Home » Blog » Sacrifice or Selfishness: Should a Kid Have a Sibling? (And a Giveaway)

My mom, sister, brother, and me (circa early 1980s)
My mom, sister, brother, and me (circa early 1980s)

Sacrifice or Selfishness: Should a Kid Have a Sibling? (And a Giveaway)


Am I selfish person if I choose not to have a second child?

I’ve been reading One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One by Lauren Sandler.  It’s one of the best nonfiction books that I’ve read so far this year:  exhaustively researched, gripping in its personal details, warm and honest, subtle, and persuasive.  I recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone interested in understanding their own choices about family size and in learning more about the impact of siblings (or lack of) on our own lives and our children’s.  I’ve had several readers comment about how much they love this book or want to talk about its conclusions.  But I’ve been struggling to get through it.  It’s taken me weeks to read single chapters.

It’s too personal for me.

It’s impossible not to have regrets in parenting.  I regret not taking away my son’s pacifier when he was much younger. (Now he’s two and loves his binky more than anything — possibly even me — on the planet.)  I regret the hours spent worrying that my son wasn’t walking, or talking, or crawling.  I regret my choice of carseat.

Those are all little regrets.  Tiny blips in the blur of everyday parenting.  They don’t overwhelm me or cause me to stop in my tracks on a particular day when I think about them.

But the decision to have another child, to provide my son with a sibling, feels impossibly huge to me.  I don’t want to have huge regrets about this one.

To me, the main theme of Sandler’s book is that no decision about family size fits all families.  She skillfully rejects the stereotypes about only children using convincing research and layer upon layer of cultural analysis.  It’s impossible to read her book and not realize that the former “truths” that we’ve held about only children — as lonely, selfish, and neurotic — just don’t hold up to reality.

And I buy it.  I really, really do.  I don’t think that my son will be lonely or weird or an outcast if he’s an only child.  The deciding factor in whether he’s a productive and happy member of society, able to form meaningful connections and realize his dreams, will  not be  the presence — or absence — of siblings.  As a teacher, I got to know (and adore) lots of delightful, smart, and well-adjusted kids who were only children.

After two years of sleepless nights, colic, and the chaos of infancy and early toddlerhood, I feel like I’m finally starting to feel like myself again.  A new “mother” self, but still myself.  As an introvert, I finally get the time and space that I need to carve out professional and personal pursuits.  I love seeing my son turn into a little person and spending my days with him.  I don’t feel like our family is incomplete without more children.  I feel whole and satisfied with one child and don’t really want more, at least not at this time.  But I’ll be 39 this summer and my time for having a decision to make at all may slip away.

I also can’t help but feel that I’ve had personal experience that might trump all of Sandler’s articulate case for only children.  My dad was 53 when he passed away from cancer.  I was turning 30.  My brother, sister, and I all lived in the Northeast, but my parents were in Florida, after two happy years of a sort of early retirement.

When I first learned that my dad was sick, five months before he died, it was my sister who told me.  We cried together on the phone and knew that our world had changed forever.

When I waited a few weeks before going to Florida to finish up the school year when he first got sick, I knew my brother was already there, mowing lawns and sitting with my dad on the porch.

When the doctors told us that there was no time left, all three of us flew back down to Florida, holding a sad and confused vigil for weeks.  And on the afternoon that my dad  died — a day whose sounds, sights and smells (the chocolate chip cookies that were inexplicably baked, the warm Florida October sun on the deck, the kind eyes of the hospice nurse) are seared into my memory, it is the touch of my brother’s hands on my head and shoulders, trying to comfort me as I cried, that I remember most vividly.

When a few days later at my father’s funeral, I simply couldn’t stand up in front of all those people and say anything — there were no words, for me, a writer — I felt at peace because I knew that my brother and sister would say all the words that needed to be said.

When my brother and I flew back up north, returning to our lives, we knew that my little sister had moved into my parents’ house when he got sick and would stay behind with our mother for as many weeks and months that it would take for her to find her way.

In short, I can’t imagine my life — everything that has happened between when my brother was born when I was three until these current years of negotiating early parenthood — without my siblings.

My mom, sister, brother, and me (circa early 1980s)
My mom, sister, brother, and me (circa early 1980s)

So, for me, even though I’ve been trained in research methodology and believe in the power of data-driven decision-making, this choice is ultimately one of the heart.  For me, it feels almost as profound as life and death, love and loss.  I’m afraid of regrets, either way.  I feel comforted by Sandler’s book, and the fact that only children are just as happy and healthy as anybody else, but it is only part of the story.

I agree strongly with Sandler when she says, “It’s hard enough to live your life on your own terms in a society that constantly tells women what to do with their bodies and what should occupy their minds; it’s at least doubly so within the psychological, financial, and temporal constraints of motherhood.”  But I also know that this story — my story — is only part of the equation; the life cycle of a family is long, holding many unforeseen challenges and triumphs.  I don’t want to deny my son the chance to experience those heartaches and joys without the company of siblings.

So there it is.  A book — even a wonderful, well-crafted one — can’t help me make a hard choice.

I’m thankful to Lauren Sandler for giving me two copies of her book to give to readers.  Leave a comment in this post (or any previous post in the Summer Book Club series) to be eligible to win a copy of this smart and riveting book!

And thanks to the FTSF hosts:  Stephanie, Kate, Janine, and Dawn!

How did you make your choices about whether to have more children?







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  1. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I saw Sandler’s appearance on the Today Show and was immediately interested in her book. Before our daughter, Sophie, was born, my mother-in-law (and a few others) constantly asked when we were having the next child. My pregnancy was awful and at the time, I vowed never to do it again. I was told that the moment Sophie was placed in my arms, I would forget all about the pregnancy and immediately want another baby.

    Here we are, almost 8 months later, and I still would have a panic attack if I were to become pregnant again. Not only is it the fact that I would have to go through pregnancy again, but as Sophie continues to pass through important stages, I breath a sigh of relief, recognizing that she is growing very quickly, but am relieved that I am slowly regaining my identity. Like you said, you’re a different person, but get to have a sense of self as your child grows more and more independent.

    I don’t know that I truly want to go through pregnancy and infancy again. And I, too, worry that I will regret my decision either to have another child, or to allow Sophie to be an only child. There is no right answer, and you really nailed it when you said that this is a decision that will always be made from the heart.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Elizabeth recently posted…Ah, Fork You!My Profile

    • “I breath a sigh of relief, recognizing that she is growing very quickly, but am relieved that I am slowly regaining my identity. Like you said, you’re a different person, but get to have a sense of self as your child grows more and more independent.
      I don’t know that I truly want to go through pregnancy and infancy again. And I, too, worry that I will regret my decision either to have another child, or to allow Sophie to be an only child. There is no right answer, and you really nailed it when you said that this is a decision that will always be made from the heart.”

      Yes, absolutely this. I am 100% in the same boat as you, and as you Jessica. My daughter is almost 2, and while I dont’ feel the pull to have another baby, and our family is perfectly content at 3, I am so afraid of that regret jumping up and attacking me in 3,5,10,20 years when it is much too late. So hard to know what’s right, we just have to do the best we can, I guess.

      Thank you for sharing! It sounds like a good book, and one I would love to read! =)

  2. A couple months after the worst of sleep-deprivation and feeling like all I was doing was working and taking care of my son was passed and I started feeling like myself again, my feeling shifted from thinking “This will never happen again” to “I’m not sure if I want to do this again” to “I want to have another baby”. So now I’m pregnant with my second and if everything goes well they will be 2,5 years apart. My son still nurses and doesn’t sleep through the night so sometimes I worry how that will work with another baby, but I’ll see that when the time comes. Just like with the first one I was sure this was what I wanted and later we’ll figure out the logistics.
    Good luck with making your decision!
    inbabyattachmode recently posted…The upside of academiaMy Profile

  3. Momma, PhD says:

    My mom had 2 kids- and to this day wishes she had more. I think the good (and simultaneously bad) thing about infancy and childhood, in general, is that they pass quickly.

    Just think back to high school. Did it feel interminable at the time? Probably. Looking back, was it over in a flash? Probably.

    As hard as the early stages are (and I must admit that I had 2 easy babies but still found that time challenging), they pass. You’re then left with (God willing) a lifetime of enjoying the people your kids grow into.

    My husband and I knew we wanted at least two. Now that we have two, I have the itch for three. However, he’s the primary caregiver, the stay at home parent. I think the decision is his to make. I might have to carry the baby, but after a 3 month vacation, I’ll be back and work and he’ll be juggling 3 kids, further delaying his return to full time employment, etc.

    Thankfully, I think few parents regret having a child- especially one that was a conscious decision even if uncertain. That said, I think many more regret not having more, starting sooner, etc.

    Mo of liveandloveinthepetridish.blogspot.com has written about ‘regret management’ in her quest to become a mom. It resonated with me. I think that’s how I operate. Even if things don’t work out the way I want, it will be guilt-alleviating/comforting to look back and know I did my best.

    Your only child will be fine- he won’t know what he’s missing (for good and bad- siblings aren’t all sunshine and roses)- it’s not about him, it’s not about you being selfish. It’s your (and your partner’s) feelings about it that you’ll have to manage.

  4. This truly is a decision each parent has to make for themselves…but good to see a quality book out there to help people make that decision. I thought I always only wanted one but after the first….we decided on two and then KNEW we were done. We got a boy and a girl and don;t regret our decision 🙂
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  5. Lauren Apfel says:

    I LOVE this, Jessica, what a thoughtful post. I am hugely fascinated by how many kids people decide to have and why. The choice to expand one’s family, whatever number you are moving on to, is monumental. Every pregnancy is an unknown. Even when it works out as planned, you still can’t predict the effect on the existing kid(s), the existing dynamic. There is a lot to weigh up, rationally, and then there is the heart, which speaks its own language. And then there is where the two meet on this particular question. My desire to have a third child was overpowering at times. We ended up with twins, which was not what I wanted, but I would still say (on balance) I am much happier having too many kids than too few. But it is so personal. There is no ‘right’ number, of course. Only the ‘right’ number for you and the circumstances which allow you to get to that number or not. Wishing you a smooth decision-making process on this one…
    Lauren Apfel recently posted…food, glorious foodMy Profile

  6. I don’t think I ever decided to have more than 1 kid… I’ve just always known that I wanted a big family. We almost stopped after #3 arrived, because the pregnancy was harder than my first two, chasing around 2 kids while pregnant was not fun, and PPD hit me hard. But once I started feeling like myself again, the desire for that big family returned, and here we are, pregnant with our 4th. This will be our last though. Captain and I both feel that any more than 4 and we won’t be able to manage the way we’d like to. Plus, I want to be done with the baby stage by the time I’m 30 and we’re ready to move on from the baby phase in our lives.

    I think as parents we’ll have regrets or What Ifs no matter what we choose. This week my older 2 are with their Grandparents, and it is absolute bliss only having 1 child (not that I’d give away my older two for more than a week). It makes me wonder where we’d be now if we had stopped with one or two.

    Sort of similar is my concern about this baby being another boy. Cabin Girl will be our only daughter, growing up without the experience of a sister to bond and fight with like only sisters can do. But I console myself with the fact that I have friends as close as any sister could be. If you do decide to stick with one, there will be friendships for your child to find that companionship with. And, they may be better, because they will choose to be friends, rather than be circumstantial friends because of their relation.

    Best wishes on making such a tough decision!
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  7. This is one of the most heartfelt and beautiful posts I’ve ever read about sibling ties/bonds. It’s just such a difficult decision. I’m a person who likes to analyze things backwards and forwards…but in the end, family size comes down to a matter of the heart and what “feels” right to me. There isn’t an objective list to check off and cover and there is no right or wrong way to choose. It’s just hard.
    Beautiful post. Beautiful.
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  8. KeAnne says:

    I love this post. I’m an only child who likely has an only child. We never planned to have an only; at one point, I wanted 5 kids (!). Then came infertility. We had our little boy via gestational surrogacy and while we do have 5 frozen embryos, we won’t have the money any time soon to pursue surrogacy again. My son is 4, and I wonder if I would be crazy to return to diapers, bottles and no sleep now that he is so independent. Interesting juxtaposition to your example, though: My husband and his brother are 7 years apart and pretty much had 2 different family experiences. When my FIL died in FL a few years ago, his brother was not a source of comfort.
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  9. Melissa says:

    We decided on only one child right now because of financial reasons. Not just current ones but long term as well. It’s expensive to raise children and we want to be able to give our daughter the best we can afford, not the mediocre.
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  10. First and foremost, I do have a sibling, but my mom was an only child by the way not by choice my grandmother had a hard enough time getting pregnant with my mom and was just lucky enough to have one child. The point is my mom is the least selfish person I know. So, only children seriously don’t have to be this and I think it is quite possibly the whole nature versus nature here for sure.

    And for the record, I found I was pregnant with Lily, when Emma was only 7 1/2 months. Not a plan and was freaking out, because she had colic, too. But somehow it all worked out and will tell you, if you have more you somehow manage. May sound crazy, but you just do. And thank you again for linking up with us!!
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  11. Dana says:

    We always knew we would have at least two, but my husband and I talked a lot about whether to have a third. We ultimately decided that our family felt complete with two kids, and I try not to look back and think “what if.” It’s such a hard choice; there are just so many unknowns.
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  12. Vivienne says:

    Thanks for writing this post and turning me on to Lauren Sandler’s book. This whole post really resonates with me as my husband and I are currently deciding whether to keep our family at 3 or move on to 4. It is truly a hard decision to make and I, too, fear the regrets I might have either way. I’m glad to know I’m not alone. I will definitely be checking out Lauren Sandler’s book. Thanks again!

    P.S. – My Mom and my husband are both only children and they are two of the most rounded and unselfish people I’ve ever met. They also happen to be the happiest people, too!

  13. I hate it when books don’t make the decisions for me! 🙂 I totally understand your challenge in making this decision. After dealing with PPD with my first, and, as you know, the terrible sleepless nights, it was hard to contemplate having a second. My husband has a son from his first marriage, and, despite all the research and evidence about only children {and the fact that his son is great!}, he always felt ‘bad’ about him not having a sibling growing up. I ultimately knew I wanted another child, as I love my relationship with my sister and just could not imagine growing up without siblings. And when my son was born and we brought him home, I so distinctly remember a moment sitting on the couch, nursing him, my 2yo daughter snuggled next to us and thinking, “I feel so complete.” My family felt so complete. I found the transition from 1 to 2 WAY easier than that from 0 to 1. I had already rearranged my life around a child. We had a ‘child’ schedule that our son could fit into…. and while it’s hard starting over with infancy, and the sibling bickering can wear on you, I just love love love the bond that I see between my children. It is amazing and powerful. {But there is no way in hell I will have another, LOL}.
    Maybe the best thing that the books and the blog comments can do for you is to know that no matter what you decide, both the empirical and anecdotal evidence are on your side 🙂
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  14. What a beautiful post and wonderful example of what it can be like to have siblings. Since I have two sisters I wanted my first child to have that experience too. But, Tom was born after 4 miscarriages and after a year of trying and not getting pregnant I was worried that I may not be able to have more than one. We started fertility treatments, but after one month I decided that all the work and craziness to try to have a second child did not make sense. I wanted to enjoy the child we had wanted for so long. So, we made the decision that if I did not get pregnant on our first IUI try that would be it. My daughter decided she would join our family. And then three years later we got the shock of our life when we found out I was pregnant again.

    Now the mom of three I’m thrilled, but I really think that as much as we plan, we never really know what life is going to bring. I also believe strongly in, we plan and God laughs!! Thanks again for a lovely post!
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  15. Mary Kathryn says:

    I love how you address these difficult (often argumentative) issues with such a gentle hand. I’d only say that each family is radically different, each human different. Our choices are directed by so many events. I knew a couple in college who dated seriously; I think they were engaged. They split up, married other people. The fellow and his wife decided to have no children. (She was the oldest of 6 when her parents divorced, and she’d already raised 5 siblings! No thanks!) The girl also married and they have 13 children. She has longed for more, but her body says no.

    There is no right answer. Even from a book 🙂

    Do consider your son 40 years from now. When his parents die, he will be alone in the world, except for cousins. There is no guaranteeing he will marry or have children. There are very few tangible things, really valuable things, that you can give him NOW, that he will still treasure after you’re gone. Siblings are the most valuable of that type of gift.

    It’s just as likely that you would have an “easy” baby the second time, as another difficult 2 years. I wouldn’t let that dictate for you. If anything, you’ll have the advantage of having done this once already.

    But you’re right that a sibling won’t automatically make your son a friendlier, more loving, more stable, more sociable person. A sibling is a gift that parents give a child. We don’t all give the same gifts. I hope you have peace, no matter what you decide. One thing’s for sure either way — your son has a loving mother, and that is an asset he’ll treasure too.

  16. Mary Kathryn says:

    Oh — I meant to say: at this juncture, your consideration is for your son, and what a sibling situation would mean for him. Of course, when (if) you have another child, you will have equal consideration for THAT child. You will wonder if your son is a good sibling for that baby 🙂 Just a thought. Love multiplies as we add children, I think. There’s a complexity and a growing flexibility in a large family, that’s usually not found in a small one. The large families I know (and I’m talking about 8-10 children or more) usually are filled with laughter, chaos, and hilarity. The chaos makes people flexible who otherwise would have been uptight, rigid. I think some of those flexibility traits are useful in a family.

  17. Mary Anne says:

    I have an only child. I was 35 when I had her. She was hard to get, and hard to keep here at first (she had heart surgery). She is 17 now and not ONCE has asked for a sibling. I really have had no regrets. Seriously. We are a good little 3 person family unit.
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  18. I am the oldest of six, and we all live close together so they are a huge part of my life. I lean on them constantly and they lean on me.
    My decision to have multiple kids was not really rooted in the benefits to my kids, but instead in my own selfishness – I had twins first who very sick when they were born very early, and I wanted the experience of having a singleton.
    I knew when the twins were infants I would have another, but it took me five years to actually decide to do it and for my husband and I to get on the same page. Having her was incredible – none of the first time mom stuff I went through the first time (and she was huge and healthy!)
    It is a big decision, and an expensive one!
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  19. Oh, Jessica. This is one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever written, in my opinion. Thanks for writing with such rawness and honesty about a deeply personal choice. I feel similarly- however, for me, it is about having a third child. My oldest is almost 7, 5 years older than her sister, and part of me really wants a third baby. But I struggle with the “selfish” side too; I’ve finally started to feel normal again. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am able to focus on my writing and my own ambitions. And then, frequently, I come back to the long view. How do I want my life, and my children’s lives, to look in 10 years? or 20? But having that kind of grand perspective doesn’t necessarily outweigh the compelling factors that are present in the here and now. I know I’ve talked with you about this before, so forgive me if I am repeating myself. Beautiful post, really.
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  20. Shannon says:

    Beautiful post, especially the part about leaving on your siblings during emotional times. I have lived reading the comments too. Every person and family has their own personality.

    It can be hard to be an only child at times. My dad was an only child because of medical complications and so when his parents aged, fell ill, and died, it was only him and my mom to care for them. A big burden for them to carry alone as my grandmother lived with them for more then ten years with dementia. He is the only link to his family that I know of.

    I have three little ones and the decision weighs hard on me if we will have another or not. I really want to get out of the baby stage so it is now or never. I don’t want to be pregnant and start with a newborn again. But…I have found that with each additional child my capacity to love had grown exponentially. My children love each other so naturally and powerfully it is almost instinctual. Of course they still argue and rile each other up as all children do. But it is amazing to see how they care for each other instantly from birth. I am a different and better person now then I was before I had children. And with each child I grow more.

    Also my for brothers and sisters are my best friends. I believe my children will feel the same when they are grown.

    Good luck. Follow your heart.
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  21. Laura says:

    I love how you discuss the strong bond with your siblings. I feel the same way! I look forward to reading the book.

  22. Erica Lewis says:

    I’m still making this decision daily as I just had my son 5 months ago. We are both 33 years old and feel that this decision needs to be made in the next couple of years. I would love to be able to sort this out for sure. I am one of 3 girls and my husband is one of 3 boys. It is hard for us to underestimate how much our siblings mean to us when choosing to possibly have only one child. Thanks for blogging about this and helping me not to feel so alone in the decision.
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  23. Wow, Jessica.
    This may be my favorite post of yours, ever. Deciding whether to have a second (or third) child is such a hard decision to make. Having had my first (and to date, only) baby at the age of 40 made me feel as if the decision to only have one had been made for me (because it felt too late to try for #2). However, part of me still wants to try again for another.

    We have the added issue that our son has developmental delays (autism spectrum) and we are unsure how capable he’ll be later in his life of earning a living and being independent. Part of me is absolutely dying to produce a sibling for him – somebody who is, by nature, likely to look out for him and help him once my husband and I are gone.

    I also go to the flip side of that and become worried that if I were to get pregnant, and the baby had more significant issues than my son does, that we’d financially be unable to guarantee the standard of care for them that they may require later on. It’s such a hard, hard call. Although I am now 44, I continue to feel like I haven’t quite made up my mind. Sigh.
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  24. Emily says:

    I haven’t been commenting on too many blogs lately, but I knew I wanted to read this one, because I think it is a decision that so many parents grapple with, whether it is to have one, two or more. My friends who have only children all seem to be “at peace” with their decision, assuming it was theirs and not mother nature’s, to make. As Stephanie said above, I went through this indecision after having my third! I know that sounds ridiculous, but I agonized over whether I was “done” having kids. My husband was willing to follow my lead, so we didn’t “try” but we didn’t not “try” either. I finally had an epiphany after an old friend became terminally ill…it just seemed to put everything in perspective for me and I knew I was definitely done. I realized that for me, it wasn’t about having more children, but that I was having great difficulty letting go of that baby-making phase of my life, a phase that had come to define me. I honestly believe there is no “wrong” decision here…as someone once said to me, you’re never going to regret having another child. But again, I also think that sometimes you need to dig a little deeper to figure out why you are unsure and what you can do to find a peaceful resolution. This was a wonderful, heartfelt post.
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  25. Elizabeth says:

    I had, and still have, even after having the 2nd baby, a hard time with this. I guess having only one child was never really an option (I always knew I wanted to have another), but I want to avoid my kids having much of the rivalry I have either experienced or seen in others Having 2 kids also means that there is no rest for the weary. One of us, either me or my husband, is nearly always doing something childcare related. Don’t ready my latest blog post! lol

    The wonderful part of having 2 is seeing the love between them, and the comfort in knowing that although one day I won’t be here to love them, they will always have each other and the joint knowledge and experiences they will share by being a part of our family.

  26. Kate Hall says:

    I treasure my relationship with my sister more than just about any relationship I have. We’ve experienced things together – so many things – that I haven’t with anyone else. I am no longer in touch with any of my close friends from my childhood and having my sister around to be able to say, “Remember when…” or “She reminds me of…” is so significant to me. Also, she’s seven years younger than me. I was an only child for seven years and was lonely. I went to daycare and preschool and summer camp and had friends, but was still lonely. That changed when my sister was born. She was still tiny, but I could go and try to make her smile or play with her. It made a difference. These two things were huge in helping me determine that we wanted to adopt more than one child (currently have three – and I’m pretty sure that’s it). I wanted my kids to have each other to grow up with. I really like how you were open-minded toward the book, yet formed your own opinion. Awesome.
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  27. You’re so right that ultimately it’s a matter of the heart.

    I come at this from an admittedly biased standpoint, as the oldest of 5, now with 5 children of my own. Growing up in a large family was such a wonderful experience. That’s not to say that our family or our life was idyllic or that we didn’t run on hard times, but having 4 people who are now my best friends today (and I’ll say that we really clashed sometimes as kids) is the greatest thing in the world. It definitely impacted my desire to have a large family myself.

    From where I stand, barring something major like a genetic roulette or inability to provide food and shelter, it makes far more sense to have multiple children than to have only one.

    You mention regrets. If you think about it, would a child ever actually be a regret, a mistake? When you look at the child you have and imagine another, do you really think you would feel regretful?

    I, too, am an introvert and I will say that this is the hardest part of having a houseful. Since I homeschool, I have to be very aware and intentional about carving out time for myself so that I can be a good wife and mom. It’s hard, but not impossible. Are these amazing, unique, intelligent, fun little people worth it? Oh yes!!!

    My observation of only children I know reinforces my thoughts that their experience is not necessarily always positive. Quite a few of my dearest friends are onlies. They are wonderful, driven, creative people–and yet all of them have chosen to have more than one child.

    I also remember two elderly neighbors I had once, siblings who lived next door to each other in their old age. They each had only one child who did not live nearby. In old age this was difficult, even painful, it seemed–both for the elderly parents and their children who were burdened with the full load of elder care.

    Our bodies are made for multiple pregnancies, and while some people might feel it necessary to have only one child, it seems to go against nature to work so hard and to stress so much to prevent multiple children. Maybe because we have reproductive technologies that allow us to plan our families so thoroughly, we overthink the issue? Even in nature most animals have many offspring (though some species raise their single young to adulthood before starting another family, so I suppose that’s something like an “only”).

    I think it is possible to have a child for selfish reasons. There really are people who have more children just to fulfill their need to be needed, or because they like babies (though maybe not older kids, oops!), or because they want to live vicariously through their children. But I doubt this is the case for those who agonize about whether the choice is a selfish one.

    And from a practical standpoint, I don’t think it’s selfish at all. I have heard people choose to have more children so their first will have siblings, because they don’t want one child to bear the whole burden of elder care, and even because they fear losing their only child should that child die. I believe that all of those (and other reasons people choose to have multiple children) are not selfish at all.

    I know there are many happy onlies. I also know quite a few who wish they’d had a sibling. And while there are unhappy sibling groups too (I don’t want to romanticize sibling situations), I have heard stories by the dozens of people whose siblings are their best friends, confidantes, and those with whom they share life most closely.

    Again, I freely admit my bias…But those are my thoughts, for what they are worth!
    Stephanie Stevens recently posted…Unexpected BreakMy Profile

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Stephanie! You really put into words a lot of my own feelings. And I agree sometimes that we overthink family size a bit too much. I think we’re so much older (many of us!) that we’re used to planning every detail of our lives and having our privacy and our freedom; when we have a kid, it throws so much of that into the air and we’re not sure that we want to do it again and again and again.
      Jessica recently posted…Sacrifice or Selfishness: Should a Kid Have a Sibling? (And a Giveaway)My Profile

  28. Our son was adopted from Ethiopia and my husband and I made the decision that he would be it, one and done. I struggle a bit with the guilt but also struggle with the thought that if we adopt again or have a baby, it would only be for him and not because we really want a second child. I just don’t feel like that should be the reason. I do strongly feel that every family is different and what works for one doesn’t work for another.

    I think, as a family, we were meant to be three, and are so happy together that I have to believe that it is the right decision. I do hope we don’t regret it but I only want another baby if I genuinely want it as much as we did with our son!

  29. Phyllis says:

    Thanks for this post Jessica! It really meant a lot. Our daughter just turned four at the beginning of July and everyone was asking when she was going to have a sibling. Even my OB/GYN was commenting, “It’s about time to have another one, right?” We’ve been debating and going back and forth a lot about having more children. I think I want to, but our life with just the one is soooo great and sooo awesome right now. Thanks for your thoughts and I hope to read Sandler’s book as well.
    Phyllis recently posted…A week of living out of a car..My Profile

  30. Jen says:

    No one can, right? I am in the same boat. I have my one and only, love him to death, and always thought I’d have 4. My sister is my best friend in the world, but the cards just weren’t there for me. After adopting, we had our more than fair share of struggles and real health issues with Isaiah, we didn’t even wonder if we could do it again until he was 3. But by then we were looking at a 4 year age difference if we were lucky…it just didn’t seem like the right decision.
    Now it is what it is. I love that book for making me feel better about a decision that was ultimately out of my hands. I miss the idea of a big family, but I love my boy so much and wouldn’t want to have to share that love either. So… well…that’s it.
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  31. I know people who were an only child and they tell me how lonely they were growing up with no one to play with. I know people who were one of many, and they tell me how many knock down drag out fights they had because their siblings drove them crazy for years. The grass is never greener on the other side. Life is what you make it. If you just have one child, fill their life with play dates and extra social activities. If you have several children (as I do) grab some earplugs and tell them to go play. And their future, as adults with siblings or without, will be what they make it. There is no cookie cutter family role model. Great post – loved it.
    Debbie McCormick recently posted…So today my mother tried to kill meMy Profile

  32. Sometimes all the advice and science in the world can’t answer seemingly simple questions. Sometimes, we just have to go with our gut and do what’s in our hearts even if it goes against “logic.” However, deciphering what that is can take time.
    Lisa @ The Golden Spoons recently posted…Do we get do-overs?My Profile

  33. Marlo says:

    I am an only child. Sadly, my mother was a single mom who suffered from depression & when she found out she was pregnant again, when I was 8 years old, she committed suicide.
    So I never cared to marry or have kids, though I liked them. Until my grandfather had his 80th birthday party with 100 guests… And I wanted roots. So at the age of 35 I got married and a couple years later my husband said he wanted kids. 2 years later, still not pregnant, we went through fertility procedure & got pregnant immediately.
    I overcame my fears of depression… It was the happiest I have ever been when I had the baby!! I was shocked how deeply I connected with him & was completely thrilled with one child. But my husband did a change on me and said it was supremely important to him to have another. I worried, but now I am 44 with 3 boys, and still totally thrilled.
    I was a happy only child growing up. I always felt special and unique. I hated seeing siblings argue – really bothered me. I never wanted a sibling, and there are small lingering feelings I have that my first could have been special like that, but he’d like even more siblings, he says!!
    So it’s confusing and rewarding, and you can’t give them everything – they can’t be both only kids and have siblings for example. And it’s not about not knowing any better… It’s about loving where you are in life and appreciating what you have.

  34. Trish says:

    Wow Jessica…you’d think we are the same person! I am a teacher, have a two year old son, turn 39 this year, grieved the death of my dear dad with my two siblings and am so content with my husband and son but still question if we should have a second. I had hyperemesis and high blood pressure that saw me vomit violently every day of my pregnancy which ended in an emergency Caesarian and a tiny baby who didn’t breathe on his own for the first 5 minutes of his life. I hope the love of my husband and I, his, extended family and friends and hopefully a wife and his own children one day will provide him comfort during life’s toughest times. However, I too am still looking for that definitive answer. Let me know if you find it.
    Trish recently posted…Ads important to stop boats: BowenMy Profile

  35. mt says:

    I’m responding late, but I just thought I’d add that the bias towards siblings is so strong that my husband and I, both happy singletons, immediately assumed that we’d have two kids. But now that our son is almost 15 months, we’re rethinking a having a second. Creating another human isn’t something we want to go into “just because.” We recently took our son to Japan (from the East Coast) to see family, and it was wonderful but utterly draining. “This will be easier when he’s a little older,” my husband said. Pause. “Unless we have a little baby with us.” Everything we’re looking forward to doing with our son is going to be put on hold the moment a new infant is in the picture. We’re having such a blast with him now. Our family feels complete. I also don’t love the idea of having another child “for him”–that sounds too much like we’re getting a pet. If we have another, I want it to be because our whole family is ready to embrace a new person.

    Siblings can be a great blessing, as you know from experience, and as I’ve seen from my own extended family. But I’ve also seen families in which sibling rivalry, bullying, and general incompatibility has been a great source of pain and strife, even when the parents have been loving.

    And that’s the thing with kids–with one or five, you plan all you like, but you just never know how it’s going to be.

  36. Julie says:

    I too was battling internally about whether to add a second child to our family. We were happy, healthy, and thriving with one…why add another (infancy, sleep deprivation, the added financial cost, etc). Hubby & I spoke of this often – our son was a good sleeper until teething time (that began at 7 WEEKS old!) which ended in us becoming a co-sleeping family just so I could get some sleep! After much discussion, we both felt we wanted to have another baby. I have two older siblings and couldn’t imagine NOT having them to go to with our life experiences/stories. My DH has three younger siblings which he predominately raised. Suffice to say, we have baby #2 (8 weeks old, big brother recently turned 2 years) and we KNOW it was THE SINGLE BEST decision of our lives (to add another).

    As someone wise said to me, “a second child is twice the love, half the worry.” Boy, was she ever right!!

  37. Amanda says:

    Thank you so much for this post. This is a frequent topic of conversation for my husband and I and we are mostly in the “one and done” camp at the moment. We both have good relationships with our siblings and feel guilty for preventing our daughter from having that but at the same time, we wonder if we would feel guilty for not being able to provide as well for her financially. And of course there is the guilt associated with not being able to give the same one on one attention if we have a second child. Thankfully we are still fairly young and have some time to make the decision. But we have decided that we don’t want a large age gap so we have given ourselves until our daughter is 5. Ultimately, we know that we can only do so much and God’s plan is what will prevail even if it’s not in alignment with what we have in mind.

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  40. Kim says:

    Thank you for sharing this, I can relate so very much to this..I’ve been dealing with the same mourning of the figment child I won’t have… And whether or not my son will be lonely not having a sibling to hold on to… I always pictured myself with two, but life doesn’t go as planned sometimes. I always felt that if it’s a struggle to be, then maybe it’s not meant to be…and that’s your sign. I don’t know…anyway I literally blogged about this today and then googled “am I a horrible person to not give my kid a sibling” and then found this post. It’s eerie similar to my personal situation. I hope for the both of us we can find our answers and have peace in our decisions!

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