Having One Child: A Personal Choice

Dear Mr. Dad: People keep asking my husband and me when we’re going to have more children. The truth is we have one son and don’t plan to have any more. How should I handle these constant annoying inquires?

A: Questions about kids, particularly when meeting new people, are pretty standard, right up with “what do you do for a living?” Most folks don’t mean any harm—it’s kind of like the way we ask each other, “how’re you doing?” never really expecting to have an actual discussion about bunions or back pain.

The difference is that questions about kids often do turn into actual discussions. Unfortunately, a lot of people feel that gives them the green light to make pronouncements about family size. Frankly, I’ve never been able to figure out why so many of us are unable to tolerate one-child families. I guess the “typical” dad, mom, 2.5 children, dog, and goldfish model is so deeply engrained that anything less than that seems wrong (although replacing the dog with a cat or the goldfish with a hamster is okay).

If you’re not planning to have more children, just come right out and say so. In most cases, you won’t have to worry about that person asking again. It sounds like you and your husband have talked it over and made your decision. If you want to give an explanation, go ahead, but don’t feel that you have to justify your position, especially if the reasons are very personal.

There are, however, readers who may be on the fence about whether to have more children. For them, a straightforward answer is also the best approach. Something as simple as, “We haven’t made up our minds yet.” Of course, some aggressive types may see that as a challenge and jump in with, “Well, you’re not getting any younger…” or some nonsense like “Two years six months is the ideal spacing between children.”

When dealing with people who have no boundaries, it’s hard to restrain yourself from screaming, “None of your freaking business!” While that would end the conversation in a hurry, you might want to first try a firm, “It’s a complicated decision and the two of us are debating it in private.” If they don’t take the hint, just walk away.

Dealing with family members can be even more challenging, since relatives often feel entitled to be pushy on this particular issue. In their minds, they have a stake in your decision and that gives them the right to be as nosy as they want to be. But unlike strangers, your relatives probably have your phone number. So start with some of the approaches we just talked about. But at some point you may have no choice but to say, “Thank you for your opinion, but I’m not going to discuss this with you, now or in the future” (the “thank you” part is optional, especially after you’ve repeated it two or three times).

Finally, have you considered joining or starting a group for parents with only children? Spending time with other families who have similar thoughts on family size will give you some much-needed support. It’s very reassuring to know you’re not alone. You might also want to check out “Only Child”, a magazine specifically devoted to issues facing families like yours. According to the magazine, there are 20 million one-child households in the U.S., making it one of the fastest-growing segments in our society. Bill McKibben’s book, “Maybe One,” is also a great resource.