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

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Kristi on said:

    Well said, ladies.

    Family size, or the choice of no kids, is such a personal decision, and I don’t understand people’s need to question and judge. Do what makes you happy and don’t worry about anyone else.

    We chose two children to make our family, and we’re happy with what we’ve created. We each have just one sibling, but I’m not sure that really played into our decision, because our sibling relationships are not a picture-perfect ideal that we’re striving to re-create. Two just seemed right to us.

    We were happy loving just our little man and briefly considered stopping at one — wouldn’t he love to grow up the center of our attention? Maybe. But there was always a but — but wouldn’t he be such a sweet big brother? but how wonderful to have another just like him?

    I was 35. We decided to try and whatever happened, happened. No stress, no tests, no treatments. We got pregnant on the very first try.

    Our little man is an amazing big brother. Our little girl is the joy and the heart of our family. We got it right — for us.

  2. Very well written.

    I was verging on spinsterhood when I met my husband (okay, exaggeration) but we got a late start on the whole family thing. I was 38 when we had our child. I can’t remember if we decided on having just one when we were expecting our darling girl or when we were deliriously exhausted in our first months with her, but it is the right decision because it is ours. I really dislike people who feel they must dictate how you carry on your life.

    I don’t think I’d be a good mom to 3 or more kids. And why should I have a second just because everyone else is doing it? Perhaps if I had a close relationship with my brother that didn’t involve a whole lot of resentment, I’d consider it. Siblings are not guaranteed best friends.

    But every couple has to look at their personalities, their tolerances, and their expectations for the future. I liked the idea of being able to travel more easily and affordably with just one kid. Just one college education, since I’ll be verging on retirement age when she graduates. Just one trip through babyhood that can be so draining. Our house is perfect for the 3 of us. One more person would be too many here.

    Sometimes I feel badly that she doesn’t have a brother to wrestle with, but I accept that part of our decision resulted in many more games of Uno and rough housng. But what is parenthood without regret and guilt? Whatever decision I made would result in some of those feelings, it’s hard-wired into being a mom.

  3. bopst on said:

    It’s purely a financial issue. I simply don’t make enough money to have anymore children…

  4. Stephanie Williams on said:

    1. I would never use the word selfish to describe you in any way.
    2. You are an awesome mom in every way
    3. My fiance is an only child and I think he’s pretty alright ;)

  5. I grew up an only child and always wanted a sibling to… I guess complain about my parents to. I found that with my best friend who I met at 14. I don’t feel that I missed out on anything being an only child. Although I tend to retreat to myself and read after times of to much excess or involvement with others.
    I have two teenagers now. I started young and thought that I wanted to see how siblings interacted because I never experienced that. I’m so happy with how my children turned out! They are amazing people and I wouldn’t trade them or their current ages for the world. When I was 24 having my first none of my friends had kids. Now that I’m 42 and my friends are starting their families I am able to enjoy babies but with out craving them. I’m happy to get into my 40’s exactly where I am.
    Little people are a learning curve when ever they enter your life but one for the better. My two kinda of closed the sibling gap for me. I no longer wonder or yearn for that interaction.
    I think it’s a financial and emotional journey and unique for every one.

  6. “The point about loneliness is valid.” Not really. Not in a period in history when children are socialized early in daycare, nursery school, and so forth. Years ago, the term “play date” didn’t exist…and for older only children, technology keeps them connected minute by minute to other children. New studies also refute the “lonely only theory.”

    Selfish to have one? Absolutely not. For more on all the points raised in the piece and answers to many other question about having one child, check out my website or blog at Psychology Today magazine:

  7. Parenting is about selflessness and unconditional love. One, two or ten children…we are still called to master both virtues. Our abilities are refined by each child who speaks those words: Mom, Dad…

    Perhaps that is the greatest truth…we think we choose the size of our families. Perhaps it is in being a good listener to our inner parent that children find us and allow so many different flavors of family to exist.

    I am the oldest of four, married to the youngest of six, and grateful to learn something new every day as the mother of five. We change the world by what we teach our children. I teach mine that there are few gifts greater than family…no matter what flavor…it’s all good!

  8. Julie on said:

    In response to the “I have no idea how we’re going to pay for college” from Patience…I don’t think you should feel obligated to do so. One of the hardest parts of parenting, for me, is knowing that hardship breeds character, but never wanting a single hardship (really) to touch my kids. But at age 24, which is a great time to start college because by then you’ve got a better shot at getting serious about a particular field…at that age, the kid is “independent” and can file for student aid with no consideration to his parents’ money. I don’t think student loans are bad, they have among the lowest interest rates out there on any kind of financing, and there are plenty of grants & scholarships. Honestly, I think a kid will appreciate something they do for themselves more, take it more seriously, than if it’s paid for by the parents. Furthermore, it’s hard to save up money and I’d much rather save so that I don’t burden my kids in my old age or if I have medical problems, than to pay for them to have several years of drunken transition between high school and “the real world.” Just my 2 cents on that score. I think the hard work is more challenging than the funding, and moral support is better than financial.

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