Even though two-kid (or more) families seem to be the norm, the truth is, a lot of parents make the decision to have an only child — or that’s simply how life plays out. With one child, you can give all your energy to a single kiddo, prioritize career growth or travel, and stress less about finances. Conversely, maybe you want more kids, but simply can’t afford them, or health issues prevented you from having more. Or perhaps being “one and done” always felt like the right choice.
Whatever the case, it’s a personal journey that doesn’t have to be defended in the face of well-meaning relatives or complete strangers inquiring about your next baby. Here are six reasons to be a one-child family, straight from parents who explain what it’s like: the pros, cons, and everything in between.
1. You’re focused on your career.
It’s entirely possible, of course, to thrive as a working mother and lean into your industry no matter how many children you have. But there’s no doubt that children in the plural sense make that path more complicated, and having one kid frees you up in certain ways you may not otherwise experience.
“I have worked so hard for almost 15 years at my career, and there is so much more that I want to accomplish,” said Christina H., a mom of a 14-month-old. “My husband and I don’t have a very large extended family, so we do not have much help. Adding another child into our already chaotic schedule just seems less than ideal to us. It’s not how we imagined it to be, but with a ton of soul searching, we have decided that this is our little family and it feels just right.”
Emily L., a teacher and urban arts coordinator based in Iowa, had a similar experience. “Having one kid just feels right,” she said. “I use a lot of emotional energy supporting other people’s kids and I’m very conscious of the fact that I don’t think I could add another into the mix and be the best I can be for my daughter and the kids I serve. I was asked to speak to a group of women once, and right before I went up to speak, the woman who recruited me asked when I was having another baby and I told her I wasn’t. She said, “How could you do that to your child?” I was literally paralyzed, as she said this in a room full of women, and I was there to talk about being a professional. It was steeped with irony and made me feel horrible.”
“My husband and I currently have one child,” said Heather V. “Our son is 5 years old and between the three of us, we have a really great thing going. We own a small publishing company that makes magazines and book, and we’re able to manage our business and the needs of our family pretty well right now. We’re partly terrified to disrupt the routine we have and we’re partly just unsure of the unknown, to be frank. Personally, I’m not much for over-stimulation so I question my ability to handle the chaos of more kids and a growing business. It’s a personal struggle I’ve battled with, being a mother and entrepreneur.”
2. You’re a single parent.
Families come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes, people forget that single parents may not have the capacity to have more children for various reasons. For example, Liz M. spent her 20’s investing in graduate school and working for global 100 companies. In her 30’s, despite being divorced and without a partner to raise a child, she realized she wanted a family — so she took advantage of her fertility and committed to the choice of being a single mom.
“I assumed I’d manage okay,” she shared. “After all, I read articles about motherhood and the struggles of being a single mom. I was prepared emotionally and financially with a plan for daycare and nanny expenses. Reality struck quickly. My pregnancy was challenging, and I was so nauseated that I was put on prescription medication. I ended up in the emergency room a time or two. The hardest part about being a single mom is the struggle for balance and perspective. Many times, I wished I had a partner who could help me decide if I needed to go to the doctor or help me select between two styles of crib. There are a lot of articles about how much work it is to be a single mom but too few conversations about how difficult it can be to make decisions. It’s not easy, but my son is a joy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
3. You went through infertility treatment or suffered a miscarriage.
“We are currently pregnant with our fourth baby after three miscarriages, and due in April,” said mom Jasmine W. “I’m 37, my body is exhausted, my brain is exhausted, and as of now, my husband and I feel complete with this little guy. But as soon as we announced this pregnancy to our families, the ‘you can’t only have one child’ comments started — lots of pressure from family to keep producing, notwithstanding all we have been through.”
Many, many women are in this same boat, which makes the whole expectation around having more than one baby particularly painful due to the difficulty they’ve already experienced. For instance, Mary B. and her husband faced two miscarriages, four unsuccessful IUIs and then what she calls a “miracle” IVF baby — their one viable embryo out of 13 became their little girl, and she knew they were done after that.
News anchor Hilary K. felt the same way after having her now four-month-old son. “With the crazy hours I’ve kept over the years and the high-stress environment of live television, it was a struggle to get pregnant. After a miscarriage through IVF, we tried a holistic approach and became pregnant with our son. The trauma of miscarriage and the unpredictability of our schedules really helped shape our decision to have only one child. It took several years to have this one, and I can’t imagine going through everything again to try and have another. We want to spend as much quality time raising him as possible.”
4. Your partner already had kids, or you started a family later in life.
For Leah M., the path to parenthood was a total surprise. She spent most of her life unable to have a baby due to fibromyalgia — until she unexpectedly got pregnant after she turned 41. Her husband was 45 when their child was born, and she never got pregnant again, though she loves being a mother.
“I met my husband 20 years ago,” said Leigh Ann, an Idaho-based writer and blogger. “He is 14 years older than me and was a single dad with primary custody of three children ages 8, 14 and 16 when we met. I did not have any children of my own but desperately wanted to. Fortunately, my husband loves being a dad and understood my desire to have a child of our own (he kind of had to, since I basically made it a condition of getting married). He said, ‘OK, but just one more!’ I got it; he had already been in the business of raising kids for 16 years!”
5. You’re not sure about having another kid — yet or ever.
Even though Mary B. thought she and her husband were done with one child, a baby boom between friends and coworkers introduced nagging thoughts of uncertainty, “Would we regret not trying for a second? Would we regret trying for a second and possibly — very possibly — not being able to (those eggs aren’t getting any younger and the odds weren’t great the first time)? Could we deal with that heartache? What if — and this sounds so selfish and heartless — we have a second miracle baby and that baby isn’t as easy as our daughter was? Would we regret having that second?”
They ended up being sure that one child was the right choice for their family, but other mamas can relate to the second-guessing and constant questioning. “We spent 10 years growing a business before we decided to grow our family, so many of our decisions are looked at from a business perspective,” said Heather. “Such as, can we afford it? Do we have the manpower for it? Deep down, I would love another child, so I’m constantly praying that if it’s meant to be, God will bless us unexpectedly with another child, so we won’t have to make the decision on our own.”
6. You just don’t want more children — period.
“For me, it was more of a choice,” explained Antonina, a London-based family photographer. “When I had my son, I had a very idealistic view of what motherhood would look like for me. But my baby wouldn’t sleep, I live far away from my family, the finances were stretched, I got hit by a chronic illness that made me constantly tired, and to top it off, my partner didn’t exactly turn out to be a super-dad. After the first few hard years, things started to settle, parenting got a bit easier, and my son started begging me for a little brother, pinky-promising he’d help take care of the baby. And every time he did, my heart was breaking for him. Because I knew I couldn’t — I wouldn’t.”
Jen L., parent of a preschooler, shares a similar mindset. “My husband would probably like another one, but I do not,” she said. “We’ve already sold all the baby gear, and barring a birth control failure, we will not have another. We actually have a really nice life — it seems like parents of more than one child are forever frazzled running after both children, whereas we live a pretty relaxed life. We travel, and I often travel with her by myself, because you can when you only have one.”
“If I’m being truly honest, my biggest reason is this: I don’t want to,” said Lexie R. “I never say that when people ask because I don’t want to sound selfish; instead, I just brush it off with something like, “Our son is just so perfect, we couldn’t do any better if we tried!” But really, I don’t want to. I want to enjoy my time with my son without having to split it with another child. I want to save for his college and take him on vacations. I want to have the mental energy to keep growing in my career field. I want to have the time to sit quietly by myself and read a book! People occasionally tell me that I’ll change my mind, but the more time I spend with my husband and our smart, curious, sweet boy, the more it feels like just the three of us is exactly what this family unit was meant to be.”