Only-child families are on the rise, but parents say their choices are still looked down on.
Brenda Seltzer was still in the hospital, having just delivered her son, when her family started asking when she was going to have another one.
“Everybody was like, ‘How long are you going to wait until you have the second one?’” Seltzer, 33, told HuffPost. “I was like, ‘He was just born. What do you mean a second one?’”
Before she got pregnant, Seltzer had assumed she and her husband would have two children, but almost immediately she began having doubts. Her birth was hard and Seltzer required a blood transfusion. Finances also came into play. Seltzer and her husband both work full time, and her son’s full-time preschool cost nearly $20,000 a year.
“We started questioning: Why would we have two? I had a bad birth experience ... we were working full time, and we didn’t have much help with family nearby,” said Seltzer.
By having one child, they’ve been able to put money toward fun family activities, like a pre-COVID cruise and a family season pass to Disney World. They’re also able to pour themselves into playtime with their son when they’re not at work.
“We can have a great relationship with him,” she said. “We enjoy being with him.” Having “just” one child was the perfect choice for her family.
And they’re not alone. The number of American parents who have one child has been steadily increasing for years. According to data from the Pew Research Center, the proportion of moms at the later end of their childbearing years who have one child doubled from the mid-1970s to 2015 — from 11% to 22%. The much-hyped COVID-19 “baby bust” could accelerate that trend as more parents postpone having kids or question whether it makes any kind of financial, logistical or emotional sense to have more than one.
For many parents, the choice to have one child really comes down to knowing — and honoring — themselves and their particular circumstances.
“I chose to give my child a healthy and happy parent instead of a sibling,” said Amanda Pacovsky, 36, who has a 7-year-old daughter with her husband. She grappled with undiagnosed postpartum depression and anxiety, which “really took a toll on my mental health,” she told HuffPost, and could not imagine going through that again.
What one-and-done parents are sick of is having their choice looked down on, or having it dismissed as a passing phase. They resent the notion that they're not just as joyful about their family arrangement as a family of two or three or more children might be.
Her choice was also rooted in the desire to be able to afford extracurriculars for her daughter. Currently, she’s into cheerleading and running, but they’ve also signed her up for soccer and dance without fretting too much about whether they can afford it.
“We are definitely not wealthy,” Pacovsky said. Having just one child gives them some financial breathing room — because as any American parent can attest, having kids is wildly expensive. It costs more than $230,000 to raise a child from birth through age 17, and that is without factoring in college.
Pacovsky and her husband are really happy about the decision they made to have one child, but she is struck by how many people in her life are not — or assume that must not be the case.
Like Seltzer, she’s spent years having her decision dismissed, with family and friends telling her that she will eventually change her mind. Or noting the (debunked) stereotypes that only children are spoiled. Or even asking her what will happen to her daughter when she and her husband die. Pacovsky started a popular Instagram page dedicated solely to one-and-done parenting memes to, as she puts it, squash the stigma of being an only-child parent.
One-and-done families say that stigma is real. Despite the steady rise in only-child households, Americans still generally think of larger families as “ideal.” About 50% of Americans say two children is best, while 40% say three or more is ideal. This in spite of research suggesting that having a second child doesn’t make parents any happier — and may specifically cause women’s happiness to dip.
Ultimately, what one-and-done parents are sick of is having their choices looked down on, or having their desire to have one child dismissed as a passing phase. They resent the notion that they’re not just as joyful about their family arrangement as a family of two or three or more children might be. (Of course, some families have one child because of infertility or a death or other reasons out of their control.)
“Our son is amazing. I know everyone says that, but our son has changed our lives. He’s the perfect blend of both of us,” said Meredith Rufino, 39, who has a 6-year-old son. “He brings out the best in my husband. He brings out the best in me. He has truly been a blessing.”
Her friends and family have been puzzled by how it is possible for her to so obviously delight in parenting — to so enjoy the company of her son — but not want to grow her family to try to replicate the experience.
Rufino, however, wouldn’t dream of it.
“I know myself. I know my own strengths, and I know my own limitations,” she said, noting that she has dealt with depression and anxiety. “I would rather be a great parent to one rather than an OK parent to two.”