Raising Richmond: One or more?

The decision to start a family is big enough, but what’s even more daunting is figuring out how big you’d like that family to be. So today we’re talking about multiple children vs. the only child. We hope you’ll come share your thoughts.

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the latest installment of our parenting column written by two Richmond mothers: Patience Salgado (veteran mother of four gorgeous children), and Valerie Catrow (newish mother to a giant toddler). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

The decision to start a family is big enough, but what’s even more daunting is figuring out how big you’d like that family to be. So, for today’s topic… multiple children vs. the only child.

Please note that we’re not trying to argue about which is better. We just hope that by sharing how our families ended up looking the way they do that you’ll feel encouraged to do the same. We can’t wait to read your thoughts.

Patience Salgado

“What? How many kids do you have?”

I have already said “four” but there is almost always a double take. I like to think it is because I look too young to have such a gaggle, but I’m pretty sure it is more about the actual number. There is usually a head nod along with a “Wow! Wow, you sure have your hands full.” I can tell they are secretly thanking their lucky stars they are not me or wondering if I’m fundy religious. It’s funny, but I don’t think 15 or twenty years ago having four children was such a big deal, but it is today.

I can’t blame people exactly because when I see a family of five out, I get all Judgy Joanna and think, “Can you imagine FIVE?!” This also makes me laugh as it is only one more than my brood. As the opinions are flying around in the air and in people’s heads, I must tell you, big families are magic.

There is something about being your own tribe. You don’t need to join the party because you are the party. Kids have to learn how to navigate relationships with lots of different people, live in a space together, find their individuality among a group, and still have lots of layers of love around them.

It isn’t always the Partridge Family either; there was a point when we realized that caring for these little people cost more than we had imagined. It is taxing on a marriage to have four little children. For years we lived in less than 1200 sq. feet (we’ve graduated to 1500), our kids aren’t involved in lots of activities, and they share A LOT. I wonder if I am missing any of their tiny emotional cues or struggles just because things are often chaotic. I have no clue how we will pay for college. Not to mention, there are many moments of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

Yet when I watch them push each other on the tire swing, huddle together under a blanket on a tiny couch to watch a movie, have massive tickle fights or dog pile, and defend or comfort each other, I feel so blown away by the joy that exists because of who they are, because they have each other. When things are hairy, I reflect on the wisdom of my own mom. “Honey, when you are old, you will wish you had more children.” I think she may just be right.

Valerie Catrow

Whenever I mention that our son JR might end up being an only child, I get one of two responses:

1. But he’s going to be lonely/narcissistic/weird!
2. That’s really selfish of you.

The point about loneliness is valid, and I get where people are coming from. But, as my husband pointed out to me recently, people like what they know. Not once has someone who grew up as an only child voiced those concerns to me. And when it comes to the narcissism and weirdness thing, I think we can all agree that only children don’t necessarily corner the market on those qualities; they arise from a variety of upbringings, as do their more positive counterparts. It’s up to us as parents to provide experiences that highlight and nurture the good.

As far as the selfishness accusation goes…well, I’m a bit baffled by it, probably because I’ve been hearing it so much lately (my son is two, the age at which many people start hearing rumblings of a sibling in their not-so-distant future). Is that what people really think of intentional parents of only children? Is it selfish of us to want to keep our family as it is: a tight-knit, peaceful, loving little nest of three?

For me, considering the one-child path isn’t about body issues or sleep or money — many seem to assume that those three factors are solely what drives the decision to raise only children.

It’s about a feeling in my gut…or current lack thereof, really.

When we started trying to get pregnant just over three years ago, I had a deep-seated, desire for a baby; I felt it down to my core. I was going to be someone’s mama, come hell or high water. I’ve done that now. I’m doing it. I don’t think I necessarily have to do it multiple times over to make motherhood more real or fulfilling for me. Having another child (or having a child at all) is not something I want to be on the fence about. I think we owe it to Hypothetical Baby #2 to be sure, to wait for that feeling in my gut that it’s time. Currently my gut is most decidedly quiet on the matter.

Do I miss the excitement of expecting a baby? Sure. Am I wistful for the days spent smelling a delicious baby head? Absolutely. But raising a child goes beyond those first few years of onesies and chubby toddler cheeks/thighs/everything. We want to make sure that if we do ever end up actively pursuing another pregnancy that it’s not because we feel like it’s expected of us or we miss our son’s babyhood. We’ll pursue it if/when we genuinely feel that our family is incomplete. These days, when I look around the dinner table, I feel like we’re all here — and happy to boot.

But who knows? Nothing is set in stone. I could be unexpectedly pregnant as I’m writing this (IRONY!) or our feelings could change as soon as this piece is published. Kids have an incredible ability to change your heart. What I know for sure is that right now, we’re happy with how things are. Our team of three: one mom, one dad, and one completely awesome kid who is our everything.

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Patience Salgado

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