Have you seen the movie This is 40? It’s pretty funny and definitely one of those pop culture moments where I saw myself, ticking ever closer to that particular milestone, up on the screen, with the lines coming straight out of my mouth. Not that my daily dialogue is that witty, but the conversations were eerily familiar.
One particular line stuck with me, when Paul Rudd responds to a question about whether he wants a bigger family, “No, never for a second. Never. I love what we have. One? Breeze. Two? Brutal. Three? Put a bullet in my head.”
There’s a kind of unspoken but overwhelming expectation that every American woman will have two kids. Why do parents of two participate in this pressure, knowing how brutal it can be? Why don’t we tell parents of one that it’s ok not to have another baby? It really is.
A while back, there was something going around on Facebook that went something like this:
It’s not nothing to have another kid. Only hearing that from parents of only children isn’t exactly enlightening. The only-child stigma is strong, so it just sounds defensive.
It feels hard to say, “Just have one!” when you have more. As if someone will hear it as, “My second kid is a nightmare.” That’s not what it means.
As one of four kids (with siblings I love deeply), and now as a mom with two kids of my own (who I love deeply), I would just like to say: It’s ok to have only one kid.
While I don’t have anything to add to talk of whether or not only children grow up to be more selfish-evil-weird than kids with siblings, I can share what I went through as a mom going from one to two kids.
When I was pregnant with my second, a man in a restaurant wished us good luck, "You're gonna be outnumbered!" I corrected him, "No, this will be our second." He repeated himself, "Yeah, outnumbered," and laughed. Somehow, I can't explain, he was right. And he was the only one I’d ever heard that from.
It’s so much simpler to keep one little kid happy than two. After our second was born, I was surprised to discover how much easier it is to single-parent one kid than to do almost anything with two parents and two kids.
Just because they’re both kids doesn’t mean that they will ever want or need the same thing at the same time. They have the nerve—both of them!—to be actual real live little people. And each kid demands a slightly different parenting approach day-to-day, moment-to-moment.
Since becoming a mother of two, I have learned (from a friend—thanks!) that I am “not one of those moms that make it look easy.” With two kids, I can’t fake carefree. I don’t have a baby: I have a family. We eat in family-friendly restaurants (when we go out at all). We are home for bedtime. We don’t plan to travel the world anytime soon. We plan kids activities for the weekends. There’s no going back.
And speaking of no going back, many moms find it harder, either financially or emotionally or both, to return back to work after the second baby. Women who leave the workforce after becoming mothers are more likely to do so after the birth of a second baby than after the first.
Why do I feel the need to pause here and say this? I love my kids! No regrets.
I’m not a love at first sight kind of girl—with men or with my babies. Not that I didn’t feel anything when my babies were born—of course I did. But whatever I felt in those early days was nothing compared to how much I love my no-longer-babies today. I remember very specific moments when I fell a little more, and a little more, and a little more in love with each of them. Then one day, I looked up, and I was absolutely knocked over by how much I loved them.
It’s not easy to tell someone else not to have a second once you’ve fallen in love with yours. But in those blurry postpartum days, I kept thinking: Why didn’t anyone tell me how hard this would be? Why isn’t it more ok to just have one?
When we signed up for baby number two, I was full of joy at the idea of another baby for our family. When my son was born, I went through a deep period of—loving him, yes, but also—wishing other moms of two were more candid about how hard it is.
I’m delighted to have two kids. I love them unimaginably. They are two wonderful little beings, each an amazing presence of in my life. I wouldn’t change a thing. But the second kid changed everything at least as much as the first did.
And I didn’t expect that.
When we were thinking about having a second baby, my husband talked to one of his only friends with one child. His advice: If you’re only planning to have one kid, just know that you’re going to have to be ready to talk to them about why they don’t have a sibling. Here’s my advice—try this: “You’re enough for us!”
My husband wasn’t as ready to sign up for two as I was, and that was essentially his question to me, “Aren’t we enough?” There’s no way to really justify this—it’s highly personal. I just felt like our family wasn’t complete and now I feel like it is.
Before my son was born, I would look at friends’ photos of their kids together, and there was something about the way they would reach out to each other that I found deeply moving. I wanted that for my daughter—someone to love her for life no matter what, not just us but someone who would get her, understand what it’s like to have the life she has and someone I hope will be there for her when we cannot, whether that’s while we’re alive or after.
I’m so happy my kids have each other. I believe there are many good reasons to have more than one kid, but I also think there are good reasons for having one. And I think parents of two or more need to chill with the whole, “Come on, jump in! The water’s great!” thing and be real about what it’s really like.
If one is great, two isn’t necessarily better.
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