Let me set the scene and give you a glimpse into my childhood. I was born in the early 70s to my Mum and Dad, who had married four years before I came along. I was the first and only child from their union. When I was almost three, they divorced. Back in those days, that was pretty scandalous and not at all common.
So here’s my Mum in the mid 70s – a single parent with an only child. I lived with Mum and spent time with my Dad on weekends. I was happy being an only child as I didn’t know any different. From memory, I didn’t give it too much thought that I didn’t have siblings and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t that kid who longed for one either.
At primary school it didn’t matter to me or my friends that I was an only. Mum and I would go on holidays with other families and I didn’t feel as if I was missing out. It was when I got to secondary school where the real conversation around divorce and being an only child started.
Suddenly it was a ‘thing’ and statements like ‘Oh, you’re an only child, that makes sense!’ and ‘It’s really sad that you don’t have brothers or sisters’ were thrown around. I was actually shocked and hurt by comments like this. Mum had done such a good job of creating a life that didn’t make me feel ‘odd’ and I became quite defensive about the whole subject. I felt lucky and loved and special – not ‘sad’ or ‘unfortunate’ because I didn’t have siblings.
On top of the ‘only child’ comments came others like, ‘And she doesn’t have a steady father figure in her life’ which upset me even more. Like I was double-doomed because I was an only and I didn’t live with my Dad. I soon learnt that people love to pass judgement on situations they usually know very little about.
My relationship with my Dad wasn’t easy, but he did everything he could to make me feel loved and supported. I can’t imagine it was easy for him being a part-time Dad, especially of a young girl who had a very strong bond with her mother.
Dad remarried when I was 13, and I gained a step-Mum and step-sister, who was 8 years younger than me. It was an interesting dynamic and I’m pretty sure my Dad felt outnumbered, as the three of us would often gang up on him (in a nice way!). A few years later, I gained a half-brother and a few years after that I gained another. So in my extended family on Dad’s side, there are two girls (including me) and two boys ranging from 20-42.
Although I never lived with my new siblings, I now have adult relationships with them that I cherish. I still don’t have a grasp on stuff like sibling rivalry, fighting with them and all that goes with having your siblings in the same house, but I do know that I feel lucky to have them in my life.
Fast forward to a point in my late twenties, when I wasn’t sure if I even wanted children. I’m certain my Mum had worries that she may never become a grandmother.
Fast forward to now and here I am with my own only child, and a girl too. I had a very tough time with my pregnancy and my introduction to motherhood was extremely difficult. That’s a whole different story, but because of that, I have chosen not to have any more children.
So, do I think Ava is ‘unfortunate’, ‘lonely’ or ‘spoilt’? No, I don’t. Sure, she asks me about whether I’ll have another baby, but I carefully explain that I won’t be having another child. Although, she’s only 5, I know part of her understands. For the first four years of her life, she saw me in and out of hospital, in pain, on and off crutches (etc, etc) and she gets that part of it – it’s normal to her. Thankfully the worst is over but what happened to me will affect me for the rest of my life and in years to come the hospital visits will start up again.
So what’s with the judgement surrounding parents who only have one child? Some people have one and then realise they are unable to have another. And for some, it’s a lifestyle choice. And not everyone can afford it either.
Why do people think they can pass judgement when they don’t have a clue about your situation and your life? I would have thought, that in today’s society, we’d all be a bit more open to different scenarios. But it seems that not much has changed since the 70s. Sigh!
I sincerely hope that as Ava grows older, it doesn’t become an issue for her. She is an amazing, strong, resilient little person, but she’s also a very sensitive little soul. Fingers crossed I do a good job of guiding her through it all.