For Catholics especially, there's an expectation that you'll have lots of kids
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After a nearly seven-year struggle with infertility, my husband and I were finally blessed with a beautiful baby girl who is perfect in every way. Of course, we would love to have lots of children (and planned to do so from the start), but as our little one was a miracle baby, we’re anticipating that she’ll be our only one.
However, now that she’s six months old and starting to become interested in other babies and little children, I’m beginning to worry about her future as a single child. Infertility is hard enough for anyone, but for Catholics especially, there’s an expectation that you’ll have lots of kids. Unfortunately the contraceptive culture has made it so that childless couples or parents of one child are sometimes suspected of having limited their families voluntarily.
My husband and I are grown-ups and can handle a little lack of charity, but I’m worried about our daughter being affected by it. Most couples at our parish have at least three children, and many have upwards of six. I have yet to see a couple with an older, single child. Surely our daughter will notice someday that her family is different from the others. She may feel lonely, singled out, or that her parents did something wrong. Some of the parish kids may say rude things to her about it. I’m sure these kids will be somewhat better than others, but still, kids are kids. And after growing up as a friendless and incredibly lonely child myself, I very much want to avoid that fate for her.
How can my husband and I prepare our daughter for Catholic life as an only child? How can we explain to her that Mommy and Daddy wanted to give her siblings but couldn’t, without making her feel that she isn’t good enough? How can we prepare her for potential cruelty from other kids? How early do you think these questions will come up? What other advice could you possibly give us on the subject?
Thank you very much,
Dear Grateful Mama,
I was an only child, and do you know what my friends said to me on the matter? Rarely anything at all — except to note that I was lucky if they happened to be fighting with their siblings that day. I was lucky I didn’t have to share or fight and I got more presents at Christmas! That’s really the scope of empathy most kids have based on their limited life experiences. I wouldn’t worry too much about how other kids are going to treat your daughter.
My childhood best friend was one of five children, and she loved spending time at my house because it was the quiet, calm, and clean house. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think other kids are going to be cruel to her because she has no siblings. Kids can find reason enough to pick on each other, but being an only child isn’t one of those reasons.
When your daughter gets older she will express the desire for a brother or sister or come right out and ask you for one. That’s when you talk to her about the situation. She may be too young to understand infertility, but you can simply tell her she’s a wonderful blessing that you prayed about for many years. Using the Biblical stories of Hannah, Rebecca, and Sarah you can tell your daughter of your and your husband’s struggles to have a family. Your daughter will learn quite a deal about faith and prayerful perseverance from your example, and for that she is profoundly blessed.
Her birth was a miracle as you put it. There is no reason to turn the miracle of her birth into an event that causes you worry and unrest.
You say you grew up lonely and friendless and you want to protect your daughter from this. I can tell you’ll letting your childhood cause you anxiety that can potentially affect your parenting. Your daughter has two loving parents in a time when close to half of all kids are raised by only one parent. She won’t be any more lonely than that child who longs to know their missing father. Your daughter will have grandparents, cousins, and other family members. She’ll have play dates and school friends. She’ll be involved in activities and have many opportunities to be around other children, I am sure you’ll see to that.
I’m much less concerned with how other kids are going to treat her, what you’ll say to her when she asks why she has no brothers or sisters, or even how other people are going to judge your small family and much, much more concerned with your anxiety and the fretful tone of your email. I’m worried that you may be tempted to project your insecurities onto your daughter or that this insecurities will manifest themselves in the form of unhealthy overprotective parenting.
I had a miserable lonely childhood too as an only child, and it takes a great deal of strength every day to overcome my natural tendencies to be suspicious of kindness. It helped my parenting when I was able to talk to professionals about these feelings and that is what I am going to suggest for you.
Please don’t take my suggestion as criticism. It’s not meant to be. I can tell you love your family very dearly and want to do what’s best and, from your letter, it sounds like what is best is for your family is for you to address the anxiety you are experiencing. I would start by making an appointment with your doctor to discuss anxiety and see what he recommends.
When anxiety, doubt, worry, and stress grip me the strongest I head straight for Adoration. My final bit of advice for you is to do the same. There’s comfort in both prayer and therapy.And you can leave your anxieties about what nosy parents may or may not try to guess about your fertility to God, too.