, my daughter may grow up an “only child.” She may not have a sibling.
But she will have a mama. A daddy. Friends. A kitty.


She will also have her own room. Her own toys. Her own choices in her recreation time.

Lots of one-on-one time availability with her parents. More of our financial resources.

More opportunity for quiet time. More space to think and reflect. More chances to learn how to be at peace with herself.

A calm household.

Sounds pretty good to me.

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9 Comments

  • Audrey
    September 30, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    I like when you said, “They don’t “only” have one. They have one!” people are really hard on moms of one. I know I’m a mom of two commenting (we have our own struggles lol) but I have a close friend who is one and done and honestly it seems like our other friends just don’t get it at all. There is a lot of pressure!

    Reply
  • Bri
    September 30, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    I wrote a post that included this pressure recently too. It’s crazy. If you are blessed enough to have one people should just leave good enough alone!

    Reply
  • Whitney
    September 30, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Thank you for posting. At times I feel so obligated to have a second child because of the societal reasons you mentioned. It’s good to know that feelings aren’t alone.

    Reply
  • Diana
    September 30, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    Our daughter is an only child. I got a lot of people asking when we have a second, which I think is just rude, but then COVID came and I never take her out with me anymore, so no more noisy people. I had a younger sister growing up so I never understood the sibling argument because we hated each other until I left for college. We didn’t bond until adulthood, so the idea that your siblings will be best friends is totally false. We do have a lot of pets though, and hearing her complain about the dogs “touching her” or “being in her space” is enough arguing for me, lol

    Reply
  • Monica
    September 30, 2020 at 10:08 pm

    Oh how I relate to this! I have an 8 year old and we are done. I always hear the word ONLY and I’ve heard all the reasons why i should have another that you mentioned. My daughter is perfectly content and like you mentioned I’ve noticed many advantages to her being an only child.

    Reply
  • Iris Findlay
    September 30, 2020 at 11:34 pm

    Heck, I agree with you, and I can relate in a different way. The pressure to have children in the first place is too much. It’s like people don’t consider you to be a real woman if you haven’t had or can’t have children. I firmly believe that it’s not for everyone, and that should be no one’s business but theirs.

    Reply
    • Tasha
      October 1, 2020 at 8:03 am

      Absolutely true!

      Reply
  • MP
    October 11, 2020 at 1:59 am

    Definitely been that mom feeling the pressure from everyone. (In Laws – Strangers) Probably took them a good 5 years before they finally got the hint. I never felt like I wanted any other babies. I felt like I was one and done. I had my one and only and was happy! Family would make their comments about my son being spoiled and what not. I mean I didn’t feel like he was…sure he had stuff but alot of things he earned. He has always had a good attitude and never acted like he was “spoiled” or lonely. Fast forward 8 years and well it turns out I wasn’t one and done after all. I guess I finally felt the want for another and now I have a 1 year old and 9 year old. 😆 People would make their comments to my son like oh, your not going to get everything you want anymore. Annoying that people would say that to a kid or make it seem like his parents would change. I will say he is the best big brother and loves his little brother so fiercely. He is not jealous of him. I would like to think that it’s how you raise your babies whether it’s one or more. I would like to say do you and never succumb to the pressures of what others think your life should be.

    Reply
    • Tasha
      October 11, 2020 at 9:49 am

      Well put. I agree with you on all fronts. It’s definitely not okay to tell a kid his life will (basically) get worse when he has a sibling. Eww. That’s just starting things off on a sour note. So glad to hear your story and that your son is thriving both as a one and only and as a big brother! Thank you for sharing the encouragement, and congrats on your second!!

      Reply

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