Power of One
My top New Year’s resolution was to stop complaining about kids, which effectively ends this blog. It’s worth the dropoff in content if I can rewire my brain to interpret the daily grind of parenthood as enjoyable, meaningful or at least productive.
I’m doing well with the resolution and might try to keep it forever, but I do have a parting shot. It’s most definitely not a shot at my second son, who is nicer to me than his Oedipus-complex brother. If he were the older one, I would still feel the same way.
Stopping at one child is an extremely underrated option those fortunate enough to conceive should consider. I know that really leans into my Communist Chinese roots, although our balloon-enthusiast frenemies overshot the goal and recently crossed the threshold into population decline.
When I brought up the merits of one-and-done to my Ph.D. entrepreneur friend, he quickly pointed out the human race would die out. It took me a second because I don’t have a doctorate, but yeah that makes sense. To maintain the same population level, everyone would need to replace themselves, i.e. two children per couple.
Otherwise you have a languishing top-heavy age distribution without replenishing the worker-age tax base to support stretching life spans. Well, sucks to be Japan. This isn’t Handmaid’s Tale. You should do what’s best for you and hope the robots figure out the rest.
One kid makes so much sense to me. Most of us parents didn’t have an inexorable urge to give up our pre-family lives. The reason why people are having kids later and later over time is because quality of life without them is increasing over time. Life can be pretty good — with more diverse and arguably unforced sources of fulfillment — when not consumed by raising offspring.
If there weren’t biology-directed boundaries, I suspect many folks wouldn’t get around to having kids until their 40s or 50s. I certainly was never one to leave the bar before last call (or being kicked out).
Ultimately the strongest impetus is fear of regret and ambiguity, not knowing if one day you’ll look around unhappily wondering what it would have been like to have kids. Just one will take care of that for you though. The wonder, conjecture, imagining all goes away. Adding a second child won’t do much more in that category.
I’ve heard no one runs two marathons. You either run one and cross it off the bucket list, or uncover a calling and run a bunch.
Almost all my friends, acquaintances and randoms encountered chose to have exactly two kids. A common answer to whether they want to go for a third is an expletive concatenated with a capital N-O. This is often backed by surgical guarantee on the male.
Riddle me this, if having a third would be so bad, was the second really necessary?
I know I don’t have any real friends because no one cared to warn me how much harder it is with a second child. The closest was my buddy who casually mentioned when we were a month out, “You know the second kid takes it to like level 20 right?”
Cool man, I’m glad you tucked a cautionary note in my luggage before I boarded the Titanic. I heard there might be a global pandemic coming along too, so I’ll be sure to stock up on hand sanitizer.
Especially for an introvert like me who needs to recharge alone, the toughest part about the multi-child life is a lack of recovery and restorative time. One parent can’t go take an effing break. The hamster wheel is always spinning. Sometimes the r.p.m. is insane; most of the time it’s manageable. But the thing just never stops.
Multi-tasking does not suit me well. I get stressed out when two people talk to me at the same time, a favorite pastime of my in-laws. I’ve been told I have the ability to make people feel like they’re the only one in the room (most recently in a video job interview when they were the only one in the virtual room). It’s a great side effect of having a one-track mind.
But the flip side is the inflated discomfort I feel when unable to concentrate or take my time to do something well rather than good enough. That’s what happens with two kids. Instead of focusing on one and trying to ace the test, you just want to survive two and pass the test.
You jump from one thing to the next and a lot more things in your mind while trying to physically finish one. Brushing a squirming child’s teeth while using my leg to barricade the other from suicide divebombing off the bed gets old before the first repetition.
There is always a certain level of anxiety humming in the background. I am acutely aware of this because of the uplifting feeling when the kids are dropped off at school and the absolute dread when they can’t go. Every parent has downplayed or blatantly ignored symptoms to send their child to school because the alternative is just so taxing.
Frisco, Texas somehow had five straight days of school closures this month because of icy weather. Bookended by weekends, that made it 10 days with children ages 3 and 1, which adds up to like six months in perceived time. Looking at the clock every day and trying to burn hours even though those hours were needed for other things was excruciating.
Trading off with one kid would have been a lot more fun for all parties involved. Call me shortsighted when the two are old enough to occupy each other, but there still will be fights and mass destruction to manage. They already can’t be left alone together because of bullying and antagonizing. The honeymoon phase pictured below lasted like two months.
Basically the added cost of a second child is not offset by the diminishing returns. It sounds callous to put it that way, but again, this is no reflection of my second baby. It’s an observation about becoming a parent for the second time.
You can gauge the diminishing returns to some extent by comparing the number of pictures taken of the two kids before age 1. With the second one, I don’t think my wife ever took the n-month picture on time.
The meal preparation. Every bite of food for the first one had to be organic. I fed the second one In-N-Out fries, and he threw up that night.
The childcare. The first one didn’t go to school until one and a half. We dropped the second kid off with defrosted milk at 12 weeks.
TV. We tried to shield the older one from screens as long as possible. The younger one plays in the foreground of Disney Plus movies, and if he wants to pay attention, I consider that efficient supervision.
I cannot emphasize or repeat enough I love them both equally. I’m just trying to point out what appears to be an underutilized life design choice. Having an only child is a way to hedge against the risk of regret without exhausting resources.
You still get the benefits, experiences and boxes checked going from zero to one — while preserving more of that former life. It could be the best of both worlds.
Going from one to two is more uphill in terms of incremental benefits and quality of life versus costs and mental wellness. Everyone would agree there is an ideal number of children for them based on their family and wants, and I would be shocked if there weren’t more true one-and-dones out there rather than arbitrary two-and-throughs.
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