By Caitlin Kelly
If you really want to see, or provoke yet another hair-pulling catfight, write a book about any aspect of American motherhood.
I dare you!
The latest entry in the spittle-flecked self-righteous-fest known as The Mommy Wars, (wouldn’t Mummy Wars be so much more…Egyptian? But I digress) is this new book, One and Only, about being an only child and choosing to have only one child.
(She also tosses in a fairly astonishing to me — and unattributed statement — that mothers are the women most likely to have an abortion.)
Here’s some thoughts from its author, Lauren Sandler:
If you only have one child, you’re inevitably asked, “Another one
coming soon?” Despite the overwhelming evidence that only children are
no different than those with siblings—not to mention it’s better
environmentally and fiscally—I’ve found that a lot of people only want
to have a second child for the sake of their first child. There’s a
notion that you’re not a good mother if you don’t give your child a
sibling. Why can we debate ad nauseam about tiny minuscule things like
diapers, schools, and organic T-shirts, but not about the number of kids
To me, U.S. family policy is a failure. We are one of the only
countries on earth that does not have structural family-support system.
This failure is due to our ideological individualism, our lack of a
labor movement addressing parents’ rights as workers’ rights, and the
fact that we’ve never had a population crisis. It’s completely different
in Europe and Asia. In Italy, you can’t even Google “family time”—the
term doesn’t exist. Instead they have an integrated way of living, with
parents and their children mingling with family and friends as a
community—and adults are actually allowed to focus on themselves.
I grew up as an only child, so this is familiar territory. Onlies are told, all the goddamned time, how spoiled we are. How lonely we must be. How selfishly we behave — everywhere!
I call bullshit.
Here’s some of what was true for me, and still is, as someone raised as an only, (and now with no kids):
— You often spend a lot more time around adults than kids with siblings. You get used to actually being listened to attentively, (a nice start in life for little girls, especially), and feeling at ease around people much older than you. You learn young it’s polite to refresh a guest’s drink or pass the hors d’oeuvres. These are valuable life skills, people!
— Booooooored? Deal with it. With no siblings to
torture play with, we’re left to our own devices to amuse ourselves. Back in my youth, cave drawings filled up a slow Sunday. Kidding! But even without the Internet or apps, etc., I was fully able to have a lot of fun alone. Trolls, Legos, stuffed animals, books, drawing, sports. Who needed a sib?
— Less competition! Whether Christmas pressies or dessert or adult attention, it’s all yours, baby!
— No odious parental, relatives or teachers’ comparisons to your brothers or sisters. I never had to be “the smart one” (instead of the pretty one). I could just be me.
– Lots of travel. With only one kid to finance, your family can easily pick up and go somewhere, for the day or a month or even a few years. I knew from the very start how damn lucky I was to have visited England, France, Mexico and the Caribbean, all by the age of six.
– Decent social skills. If you have no sibs to hang out with or socialize you, you better figure it out, stat. Once you realize that the world is filled with cool, fun, interesting people to hang out with, you’re ahead of the kids still terrified to talk to anyone in authority post-college. Friends become your family, and often much nicer, too!
Of course, yes, there are downsides. Like:
— No one has your back when things get scary. I used to cower behind the living room curtains when my parents fought, which was often and loudly, before they divorced. I could really have used some back-up.
– In a split family, there’s just not enough of you to go around. Christmas was crazy — divided between my mother, maternal grandmother and father.
– It’s all on you to win the Nobel prize/MacArthur/Pulitzer/cure cancer/create world peace. People with siblings can fob off these absurd expectations/hopes onto someone else and go watch (some more) TV.
– When your parents get sick and old, it’s all on you. Serious issue. A smart, kind spouse or partner helps!
– When you get sick and old (and God forbid, broke), and if you have no partner or very close friends, what happens? (Note terrified silence here.)
Are you an only?
How was it?
If you — as several Broadside followers did — had a bunch of kids, what kept you going past one?