As one of the first of my close friends to have a child, I now find myself one of the very few remaining with just one. Most are either childless by choice, pregnant or already have two under three; I always knew I would leave a bigger gap, partly because the idea of two sets of tantrums at once made me weak at the knees, but mostly because I knew I couldn’t afford childcare for two (it would literally cost me to work – and I would have an out-of-home job regardless of whether I needed to or not, because I like to). Now that we’re coming up to our daughter’s third birthday, suddenly something that seemed a long way away is gradually hoving into view.
Thing is, we always assumed there would be two. This largely came from me. As one of two myself, I really like having a sister. We had a fractious relationship as children, with a fair few fights – sugar and spice, yeah? – and a couple of (hundred) screaming rows. But there was lots of love, and her departure to uni when I was in my early teens meant that we quickly shifted into being good friends; these days our relationship is something I treasure a great deal, and I simply adore being an auntie. My husband is an only child, and had very few, and thoroughly fleeting, longings for a sibling; most of his friends were also only children, and they all talk about how nice it was to have space for themselves whenever they wanted it, and friends when they didn’t. The myths of loneliness and lack of socialisation don’t even enter into it. And frankly, I never believed them anyway; I don’t believe loneliness is as simple as being about the number of people available to you. In the tongue-in-cheek words of my friend Anna: only a child with a sibling knows the exact middle of a Mars bar… and they always want the bigger half.
But why two? What’s special about two? Did I want two because I was one of two? Because I saw more of myself in Beezus and Ramona than I did in Anne of Green Gables? Because I, frankly, made the decision years ago – without thinking about it, and making huge assumptions about the person I’d be and the situation I’d be in. (For a start, if you’d asked me ten years ago I’d have insisted I’d be a stay-at-home mother. Ha!)
This is not the first time in my life I’ve been brought up short and realised that, in my personal life, I’ve been known to live with my eyes closed. At work, my eyes are on the future, on the possibilities, on plans unfolding… at home, sometimes, life goes on almost by default. I never imagined having a civil ceremony when I got married, but pictured a church wedding; why did it never occur to me I might not marry a Christian? I never imagined not christening my child(ren); but, as it turned out, how could I make that decision for her in the circumstances? And then it occurred to me: why should I make that decision for her? Shouldn’t joining a faith, if it happens, be something an adult does – with eyes open and sober consideration?
And so circumstances – in this case, a whole range of factors from practical to emotional – are forcing me once again to actually consider my options. When it comes down to it, ultimately, it is my option. Because of the physical impact of childbearing on the person who actually bears the child, my husband has declared that the deciding vote is mine; 51% of the decision, if you will. But we discuss all the different effects each decision could make on our joint lives, and the life of our first child.
I’m not going to go into all the pros and cons of having a second child, because they are intensely personal to each individual family. I’ve heard child-free couples say “but I just couldn’t give up x, y or z freedom” and I know the urge to go “but why not? Children are oh so speshul!” and to hold it back, and watch said couple get pissed offed as others dismiss completely valid reasons out of hand. Yes, it is valid to prefer, for example, being able to travel whenever you like or not having to spend your money on (any kind of) nappies for 2 years, whether or not those kinds of things matter to you personally. There might be times when I have the right to demand others take note of my value judgements about their choices, but this ain’t one of them. And so there’s simply no point in laying bare all my reasons and not-reasons, because I don’t want the Internet At Large to tell me which ones matter and which ones don’t.
So why am I sharing this at all? In fact, I’ve been myself massively conflicted over whether to post this. On the one hand, I think that posts like this, wherein women admit their ambivalence, confusion or uncertainty about any aspect of child rearing, can be, in general, a Good Thing. I look out for them myself, and I take comfort from them and I think they collectively change the conversation we have about motherhood, which is excellent. Inasmuch as my words matter in the world, I’d like to offer that sense of tribal belonging to another. But I also worry that it might have some impact on future employment (though I’ve moved towards dismissing that one as I’m already quite clearly a publicly A. N. Mother; I rather think the stable door is swinging in the breeze there). I’m even concerned that, should I eventually choose Operation Two Kids, said second kid might one day find this and think “Jesus, she never wanted me,” when of course the point of the piece is that if we go there then it will be because we really, really, really did.
So really, the reason I’m posting this is to say that if, like me, you’re not sure but you do have options… try to give yourself a real, honest choice. The one thing we have made sure to allow is the possibility of either. It took me a while to admit to myself that the default I’d presented to myself might be flawed. I prefer living life with my eyes open.
[Original image source unclear. Happy to credit / remove on request!]