One thing about being a single mother that bothers me is that Samaire will most probably be an only child.
I had always planned to have more than one child. When I was pregnant, we often discussed how much of a gap we would leave between this baby and the next. Although S’s father already has several children living with him, the youngest is almost 5 years older than her. I didn’t want her to grow up with nobody to play with. I also wasn’t keen on her going out to play when she’s older with the child he sired with his babysitter while I was still pregnant – I was dead set on just ignoring that whole situation to be honest. We discussed it once S was born too, and he was keen that I get pregnant pretty much straight away. I had just been through a fairly traumatic birth though, and was a bit too shell-shocked to even entertain the idea of going through it all again.
Now that S is older though, and I can see the situation more clearly, I do tend to worry that she will grow up alone and lonely. I am single, and am not looking for a partner, so there is no likelihood of me having another child any time soon.
I am one of six children. I am 19 months younger than my sister, and 18 months older than my brother. While I love all my brothers and sisters, and enjoyed their company growing up, there were times I would have preferred there to be fewer of us in that house – not least because seven people trying to use one bathroom and get out of the house for school in the mornings is less than ideal. Having so many brothers and sisters, I sometimes felt overlooked by my parents, with so many mouths to feed and screeching voices to listen to. Also, since S was born my mother has come out with various reminiscences from when I was a baby: I learned this early, or was good at that, but when I asked about my teething, the only one of us she could remember was my brother. I’m not about to have some major breakdown because my mother doesn’t remember every minute detail of my childhood, but I suppose if you’ve done it six times, they can all sort of blur into one. Similarly, S’s father has 6 children living with him, and it did often seem that the quieter ones missed out because they weren’t shouting as loud as their siblings
Ever since I got pregnant, I’ve been weirdly obsessed with ensuring S knows how much I looked forward to her, how much I love her and dote on her. I kept a pregnancy journal, at first recording my weight and waist measurement and details such as when the baby first kicked and so on, and eventually a full-on journal about things that were going on in our lives. I take millions of photos, as anyone who follows me on Facebook may have noticed. I have a memento box already full of things such as hospital bracelets, first clothing, cards, letters etc. Everybody says that with your first child you worry more and pay more attention, something you’re simply not able to do with subsequent children because you’re already busy looking after the first one; if I don’t have another child, will I always be like this with S? Will she reach her 18thbirthday and be presented with a shipping container full of pieces of discarded clothing and birthday cards I couldn’t bear to throw away? Will she spend her life bearing the pressure of being the only child of someone who worries this much about everything and wants only the best for her? What if she does badly at school and doesn’t go off to achieve everything she is capable of in adulthood (much as I have done)? Will she be driven mad, not by her own failure to achieve goals she is perhaps not interested in, but by her failure to fulfil my ambitions for her? Will she grow up wishing I had provided her with a brother or sister to share the burden of my neurotic mothering, or just to play trains with after school?
On the other hand, there is a glove. I am totally devoted to S. I spend all my time with her. I have no adult relationship with a partner to try and maintain, no other children to try and keep an eye on while I’m also looking after her. A lot of the time she has my undivided attention. As she grows older this will mean days out doing whatever we fancy, train and bus rides, reading, curling up on the sofa together watching movies of her choice. She won’t have to share my attention with a younger brother or sister, and she won’t miss out on doing things because it’s an activity not suitable for a younger child we have to take into consideration. Because I have so many brothers and sisters, she has lots of aunts and uncles (and cousins) who love her, and my brother’s children are only a few years older than her so she will have them to play with as well as the friends she makes. Many people may say that an only child has more chance of being spoiled, but to be honest, if you’re going to spoil your offspring, it’s not going to make any difference how many you have – you’re just as likely to spoil three children as one, it’s just less expensive to spoil an only child. I am very mindful of ensuring S doesn’t grow up with some false sense of entitlement born from the fact she’s never had to share her toys.
S is named after a good friend of mine, who is ostensibly an only child (she has siblings, but from what I know they are older, and she grew up alone with her parents), and she is so awesome I felt the need to name my child after her: I often remark that I’m going to spend the next 20 years badgering her mother for parenting advice, because I want S to turn out as remarkable as the person she’s named after (it’s a fairly unusual name, and I don’t want to sully the good reputation it already has!).
There’s a Jay McInerney quote I read when I was a moody teenager rebelling against my family, and it’s stuck with me since: “the capacity for friendship is God’s way of apologising for our families.” My family has had more than its fair share of ups and downs, and often (the last few months being a case in point) it has been the love and support of my friends that has dragged me through the dark times. That’s not to say anything against my family; just that it is possible to make very good friends, who will support you just as much as any family member would or could. There is no guarantee that S would get on with any more children I decided to have; being related does not guarantee compatibility, after all. At least with friends you only spend time with the people you choose to see and get along with. Some of my closest friends are only children (that sounds a lot like the old cliché about “some of my best friends are gay/black/women, doesn’t it), and they have all fared very well out of life. Off the top of my head, one is married and successfully following a career being self-employed doing something she loves, another has been in a fulfilling relationship with a partner for around 15 years and I’m fairly sure also has a doctorate. In fact, when I look back on it I can distinctly recall being somewhat jealous of a friend with no brothers or sisters, because of the relationship she seemed to have with her parents. They seemed to treat her as an equal, spoke to her as such, and involved her in their discussions. She read more widely than me, was more knowledgeable on a majority of topics, talked openly with her parents about anything and everything, and seemed to enjoy their company. I can only hope I am able to raise S to enjoy my company, and to see being an only child as a bonus rather than a handicap.
To start with, I intended to have more children, and when S’s father left I worried that I would be failing S in some way by raising her on her own. Now that we have both had time to settle into our new lives, I think my standing on the issue has changed. We are very close and spend all our time together; there is not room in our relationship for a man, much less another child at the moment. The way we are now feels just fine, and I’m in no rush to add to our family, small as it may be.
I will leave you with something I read in an article by Emma Kennedy about being an only child. She complained that parents often approach her, as an only child, to ask if they will be failing their child by not providing brother or sisters. Her response? “No. You’re not failing. You will fail only if you are rubbish at being a parent. Adding a sibling into the mix will have nothing to do with it. If having an only child feels right for you, then embrace it.”
You've pretty much summed up all the thoughts I had for about 2 years after my first child, since I couldn't imagine myself going through the ordeal of childbirth for a second time. Ultimately, I decided not to let my bad first experience forever blot my life and went on to have a much more pleasant second experience of childbirth. I am so glad I did.<br /><br />But, I would not judge