One And Done: The Only-Child Phenomenon

Photo via Flickr user Herkie

It once was believed that a woman’s role and worth was to bear children. Throughout history it may have been the men that fought the wars but the women produced the soldiers. There was a time that most women gave birth to upwards of six times in their lives. It wasn’t so much a matter of producing large families, but that 1 in 3 children would not see the age of four prior to 1945. With drastic advancement in medical technology, less than .01% of children die from complications at birth in the United States. The infant mortality rate is less than seven deaths per 1000 live births in the US due in most part to effective and safe vaccines.

Not to spit in the face of all the women who fought so fiercely for women’s suffrage, liberation, and rights, but many women today still view having and raising children as a primary focus in their lives. We also balance careers, hobbies, personal lives, and, in my case, writing and blogging, but we are moms and thrilled to be so.

However there is a relatively recent trend in child-bearing that could lend itself to some interesting discussion. The average number of children per family has been falling since the 1950’s. Many parents are consciously choosing to have only one child. To the extent that as soon as their first child is born, one or both parents turn to surgical intervention, such as vasectomies and even as drastic as partial hysterectomies (the latter according to a story found in a local publication, Bethany Magazine…sorry no website available. I know, it’s weird to me too), to ensure their one-and-done baby.

It is both a drastic change in the ideology of the last century and a giant leap of faith in the medical technology of today. If something terrible and unspeakable happens to that one child, those parents will have extreme difficulty producing further progeny, if it is possible to do so at all. Not that another child could ever replace one that is lost, but it is human instinct to reproduce.* The ability to resist this urge represents a drastic change in ideology.

Personally I was an only child, not so much because my parents chose this but because fate interceded and I was it. It was a lonely existence but I made due, turned out alright, and readily admit there were some perks. But I believe that as a result of my experience, I want more than one child. Ideally I’d like two, could be coerced into three, and will consider four only after a substantial bribe involving a large diamond, a new car, a vacation castle on the Scottish Highlands, and a lucrative book deal.

What are your thoughts on it? Are you an only child and has this affected the number of children you have (or want to have)? Are you a one-and-done mom? Are you averse to birth control and up for your own Discovery Channel Special? Do you feel that this trend may begin to have a negative affect on our population rates in the coming years or decades? Do you care if they do?

Comment accordingly in the GeekMom forums! Comments have been disabled on this post to allow for further discussion.

*That seems a very bold statement but is taken from my recent reading of Leonard Shlain’s Sex, Time, and Power: How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution

Book Review: Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex…

After reading my November 16 GeekMom post on talking with your kids about sexuality, one reader, Angie, commented:

Ok, immediately, as in right now, go to Amazon, and buy this book: Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask) by Richardson and Schuster…Andrea, this is EXACTLY what you’re looking for. It is the geek parent’s holy grail of parenting your kid’s sexuality at every stage, chock full of current scientific data and psychiatric research, without religious leanings. The authors attempt to give you, the parent, the tools to instill your cultural or religious “norm” in your children while simultaneously recognizing your child as a healthy sexual individual.

After reading Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask), I have to agree with Angie: this is the kind of book that I was looking for:

It is comprehensive. That is, it considers all aspects of sexual education from the “fact-based” conversations and questions of early childhood to the “feelings-focused” practical and ethical discussions that may take place in a family as teenagers begin to explore their sexual identities.

It is respectful of the culture and beliefs of individual families. I was looking for a book that would steer me toward topics that I might want to consider at each stage of my children’s development. However, in lieu of preaching one perfect public health or moral solution, I wanted to be acknowledged as the person who understands my children best and then encouraged to come to my own informed conclusions on how to effectively guide them.

Its suggestions are made using peer-reviewed studies and research. I wanted suggestions that were, as often as possible, based on reliable, replicable scientific research. In almost all cases, the authors were able to support their suggestions with research.

The questions posed throughout the book are direct, thought-provoking and real, for instance:

  • How will you react if your middle-school daughter wants to wear provocative clothes? If your middle-school son visits online porn sites?
  • What values do you want to communicate to your children? What does abstinence mean? Are virginity pledges effective? Does promoting birth control promote promiscuity? 
  • If asked, will you share anything about your sexual experiences? (I was concerned that the authors might err on the side of “oversharing.” Instead, they provided a great baseball analogy, a la Dr. Spock: “There is no need to focus on your child’s technique with the ball—it is more important for your child to feel affirmed than to feel coached.”)
  • What special considerations are there to consider if your child is atypical? Disabled? Has a chronic illness? Is gay?
  • Am I really  helping my children by talking about…all of this? (“Of those kids whose parents had spoken to them about sex, 87 percent thought their parents insights were helpful.”)

The book’s authors, Justin Richardson, MD and Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, have both been published in key journals: Harvard Review of Psychiatry, The American Journal of Public Health, and Pediatrics (Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics). Dr. Richardson is a full-time analyst affiliated with Columbia University and New York Presbyterian Hospital (interesting aside: and is the “psychiatric advisor” for the HBO miniseries In Treatment). Dr. Schuster is UCLA’s Chief of General Pediatrics and its Vice Chair for Health Services, Policy, and Community Research in the Department of Pediatrics, as well as the Director of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at UCLA’s RAND Center. Together, the two authors bring more than 30 years of education, research and experience to the creation of this book.

In my assessment, this book is a good starting point for parents worried about talking to their kids about sexual health, but you can decide that for yourself by taking a look at selected chapters at the book’s website: RICHARDSONSCHUSTER.COM.