The Power of One (Child)

By choice, Xavier will be our only child. It’s not that we wouldn’t have loved and adored child number two, three, and so on. Every child is a treasure, and my wife Annabel and I do not begrudge others their larger families. There are a few big reasons, though, that we are glad we didn’t succumb to the subtle (and not so subtle) pressures put on parents to have multiples. Maybe some of these reasons will resonate with you, too:

Simplicity. Having one child means dinnertime never rolls around with one stranded at soccer practice, one boycotting homework, and one needing a diaper change. Nobody breaks somebody else’s toy and nobody calls anyone else a mean name. As a trio, we fit in a small house, a small car, and at almost any restaurant table. If one of us goes for a bike ride with Xavier, the other has the morning free and alone to just be. Xavier fits nicely between us on a park bench and in Xavier-sandwich hugs.

Economy. Our family lives debt-free in large part because of that small house and small car. We’ll only pay for braces and college once, and we only buy three tickets to see Grandmaman and Boom Boom in Maine. Money is not the measure of important things, but there is something to be said for sane finances. Try the USDA’s free calculator to see how much it might cost you to raise a child. Depending upon a few variables, this ranges from around $200,000 to $500,000 before college. Add college, multiply everything by a few kids, and you’re looking at one reason we are Overworked and Overspent Americans.

Footprint. As the Worldwatch Institute’s Robert Engelman points out, human impact on the planet is the product of consumption patterns and population size. Like all earth-conscious do-gooders, Annabel and I are often plagued by guilt about our footprint. It helps to know that we are moderating our impact through both lifestyle and family size.

Fullness. Some people think a single-child family makes an impoverished experience for both child and parents. Xavier does not live a life of solitude, though. He has friends and cousins that he plays with regularly. We feel that having one child allows us to build stronger relationships within our family and leaves more room for each person to be themselves. Annabel was able to stay at home for the first four-and-a-half years, then pursue her dream of becoming a physician. In this day and age, that’s having your cake and eating it, too.

Those are the big reasons we made our choice and stuck to it. None of this is to say that having a larger family is irresponsible or a bad idea, just that the one-child family is a wonderful option that more people should consider.

For an extended look at trends and research surrounding this topic, check out Time magazine’s 2010 article, “The Only Child: Debunking the Myths,” and Bill McKibben’s 1998 book, Maybe One.

Jake Giessman is a teacher in Columbia, Missouri, and a guest blogger for the Center for a New American Dream.

« More Posts


@Helene – There is no guarantee that siblings will have good, lifelong relationships. I’ve seen siblings become estranged under the stress of dealing with aging parents.

Posted by KM at January 11, 2013 at 1:38pm

@Helene- those are indeed things to consider, however, if you are in the boat that my husband and I are in… we had our son, no problem…we started talking about him and boom he was here. Since then, we are expriencing trouble conceiving, without reason. We’ve even gone for help. Still, nothing. So everytime you say things like “What happens when your son has no one to share the burdens and decisions,” etc. Think before you speak b/c it’s not always a choice. Everytime says that, or something like, don’t you WANT another one? Or you’re not a real parent until you have more than one… it cuts. It slices. Although your intentions may be purely innocent, what you’re saying hurts. Keep your opinions of how many children someone should have, to yourself. I know my son is going to be alone when my husband and I are older. It’s not for a lack of trying, Also know, my son WANTS a sibling, so when you say those things in front of him or only children, remember, you could be hurting them too with your remarks, opening and re-opening wounds they have…

Posted by Paula at December 12, 2012 at 12:43pm

We adopted our children through foster care, for some of the same reasons.

Posted by Allison at August 14, 2012 at 10:42am

When we decided to start a family, my husband, an only child, thought one child would be enough. I came from a family with two children, and thought I’d wait and see if I might later want to try and convince him otherwise. In fact, planning is only wishful thinking sometimes. We were blessed with twins, and have had an adventure never sought after. I imagine there are others that found themselves blessed with more children than they planned to have. Life lesson #2 – we are not in control!

Posted by Ann at July 25, 2012 at 8:30pm

We also have only one child for many of the same reasons. While I largely think we made the right choice, we do have some regrets. She has been an only grandchild and even, on my side of the family, an only great-grandchild for 13 years (her only living great-grandparents died when she was 8, but my point is that my sister, my husband’s brother and NONE of my cousins have had children to date). My sister is expecting a baby now, but that child will be living on the east coast, and we are the midwest. Besides, the baby will obviously not be a playmate to my daughter. We also live in an aging suburb, so playmates in the area have been few and far between, and with overscheduled families, the challenges of getting my child together with neighbor children is ridiculous. Long story short: she is a lonely only. That has been the hardest part of our choice. I also do worry about what she will deal with as we age. My parents are divorced (my plan is that my husband and I will remain married, though of course, I can only control my own choices throughout our lives). My mother moved to be near me so that, because she had seen, as her own parents aged, how important it was to be near at least one of your kids. It is more affordable for her to live where I am than where my sister is, so I will be the primary person looking out for my mom as she ages. My dad lives far from me and my sister and is pretty much not talking to my sister, so he, too, will be primarily my concern, and that from a distance. I think of how stressed I am just thinking about my own parents… and then there are my husband’s parents (also no longer married to each other). And then I think of my daughter being alone when we age, and I wonder if Helene doesn’t have a good point: it’s good when you can share the burden.

So, I’m not saying everyone go out and have lots of kids. Like I said, we made the choice to have one, and I think we’d still make the same choice. But know that there are drawbacks in a highly mobile aging society.

Posted by Kate at July 25, 2012 at 5:59pm

We have only one child as well, for a number of other reasons different from yours. In fact, my husband completed college while we we re both working, because he had time for everything esle.
However, my staying at home to delay a career was not one of the reasons. Actually we could afford excellent daycare for my daughter because she was the only child.

Posted by Ujjvala at July 25, 2012 at 1:19pm

Well all your reasons sound great but consider what happens when you get older and your son has no one to share the burdens and decisions of what to do with Mom and Dad. I know a lot of couples today that regret that decision to only have one child, and the children themselves are not happy that they are placed into this position with no one close to turn to and no one else to share treasured memories of the past.

Posted by Helene Last at July 19, 2012 at 6:50pm

All of these reasons resonated with me. I couldn’t have stated them better myself. I am an only child, always wanted to have an only child, and am the mother of a 10-year old only daughter. I couldn’t be happier with this decision!

Posted by Liana at July 19, 2012 at 1:06pm

I support your choice, of course, and applaud your thoughtful decision making process. We, though, chose to have 2 only children (12 years apart), reaping the same benefits you mention while multiplying our family joy exponentially. We love only children! We were so lucky to have 2 of them! Life lesson – never say never. Sometimes the best is yet to come! Hope you are well! Best!

Posted by susan hall at July 18, 2012 at 9:03pm


Connect with Us