One and Done: Having an only in a society of more, more, more

What does it mean to be the parent of an only child? Should it mean anything to anyone?

I was in Starbucks with an unruly toddler who was requesting cantaloupe (not on the menu), when a woman started talking to me. I explained to her that she shouldn’t mind me because I was operating on “Mommy fog:” the state in which a mother only does the basic requirements in order to keep herself and child alive. Nothing else can be accomplished in such a catatonic/exhausted state.

She said, “Oh that’s a great age,” and I responded with the adage, “One and Done.”

“Oh but the more the better, especially at this age.”

Really? Many little toddlers and babies clamoring for my mental energy and small financial resources is better? 

When I went off into another store, I saw a woman with her four-year old daughter. We chatted and exchanged that we were both stay-at home moms (well, I work part-time, but am home during most day hours). She told me she bought her daughter too many toys because she felt guilty.

“She’s an only child.”

I know my daughter will be an only. I know this for quite a few reasons.

#1-I do not want to relive the trauma of my last pregnancy. I will leave those details for another day.

#2-support, both financially and through friends/family is limited.

#3- I selfishly would like something of a life.

That number three is what nags me. When people hear about my pregnancies, (3 with only one child) no one questions why I wouldn’t have another. It is pure common sense and very few people would sign up for the physical conditions and stressors I dealt with. 

I don’t have the money to adopt. Adoption can run about 50+ K, and I don’t have the money. If I did, I would seriously consider this option, but I don’t. Surrogacy is even more and my shitty insurance (did I mention how much I hate insurance coverage in this country?? That I am paying out of the nose to be covered with a high deductible and copays? Yeah, rolls eyes, I know…better than being uninsured. How sad is that?) wouldn’t even cover IVF if I wanted someone to carry my child.

Anyone with a brain would understand my second reason.

It’s the third that really grates under my skin. Mothers are supposed to suffer–suffering through pregnancy even if it means in near death state and dying rather than aborting even is commonly expected. Labor is suffering. Mothers are supposed to be selfless. Facebook posts remind me of this:

“If you gave up haircuts and dye for ponytails and sleep for sleepless nights, click like.”

We are supposed to be unselfish and provide, provide, provide. Oh and by the way, we are supposed to work, be sexy, independent, and have a great ass, all in a 24 hour period.

So when I tell myself the honest truth, that a part of me is afraid of the responsibility and burden another child would place upon me, I feel terrible, especially considering how I have been grieving this pregnancy loss (not that many people give a shit about this. No, they don’t).

I want to nurture my own character. Learn hobbies. Write. Perform again. Show my daughter what a woman can do, and enjoy the rest of my life, however long or short it may be. Children require enormous sacrifice; marriages are tested, relationships and finances are strained, and life goals are set by the wayside. Maybe I’m selfish but, I’d like to see myself as a success outside of just being a success as a mom–and is there such a way or proof to define yourself as such, a successful mom? What variables does one use to decipher such things?

I hear over and over again how children need siblings. That only children are not socialized properly and are rather selfish. Of course, these same people forget how onlies are known as independent and incredibly intelligent people. What shocked me more are the websites for “Onlies” and “Adult Onlies.”

That my daughter will never be someone’s aunt.

Yes, that hurts.  That she will never have anyone else to help her with her parents later in life. I see the clear benefits that having a sibling brings to a child’s life. I understand its value, but I don’t see how society cannot understand the clear benefits to having one child in today’s day and age.

Having one child means all of my attention and resources go to her in a time when children need all the guidance they can get. I am one of four kids and let me tell you, I did not get the same attention that my daughter will get, and honestly, I think she is lucky. Sure, I had other things as a member of a large family, but when it comes down to it, she will have whatever I can give her rather than divided pieces of the pie.

A large family is fun, no doubt, but it is absolutely infuriating to be told how I should reproduce. I have never met a mother who did not ask me–or myself as well–if she would or I would want another child. It is expected that families grow. Super size it! our society says.

“Just wait until the next one…:

‘She has to have a baby brother or sister…”

“She won’t learn how to share!”

Apparently without a sibling, a child’s life has no meaning. 

When I see mothers of three or more kids, I find myself admiring their chutzpah and energy. I can’t imagine having to juggle all of those kids–all of those varying needs/likes/dislikes. It looks like fun, but yet at the same time I would rather leave that to more brave folks.

I told the woman at Starbucks and the mother of an Only that I was relatively okay with having an Only. (Neither women needed to know about my pregnancy history). The latter nodded, and the former didn’t say much. 

I think about the folks who suggest that children need siblings in order to be happy, and I wonder if their lives are just simply that easy, or if they simply didn’t mind a lot of suffering. I define suffering here as various things, such as financial/physical suffering etc.

 Suffering is no big deal right? We’re mothers. We should suffer! If we dare complain about our suffering, we are bad people. Even suggesting that I have dreams and goals is a bit flighty. I rarely hear another mother breathe a word about her own goals and dreams. To do so is probably considered selfish.

Maybe people think I don’t love my child enough, but I think I love her so much that I don’t want to be some half-drawn person. I want to be whole, rather than simply depending on her for my joys.

Maybe then she will dare to dream a bit more, a bit longer, and go a bit harder in the direction she chooses.

 And maybe my desire to succeed simply comes from the hardcore realization that I cannot stand any more heartache, loss, or illness. Maybe I have decided that if I cannot have the family I imagined, I will do my best to work with what I have. Maybe work a little harder on those dreams.

And we’ve lost another one: What does it mean to help unstable teenagers?

I heard of another teenager taking his life today. Thankfully this was not associated with a mass killing.

There has been a lot of talk about mental health since the tragic killings at Sandy Hook elementary, and yet I am unsure as to how or if there will be any real policy changes at all. Insurance rarely wants to cover mental health services. Just trying to get them to cover therapy I needed after a traumatic situation was a real bitch. They first authorized seven visits and then subsequently, told me it was a mistake and would not be authorized. Talk about a real bitch. My own co-pay for a therapist is 50 dollars per one session…not a cheap price to pay in today’s day and age.

When I heard about this young man who had killed himself just before Christmas, I couldn’t help but remember my own feelings of helplessness as a teenager. I was suffering through physical illness, rape, abuse, etc, and total loss of self-esteem. I ran on autopilot and rarely felt many emotions. How could I? At that point I was rather closed off. It took years to really get down to the issues and sometimes when I sit and think about things, I feel a lack of answers and  some sadness even after all this time, possibly because I have a young daughter and I worry about these things happening to her.

I have no idea what was running through this young man’s head nor do I know what his issues were. We can all guess and scrutinize like the media and public are doing in the case of Adam Lanza, but we will probably never have the answers.

What does it mean to help these unstable and distraught teenagers in a day and age in which no one speaks to one another,unless it’s through an Internet dialogue?  How can teachers or family/friends spot these troubled individuals and then go about helping them? Who is supposed to step in regarding these situations, besides the obvious people like family? 

I was intelligent and acutely aware that I was not myself anymore, and so I reached out to my family to ask for help. Not every teenager is going to be that self-aware or mentally able to say, “Hey, I’m struggling.” I had many friends go by the way side–most of these friends weren’t very good to begin with–and the real truth was I did not share most of what was happening with my family. I just kept these things inside and asked for help when I felt I couldn’t handle it anymore.

People guess about Nancy Lanza’s parenting skills…and I’m sure people will wonder how the parents handled this other young boy’s troubles. As a young parent myself, I am wondering what was going on in these people’s minds, yet I cannot really judge (even if I have my own strong opinions about owning guns, etc) because I don’t have all the information. While there are many parents who turn a blind eye to a child’s problems because they simply cannot handle them, there are just as many who do what they feel is best to help their child. Sometimes, it’s not enough.

Is it the responsibility of the school system to psychologically evaluate all kids? Where do we put these  types of things in place? How do we get better health care coverage as a nation? Who is supposed to bring these issues to light when the truth of the matter is, mental illness is an eyesore and aberration to most people. No one wants to step up and say,”Hey, I’m a schizophrenic!” because it isn’t heroic to admit that. It’s heroic to admit you’ve conquered cancer (truly) and heroic to admit you are a rape survivor, (truly) yet no one usually finds it heroic for some to step up and admit that his or her brain isn’t functioning right. Most teenagers, incredibly self-conscious as a breed, are certainly less apt to fight for their mental health needs.

I don’t have any answers tonight, but I do wish I could provide something, some ideas for change. The only thing I can offer is the mere suggestion that our culture hearkens back to an old theory and way of life: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.”

We have lost our villages and vital connections. Most of us parent in a vacuum, minus the competitive showcasing of social media. We need to step back to our roots. Find a little more time to help others outside of ourselves.

It’s not much to offer, but it’s all I have. I know that suicide has been around since the dawn of time, but I find our adolescent community is living underneath mountains of stress and facade. There are very few sources of vital connections and socialization for these kids; instead, they deal with mixed media messages and pressures beyond what I had as a young girl.

Maybe it is time we look to other countries and sources for inspiration. Maybe we should stop assuming that we’re this “Number one country with the right way to do things.” Drop our ethnocentrism. Maybe that won’t help at all…but let’s not watch more young die.