This I Believe

Maureen - Pasadena, California
Entered on April 21, 2007

FAMILY LITE

A friend of mine (who happens to have three children) was the one who tossed out this phrase “oh we (by “we” I assume she meant other mothers with triumvirate offspring) refer to people like you as “Family Lite.” As often is the case with comments such as this, I did not realize I was being insulted, however unintentionally.

I have one child. Sometimes described as having an “only” or a “singleton.” Both of those terms have a slightly negative connotation, as though being in a one child family is equivalent to having a heart defect or really bad hair.

Webster’s dictionary defines lite as “diminished or lacking in substance or seriousness; being an innocuous or unthreatening version.” As though to be a real mother or to have a real family, one must reproduce multiple times.

Does being an “only” doom my child to being reduced to a stereotype of being lonely, selfish and spoiled? I believe it does not. Due to her “onliness” I make every effort to provide my child with companions, from play dates to yoga classes and Sunday school. Fortunately she attends a small private school where there is a high percentage of “mature” parents, such as myself, mothers who have borne one child, whether through their choice or the choice forced upon them by aging eggs or perhaps slow moving sperm. Her singleton (there’s that word again) classmates do not seem to be any more spoiled than the average middle class child. Most of the children I know today live in world of I-pods and X boxes, only children or not.

Will not having siblings leave her maladjusted, unable to share, to socialize? Again, I believe not. She will have friends as close as or closer than many siblings. My husband and I are rather social and my daughter is a very happy, outgoing little girl who makes friends easily. I have known my share of people who absolutely despise their siblings, people who are unable to rid themselves of years of sibling rivalry, scorn or perceived preferential treatment from parents.

A parent is a parent whether or not they have multiple children. Our family of three is still a family, not “family lite.”. Our family of three shares a home, a name, and the same petty disagreements as larger families. We celebrate our holidays with friends, attend birthday parties, piano recitals and holiday performances; we endure the angst of homework. My child has two parents who deeply love each other and put family first. I wouldn’t dream of using phrases such as “overpopulation” or “why don’t you adopt a needy child” to people with multiple children or a woman pregnant with her fourth child. Why then would those same parents describe single child families as merely “a couple with a child;” or, (my personal favorite) said a father-of-four to his sister, mother-of-one, “one is nothing, it’s like having a pet.

My “family lite” friend, the one with three kids, like several other mothers I have known, seems to wear her busyness as a badge of honor, the implication being that I could not possibly be as busy since I have only one child. A sample conversation:

“Of course I imagine that’s s-o-o-o much easier than handling the crazy schedules of three kids. Did I mention we have three kids? And a woman who comes in to clean and babysit and do the laundry, but I’m SWAMPED! It’s just crazy, I tell you. You just can’t know. Whew! I wish I had only one child to deal with. God, what a luxury. But, really, um, good for you.

Maybe I need different friends.