Am I a Selfish Mother If I Choose Not To Have a Second Child?


It’s impossible not to have regrets in parenting. I regret not taking away my son’s pacifier when he was much younger. (Now he’s two and loves his binky more than anything — possibly even me — on the planet.)  I regret the hours spent worrying that my son wasn’t walking, or talking, or crawling. I even regret my choice of car seat (the straps always tangle.).

Those are all little regrets. Tiny blips in the blur of everyday parenting. They don’t overwhelm me or cause me to stop in my tracks on a particular day when I think about them.

But the decision to have another child, to provide my son with a sibling, feels impossibly huge to me.  I don’t want to have huge regrets about this one.

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I do not believe in a “one size fits all” approach to figuring out how big your family should be.  I also know that the long-held cultural stereotypes about only children — as lonely, selfish, and neurotic – are not true.  I don’t think that my son will be lonely or weird or an outcast if he’s an only child.  The deciding factor in whether he’s a productive and happy member of society, able to form meaningful connections and realize his dreams, will not be the presence — or absence — of siblings. As a teacher, I got to know (and adore) lots of delightful, smart, and well-adjusted kids who were only children.

After two years of sleepless nights, colic, and the chaos of infancy and early toddlerhood, I am starting to feel like myself again.  A new “mother self,” but still myself.  As an introvert, I finally get the time and space that I need to carve out professional and personal pursuits.  I love seeing my son turn into a little person and spending my days with him.  I don’t feel like our family is incomplete without more children.  I feel whole and satisfied with one child and don’t really want more, at least not at this time.  But I’ll be 39 this summer and my time for having a decision to make at all may slip away.

I also can’t help but feel that I’ve had personal experience that might trump my present gut feeling to stop at one kid.  My dad was 53 when he passed away from cancer.  I was turning 30.  My brother, sister, and I all lived in the Northeast, but my parents were in Florida, after two happy years of a sort of early retirement.

When I first learned that my dad was sick, five months before he died, it was my sister who told me.  We cried together on the phone and knew that our world had changed forever.

When I waited a few weeks before going to Florida to finish up the school year when he first got sick, I knew my brother was already there, mowing lawns and sitting with my dad on the porch.

When the doctors told us that there was no time left, all three of us flew back down to Florida, holding a sad and confused vigil for weeks.  And on the afternoon that my dad  died — a day whose sounds, sights and smells (the chocolate chip cookies that were inexplicably baked, the warm Florida October sun on the deck, the kind eyes of the hospice nurse) are seared into my memory, it is the touch of my brother’s hands on my head and shoulders, trying to comfort me as I cried, that I remember most vividly.

When a few days later at my father’s funeral, I simply couldn’t stand up in front of all those people and say anything — there were no words, for me, a writer — I felt at peace because I knew that my brother and sister would say all the words that needed to be said.

When my brother and I flew back up north, returning to our lives, we knew that my little sister had moved into my parents’ house when he got sick and would stay behind with our mother for as many weeks and months that it would take for her to find her way.

In short, I can’t imagine my life — everything that has happened between when my brother was born when I was three until these current years of negotiating early parenthood — without my siblings.

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So, for me, even though I’ve been trained in research methodology for my doctorate and believe in the power of data-driven decision-making, this choice is ultimately one of the heart.  For me, it feels almost as profound as life and death, love and loss.  I’m afraid of regrets, either way.  I feel comforted by the research evidence that only children are just as happy and healthy as anybody else, but it is only part of the story.

I also know that my present feelings as a mom, wife, and individual — my story — are just part of the equation; the life cycle of a family is long, holding many unforeseen challenges and triumphs.  I don’t want to deny my son the chance to experience those heartaches and joys without the company of siblings.

My rational mind can pore over the research, data, facts about kids’ development, and I can listen to other families’ experiences, but none of these facts and figures can make this decision.  My heart is confused and I’m waiting for its answer.


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  1. Lee Ann says

    Honestly, let me tell you the only reason I had two children. It wasn’t because it felt like someone was missing, it wasn’t because I had more love for one child than I could imagine having for two. The reason I had two children? Because I loved my only child so deeply and fully that i feared if she ever died, I would never be able to go on without her. But if I had a second child, I would be forced to continue living for her. And that’s the truth.

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      • Prachee D says

        I’m in the same boat and this is exactly what I think (not out aloud, until now!). I am so glad to know that there are other women who think the same way!!!!

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    • Hind says

      Sorry to tell you this, but you made your second to serves you as a medication in case the first dies, well I find this selfish and so bad for the second child “I made you in case the child I love more than you dies I would keep on living since you’re here” I only have a child and not planning a second, she gives me full love, so full that I don’t need anything else and I love her so deeply, if something happens to her I would kill myself, she means the world to me. But I’m not making a second because I know I would not love him or her as much.

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      • Rochelle says

        Well good for you that you are so perfect, honey. The rest of us aren’t. Who the hell cares what her reason is?? She still loves her second child and that child still got to come into the world. Sounds BEAUTIFUL to me.

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    • kris says

      Hi Lee Ann
      You are so correct when you said this!
      I lost my baby last month, it was my 2nd baby and only I know how devastated I’m.
      The only reason I’m alive and typing this is my 1st born …my daughter. If she would not have been around, I would have died by know ….would not have let my son travel all the way to heaven all alone.
      I can relate to the thought you discussed and I’m a living example of it.
      May god never let any mother on earth to go thru this.

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  2. Mama and the City says

    Aww. I hope your heart soon finds the answer.

    I don’t think there is ever a correct decision when it comes to Parenting, other than “if it works for you and your family, so be it”.

    I’m still struggling with the idea of baby #2. I always wanted a big family, but after #1…I just don’t know if I want to put up with the struggle. Maybe adoption? I’m still struggling with this idea too.

    Take a deep breath.

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  3. MB says

    I’m in the EXACT same state of mind these days. I always thought I would have two children. But now, my daughter is almsot 2, and I feel I don’t want anymore children. We’re enough, and I just got my life back. I love being able to go out with my friends, even though my husband’s away a lot, having no problem finding someone to babysit… But I love being a sister to my sister, and we loved being pregnant at the same time, and I couldn’t imagine my life as an only child. I want my baby to be that lucky too, but I don’t feel like I NEED another child. Also, my husband is still keen on the idea that we’d have 2 kids…
    It’s a complicated decision to make, and I feel your pain…

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  4. Faye Hartley-Youens says

    My Mom fought Cancer for 10 years, I was only 19 when she was first diagnosed and I cannot imagine going through that or the subsequent difficult years since she died without my brother, the only one who truly understood what I was going through. So I relate to your post with a knowledge I’d rather not have but as well as this I have a million brilliant memories of Christmas Eves and mud pies in the garden and make-shift picnics on kitchen floors. Your first real playmate and if your lucky your longest friendship. I have 3 kids now (one surprise!) and it has been the hardest few years but when I watch them playing, hugging, fighting and laughing as they grow together I’m so happy they have each other and that I have them. Follow your heart…

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  5. Lucy says

    I’m an only child and, personally, I will have a second child for the sake of my daughter. I’m jealous of people who grew up with siblings and who have close relationships with them now. I feel like I really missed out on something and, honestly, I sort of resent my parents for stopping at one child.

    It was great not having to share things as a child, but now I don’t share well as an adult! It’s ridiculous how I’m a grown woman, yet I consider things mine and don’t want to share with my husband. I also have issues making friends and socialising, which I attribute to being an only child.

    Family vacations were especially unbearable, considering I didn’t have anyone my age to play with. I was forced to do things on my own. It made me an independent adult, which is a good thing, but I hated it. No child wants to spend two weeks on vacation during the summer only hanging out with their parents.

    I can see personality flaws in my husband that I attribute to him having a brother, with whom he was always competitive. Whenever we play a game, he’s hell-bent on winning, and if he loses, he’s a sore loser – but he’s also a sore winner! He turns into a big child. He also has issues doing things alone. He’s very social and outgoing, though, and I envy that. I think the benefits of having a sibling outweigh the negatives, though.

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    • Kara says

      Lucy, everything you are saying is everything I’m struggling with. I wanted 3 kids back to back! Just like there are 3 kids in my family. After having my son (who my God I adore!) I didn’t realize the struggle that would come with it. We have no help from family here (our families live out of state) and my son was a difficult child. My husband does not want anymore and we both feel like our dynamic is good. But then the guilt sets in and kills me. I struggle with this so much that I thought of talking to a therapist about it. I don’t want my son to be burdened by us. When anything happens in my family, my sisters are the first people I go to. How can I deprive him of that. I love my son so much. He truly is the reason of my existence but had I known the guilt that I would feel because of this I don’t know if I would do it all over again. It’s unbearable :-(

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    • savannah says

      Man I’m in a similar boat :) I had my daughter Feb 2013 omg she is the most amazing person. I love her beyond words.. I never knew this love could exist. My only problem with having a second child is will I love it as much as I love her? What if she is always my favorite? You’re not supposed to have favorites but I love her so damn much I couldn’t imagine loving someone else like that..but is it possible? Is that like a second child you think? Same powerful love with first child..? I either want one child or two.. no more than two for sure.. so with the first Alice my daughter I felt she was missing in my life, I craved her so badly and when I was pregnant I knew it was her I felt like I already knew her.. right now I don’t really have a craving for another, yet. So I wonder if I should just wait until or even if I get that same craving for another child. I also do want her to have someone to play with and love of course. But that can’t be your only reason for a second child it has to be from your heart and desires too.

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    • Ero says

      I have a brother, and I too find it hard to make friends while my husband is outgoing. I don’t think your’s is a flaw of being an only child. Possibly something genetic, or environmental. Your parents could have put you in after school programs, or gone on family friendly holidays, so you could meet (and socialize) with kids your age.

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    • Luciana says

      Well, I have a sister, and my childhood is not a sweet memory.
      My sister is 3 years younger than me and she used to beat me up and break my favorite toys.
      When we became teenagers things got worse. She really used to jump on me like a cat and scratch me.
      As a mother today, I can’t imagine all the stress my parents had because of us.
      My sister was never easy going.

      Today, just thinking about my experience, I don’t think of having 2 children.

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    • Christine says

      I have a younger brother, and although we are pretty close, we are both somewhat anti-social. Not in the awkward way, just in that we’d both rather spend a night in than a night out. We can both function completely fine at social events, but being introverts, it’s exhausting for us, and we’d rather only deal with our close friends and family. That said, our personalities are still quite different, and we fought a fair amount as kids. I’m not sure your issue has much to do with not being a sibling as it does with the genes passed onto you. Although, farbeit from me to say what being an only child feels like!! I mean no disrespect to your feelings.

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    • Sara says

      I have two brothers and I’m selfish and anti-social, you don’t really know fully what exact things have made you a certain way…its very easy to assume.

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  6. Janine Huldie says

    Jessica, loved this article the first time out and so happy to see it being featured here. Some very good food for thought yet again and I have just shared this, too!!

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  7. Liz says

    If your gut tells you to keep it at one, than do so! I have 7 years between my two children and had it not been for “ahem” a mishap, he would still be an only child, despite his relentless begging for a sibling. Some of us are not cut out for multiples. It doesn’t make us less of a parent, it actually makes us better parents for it. Just because we can have more children, doesn’t mean we should! You go with your instincts. Your son will thank you for it later. Not that I don’t adore my daughter, I do with all of my heart. However, when people ask “when is the third one coming”? I smile and say, “I got a dog”. :)

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  8. Kp says

    I know you’re not asking for advice, but I’m going to stick my oar in anyway ;)
    Having also struggled with this question we went for adding another one and I’ve never regretted it (at least not in the two years since!). I guess there were a couple of factors that have made this choice so clearly right (apart, of course, from the overwhelming love and getting all those lovely ‘firsts’ again!). One was definitely the sibling thing. That has worked out well for us and we’re now at the stage where I get more time to myself because they play together. Yes there is fighting, but there’s also a LOT of laughter.
    I felt like you do about getting myself back after the craziness of babyhood, but you know, in the scheme of things it such a short period. Also, you get to correct all the mistakes you made on your practice child (huh! If only…)
    Having said all that, you are absolutely right that there is nothing wrong with having one child. You may end up with siblings who can’t stand each other, you just can’t know. Whichever way your heart eventually decides, don’t waste time looking back wondering if you made the right decision.

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  9. Stephanie says

    I struggled with this decision myself, though at 35 I have a bit more time. I compare my struggle to the same process that Lily goes through on How I Met Your Mother. She had a whole list of reasons why they weren’t ready for a child and on the other side a baby sock her friend left behind “but but sock”. That’s what my decision about a second child has looked like. A whole list of rational reasons (especially since my son was going through a difficult phase) not to have another child, but sock! It makes no rational sense, but my heart wants another child. So it is definitely a decision of the heart and you are not alone in struggling with it.

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  10. Jenn @ Something Clever 2.0 says

    His friends will be his “adopted” siblings. I know I’m closer to my friends than my actual blood relatives. And my son is closer to his “aunts” and “uncles” than his actual aunt and uncle.

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    • rye's mommy says

      I love what you say about the adopted siblings! My daughter is the same way, she will make that bond with “adopted” family, and she is closer to her adopted aunts and uncles, than her real family. I think there is a different bond when you make the friends and bring them into the family, instead of just having the friend.

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