Caroline’s been called selfish, lazy and cruel. Her crime? Wanting only one child
20:12 EST, 15 April 2012
18:38 EST, 16 April 2012
When I first held my newborn daughter, Mia, 18 months ago, I felt an overwhelming sense of completeness. She was everything I’d ever wanted. It took just three days, however, for that question to crop up: when was I going to have another?
It came from my father-in-law as he visited his new granddaughter. It was just a throwaway comment. ‘It won’t be too long before you’re thinking about the next one,’ he said. But it filled me with rage.
Exhausted and hormonal, I admit my temper got the better of me. Mia, I snapped, would be our only child, that had always been our intention.
Mum of one: Caroline Jones with her daughter Mia
My father-in-law was a little taken aback, but pressed on regardless. ‘You say that now, but you’ll change your mind – all women do,’ he said. ‘After all, it would be cruel to raise her as an only child.’
Fearing an almighty row was about to erupt, my husband, Colin, quickly ushered him from the room.
But I was devastated. Was it really cruel to want only one baby? After all, I’d told my whole family many times I planned to have a single child.
The idea of a huge close-knit family, living constantly in each other’s pockets, never held any attraction for me. It sounded far too chaotic and claustrophobic.
My rule of thumb has always been that there should never be more children than bathrooms in a home.
I have just one older sister, Jo, and although we’re on good terms, we weren’t close in our teens and she’s lived abroad since her early 20s.
So I find it easy to relate to being an only child and I’ve never seen it as a bad thing.
Playdates: Caroline Jones argues even only children are rarely without playmates (file photo)
You see, I was never entirely sure I wanted to have any children at all.
When I met Colin, now 39, I was relieved that, even though he is close to his two sisters, kids weren’t a crucial part of his life-plan either.
We agreed to see what happened on the child front before gradually warming to the idea of having one. Just one.
Mia came along, the father-in-law had his say, and for a few blissful months all was quiet.
But the respite didn’t last. When Mia was just five months old, I was accosted by a complete stranger at a local cafe as I manoeuvred my pram.
‘Time for another one?’ asked this middle-aged man. At first I thought he was talking about my latte. Then I realised what he meant and was totally speechless.
Why do people feel it is OK to get so deeply personal with women in this way?
It turned out the campaign had just begun.
For years I’d put up with people ignoring my successful career as a journalist, preferring instead to question when I was going to start a family.
I waited until I was 34 – hardly ancient – and two years into my marriage, before Mia was born.
I had stupidly assumed that by reproducing, all such comments would come to a halt. Instead, the emotional blackmail has actually got much worse.
Before you have children, people hold back a little. After all, you may have undisclosed fertility problems and be secretly desperate for a baby.
But once you’ve had one child, it’s open season. People just ask outright as if they’re talking about the local bus service: ‘So, when’s number two going to arrive?’
Happy as they are: Caroline Jones her husband Colin with their daughter Mia
Only recently, a neighbour, a mum-of-four, stopped me in the street and said: ‘You must be thinking about having a brother or sister for Mia now?’ It felt like she was accusing me of forgetting to buy my daughter a Christmas present.
It incenses me that parents of only children are routinely dubbed ‘selfish’ and told they’re condemning their over-indulged kids to a lifetime of loneliness.
My view is that, unlike parents of large families, we will be able to devote all our time, money and love into turning Mia into a happy, confident little girl. And a raft of recent research backs us up.
Dr Sultana Choudhry, director of Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health at London Metropolitan University, states: ‘Only children perform better at school, have stronger self-esteem and experience fewer mental health problems.
‘My rule of thumb has always been that there should never be more children than bathrooms in a home’
‘It’s also a myth that they’re spoilt; only children score highly when it comes to self-resilience and dealing with emotional problems – not something you’d associate with being over-indulged.
‘There’s a lot to be said for being the sole focus of your mum and dad’s attention. You receive all the emotional and financial resources on offer. In fact, many emotional problems in adulthood can be traced back to parental favouritism and sibling rivalry.’
So what about only children feeling lonely? ‘It is a common concern,’ says Dr Choudhry, ‘but most children are surrounded by other children from such a young age these days.
‘Even two year olds have regular “play dates”. It’s almost impossible to be starved of same-age companions.’
However, mothers of only children are continually made to feel selfish and, in some way, unnatural for not wanting more babies.
Now that my daughter is 18 months – the peak age at which most women get that desperate urge to start trying for a second baby the pressure is really on.
Proud mummy: Caroline wants people to stop pressuring her give Mia a brother or sister
Most of the mothers in the birth group I joined when pregnant with Mia are either expecting again or trying hard to conceive.
My sister-in-law, who gave birth three days before me, is due again this summer. Even my best friend, Rachel, 36, who couldn’t wait to get back to work after her first child and swore blind she would never have another one, is pregnant.
But the final straw came last week when one multiple mum and (now former) friend, told me straight how selfish and lazy she thought I was. ‘If you weren’t planning on giving her a brother or sister, maybe you shouldn’t have had Mia in the first place,’ she said. I was mortified and told her so.
Even the people who try to be kind often end up insulting what is a very personal choice.
When I visited my GP to get a repeat prescription for my contraceptive Pill, she commented quite innocently: ‘If the birth was really that bad, perhaps counselling would help?’
‘Why do people feel it is OK to get so deeply personal with women in this way?’
So I told her wearily, once again, that although my labour was certainly no easy ride, I’d happily go through it all again if I wanted another child. But I don’t. And I wish everyone would just shut up about it. She filled out my prescription without another word.
At least I take some comfort from the fact I am not alone. If the single-child family has replaced the single-parent one as the new social stigma, it’s because we’re a growing trend.
Recent figures reveal that UK households with a lone child now outnumber those with two by more than half a million, making up 46 per cent of all families.
Obviously one key factor is that we’re all feeling the economic pinch, with parents simply unable to afford the extra cost of another child (a staggering 1,800 before they’re even born, according to one survey last month).
One close friend of mine, Sarah, who has a three-year-old son, Jack,
has decided against a second child because she’s worried about the
rising cost of a good education.
Concerned about the poor choice of state schools in her North London
catchment area, Sarah says it’s looking likely that they’ll end up
educating their son privately. At around 10,000 a year for one child,
putting two through school is not an option.
One’s enough: The cost of raising children means more and more parents are settling for one (file photo)
Another huge factor in the rise of single-child families is the trend for women to have babies later in life.
birth records show that a woman having her first child at 35 is much
less likely than a 25 year old to have more children. As fertility
declines post-35, many women just run out of time.
And older mums
can find motherhood takes such a toll on their energy levels that many
decide they can’t face another round of sleepless nights.
I’m now 35 and Mia sleeps through the night, but I still end most days collapsed and exhausted on the sofa.
knows, perhaps I might have had more children if I’d started a decade
earlier. But could I really go through all those broken nights again at
37, 38 or later? I don’t even want to think about it.
also convinced that stopping at one child will be good for my
marriage. When kids come along, it’s a bit like throwing a hand
grenade into your romantic life.
all too easy for your relationship to fall by the wayside. So it’s no
surprise that the stress of having a second child can be the tipping
point that breaks up a significant number of marriages.
one child, it’s relatively easy for Colin and I to escape for a night
out with the help of family and babysitters. Also, I am not afraid to
admit that I like my lifestyle and worry that adding another child would
mean trading in our three-bedroom North London home for something
larger in the suburbs — or leaving London altogether.
Other friends who’ve stopped at one
child, like me, are certain they’ve made the right choice. Steve and
Leah have one delightful child – their six-year-old son, Jude. With Jude
now in school, they are both able to pursue their careers as
Leah always looks immaculate and
throws fabulous dinner parties — she even bakes her own bread.
Parenthood hasn’t dulled their appetite for travelling. Last year they
took Jude backpacking to Vietnam.
my friends Lucy and Dan, however, things couldn’t be more different.
Their brood of three means they have an ugly people-carrier that Lucy
admits she hates driving and can’t park. Exotic holidays have long since
been replaced with all-inclusive packages to Spain or a cramped caravan
Lucy cuts her own hair and survives on leftover fish fingers as she’s too tired to cook for herself.
Both Lucy and Leah say they are happy – but I know which one I’d rather be.
the end of the day, it’s not about romance, money, the agony of
childbirth or all the research that proves how damaging sibling rivalry
The honest truth
is that Mia is all I want. She’s perfect and I’m done. So no matter how
many times I’m asked when I’ll be having my next one, I won’t be
changing my mind.
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