Am I a Selfish Parent if I Have Only One Child?

Maybe, but having one kid is kind of fucking awesome


If having one child is selfish, I’m not sure I want to be any other way.

You know how before you get married, everyone’s asking when you’ll get married? And after you get married, the first thing people want to know is when you’re having a kid? Well, surprise: after you have the first kid, people are practically beating down your door asking when the second one is due.

At first the questions are easy to shake. You can be all, “Oh whoa! Slow down! Our first is only two months old!” Two months can be substituted for four, then six, then eight. Even twelve is ok, fourteen mildly acceptable. But if you have a year-and-a-half year old and no second baby in sight, people start getting suspicious.

Just imagine how they react when your husband gets a vasectomy before your only child turns one.

Allow me to paint you a picture: our son, the one and only, was born two months early. It was an intense night that broke into a painfully beautiful morning (detailed here and in The Good Mother Myth). He was also born with not one, not two, but three (three!) medical conditions. Fortunately, we found out about each condition in stages. He spent a harrowing month in the NICU during which his platelet levels would rise and fall, followed by a year of back-and-forth eight-hour round-trip drives to St. Jude’s in Memphis. He was ultimately diagnosed with a genetic platelet condition around ten months (we had no idea we were both carriers of the gene) and we decided pretty quickly that we weren’t comfortable risking future kids having the condition. Ok, so. Snip.

Our first “should we, or shouldn’t we?” debate happened around eighteen months. In retrospect, I’m not sure why that seems like such a great time to talk about bringing a second child into your family, but it seems to resonate across the board. Maybe it’s because you’re really starting to come out of the fog of infancy and realizing that your baby might really be a toddler who might really, maybe, one day be a full-fledged human being that you can actually speak with and who might not run into the road every time you turn your back. We started talking adoption, but it didn’t seem quite right: our kid was still visiting St. Jude’s every few months. I was in the second year of a photography business that seemed like it was really going somewhere, and finding out that owning a business is actually quite hard. On top of that, our son had been walking on his toes with his right foot for a month or two, and that didn’t seem quite right.

He was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy when he was two. We spent a long weekend waiting for the results of the Duchenne’s test (I’m not even going to link to that medical condition because it’s so sad, and that weekend was one of the most painful of our lives, but you can look it up if you want to), and when those results came back negative, he was sent in for a MRI that confirmed cerebral palsy. Ok, so. Regroup.

We each committed ourselves to learning everything we could about the condition. We wanted our son to be strong, to be capable. We were grateful that his CP is mostly mild, but mild doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Every single day since his diagnosis has been hard, actually. He’s had endless physical therapy, a surgery (which, coupled with his platelet condition, was completely terrifying), countless doctor’s appointments. We made it our goal, our purpose as his parents, to help him adjust to this new reality with as much grace and courage as the three of us could.

When he was diagnosed with asthma at three-and-a-half we barely batted an eye: asthma? That’d be fine. My husband has had asthma his entire life. We lucked out in being matched with an excellent pediatrician after a bleeding condition-related ER visit, and after spending a few winters in and out of his office, the asthma was under control. So when our son hit four, we started the debate again: should we adopt another kid?

Our reasons for wanting to adopt a second child were long and varied, and, as we discovered through hours of conversation on the topic, not always the best reasons for having a second kid. Two years ago the breakdown went something like this: I wanted a second child because I wanted our son to have the relationships you see on Parenthood. I wanted a second child because I would regret not having another in our lives. I wanted a second child because… that’s what you do, right? And plus! I have all these amazing girl names saved up! My husband? He… wanted a second child because I wanted one so much. He is an amazing father, and one of the kindest, most patient, most considerate people I have known ever, but a second kid? He was in it if I was in it, because he didn’t want me to have regrets. That reasoning felt inherently selfish, so I demurred.

So. We waited.

Now our son is a fresh six-year-old, and I’m coming around to what I call The Other Side. In other words, I went from being a person who was convinced I could see shadows of a second child in my actual eyeballs (I don’t know? I listen to a lot of Bob Dylan? Does that even make sense? It sounded poetic at the time) to being a person who realized that as an adult, having one kid is kind of fucking awesome. Not that having more than one kid isn’t—and I know tons of people who can prove me wrong—but it’s kind of actually amazing to be responsible for only one child.

I’ve also realized that I’m not entirely sure I’m ready, or even willing, to split myself in a fifth way. I have my husband, my son, my work, and myself (it’s not a ranked system) already… and I’m realizing that I’m ok with not being willing to add another body to that system. My work? I love it, but it takes a ton out of me. There are days spent staring at a computer screen, nights spent missing dinner and bedtime. I can’t complain too much because the flexibility I have as a teeny-tiny business owner who works from home is incredible, but still: work is work. My husband? I’m going to go ahead and say it: I find marriage to be ten times the work of parenthood. It’s beautiful work, honest work, but still: it’s hard. It takes power, and it takes commitment. It takes a huge part of me, a huge part of him, and that creates what is currently the strong force that is us. We work to stay and be solid, and we are doing well.

And then there’s him, my son. My sweet, impossibly bright, wonderfully imaginative son who I would walk fire for, take bullets for, do anything for. Name a cliché and I’m there, I’m in it. I love him. Being a parent has been, and continues to be, the greatest joy of my life. Parenthood has always come naturally to me. Parenthood, even in the grips of the darkest hours, has always felt easy. From the moment I knew he was there to the moment I read him Harry Potter in the NICU to this morning when I kissed him goodbye at kindergarten, I have loved every single second. I love the tantrums and the fights and the endless lectures about his fascination with weapons. I love the flowers he brings me and the kisses he gives me and snuggles in the morning and stories at night. I love the endless debates with my husband about this path or that, the questions that come when you’re responsible for someone so small, so inherently part of you. I love everything about being a parent. Every single thing.

But you know what else I love? I love me. I love that as a mother of a six-year-old who is in school and the wife of a guy who works out of the home and the owner of a business that I mostly control, I get to set my time. I have time to think, to read, to write. I have time to be. As much as I question whether or not it would be better for my son to have a sibling in his life, I’m realizing that I’m not sure I can handle splitting myself one more time—or that if I could, that it wouldn’t come without great sacrifice.

If you can’t tell, we’re at a bit of a crossroads again: will we, or won’t we? Is our second child already out there, waiting in the world as a fully formed four-year-old girl (the current debate)? Am I acting on incredibly selfish impulses that keep me firmly happy in the world of only child parenting?

Or is the song on to something? Maybe, just maybe, three is truly a magic number.

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