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My husband and I have decided not to have more children, which would make our currently 10 month old daughter an only child.

While we obviously have our (adult) reasons for this decision, I am wondering what type of approach would be appropriate for explaining the decision to our only child when she will start asking (not sure when that might happen; some input on that would also be welcome).

Any insights or personal experiences? We just want to be ready for it when it first comes. How about later in life, e.g., at around 10 years of age?

EDIT: As it might be relevant what the reason is, I am adding a few details:

The reason is not of economic nature, neither did I get sick. After a fantastic pregnancy, the birth itself was complicated, and then it was my daughter who got sick as a newborn. She is perfectly fine now, but we were literally lucky that she is did not develop complications with long term consequences. Given what we went through, we (the parents) do not feel that we can take any kind of risk a second time (and a pregnancy is a risk in itself to begin with).

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    I'm a huge advocate of always telling (some version of) the truth, regardless of the topic or situation. – MAA Sep 10 '17 at 11:23
  • I had my daughter and my wife got her tubes tied. My daughter is 23 and never, ever asked about not having siblings. But if she had asked us, simple answer: "so it's life". – roetnig Sep 12 '17 at 13:29
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If it makes you feel any better to know this, kids with siblings ask this. In fact I recently had my nearly 8 year inform me that he is ready for another sibling in about a year, for what reason, I don't know. My 10 year old love babies, so he has wanted one all along since my youngest was born, 3 years ago. My older two never wanted any. I adopted them, so I think they had fears that any birth children might displace them (it didn't, of course). My youngest isn't terribly verbal yet, but I am sure I will hear it from her sooner or later. I was the youngest of a large family who begged for a little brother or sister.

So all that to say, you will have to likely handle this question whatever amount of kids you have. ;)

I can't have more, so I tell them that. That doesn't stop them asking. I do not hide that at all, I tell them that the last pregnancy had some problems that likely would happen again for any future pregnancies, so I wasn't willing to try that ever again. I also tell them how happy we are with the size our family is right now and have no plans to make it larger. We haven't ruled out ever adopting again, older kids, so I also tell them that. We may at some time decide to adopt more, but not right now. I also tell them that if we are considering it more seriously, we will let them know that. We won't surprise them with it, or wait until last minute, but for now this is all there is.

I also tell them I understand wanting more. It's okay to want more people in your family, but that it is a decision that has to be up to the parents, because we have to make sure we feel like we can give enough to all the kids and still have enough room for ourselves.

It's an evolving conversation the older they get, the more they can understand. I would keep it simple and as honest as you can be. I currently feel like I can't really take on more at this time. Maybe I won't ever feel that I can take on more than I have. Maybe when these kids are little older, I will feel like I have more I can give. I really don't know, so I tell them that. I don't want to say "never any more" when I am not 100% sure. I also am not sure what the future holds, so I can't say it's going to happen. It may not.

  • In fact that is the other way to look at it: at some point, she says that she wants a little sister/brother. In my (extended) family we agreed that we would not directly ask her that ("How would you like to have...?"), and that might probably delay her forming this thought on her own. – iulia Sep 16 '17 at 6:36
  • I have never asked my kids this. To my knowledge no one has. It may delay that request by not asking, but it won't really change anything overall in that regard. I don't go looking for them to ask me about it, they do it on their own. I have explained to the now 10 & almost 8yr olds as of 3 years ago that I physically won't have more (when I had the surgery & was achy after - I told them what I had done). They still asked. They are persistent. LOL – threetimes Sep 17 '17 at 6:22
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It doesn't seem to me that a parent owes a child an answer to this sort of question. A kid could ask a parent all kinds of personal questions that the parent has no obligation to answer. "What kind of birth control do you use?" "Have you gone through menopause?" "Did you have sex with other men before you met Daddy?"

It would be fine to say, "We just decided we only wanted one child, and that was you."

I don't know if there is an unstated assumption in the question that your child would prefer to have a sibling. She might feel that way, or she might feel lucky to be an only child, or she might have mixed feelings or not care very much about such an abstract and hypothetical question. None of this rises to the level of a serious, personal, emotional question that requires an answer. Examples that deserve an answer might include "will you still love me if I'm gay?," or "why did Daddy hit you with his belt?"

  • While I do generally think most people should not ask you about your family size and intentions, the difference I see in children is that it is never just about the parents when it comes to more kids. It has a relatively large impact on their lives and most people would like to know if something pretty big is or isn't going to happen, if knowing is a real possibility. I do consider that question too invasive to ask me by anyone other than my own family members who actually live in the house. I think they have a right to wonder. – threetimes Sep 11 '17 at 14:00
  • @threetimes: I don't think there's any contradiction between what you're saying and what I'm saying. The kid has a right to wonder, and it's reasonable for the kid to wonder whether or not there will be a sibling. But that isn't what the OP asked about. The OP asked what to do if the kid asks why there is not going to be another sibling. – Ben Crowell Sep 11 '17 at 20:12
  • Side issue, but I don't think questions about domestic violence from a small child "deserve an answer". If one of my kids had asked why mommy threw bottles at me when they were 2 years old, I would not have explained about violence and inappropriate responses to anger and how their mother is a lunatic. (They figured that out well enough on their own eventually.) – Jay Sep 12 '17 at 21:56
  • @Jay - I do think all questions deserve an answer, but it must be tailored to the child's level. If a 2 year old asked why mommy threw bottles, I would answer it the same as if they asked about another 2 year old. "Mommy was wrong. She threw bottles because she doesn't keep control of herself like she should. I am sorry that happened. You must have been scared". I also don't tell 2 year olds how rain actually falls. I explain as simple as I can that small dots of water float up, collect, and come back down. – threetimes Oct 10 '17 at 15:39
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The answer to "why one" is really the same as "why two" or "why five": that was the size that we felt was right for our family. It's likely that they won't think it needs any particular justification beyond that, and it won't be as fraught with meaning for the kids as it was for the parents. If in your household you don't treat the topic as something mildly shameful that begs for an explanation, they won't ever think of it in those terms, either.

Like most things, children mostly just accept whatever conditions they grow up with. And in much of the world already -- and this will only be more common as time goes by when your child is older -- your only child will grow up knowing and seeing many other children who have no siblings. It is very likely that it won't seem at all unusual, and not something that requires any real explanation.

  • +1 for "Like most things, children mostly just accept whatever conditions they grow up with", with an emphasis on "like most things". Even if later on in life she might want to know why things are as they are. The question is when it will happen, and if she will be old enough to understand the reasons. – iulia Sep 16 '17 at 11:38
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When there's no harm in telling the truth, I'd tell the truth. When the truth could be too complicated for a child, simplify it as possible. When the child is not prepared for the truth, well, I never deliberately lied to my children, but I would deflect the question.

In your case: If the child asked when she's 15, I'd give her an honest answer: I had medical problems during pregnancy and I didn't want to risk another, for me or the baby. But I'd be cautious about saying that to a younger child, as it might come across as "you made me sick" and make the child feel guilty.

Frankly, for a very young child, I'd probably just say, "well, that's just how these things happen" and leave it at that. At some point I might clarify to, "I have some health problems and if I tried to have another baby, either I or the baby might get hurt."

I recall a few questions that my children asked that I said, "that's very complicated, I'll explain when you're older".

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As MAA said in the comment, its a good idea to start with the truth and then simplify it down to something the child can understand. Once you start lying its very difficult to stop, and your child is likely to feel betrayed and hurt when they find out.

You don't mention your reasons, so I'm going to have a guess at a couple of typical ones as examples.

If the reason is economic then you can say "We haven't enough money to look after another child properly. Think about all the things you have; we couldn't afford to buy all of those things for another child too". Children see their standard of living as a natural right, so the idea of having to decrease it to pay for a sibling will seem like a bad idea regardless of your economic status.

If the reason is medical complications when your first child was born then you can say "Mummy got very sick when you were born, and we don't want that to happen again". I'd avoid "Mummy can't have any more babies" unless it is true, because if you ever do change your minds you will have some explaining to do.

One reason that only-children want siblings is as playmates, so you should also talk about how much of a nuisance a toddler is and how its not much fun always having to play with someone so much younger.

  • I'm afraid these approaches might make the little one feel guilty. – anongoodnurse Sep 10 '17 at 16:40
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    I agree with telling the truth, but there are better ways to put it. For example, "mummy got sick when she had you" could reflect poorly on the only child. Better to say, "mummy could get sick if she had any more children". – Kramii Reinstate Monica Sep 11 '17 at 9:42
  • The truth is worse (in my view) than "mommy got sick when she had you" (see the edited part in my question). – iulia Sep 11 '17 at 13:51

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