Author Lauren Sandler advocates for the benefits of “only children” in her new book, “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.” Interestingly, she’s coming under fire for this view, saying in a recent interview that the intense scrutiny and blowback she’s received for shattering the stereotypes of only children — that they are selfish, spoiled and lonely — has been “like I’m suggesting that people should have aborted their own children — or that their parents should have aborted their siblings.”
As the mother of an only child, I’ve frequently been the beneficiary of unwitting comments about our choice. Though it really was not a choice, I believe having one child was best for that child and best for our family. In this 2010 Editor’s Pick from Open Salon, I discuss our family situation.
We did not make the decision to have only one child. The decision was made for us, by biology, by chemistry, by the fates. We were grateful to have a beautiful baby. When he was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, we stopped trying for more children.
We talked about adopting. Not knowing the ultimate functional level our child made the adoption question difficult. Would any child we adopt feel he or she came to our family to care for his disabled sibling? Maybe we should adopt two to solve that problem?
Therapy for our son was expensive, in time and treasure. Adoption is expensive. We chose to support the child we had, and so he is an only child.
While that long opening explains why we only have one child, had I to choose all over again I think I would make the same choice. My husband feels differently, and he probably would have liked a dozen. I was pregnant four times, and only carried full-term once. I couldn’t keep going through that unspeakable agony.
Because our child is an “only,” we made a special effort for him to spend time with his cousins. He has several cousins his age. While nothing replaces a sibling, it was the best we could do. We took an extra kid, friend or cousin, almost everywhere. Our neighbors had an only who is our child’s best friend and they are like brothers.
Our child had some opportunities we did not have as children because of his only status.
He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, so he has told me he doesn’t feel he missed out on anything. Other people seem to have much greater difficulty with the concept of the “only child” than I do. I cannot tell you how many people asked me when he was younger, “When are you having another one?”
I grew up in a very small family, two adults and two children and two grandparents. My father’s family lived far away and we didn’t see them that often. We cared for each other, but in terms of having a daily relationship, there was just the six of us. I don’t know what I don’t know.
The happiest day of my life was seven months before our child was born. Somehow I knew this time was going to be different when we went for the ultrasound. There in the tiny black and white screen was a blob that looked like a moving hieroglyphic, with the tiny blip-blip-blip of a heartbeat. That was the only thing I needed.
Amy McVay Abbott is the author of “The Luxury of Daydreams” (2011), a collection of essays available on all book sites, and the forthcoming collection of newspaper columns, “A Piece of Her Mind” (2013). She is a health writer by profession, and writes a bi-weekly newspaper column called “The Raven Lunatic” that runs in multiple Midwestern newspapers. Her web site is www.amyabbottwrites.com.