Like every other parenting choice I make, the decision to have only one kid is not an implicit judgment of parents who choose to have more than one child. In fact, put that on the list of things "one and done" moms want other moms to know, because that's always the first thing people think when they have more than one child and ask me when I'm going to "give my son a sibling." I usually respond, "LOL hard pass on that," while simultaneously fortifying myself for the judgment sure to follow.
Maybe it's because everything about the experience of having and raising kids feels so intensely personal. Maybe it's because we agonize over decisions of all sizes, trying to sort out what's best not only for our kids, but for ourselves. Maybe that's why, when we encounter someone who has ostensibly done the same soul-searching and landed on the answer we didn't pick, we can't help but swallow and immediate implication that they must think our choice was a bad one. Since having my first (and as of yet, only) child five years ago, never is this dynamic between parents more palpable than it is when someone raises the subject of how many kids they're going to have.
The best I can figure out is that the problem isn't in talking about how many kids we have and why (if we want, although you honestly never owe anyone an explanation for why you live your life or conduct your parenting the way you do). I think it's fine and, in most cases, constructive and healthy to talk about those things. I think it's the way we're framing the conversation that's problematic. Instead of talking about having different numbers of children like all approaches are equally valid, it so often feels like we're defending the number we've chosen (or are working towards) as though there must be a hierarchy established; there must be a single right answer.
And the outliers are always the ones who bear the most judgment, and (for some reason) from whom the most judgment upon others is assumed. Just like everyone assumes that a family with 10 kids is helmed by parents who think everyone else's use of birth control is fundamentally bad, everyone also seems to think that people who have just one kid think their family plan is better than everyone else's.
Being that I only have one child, I clearly can't speak for the perspective of the 10-kid parents, other than to say it's probably a failed idea to assume anyone is thinking about your life in any particular way. Most people don't think that much about the choices others are making at all. Most of us are basically self-involved, which is why we both think people are focused on our choices and why no one actually is.
But if I did have to represent my true feelings as a one-and-done mom to the other moms of the world, here's what I would want them to know:
It Doesn't Mean We Hate Being Moms
Like any other part of my identity, there are days when being a mom feels like my absolute favorite, most rewarding facet of who I am. That said, there are a lot of other facets to who I am, and how I divide my energy between all of them is intentional.
If I had more kids, I would have less time and energy for the other parts of my life, and I've decided to prioritize those parts according to what's best for me. I assume in having made the decision to have more than one kid, you've done the same.
It Doesn't Mean Our Kids Are Terrible
I mean, it's funny to think about someone's first kid being such an unmitigated nightmare that they're put off the idea of going in for round two, but I'm pretty sure that rarely happens. The relative value of my child was not a factor in deciding how many kids I would have.
But while we're on the subject, there are days when he is an unmitigated nightmare (there are days when yours are, too), and on those days I'm acutely aware that he is the only person in my life that I don't really have a choice on interacting with. If I'm randomly on the outs with a friend, I can just see less of them until we're in a better place. If I have beef with a colleague at work, I can avoid them until the waters calm. But if my kid is going through a phase of being kind of a jerk, or I am, or we're just out of sync for a while and hanging out together feels taxing, I can't just be like, "Let's go to brunch in a few weeks when things smooth out." I'm totally OK with only having one relationship in my life that I'm that constantly, ceaselessly obligated to.
It Doesn't Mean We Think Having More Kids Is A Bad Choice
I can name easily as many arguments in favor of having more than one kid as I can for stopping at one. It's literally nothing but a personal preference thing. You gain a lot and leave some stuff on the table no matter which route you go.
Yes, We Get Jealous Sometimes
Anytime I could use a minute of not engaging with my kid, but he's decidedly in a state of chattiness, and I'm aware that my choice to not give him siblings has left me as his only company a lot of the time? Yeah, I definitely think for a moment about how much we might both be benefitted by having another child in the house.
Yes, We Think You're Jealous Of Us Sometimes
By that same logic, yes, I absolutely think that sometimes you catch sight of me walking down the street, casually hand-in-hand with my single child, and if you happen to be having a day where your multiple kids are really maxing out your ability to juggle and maintain steady patience... I think you get jealous.
I don't feel smug about that. I don't feel anything about that, really. The nature of choosing one thing is that you unavoidably leave other options unselected, and there are upsides and downsides to both. I just think if our paths cross on a day when you're living the downside of your choice and I'm living the upside of my choice, you might feel envious.
All Of Our Kids Will Probably Be Fine
Not every only child is condemned to a live of selfishness and narcissism, nor will kids who grow up with five siblings grow up to be needy attention-seekers who don't know how to advocate for their own needs. I say our kids are all just as likely to end up just fine as they are likely to leave our homes screwed up. Most likely of all, we'll screw them up and they'll be fine. At least we have that part of parenting in common.