Mom Guilt: Raising an Only  

July 1, 2019| by rebecca stewart

A friend on Facebook once asked other parents of onlies if they ever regretted having only one child. I should start by saying, never in all my pre-motherhood imaginings did I think that I would be the mother of an only child. I am one of three, my husband has three siblings, and when we originally talked family, it was always with two or three in mind. Never one. Yet after our girl was born, it wasn’t long before a feeling of being complete surprisingly took over. Side note: people have an astonishing amount of feelings about this business of onlies. 

You’ve probably noticed that through every stage of life, awkward moments as a result of (typically) well-intentioned questions abound. When you're dating, it's being asked when you think you'll get married. Once the vows are exchanged, it's "So, when are you going to have a baby?" Carrying a little more weight than usual? "When are you due?" (Can we all, once and for all, just agree, DO NOT ASK THIS QUESTION unless you know. I mean really, REALLY know). And when you have an only child, people always ask when you’re having another, although now that she’s 12, it doesn’t happen quite as often.

Still, you can cue that awkward pause and “Oh crap, what did I just step in” facial expression when I give my standard response of, “Oh, she’s it for us.” It’s the big wonderment: is she their only by choice, biology, or what? While it really isn’t anyone else’s business why a couple has one child, no children, or 10, I’m okay sharing that it was ultimately our choice. We waited nine years before we made any permanent decisions, but there has never been any longing for more. No regrets. That’s our journey in a nutshell, but how many others who are seemingly waiting to start their families or are parents to one, not by choice? Those questions by random passersby in the store or the casual acquaintance can be like daggers to the heart. Bottom line, know who you’re talking to, gauge your level of familiarity, if you’re just digging around for small talk, let’s aim to swing smaller. 

But I digress. So, no regret, but guilt, well, that is another story entirely. Guilt, a mother’s constant, am I right? Maybe especially for mamas of onlies? No, I don’t think we hold the cornerstone on Mom Guilt – so many layers of guilt for moms of all kinds - but let me give you a little glimpse at the merry-go-round of guilt going through my brain. Yes, indeed, I do worry that she’s lonely, thank you very much. No, I don’t think I’m wasting whatever mom talent you perceive me to have on this lone child, but thanks for that. And then there’s the heart-wrenching guilt that grips my soul, the one that is at the root of all others. I hate that I’m depriving her of ever knowing a relationship that means everything to me. That, despite having cousins a stone’s throw away (seriously), she will never know the sibling relationship – good, bad, or otherwise. I know she longs for these missing pieces as she watches her cousins interact with each other.

You might think that’s the worst of the self-inflicted (and let’s be real, child-inflicted) guilt trips, right? Think again.

The thing that trumps all other feelings of guilt, that weighs heaviest on my heart; the thing no one really wants to talk about…She’s going to have to do it alone. “It,” being coping with the deaths of her parents. Handling the details. All of it. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you it nearly crushes me when I think about it. Hopefully, by the time those days roll around, she'll be an established adult, with a family of her own, but still, the burden is hers to shoulder. It's why I've instructed the oldest of my nieces and nephews that they have to be there for her. They will have to wrap her up as if she is one of their own as they’ve always done, but more. Will it be enough? I don’t know.  

See, absolutely no one wants to talk about that. Of course, we all carry around worry and guilt (we know we shouldn’t, but there it is), but maybe it’s what we do with it…

Surely other things range on the guilt scale from mild to major in this matter of raising an only, but last time I checked, “guilt” was not a viable reason to bring another human being into this world. So, yes, there might be guilt galore taking victory laps around my heart, but regret? Not for this mama.

On that note, let me invite you to set aside regret. We live our lives making countless choices every day, it’s those choices that have made us who we are – some of them have been better than others, some days we feel like we’re living on the hot mess express, but it’s the life we’re living, and it is precious. You are precious. So, let’s throw out regret, change course if need be, but as Walt Disney famously said, “Keep moving forward.” 

Originally printed in the July 2019 issue of Simply Family Magazine

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