Why I Chose to Have an Only Child

Why I Chose to Have One Child

The author and her three-year-old daughter, Julia.

“Julia needs a sibling,” my mom friends will often tell me. They forget that I’m parenting alone in New York, one of the priciest cities in the United States.

“I agree,” I respond. “The universe will have to provide it, along with a husband and another paycheck.”

After ten years—four years of infertility and a three-year adoption wait, with a few years of fear and indecision thrown in for good measure—I’m thrilled with motherhood. And with that thrill comes the goal of raising a healthy, happy, well-educated daughter. One healthy, happy, well-educated daughter.

It seems like lately, many of us have only children on our minds. Lauren Sandler, the author of “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One” recently published an op-ed in the New York Times that ran down the ways in which the United States is an anti-only-child society.

She argues that between the suburbs-with-two-kids dream and the fears that only children grow up to be “lonely,” “selfish” and “maladjusted,” America vetoes single-child families. Yet, she points out that studies ultimately show little difference between people who were raised as only children and those who were raised alongside siblings.

On the surface, Sandler and I don’t have much in common. She’s co-parenting in a two-income home; I head up a one-income family with my three-year-old daughter, adopted from Ethiopia in 2010. The Sandlers represent the classic Norman Rockwell family archetype; mine is more the 21st-century, making-it-happen variety. Yet, we agree on the financial and social implications of raising an only child today.

One Child, One Income

By Sandler’s calculation, a child born in 2010, my daughter’s birth year, will cost an average of $226,920 from diapers to college kickoff. Caring for Julia on the single income of an advertising writer presents a financial challenge (one I willingly accept, one case of Huggies Pull-Ups and gallon of organic milk at a time).

While my two-parents-two-incomes friends dine out and order in, I’ve become a home gourmet. “I’m dating Jacques Pépin,” I frequently joke to friends about the 77-year-old world-renowned, chef and host of the PBS show, “Fast Food My Way.” One of my favorites is his broccolini, beans and sausage ragout, which I make following both his creed (“If you have 30 minutes, you can make dinner”) and my own (“Upon walking through the door, do not sit down. The chances of pizza increase with every minute on the sofa”).

My biggest expense is, of course, child care. Full-time coverage from my fantastic nanny—excluding holidays and vacations—comes to about $28,000 a year. I choose to go nanny rather than day care for an important reason: My daughter spent the first eight months of her life in what could be called a 24-hour day care—an orphanage.

I was advised that Julia would be developmentally delayed (as many internationally adopted children are) and would not catch up as quickly in a group setting. If that isn’t enough, centers in my area cost close to $1,000 a month … and I’d still need coverage for city holidays, ranging from Ramadan to Passover, that prompt school-but-not-office closings.

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With no mate to trade off with, and my family based in Michigan while I remain in New York, I rely on friends willing to babysit gratis when my nanny is off-duty. During my first holiday season as a mom, after receiving an invitation to a Christmas party—the sort of big bash I hadn’t attended in ages—I leaped at the offer for adult conversation and good food prepared by someone else. I arrived home before midnight and was greeted with a $100 babysitting bill … for the first and last time.

  • Tanya

    I love your story and I totally agree as a single mother of a 7 year boy. I would have love to give my son a sibling but the cost of raising a child is expensive. He love to play with other kids so I try to keep him enroll in summer camps, sports, and other activities. I do have a sister, who has one child as well. So we try to keep them close so they can grow up as cousin-brothers.

  • Sara

    Beautifully written! I have a working husband and two kids myself, but understand that my decision is not for everyone. You are very lucky to have each other, and it sounds like that is enough for both of you. Wishing you both many blessings on your journey!

  • Kelly

    This is a lovely story. You are both lucky to have each other.

  • CharLena Pearson-Fulcher

    Terrific article, Jenine. As an only child from another era, with two parents, I can honestly tell you that growing up once I hit my ‘tweens, I was happy to be an ‘only child’. Did I miss siblings as a toddler, probably not. How about as a child? I don’t really think so. The little I did, I believe was influenced by TV. (Most if not all TV shows had 2 – 3 kid families.)

    I interacted with my parents (2) more and their friends. I read and could write script at an earlier age than most children, which a few teachers knew what to do with, other than tell me to wait to use it. Growing up without siblings, meant I got to choose my siblings along the way via my friendships garnered from school or church or other social gatherings.

    I believe through the interaction with my parents and their friends, it helped me to develop my skills as a communicator. I see those qualities already developing in Julia and it is truly a fun treat to see.
    Jenine, I applaud you for sticking to your own “to do” list and not comply with the masses or the supposed righteous “they”. Congratulations and keep rearing your child your way.

  • Marc

    As the father of one son (19 months), who only wants one, I loved your story! You and your daughter are amazing to me. My story is different, I’m married to a wonderful woman but I only want one child. I completely understand the pressures others put on us about having more than one. People have actually told me it would be cruel to only have one. Couldn’t disagree more and loved your story! Keep your chin up and know there are lots of us out there (and with different reasons for only wanting one child) that know exactly what you mean. Much love from a Stranger Dad. Best to you and Julia :)

    • Mia

      I agree with you. I am also married with one child. People continue to ask me when I am going to have another child. I continue to tell them when I receive monthly checks from you to help with the cost. It is hard enough raising one but two children.. I wouldn’t be able to provide for two children the way I want to and that’s not fair to the children. If you are financially able to raise two children…that’s great..but people who aren’t should be looked down for not having another child.

  • Elizabeth

    Julia is so lucky to have you. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • Crimefighter

    This article is beautiful. Your child is adorable.

    My partner and I made the decision one child nine years ago. Having children seems like a luxury in this day and age. Especially when you don’t have support from extend family members. it’s also perfect for her and us. She gets our full attention, love and patience. She also gets a college education. We get to experience being parents and still save for retirement. It’s win win in my book.

  • JenInBoston

    Yours is a great family story. The only-children I know (including my mom!) are happy, sociable, smart, well-adjusted, lovely people. I thought my child would be an only, too. I also felt sad thinking about how when I’m gone, she “wouldn’t have anyone”…but then I think of what a super person she is and how there’s no way she’s not going to build her own family as an adult! My main regret had been that the kid herself has always openly asked for a sibling. In the end, she will get one–a big surprise for all. But raising her as an only for over a decade was a special thing that I wouldn’t change. All best to you and your beautiful daughter!