From the time people found out I was pregnant with Everly, I’ve been asked whether or not I want more kids. Usually, it’s less of an ask and more of an assumption that I would want and have more children.
From comments like, “It’ll be different with your next child” or “She’s going to be such a great sister” to questions such as, “When are you going to start trying again?” and “How many more kids do you want?”, the messaging is clear: you should want and have more than one kid.
This is why deciding not to have more kids felt like the hardest decision — not to make, but to assert. I felt like I was somehow letting the world down. I was doing something wrong by not having more children.
Am I selfish?
Is something wrong with me?
For the first 18 months of Everly’s life, I talked about the choice ad nauseam with my husband. Should we have more kids? Maybe we could do it? I mean, it would be fun for Everly to have someone to play with, right?
This fixation on achieving some externally rooted image of completeness eroded my ability to listen to myself, especially as more people around us started having more kids. I got so caught up in the projections of others, I ignored my own wants and feelings.
Whenever I explored the possibility of not having more kids in conversation with others, I would hear back, “Oh, just wait till she’s a little older and you’ll think differently” or “But you don’t want her to be an only child, do you?”
Not only was I dealing with my own shame and fear that I was being judged as a parent, but I was also absorbing the assumptions and biases that people have about only children.
Eventually, and not surprisingly, I had the most enlightening conversation with a good friend of mine who does not want and isn’t planning to have kids. As such, she, too, has felt like her choices and wants have been scrutinized her whole life.
I had been carrying the weight around for months — knowing what I wanted to do but feeling like I couldn’t actually say it. It was safe to explore the idea, but not to own the choice.
But like a beach ball being pushed under the water, it can only hold for so long. I exploded. I talked through every point and counterpoint about whether or not to have more kids, made a few angry remarks to the people who passed judgment on Everly and assumed they knew what kind of person she would be based on knowing one fact about her life, and tried to defend against the biggest fear that my brain had held on to — I was selfish for not wanting to give more of my time, body and life to raising kids.
After I said it out loud, I was hot, a little nauseous, buzzing, and wet from the tears pouring down my face. But for the first time, I felt rooted to myself. I had been absorbing everyone else’s wants, ideas, opinions and projections for so long, I had felt silenced. And unfortunately, silence is the optimal growing condition for shame.
I had placed the entirety of my worth and value on the outcome of this decision and lost site of the true place it has in my life and value overall as a human. A decision that was mine (and my husband’s) to make and had no bearing on anyone else’s life but ours. A decision that did not define what kind of mother I was and would not dictate who Everly would be.
One of the things my friend was able to offer after her own experiences of dealing with people pushing her to think about having kids was that the happiness of her life has never been achieved by making choices that satisfied someone else’s goals, whether it was wearing a certain clothing item, choosing a certain career or deciding whether or not to have kids.
Their opinions were simply ideas and suggestions from people who had no responsibility or power to lead her life. And as such, the decision, for her, was about letting herself down by living for others, or being okay letting others down for things that were never theirs to hold to begin with.
It wasn’t that exact day that I finally let go of the pressure to satisfy everyone else’s idea of what a full life looks like or let go of the assumptions and projections others have put on my life. If I am being honest, it is still a work in progress. But I have come to accept a few simple truths:
- I am not a better or worse parent because of the number of kids I have. Love, intentionality and depth of connection is not quantifiable or comparable.
- I am allowed to build a life that is fulfilling to me and make choices that align with that vision and life. The way I choose to invest my time and energy in the world is for me to decide.
- I can choose things that others do not understand or want.
- No one else has to live my life so I have to make sure that I am the one driving my life where I want and need it to go.
- Everly is not destined to be selfish or unkind because she is an only child. Character is built and informed by so much more than the number of siblings we have. Plus, as an adult only-child, can I just say that it’s hurtful and harmful to keep putting these assumptions out there.
At the end of the day, parenting is incredibly hard — no matter how many kids you have — and we could all use more love and support as we show up every day trying to be the best caregivers we can be and raise the best humans we can raise without worrying about whether or not we are doing it right or are good enough.