Why one-child parents aren’t selfish

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Sian over at The Adventures of a Potty Mouthed Mummy wrote an excellent post recently about how annoying it is to be asked, as a mother of one, when the next baby will be coming along and how some people even regard it as selfish and unfair on the child when parents decide that one is enough.

I have to agree with her. Some people should really keep their opinions to themselves, methinks.

I can think of several reasons why a couple might choose to stop after one baby. Medical conditions for either the mother or child resulting from complexities during birth. Physical or emotional stress. (Don’t forget that dads can suffer from postpartum depression too.) Financial constraints. And, indeed, any of a number of other reasons, including the fact that, for some couples, one is simply the perfect number.

Actually, scrap that. No reason, explanation or justification should be necessary. The decision in itself should be enough.

As for being selfish, well. Is it selfish to have only one child? Are a deliberately childless couple selfish for not starting a family? What about a single mother with six kids relying on state benefits? Or the gay couple who choose to adopt? (I mean, come on, who could ever accuse Modern Family‘s Mitch and Cam of being selfish? Everyone loves them, right?)

What singles out the one-child family as the frowned upon target of such criticism? What’s selfish about a couple who can pour all their love, time and money into bringing up their only child? What makes them worse than the three-child family where the second sibling suffers from middle child syndrome, where neither parent ever has quite enough time to give the kids the attention they need, and where the need to carefully manage finances means that some sacrifices have to be made? Are they selfish for having a third child when they could have stopped at two?

It all rather depends on your viewpoint, doesn’t it?

Three is the magic number for me, but that isn't the case for everyone
Three is the magic number for me, but that isn’t the case for everyone

Heather and I have three children. Both of us always wanted more than one, and although life is certainly more challenging with three I can’t imagine having a single child. But that’s a personal choice as opposed to a sweeping judgement. Funnily enough, no one has ever accused us of being selfish for having three children. Mad, crazy and insane? Well, that’s a different kettle of fish.

What’s right for us isn’t necessarily right for the next couple. Nor should it be. The world would be a very dull place if everyone had 2.4 children, wouldn’t it? (It would also be a very strange world – what exactly does 0.4 of a child look like?!?)

So why do some people choose to impose their standards of what is ‘right’ on others? What exactly is the right number of kids? None? Two? Three?

What’s more ridiculous, though, is that we even consider degrees of selfishness based on the number of kids you have (or intend to have) as a measure of parental worth. It occurs to me that this is entirely the wrong metric on which to base a value judgement, like assessing how good a meal is based on the colour of the items on your plate.

Instead of branding parents as saints or sinners, selfless or selfish, surely the yardstick by which we should be judged (whether by others or ourselves) should be more along the lines of “Are we doing everything we can to be the best parents we can possibly be for our kids?”

That’s all that matters, surely?

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