When Your First is Your Last: The Poignant Realities of Raising an Only Child
I have seen many beautifully written, bittersweet accounts of watching your “last baby” grow up. This will be the last time you experience those first fluttery kicks. This will be the last time you bring a newborn home. This will be the last time you watch your baby take first steps. This will be the last time your child smiles at you for the first time. My son is my first, but I know this feeling intimately. While he is my first he is also my last, my only child, and I am keenly aware of this precious and strange duality.
I can already hear you shouting at your screen “but he’s only one! you’ll change your mind!” or “how can you do that to him, he needs a sibling to grow up with!” To the first I say, I know that I only want one child in the same deep, soulful knowing that I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my husband. Each time my husband and I talk about our choice to only have one child, we walk away from the conversation more excited about and sure of the decision, and I ask that you please respect that. I will talk about all our reasons another day; today I just want to reflect on the realities of raising an only child that have come up so far in our journey.
To the second worry, that my son needs a sibling; I want to assure you that we are accounting for his need for life long companionship and adjusting our lives accordingly. We moved to a very kid friendly neighborhood, walking distance to a beach, playground, and community school, to a house with a big yard and a basement we plan to finish into a movie/exercise/music space someday. This stretched our finances farther than they were in our previous home, but knowing he will be an only, we want our home to be a place other kids and families feel welcome. This is a really privileged choice to be able to make, and certainly not the only way to raise an only child, but it’s an opportunity we had as a family that I am very grateful for. As parents we want to create an environment that is welcoming to everyone, and hopefully by having this home we can be a place our son’s friends will feel like they are always welcome for a meal or a safe space, and our son’s childhood will not be a lonely one.
We have a good friend who is an only child, and this summer we asked him for his advice on raising one. He was happy to oblige, but confused; my husband is an only child, why were we asking our friend for advice? My husband grew up an only child, but I don’t think either of us really ever think of him as one. He grew up with his best friend in the same apartment building in NYC, their parents were part of the same community. They have a closer relationship than many siblings I know. After my husband’s parents have passed away, he will not be without family, because of this wonderful brother he has shared his life with. In part because of this deep connection they share, we also understand with more gravity the importance of staying connected to our friends, especially as they have their own children. As my son outgrows his clothes, I delight in packing them up for friends babies. I also am grateful for and work to maintain our connections to our friends who choose not to have any children at all, and who love being honorary aunts and uncles to my son, with a different energy and experience than grown ups with their own kids. Despite being a family of three, I feel confident my son can grow up feeling surrounded and supported by a bustling, chosen, multi-generational family.
There are ways in which I fear I will always feel like less of a parent than parents with multiple kids. There are many struggles of parenting I will never face, and many joys I will not know because of our choice to have just one child. Despite this, I am deeply grateful to have known from the beginning that my son is both my first and last child. When my son turned one, I was acutely aware I would never be the mama of a baby again, and I both celebrated and mourned the transition. All at once I am constantly experiencing the wonder of the newness of parenting, and feeling the poignant gratitude, allowing myself to really see and savor each moment, that for me comes from knowing this is my one and only experience of these sweet times. I would love to hear from other parents of only children, and from only children themselves and what that experience is like for you.
If you’re interested, here’s some further reading I have enjoyed about only children: