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“Why Do You Only Have One Child?”

By Elizabeth Jayne Liu

“Wow, that’s really rude, ma’am.” For the first time this spring, I finally said the words that have teetered on the edge of my lips since becoming a mother in 1999. People have asked in many different ways why I only have one child. Sometimes, the question is straightforward. Other times, it starts as a concerned inquiry about my reproductive health or my priorities in life.

I had imagined being bold dozens of times before it actually happened, so I was disappointed by the response. In my fantasy, the offender always apologizes and promises to be more sensitive and then her mouth disappears. But in reality, my comment left her unaffected. Even the addition of the word “ma’am” didn’t have the desired effect.

“Well, I’m sorry if you’re sensitive about it, but you really should consider having a spare,” the woman continued.

“A spare? Like a tire?” Clearly, I have a problem with knowing when to disengage.

“No, silly, a child. It’s really selfish to put all of your hopes on an only child. What if she can’t live up to your expectations?”

I wanted to tell the woman that my daughter, Cal, has already fulfilled all of my greatest hopes as a parent. She can do single digit addition and subtraction in her head; she whips up tasty, somewhat nutritious snacks using five ingredients or less; and she understands my complicated laundry system that involves three different detergents. Instead, I shrugged my shoulders and walked away. I felt my insides boiling, and it would be a pyrrhic victory if I had broken through to this woman.

As a teen, I wrongly assumed that peer pressure exists only in the microcosm of high school. The desire to fit in led me down a dark path when I experimented with alcohol and drugs and boys. It didn’t really matter that I didn’t like what I was doing. I ignored the parts of my core that were my own personal truths and sacrificed what I believed in because I didn’t want to be different. The most valuable lessons I learned from those poor choices were to do what was right for me and to make important decisions based on my own timetable.

The peer pressure I feel from Occupy Uterus campaigners makes me doubt the choice I’ve made to focus on Cal for the time being. Doubt then spurs guilt and shame.

I bet your daughter is lonely. Our family didn’t feel complete until our second (third, fourth) child. You’re too young not to have more! Don’t you want a buddy for her? Are you afraid you won’t have enough love for two kids? Don’t you want to know what it’s like to have a son? Are you at least trying? Are you infertile? Is he infertile? Are you having problems in your marriage? Do you not like children? Are you afraid your body won’t snap back into shape? What if something happens to your daughter?

Since my husband adopted my daughter after we got married six years ago, I also get asked, “Don’t you think your husband deserves a child of his own?” It’s difficult for people to digest that Harv feels a deep connection with Cal and is perfectly content with our daughter being his only child. “He may just be saying that to take the pressure off of you, you know.”

Silence has become my companion during these awkward moments. I no longer offer excuses or an explanation. Restraint isn’t easy, especially during rough moments like my miscarriage, when I wanted nothing more than to say, “You don’t know anything. Be quiet.” But those who offer judgment often tend to be the loudest because they want to be heard; they need to feel heard.

I wish I could say that it doesn’t bother me at all when people make assumptions based on just one or two facts. That might not ever be the truth, but I can say this with certainty: There’s no such thing as the “right” number of children. We can only do what is best for our own family, and it’s okay if that vision changes along the way.

Also, it’s important to mind our own damn business.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she s...

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she survived, and now records a series of weekly challenges called Monday Dares. She fails a lot.

Elizabeth writes candidly about her former addictions, love of four-letter words, and her affinity for all things rap. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, whom she married after dating for just eighteen days, her 13-year-old daughter, and her complete collection of Yo! MTV Raps Trading Cards.

Connect with Elizabeth on The Huffington Post, Facebook, and Instagram (@flourishinprogress).

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Aimee Giese | Greeblemonkey
Guest

SO WITH YOU!!! People finally stopped asking us around age 7 or 8 (he is almost 11).

Seriously, making a playmate for my son is no reason to have a child – but thanks.

Kjirsten
Guest
Kjirsten

Well said, thank you. Our daughter is almost three and the comments and questions from others seem relentless right now. We only want one…we only ever wanted one. It’s strange to me that people can’t accept that we really don’t want another one…we’re not infertile, or evil. We’re just happy with one.

Cheryl S.
Guest
Cheryl S.

One and Done here too. I HATE people that do that. I’ve been told it’s “cruel” not to have another. That my daughter is going to be a raging brat. That I’m being selfish. I know that we have made the right decision for our family, but it doesn’t make it any easier to have to listen to idiots.
The worst part right now for me is that my DAUGHTER wants (or at least thinks she wants) a sibling. She’s 8.

Isabel Kallman
Admin

Thanks for sharing Cheryl. I chuckled about your 8-year-old daughter “wanting” a sibling right now. I remember a friend of mine telling me about her 5 year old son who was insisting that he wanted an ink tattoo. She asked him what kind of tattoo would he get, hypothetically. He replied “Yo Gabba Gabba.” And that’s why they don’t let 5-year-old get inked!

grace
Guest

believe me, it doesn’t matter what you have, people always have to play the devil’s advocate when it comes to children, it’s weird! when you have a girl, they ask if you’re going to try for a boy, if you have two of the same sex, they ask if you’re going to keep trying to the opposite. I have one of each and I always hear about how “lucky” I am that I got one of each without having to have extra kids of each gender lol.

MR
Guest
MR

People can just be so stupid. The comment about the “spare” is ridiculously insensitive. I’d be inclined to reply, “we had a spare, it went flat.” and walk away. We have two kids. They are both girls though, so we are told all the time how we have to have another to try for a boy. I have a friend with 3 boys and a friend with 4 boys, and after two they stopped telling people the genders in advance because people got so sad, and they were quite happy with their boys. If this is somebody you don’t know,… Read more »

Dan Perez
Guest

I’m one of seven kids, my mom was one of fifteen kids and my wife and I only have one daughter. God knew I didn’t have the patience for more. But I do get the “She must be a lonely child” and “What a shame she doesn’t have a brother or sister to play with” treatment every now and then. Usually from lame parents who aren’t cool enough to bond with their kids so they leave it up to a brother or sister.
You keep your gangsta chin up high and don’t let stupid people annoy you…

jill
Guest

Wow, that spare comment is totally rude. It happens no matter how many kids you have. I have four and I CONSTANTLY get comments everywhere we go. “Are they all yours?” “Did you want them all?” “Are you done yet?” “Why stop now?” “How do you deal with it.” “You are brave to go anywhere with all those children.” “Go let that lady take care of you – she obviously likes children, she has enough” and then the opposite rude personal questions – “Are you really religious?” “Do you use birth control?” “How do you feed them all?” etc, etc.… Read more »

Alison
Guest
Alison

When i read this line, “Well, I’m sorry if you’re sensitive about it, but you really should consider having a spare,” the woman continued. I actually pulled away from the screen like I had been slapped, it was such a shock to me that someone could be so obnoxious, then again they were rude a third time by say you were ‘silly’ by saying, what a spare tire, Of course you understood and were politely giving them an out, a way of them to laugh it off and apologise.  I’m an only child and I get asked all the time what… Read more »

Becca
Guest
Becca

This is so interesting. I’d never ask a person this kind of question, because of posts like these and because the reason may be sad or medically sensitive, but I’m always interested to hear the reasons why people make whichever life choices they do – many children, no children, deciding never to marry, living off the grid, preferring dogs or cats… Whatever.  It’s a great gift to learn about perspectives different from ones own. I just wish that asking questions didn’t always have to be considered a negative thing. Not everyone wants to change your mind – sometimes they want… Read more »

allison
Guest

Ugh. We’ve been mostly spared from it so far but I hate these kinds of comments. Like having a sibling guarentees that you’re going to be best friends! I have 3 (half) sisters. One of whom I’m really close to, but she lives far away, the other I’m fairly close to but we don’t see each other much even though she lives close to me, and another that hasn’t spoken to me in 7 years because I’m queer and she’s an asshole.

Suburban Snapshots
Guest

“I’m queer and she’s an asshole” 
BAH! Obviously, she’s totally missing out because you’re queer AND hilarious.

allison
Guest

She is TOTALLY missing out. I’m awesome.

IrishCream
Guest
IrishCream

Sometimes people are the worst. I have two girls, and I get asked all the time if we’re going to try for a boy. Or worse, if my husband wants to try for a boy. That one covers two squares on the Rude Person Bingo card–overly personal AND sexist!

Nennie
Guest
Nennie

Like you said – it’s no ones business! And for people to prod is downright rude. I have my now 2 year old son. I get asked ALL the time when I’m having another. I can’t – I had to have an emergency hysterectomy a few hours after my son’s birth. I shouldn’t have to explain that. But I do because they made me uncomfortable trying to be nosy so I make them feel uncomfortable right back.

You don’t know if one kid is by choice or for other reasons. It’s just best not to ask.

KEK
Guest
KEK

I’m an only child, and have a little boy (with no plans for any more children).  It baffles me how invested strangers are in my (lack of) future procreative plans.  So, I borrow from my mom’s reactions to comments she got when I was a kid – my 2 favorites:

We stopped with perfection.

We’re waiting to see how this one turns out before we decide to have another.

Amy
Guest
Amy

Made me smile and cry at the same time – thanks for sharing this post – no one knows the choices you make or the road you travel – what’s important is the love you provide to the children you do have.

Victor
Guest
Victor

Thanks. 
Because my wife had a 9 year old kid when we married. It’s been a three adventurer’s troupe since then. I get these kind of stupid comments every now and then (ok, sometimes they really intend to care for my family and me… but even then…) but we’ve learned that it’s our path to open and follow. 

And thanks because I teach at a university here in Peru. The “spare-child” argument  shocked me… but I guess it will be very interesting to discuss in class.

Best!

Ashley
Guest
Ashley

It’s funny how people think they know what is best for you and yours even when they don’t know your name.  We have 3 children, I am still asked when I am having my next????  My biggest problem is that my kids are close in age and so I got the judgement of “Don’t you know how babies happen?”  and “are they all yours?” The number of children you have is not a measuring stick of your success in life.  Have as many or as few as you want, be happy, and enjoy life.  

Jennifer
Guest
Jennifer

You’re so much nicer in your response to obnoxious people. I’m pregnant with our one and only child. Everyone looks at me with this smug face and says that I’ll change my mind once I have one. I tell them I’m not nearly stupid enough to have any more biological children. I hate being pregnant and I do NOT believe the hype about forgetting labor pain. If we ever feel the need to have more in the future, we’ll be adopting!

Jessica
Guest

At first I would get self-conscious about only having one child. Now I’m not. People get sort of taken aback by my frankness. I do also think that sometimes it’s just a conversation starter… People aren’t meaning to be rude. They just want to make small talk. 

M
Guest
M

Very well said. Now, can you tell me what my daughter’s retort should be when other kids say “oh, you’re an ONLY child” as if there’s something wrong with her?

Ashley
Guest
Ashley

Have her say, “yeah, and it’s AWESOME.”

At least that’s what I did. Because it’s TRUE.

Brooke
Guest
Brooke

Thanks for this post! Although I know I have never said some of the absolutely rude things you cited, I have probably casually asked “Do you think you’ll have another?” before in the way of small talk. Now that I see the judgment and abundance of ignorant comments surrounding this subject, I’ll bring up the weather instead. The last thing I would want to do is leave the person feeling judged or prodded on a subject that is so understandably sensitive to some people. I appreciate your candor.

RookieMom Whitney
Guest

Hi Liz, We shared a taxi in New Orleans during Mom 2.0. I love this post and have been meaning to address the topic on my site as well. It is SO rude for folks to suggest your family is the wrong size or shape. Especially the comments about your husband and a child of his own. (Note to the world: Relationships between biological family members are not guaranteed to be more meaningful than adopted ones.)

Britt
Guest
Britt

I am an only child myself, and I remember my parents getting asked this question. I always found it hurtful – were these people saying that I wasn’t good enough? As much as I can totally understand the deisre to snap at those nasty creatures (I personally have a very short fuse!), just know that every time you don’t let it ruffle you, you’re showing your daughter that those stupid people don’t bother you. If she doesn’t think that they bother you, that demonstrates to her that you are secure in your decision, and that she is plenty good enough.… Read more »

SUSANNA
Guest
SUSANNA

You can’t win. I get asked all the time if I’ll have a third- TO TRY FOR A GIRL- because I have two boys. Never mind I’m now a single mom and a third pregnancy nearly killed me years back (both of which I bring up if they’re insistent), MUST. HAVE. GIRL. Kill me. Bitches.

Robin
Guest

I like this…thanks for sharing. I have an “only” and it’s so hard where I live–in a rural setting where basically EVERYONE has at least 3 kids! I took time off from my career to be with him but feel a little extravagant with my “only” to focus on when all the other women have a string of kids following. Honestly, one intense kid is enough! My hubby is older, and has a daughter in her mid-twenties who is married. He wasn’t really into having many more kids, and I realized after my first that was enough. Although I adore… Read more »

Trish
Guest
Trish

I am an only child. I never found there was a big difference between me and kids with siblings. But as a maker of the occasional insensitive comment myself, what surprised me is that the offender in this story doubled-down on the insult. Every time I overhear people talk about how sad only children must be, I want to laugh. Don’t buy it, parents of only children!! The kid will be just fine.

Leigh Ann
Guest

I’ll never understand why people think it’s any of their business. I had the flip side of the coin where people outright asked me if I was crazy, seeing me pregnant with not even 2 year old twins. It was either keep my mouth shut, agree with them, or make them really uncomfortable by telling them how it was unplanned and I cried for 3 days straight when I found out. 

2 cents here
Guest
2 cents here

Well, it probably wouldn’t be as big a question if the world wasn’t filled with so many spoiled only children who grow up to be incredibly spoiled adults who expect to be spoiled by everyone in their lives. Even worse when they have aunts and uncles who have no children themselves, then it’s like 3 or 4 sets of parents all spoiling the only child instead of just one. This is not to say that every only child is like this, but to not realize the corollary is being dishonest. Having dated only children in my life, and knowing people… Read more »

Isabel Kallman
Admin

you sound angry. want a hug?

Suburban Snapshots
Guest

It’s “woe is me,” not “whoa”. And if you’ve dated only children in your life, that could be the root of the issue. You need to try dating adults.

MR
Guest
MR

Hahahaha!! Suburban Snapshots: Best response ever!

2 cents
Guest
2 cents

looks like I was right about you only wanting warm and fuzzy hugs and condolences for your post, it’s a shame you want to squash someone’s post when it doesn’t suit your own agenda, it’s also lacks journalistic integrity.

Isabel Kallman
Admin

i have no idea what you are writing/ referring to.

Meg
Guest
Meg

people are just plain rude…and not limited to people who have one child. I have five and someone asked me “if I knew what birth control was..” Silence is usually the best response to ignorance

Kat
Guest
Kat

I’m guilty. I have totally asked casual friends about the desire to have more/have any (I don’t think I have ever been rude, more along the lines of “do you think you will have another/do you think you want children”). We have one, and have kind of sort of been thinking of having more but most likely won’t. More often than not, I am just curious how other people made the decision to have none/one/more than one (knowing full well it isn’t always a decision in the strictest sense of the word – ours was a surprise). I will keep… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

Asking if they think they will have another is not rude. You are asking their opinion, and it isn’t assuming anything. What makes the comments like “When are you having another?” or “Well, you have to have a spare!” rude is that the other person is making an assumption for you. Growing up, my mom always told us, “you can’t think and feel for anyone else”. Making decisions for other people about how many children you should or shouldn’t have is trying to think and feel for them and passes judgement on the decisions they have already made. And that… Read more »

Susie
Guest
Susie

My favorite people to pop those questions- my inlaws. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my MIL, but if she asks me one more time when we’re going to start thinking about kid #2 my response will be “Isn’t 10 grandkids enough?” If it’s a SIL, my response will probably be more along the lines of “Sure! Right after the bank loans are paid off. Speaking of which, I’m taking donations…” 

Fortunately, they get me, and it’ll be funny. I have no idea what I’ll say when my mom starts in on me again…

Karen Cz
Guest
Karen Cz

I had my tubes tied when I was 23 before ever having a pregnancy because of a genetic disorder I have. Pregnancy itself would have been risky for me and the baby and there was a 50% chance of passing my illness on. The illness is practically a full-time job for me. And yet, close friends, co-workers, family members, near strangers…you name the subset of humans and I guarantee, both I, and my husband have been asked why we don’t have children yet and when we plan on making it happen. There are never any follow-up questions because we make… Read more »

Amy
Guest
Amy

To strangers, I like to respond with WOW, what an incredibly personal question! Then silence.

To neighbors I just give them the truth. I just turned 44 and I’m grateful for the two we have.

But we get this a lot since our neighborhood seems to be the first stop on the baby making train. So I’m guilty of it too. I just make it a yes or no question. “So are you (pause) done?”

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Lainey
Guest
Lainey

We’ve just had our first, 6 weeks ago. A gorgeous little boy who took 6 long years to arrive.

People are ALREADY asking when we’re having another, and act shocked when we tell them we have no plans for another child. We want to enjoy the one we (finally) have!

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

One of the very delightful things living in China is that NO ONE asks if you’re having another 🙂  No, kidding, they do, but they also totally are fine with it if I say ‘no, I’m not.’   Obviously there are many women here who would welcome the chance to have another, but it’s a very normalized thing here, so it doesn’t get mentioned often.   I actually get surprised when I go home and people are much more adamant about me having another one.  Frankly, it seems like the ones who want me to have another one most are… Read more »

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

I have to say that as a child, I had the best of both worlds. I had two older half-siblings who lived across the country. I would get to see the for a month or two out of the year. When they were here we had fun, enjoyed each other, and would fight like any other normal siblings. But when they would leave I would get to be an only child again. I loved it both ways. Being with siblings was but I loved it being only me too. I got to experience and do a lot of things that… Read more »

Laura
Guest
Laura

People are so nosy when it comes to pregnancy/family planning. I’m currently pregnant with number 3. My first two are 23 months apart and baby #3 will be 18 months younger than the second.  With each pregnancy I’ve been asked if it was planned, even by people I barely know.  This time people just assume it was an accident.  It really throws me off when someone I just met thinks it’s ok to ask me if I planned to get pregnant.  So far I’ve resisted the urge to give a snotty response, or get defensive and try and explain our… Read more »

Randi
Guest
Randi

Thank you for your article. I plan on my daughter being an only child but it has been a difficult decision to get to for a myriad of personal reasons. Your sentence, “We can only do what is best for our own family, and it’s okay if that vision changes along the way” is very helpful and meaningful for me.

Amanda
Guest
Amanda

Thank you! After being badgered by my own sister to have a child because my husband is my daughters step dad I finally snapped and googled “why I’m only having one child” what a relief to find this.

Tabby
Guest
Tabby

I get asked this constantly by friends and family. I had two still births and two miscarriages and my OB told me I was not to have anymore. We went to a high risk clinic for two week ultrasounds and I was induced a month early due to complications. I used to be polite when people would tell me I was wrong to say I wouldn’t want another one. So I started being rude back, family, friend or stranger. Now I say “well after having held my dead child in my arms I do not in fact want another baby… Read more »

Gloria moffit
Guest
Gloria moffit

I don’t know how old this post is but as the oldest of four I have to say that having siblings (whom I would not be without, of course)…isn’t always the skipping through roses-built in bestie for life-always there for you- thing it’s made out to be! My one brother, who is autistic and very hindered socially, I am probably closest too. We are just under two years apart, my other bro and sis, I’m lucky if I get birthday txt! Txt, not card or anything! After a family argument two years ago in which he assaulted our stepfather and… Read more »

conniecqu
Guest
conniecqu

I have one child, I have no clue if my husband and I will have more in the future, but I think it’s extremely messed up when people say their family wasn’t “complete” with their first child. What, the first kid wasn’t good enough? I don’t understand that at all. I adore my husband and child, the three of us have a very special relationship with eachother, and adding another person isn’t going to somehow make that better or more fulfilling– it’s already fulfilling. It’s already complete. If we end up having another child in the future, great, we’ll love… Read more »