Is one really the loneliest number?

By Virginia Heffernan

FIFO families have an added consideration when deciding on family size: the long stretches of single parenthood. Try to ignore the stereotype of the only child as misfit and go with what’s right for you.

When our son was a toddler, we had to decide whether or not to continue down the path of procreation. Among the friends and family we consulted, the verdict was unanimous: you owe it to your son to have another baby.

But the consensus didn’t feel right. Exploration geologists travel a lot, sometimes spending whole summers in the field. We took advantage of part-time daycare, but I still found the demands of single parenting overwhelming. The responsibility seemed huge and I had little time or energy for anything else. I was getting crabby.

So we decided to stop at one. It was the right decision for us under the circumstances. Graham has grown into a happy, friendly young man. He doesn’t miss what he’s never had. And both his parents were able to pursue rewarding careers while keeping most of their marbles and humour intact: the greatest gift you can give your child, really.

Research supports our decision. There is a common perception that only children are spoiled, lonely and socially inept, but dozens of studies have proven otherwise. More than 30 years ago, educational psychologists Toni Falbo and Denise Polit conducted a meta-analysis of 115 studies of only child outcomes – including, among other traits, maturity, extroversion, popularity, emotional stability, and contentment – that straddled class and race. The studies showed that only children aren’t measurably different from other kids except that they have higher levels of intelligence and achievement.

More recently, an analysis of thousands of youth by sociologists Donna Bobbitt-Zeher’s and Douglas Downey at Ohio Sate University found no evidence that singletons have fewer friends than their peers with siblings.

If you decide to stop at one baby, you will not be any more alone in the world than your child. Fertility rates in Canada have dropped to about 1.6 children per woman in recent years. That means more and more women are having either one child or none at all. It’s a trend that is unlikely to wane as families grow more geographically fragmented and women continue to pursue careers.

In the developed world, the days when families needed lots of children to help on the farm or support the family business are gone. But the perception of the only child as somehow disadvantaged is not.

If you can’t decide on how many children you want, listen to your friends and family but do some research, check your bank account and – as a FIFO parent – appreciate the challenges that will arise from long stretches as a single parent.

Stopping at one will not condemn your child to a life of selfish loneliness. And you might just end up having more fun.

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