The Spare

| Community Projects, Gardening, Milkwood Farm | comments | Author :


We live on a rapidly changing planet, and we know the world that our children will wake up to as adults will not look like this one.

There are many reasons for this change, and many elephants in that room of many reasons. One of those reasons is our number. We are many. And every hour, we are more.

I have been trying to write this post for a few years now, without success. There are drafts, and second drafts, and then segues back to first drafts. I can’t quite find the right angle. So I’ll just come out and say it.

I think we’re only having one child.

Before you rush and get your anti-Ehrlich stick to start a-whackin me, it’s not what you think.

In short, I found the first few years of motherhood tough. Very tough. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t think I can do it twice. I’d rather be a competent mum to one little beautiful, than a probably-medicated mum to multiple small awesomes.

So. While I was coming to terms with the fact that we were perhaps destined to be a one-kid family, I naturally went through a phase where i groped around looking for justifications to hang my decision on.

There weren’t that many. I found a couple of articles and studies declaring that it was indeed possibly for only children to be happy and not irreparably damaged. I found some to the contrary too.

I also experienced a slow avalanche of incidental advice that having only one kiddo was equivalent to child abuse and would leave my child stunted in every way. Mostly in response to my ‘um, to tell you the truth, I don’t think we’re having another one, actually…’

Almost to spite said slow avalanche of unasked for advice, I read The Population Bomb. It’s quite a read. I still haven’t decided what I think of it, however.

But it did get me thinking about whether it was up to me to contribute to the planet’s population balance, with the choices I made concerning my own ovaries (and no-one else’s, mind).

So. There was a big fat peg to hang my decision apon. With bonus moral high ground! Depending on how you see this issue, of course.

But I just couldn’t. I certainly don’t have the answer for how we feed everyone, nor for how we set effective and ethical limits to growth within our societies, but the whole “well I’M doing my bit at least” angle did not cut it for me.

Mostly, the population peg didn’t work for me because I suspect, had things been a bit different with my early mothering experience, we would have multiple beautifuls by now. So pretending to wave the one-child flag based on my terribly righteous social conscience would frankly be a crock.

Not to mention that, as a conversation starter, bringing up self-regulated population control is a great way to loose friends and to cause people to take offence.

So I had decided to just leave the why of it, and let things be.

What I did want, however, was to try and find a way to start talking about the fact that maybe having just one kid is ok, and start discussing awesome and positive examples of small families whose beloved and only child was neither a stunted, deprived creature, nor a little emperor.

So that is the post I was trying to write. About how, maybe, there’s a future which involves lots of happy one-kid families (in amongst the happy multi-kid families) who are fabulously integrated into their wider communities.

That was, until I was standing next to this guy the other day. Let’s call him Derrick.

Says Derrick to me (we know each other slightly) “So. When are you making a spare?”

“No spares for us”, I say in my best polite I’m not fussed voice (because telling him all about the continuous, convulsive crying and the deep, growling anger and the dreams of doom just didn’t seem appropriate at that point).

“You should” says Derrick. “They die. I’ve lost three siblings. You need spares”

It was meant as a normal conversation from a particularly straight-talking man. I didn’t mind it on that level. But it got me thinking.

It got me thinking that my decision to have one kid, which I was determined to think of as pretty virtuous, might be actually just a symptom of my first-world privilege.

Living where we do in the world (and being white, with an education to boot), statistically my kid is far, far less likely to die from lack of access to clean water,  or from war, famine, and just about everything else. Cancer or obesity are most likely to get him, but that would be decades from now.

Added to this happy fact, given where we live on the planet, my family does not need to produce 12 kids in order to, while allowing for high child mortality, keep our family agricultural enterprise afloat. For now. Lucky us.

And maybe, at the end of the day when you strip away the untidy emotions, that’s why I go about thinking I don’t need a spare. Wow. It’s my bloody white first world privilege. And I thought It was just me.

You hear parents occasionally joke about making a spare. I’ve never thought anything of it. I know they don’t mean that Poppy is the spare for Ewan, or vice versa. They just mean that… well, if something terrible happened to one of their darlings, they’d still be parents.

Completely justifiable as an evolutionary urge. Also the most popular way to ensure they become grandparents, biologically speaking.

But when Derrick talked about spares, he meant it. It was quite factual, and coming from a man who grew up in a country of conflict, far from here. Life is uncertain. Loved ones die. Best make a few of them.

I’m not sure where this realisation leaves me.

Still as a happy (and getting happier) Mum to one little beautiful. No spares. Guess we’ll just have to wing it.

I’m still looking for great stories and strategies for navigating one-kid parenting in this world of ours. And I do think it’s important that we as a society generally get more comfortable (and maybe even supportive) of smaller families, if we’re to create regenerative communities for many generations to come.

Got any great stories or strategies for me?

See the comments

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62 responses to “The Spare

  1. Ha. I didn’t know I was so stunted and damaged….I loved being an only child. I had and still have a very rich relationship with my parents, extended family etc

  2. Apparently, most of the discussions around the ‘issues’ for only children are based on out dated and inadequate research. I just wish I could remember the name of the psychologist who wrote the great article on this.
    A happy, loving relationship (most of the time) between parent and child is the most important factor. The rest is virtually irrelevant.
    Thank you for sharing your experience so beautifully x

  3. Nice.
    As you say, your ovaries, your circumstance, none of our business.
    And you’re so right to mention community, I figure (and I’m no expert) that the more people, aunts, Grandfathers, cousins, mates, foreign visitors etc, kids are exposed to and influenced by, the more rounded they’ll be, the bigger their world will be and the more they’ll respect or at least hear others opinions.

  4. I wish every parent thought as deeply as you have about parenthood and what that means for you, your loved ones and the planet. Thank you so much for sharing your innermosts.

  5. From the heart, thank you so much sharing. I’m a Mum of 2 beautifuls and I hear you loud and clear.

  6. One of my very best friends is an only child. She is caring, generous and kind – exactly the opposite of the stereotypical only child.
    We all make the best decisions we can for our families. Noone else gets a say (thank goodness!) So it is great that you are privileged not to need a ‘spare’, and great that you can recognise that privilege. But I am really surprised that other people have opinions about how many children you (or anyone else) has.
    My favourite response to unsolicited opinions about parenting – ‘pass the bean dip’ (or other appropriate subject change).

  7. One beautiful little emperor for us (hopefully not an emperor forever though!)… and I do worry about ‘what if’ and give him one more hug than he wants every day just in case the unthinkable should happen…
    Why one? Because there are so many of us on this planet already… because his wonderful Daddy didn’t turn up in my life sooner… because he’s enough… because it took a bit of trying for us to get this far… because we surely couldn’t be this lucky twice!… because we can still fit a mate on the back of the cargo bike with him for playdates and can still fit a wheelbarrow in the back of a small car with him for gardening dates… to me these practical concerns are just as reasonable as those of the farming family that needs an extra pair of hands. And then who cares why anyway? We all know when our family feels complete.
    Thank you for putting the topic on the table 🙂

  8. Fabulous post. Family isn’t just about blood …. family is so much more. Your family is the community that lives at Milkwood. Should your gorgeous boy have playmates and other kids to rumble with? You bet. And i’m sure you give him plenty of opportunities. We may have three, and while they are all adopted, many would say they aren’t family because they aren’t blood. it’s about the relationships that you choose to make with people … and yeah …. it is inevitable that spares die …. but the bigger your community … the better off your (and mine for that matter) family will be when you face a loss. you’re doing a great job mum! keep on keeping on!

  9. I am struggling to make it to one kid, let alone a spare. I think I am living in first world privilege as well, knowing there is “time” although, my mother had popped out 5 kids (albeit only 4 surviving to this day) by the time she was the ripe age of 30. My age. Yet I can’t even fathom being a parent just yet. I am still trying to ensure I get a good crop rotation right or remember to water the pots that don’t get touched by the irrigation…how could *I* possibly look after a child?!?! Granted, I am educated, have worked in good companies, yet I am yet to take the plunge. I know there is a yearning for a little person and I’m not getting any younger, but it’s more than just planting a seed and seeing what happens you know? I am proud that you have made that step into parenthood. One step at a time I guess. Only you can decide what is best for your situation and needs.

    I feel that I am already a family. Husband and I. Makes it a bit easier to fly by the seat of my pants knowing there is only one other person I need to consider.

    Maybe I am just being selfish?

    Fear of the unknown? Or fear of the known? I am yet to decide.

    Loved this post. S x

  10. Though we aren’t one of them, we hang with many, MANY one kid families. It is my first hand experience that these children have unique skills and personalities that will do them great justice as adults — they will certainly not be lacking in love and confidence. Whenever any of them feels the longing for a sibling, they come over to my house (with four, and the noise and chaos to go with it) and begin to rethink it. It’s the best of both worlds, I say; none of children will ever know what it’s like to be an only-child in any circumstance.

    I laud you for your conscious choice. We opted for zero, but my old broken womb apparently had other plans for me. So we took the ball and ran with it. We’re hoping to create a nice agrarian commune out of them all, to make the best of what may be a very different world up and coming.

    Thank you for sharing your struggle here. Very refreshing.

  11. Your decision is your’s to make.
    Given your role in society, teaching, community endeavors etc. I think any child of yours is going to be super. I wouldn’t worry, you do good.
    I had five children and it always amazed me that so many kids live till adulthood (considering childhood and experiments and all). But they do. Mine are all Happy Healthy adults contributing to making this a more Sustainable World. I have not regrets nor should you. Peace Grammy

  12. If you did have a spare, you’d have much less energy to support the community and extended family of Milkwood. From the sounds of it, Ashar is already surrounded by amazing and inspiring people, he learns about sharing and cooperating everyday. The people around him may not be “siblings” but they are his people. Having siblings doesn’t guarantee you a safe community, good role models and healthy food.

    Isn’t your strategy already there?

    You’re working at finding ways that will make the future a little less bumpy, exploring farming methods that are healthy and nurturing, demonstrating that new communities can be created _and_ sustained. It’s just a little bit, but these actions can create conditions that reduce child mortality, that make many people’s families more than just surviving. Maybe this privileged decision, and the energy you retain to support Milkwood can allow you to spread techniques and strategies further afield?

    eg. Exchange programs, an offshore Milkwood campus / travelling workshops, women-friendly workshops that explore how permaculture design patterns can be used to keep water clean, gardens prolific, communities strong?

  13. Deep and heartfelt post, and an opinion with which I couldn’t agree more. I had one son, but then, an adoptive child found us (via a caring older man), and we took him in. So, we have two. Though I know he’s way better off, and we love him, it hasn’t been easy, for us or my biological son. Thanks for sharing. – Kaye

  14. Kirsten, I like telling stories, as you asked here is mine/ours. It is a bit long so forgive me if its too long.

    It took us 6.5 long, tearful, agonising years before we heard the cry of our first son, being the only son and grandson for over 15 years, it was great to have another “male” in my life.

    Then we tried, and practiced, and tried some more to no avail. We figured after another bunch of years, either we needed more practice or, Daniel was our lot and we were blessed to have him… We were 32 when we had Mr D as we called him sometimes. We were happy and he was a great child to parent.

    Then when Daniel was 8 a bit, Colleen got sick with flu three months straight. If you know my wife, she’s close to bullet proof. So she went to the doctor as she couldn’t get rid of this flu. When the doctor came out out of his office smiling in that certain way they do and shook my hand and said congrats, I felt sick and scared and confused. I mean fair crack of the whip, she went into the doctors with the flu and came out of his office pregnant. How does that happen?

    Colleen said i went white as a ghost, I actually scowled at the poor fellow and said as he shook my hand, Its not always good news mate… Turned and walked out.

    I mean, we’d just started investing in property to prepare for our future. We couldn’t do the single wage again.

    I was in so much shock I couldn’t tell my folks nor talk about it without crying. I know, Aussie men don’t cry 🙂 . This one did.

    Heck… I’d forgotten how to put on a nappy what use was i going to be to my wife, even worse, I was 40, my wife 39. You just don’t have kids when you’ve turned 40 any more do you?

    We were not angry or upset, just really really nervous. We knew we didn’t have the same energy. Our first son didn’t sleep through for almost the first 15 months with chronic tummy issues. Not again, please not again was what I said one day…

    Then BJ came early. He was an undetected breach, I was overseas and the little bloke was nearly three weeks early. Colleen had an emergency C section. When I finally came back to the UK, two days late, there he was, a second son. When I looked into his eyes it was like looking into my own soul. I knew at that moment, it would be Ok.

    Challenging, tiring for Colleen more than me, but it would be OK. I was right too, it wasn’t easy for me and seriously, especially for Colleen who couldn’t feed him her preferred way due to developing mastitis.

    We thought well two were it. 9 years apart, so it was like family a and b. I think the hardest thought for me was one day it hit me… I’ll be 60 when he goes to Uni. It freaked me out for some reason.

    We just got on with life as you do, no matter how many children you have. Then 2 years later, it happened again. We had our 3rd son. Well, i don’t mean it happened instantly, but Colleen was expecting again. Can u believe it. No brothers but three sons. We were in our 40s by the time Fella came. This is his nickname because BJ couldn’t say his name so he called him little Fella and then it just became Fella.

    Then Colleen said, soon after she came home from the hospital, she said, off you go.

    I said where? Do you need something from the store? She said I’m not having anymore at 43+, I said a very long Ohhhh and I used my two fingers like a pair of scissors. That was our lot soon after that.LoL.

    I’ve seen a big difference between how the eldest, almost only child, is and how much fun the two younger ones have together.

    That being said, and having been here with a similar question many times with many families as a minister of a church, here is my answer which doesn’t change. I’m am with Fraser 100% on this one for sure.

    It’s between you and Nick. It’s more so your body and no one but you knows how you feel in your body. Having the little one is only the start as you well know already. Raising them is the really long intense process. I personally wouldn’t have a child because of “spares”. That’s me and only my opinion and I know Colleen would agree. But its nothing to with me. LoL, i wont be there to help so I wouldn’t impose any opinion onto your family.

    I also agree that being a family, be it blood, adopted, which is still 100% family, lifestyle community, friends all the above mention, is all still family and what family has become in our life time. I really would also like applaud all the above comments. I think they are all very respectful and heartfelt.

    I / we turned 50 this year, Daniel 19, BJ 10, Fella 8. Our birthdays are in consecutive months April to July, we’re all in great shape. Preparing to move back to Australia after living in the UK for 17 years, expecting to never return to Oz until late last year… 100% committed to living our dream of working the land and becoming self sufficient. Leaving the ministry after doing it for so long to start a new career too… It’s a lot to do and take in.

    Why do I share this? Because It’s not an easy decision and cause I care and because it’s all part of life and it’s all good and it all works out fine which ever decision is made and which ever way it goes and whether we have one, two or three or more kids. We’ll have good days, great days and crap days too. But… It’s all good in the end if you’re with family and living a dream it’s called life 🙂

  15. Wow. What an issue to confront. And you did it, beautifully. BTW, we do have multiple children. One of them decided she should be an only child, and she managed to pull it off! She got help from other people’s parents, on her own terms, and managed to grow up with that attitude, although she is grateful for her upbringing and enjoys her siblings now. Society does not create your child or his attitudes. You do, and sometimes, maybe they have the ultimate say for themselves!

  16. Applause for this post! And for all the thoughts that went in to the many drafts and the many times you’ve considered all these questions. Many of these have run through my mind as well, and I really enjoyed reading this!

    For the record, I was an only child and loved it. I sincerely hope that I have cultivated caring, kindness, and generosity to the point where I would not be called a stereotypical only child. The relationships that I built with my loving parents and others in their community gave me feelings of safety and confidence as I ventured out into the world – much the same as children that are raised in larger loving families. I also believe the introspection that only children seem to have more leisure for can be beneficial – cultivating one’s own inner peace and connecting with one’s inner voice, being comfortable alone with oneself, these are surely connected to the expansion of caring, kindness, and generosity for all others, and for our whole planet!

    And I love that you mention that motherhood was tough for you – this is something I rarely hear mothers “admit” to, another elephant in the room, and it’s definitely been my experience as well. With that said, my beautiful son is my North Star, and I would not have traded this trip for anything!

    I thought I was finished at one as well – happy, fulfilled, “complete” – and for 5 years have enjoyed the magic of parenting on a what I thought of as a “manageable” scale. Just recently we learned that despite the usual precautions, we are now expecting twin girls in January. We’ll have two ‘spares’ I suppose, although we certainly didn’t plan them as such – in fact didn’t plan them at all. I have to believe that they were given to us, maybe chose us, that they must have been meant to be despite our precautions. Although I came from a small family, and had thought my own would be a small family, I know that along with the tough parts, they will bring more magic to our lives, the same way that our first beautiful did.

  17. I am an only child and I believe I turned out just fine! There are pros and cons to anything. The cons of being an only child – sometimes it’s lonely, I do wish I had a sibling to commiserate with at times, my parents were a little overprotective, I’m going to be the only one there for my parents when they get older. The pros – I have an awesome relationship with my parents, my parents were better able to help pay for college which has left me better off financially, I am very independent and have confidence to do things on my own, and did I mention I have an awesome relationship with my parents (I have to say this one twice because it outweighs all the other pros). Really what it comes down to is making the best decision for you and your family and the rest doesn’t matter. Whatever you decided your child is going to turn out great! Don’t worry so much and just love him, that’s all you can do!

  18. Dear Kirsten, My only child is now 27 and has grown into a incredibly well-balanced, independent, sensible and socially connected adult. Like you, I found early motherhood almost unbearably difficult, and that was my main reason for not having more children. I certainly don’t regret the lack of ‘spares’. My girl has a half-sister from her father with whom she has some occasional contact- more of a cousin-type relationship than a sibling I think. When she was young our single parent/only child relationship was possibly the most emotionally intense connection possible between two humans but I encouraged her to be independent and develop many other relationships, and she has always been successful at building strong friendships. I’m confident that being an only child was completely positive for her, so much so that I was very surprised to read that you have felt negative pressure on you for stopping at one. Siblings can be damaging. My own relationship with my brother fractured when we were 5 and 7 and has never recovered. Now in our 40s we still barely speak and I can’t think of anything good about having a sibling, another reason for me choosing to only have one (and he has had none). So I encourage you to proudly embrace your decision for an only child as a positive choice, made with intelligent consideration, with multiple benefits for him, for you and your partner, for your community and for the environment. He is clearly having a wonderful childhood at Milkwood with loving and conscious parents. There is no lack in his life, no gap to be filled by another sibling. Kia kaha, arohanui, Meliors

  19. I recently had my second child at 38 and turned 39 in the same year. There’s 10 years difference between our two kids. I forgot how difficult it was to raise a kid in the first two years of their life. I was preparing myself for the bird leaves the nest mentality and then another comes along.

    I don’t resent any of it, but it is harder and it does compete with your drives elsewhere. And this is what I believe is the primary argument for deciding how many kids individuals will have – many, none or everything in between. If you’re a person driven by more than family, then your contribution to this world is pursuing that endeavor. Setting up kids as spares or as eventual inheritors of your legacy, doesn’t make a lot of sense if you have to cut them off as you raise them, just so you can achieve your other objectives.

    I’ve had two kids and one thing I do know as a woman is they consume at least 10 months of your life in incubation, and then two years after that as they’re completely dependent. That’s a 3 year investment of life as a minimal requirement. Fathers and other relatives are great at lending a hand, but as a woman, I was consumed with my desire to get these young’ins to the stage they could fend for themselves. My every move was dictated by what the kids’ needed. It’s very difficult to do that however, if you really want to do other things with your life.

    As women more than anything else, we owe it to ourselves to be brutally honest about what we are capable of managing, because that’s what our kids ultimately inherit from us. They learn to manage the world by how their parents manage. Have as many kids as your can personally manage.

    While I was 1 of 3 children myself, I virtually grew up an only child. My older sister by two years, went to live with our father on and off, and then permanently at 12 years of age. My younger brother came along when I was nine. Even though he was there as a sibling, we still weren’t developing cognitively together – my peers were fulfilling that role more.

    My point is, research is great at highlighting “potential” issues, but reality is the context which defines any impact. The diversity of people and especially the diversity of relationships in family, won’t be limited to the narrow confines of a research paper. Be aware of the issues they raise, but don’t make important life decisions because it proclaims a certain “impact”. They are by necessity, limited studies.

  20. I’ve been telling my kids, I have 4, one or even none…. I don’t think the world as we know it is here for much longer… I watched Dick Smiths Population Puzzle and it changed the way I think… Good on you for only having one… Though if you did decide to have another that’s just fine as well…

  21. Brilliant! I am 31, never wanted children, thought about adoption for the exact reasons you’ve mentioned here….. There’s already too many of us on the planet, why don’t I take one in that needs a home?
    However, a couple of years ago I met the most brilliant man and it has made me think long and hard about actually starting a family, the one thing I never before wanted to do….
    Even though we’re not quite there yet, I deeply appreciate your post and tackling this issue. We all know that if a child is bought up in a loving, caring environment they’re off to a bloody good start, regardless of how many there are!

  22. I have two and sometimes wish I’d had your foresight to realize that maybe I would have been a better mother if I’d stopped at one. I love them dearly, but I find the whole work-life balance thing impossible and often feel like I am always selling somebody short.

    I’m also terribly concerned about the environment and think that we humans have a moral obligation to consider the impact of our population on the future of the earth. If we were deer, someone would be arguing that it’s time to thin the herd.

    I follow Population Connection on Facebook and they often post really thought-provoking ideas about why to have 0 or 1 child. Lisa Hymas of also writes about this topic and I enjoy reading her pieces. Here’s one she wrote recently about the Time Magazine cover story on being child-free:

  23. Dear Kirsten, I found over the years that you’ll cope with what you get. Some women ache for children and never have any, for some one is enough and for others it’s as many as they can. Dare I say it for some women motherhood holds no interest at all.
    I am lucky enough to have three beautiful daughters of my own, a stepson and stepdaughter and bunch of wonderful “ring ins” that call me Mum. I am grandma to a 17yo who is an only child and a 2yo who will be an only child and if one of my daughters is successful in IVF I will have another grandchild who will be an only child. Does that cause me any concern, certainly not!
    My mother had me when she was 46 and her then youngest child was 16 so I was like an only child and loved it. I had my last child when my then youngest was fourteen so she is also like an only child and is a great human being!
    Love is all any of us need to grow well. People who love us enough to teach us well and to persist even when its hard, for them and for us. Your son is surrounded by love for him, for the land, for the world. Whatever you decide or whatever of lifes surprises comes by you I’m sure you will make the right decisions for your family.

  24. Thanks for this great and so important post Kirsten. I have an “only”, now 33, and certainly a good thinking, loving human being. I, like you couldn’t “do” another for lots of reasons but mainly I knew I would probably have not done it well…. so I didn’t. I may not have grandkids, and that has got me thinking a lot about this strong need for our own genes to be reproduced. I have little ones in my life a lot and I am really close to some. I feel like a ‘nana’ to lots of them. As long as I have that contact I am happy – don’t need my own. I am reminded of a 70’s line…..
    “If you can’t be with the ones you love then love the ones you’re with.”
    And the world could sure do with that attitude

  25. I think this is the most important issue of our lifetime and I am happy to you wrote this article. I too am a single child and I don´t consider myself mentally ill in any way. I had a very happy childhood – even so it can get lonely at times – friends made up for not having a brother or sister – the most problematic thing was the social stigma of not having a cool sister/brother around – as parents you need to be way more a friend for a single child. I think having multiple childs is a way for the parents to be a bit less – well parents. It leaves room for the parents to let them play together – it relieves them a bit of responsibility. The only thing I do find having been an only child – at points its hard to share. I think as a parent of an only child you gotta make sure your child is forced to share there stuff with others – young and old – its the only thing I really have to learn over and over again.

    As for the decision itself by all means we are too many – the planet can not sustain much more of us – having less children is the only peaceful way – everything else will hurt more – I don´t understand people with 4 children (in western cultures especially) as they are making a future for their children that is going to be horrible. It shouldn´t be a forced thing to just have one child but the discussion needs to happen in the broader culture.

    Thank you for sharing!

  26. I applaud you for this post-it’s certainly more in depth than I have ever considered the issue to be. I have 2, with a seven year gap. The youngest is 4 and my partner and I are considering having another in 3 years-I will be 32, my oldest 14.
    That said, we are also thinking we will foster instead.
    Both my children were happy accidents, but I’m pretty sure given the choice, I would not have had children, or would have fostered/adopted. I really don’t feel that biological need to pass on my genes. I think this makes me lucky-I know people who’s lives are consumed with the idea of having ‘natural’ children. It’s a contentious issue and I’m glad posts like yours are making the issues come up in conversation.

  27. Mmm, interesting discussion, I have three children and very proud of it and i don’t apologise for it. Whether you choose to have one, three or eight+ children is your personnal choice its more aboug how you live as s fsmily. I’m very aware of the environmental impact an increased population has on the world however we educate our children on the importance of self sufficiency, constantly remind them of specific buying habits, continue to live as environmentally friendly as economically possible. Our family of five may well have a less environmental impact than a family of two or three. So please so some of you get off the purist band wagon.

  28. Great post Kirsten. I think there must be loads of advantages to having one child. Especially the amount of time and energy you can give them and other projects in your life. I have three beautiful girls and yes right at this moment it is exhausting. I’m building a house, starting up a magazine and trying to give my girls lots of love and attention. But I love it and wouldn’t change it for the world. Our family just didn’t quite feel finished until Indy came along. Now we are well and truly done. I think as far as living more sustainably less children is probably better but I’m hoping to raise environmentally conscious kids who will bring their own bit of light to the world.

  29. It is great that we have the means to plan how many children we have for our family – not like in the olden days. However I have an issue with “Derrick” labelling children as spares. With self esteem issues, depression and suicide being at the current level, I hate that children can be called spares and be treated like the spare tyre, new pen or a set of clothing – not that important most of the time until really needed. Lets value all children not just the first or only.

  30. I feel this is such an important issue and discussed very well. The comments have all said a lot, so I have little to add.

    It would be an excellent situation, indeed, where the idea of “spares” becomes obsolete, everyone has equal opportunity and we can simply live sustainably, in both population and consumption.

  31. I love you guys. I read you all the time. I support your decision and I believe our planet is overburdened. I did however have a different experience. When my parents died as did their parents before them, I found myself all alone. I myself could not have children and here I am now sixty and not one living relative. Husband gone too. Thank God for old friends, old dogs, old cats, four little chickens and a hive full of sweet little Italian bees. Otherwise I’d have died of loneliness long ago. Don’t do anything drastic quite yet

  32. Regardless of your decision, there will be people who will judge, either overtly or stealthily. And there will be other people who will accept and support you AND help out with caring for your child. You know who to hang out with and listen to 🙂
    I have four sons and a full time job. I found the baby stage each time terribly hard, isolating work. I suspect this is because of our social model in Australia, and that it would be better if we lived in larger extended family/community groups.
    It is also hard when you are both a mother and a person with big aspirations to make a difference in the world – there’s a constant tug-of-war for your time and energy and you can end up feeling like you’re not giving enough of yourself to either of the great loves of your life, family or saving the planet! Life is so short and there are so many paths to choose between.
    I don’t have the answers as I’m still trying to work out the balance every day. Just wanted to say ‘I hear ya!’

  33. What a wonderful ‘honest’ candid post. This is such a topical issue, population control aka the most logical & sensible way to get a handler on the myriad of environmental disasters unfolding before our eyes. To be honest, I am guilty of the ‘spare’ mentality & have three sons (they are beautiful blessings & I couldn’t imagine my life without them in it). However, your dialogue has really got me thinking & opened my mind to be more accepting of other options re children. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  34. It is none of my business whether you have more kids or not, but I wanted to say, number one, thank you for your honesty and being so candid. Number two, something that stood out to me (and obviously I don’t know what your story was the first time around) but I felt I wanted to say to you, that I had it tough with my first newborn experience, in my own way, with post natal anxiety the top of the list. We both survived! My second newborn experience was different. I don’t know if I had my shit together more, or I just knew being medicated for a short time, or having to go to formula etc. was not the end of the world, and that the sleep deprivation rollercoaster does come to an end(ish)… I handled it better, it handled me better. I love having two kids, that is more than enough for us, I’ve never heard of this ‘having a spare’, and you guys will decide what is right for you… but consider that your experience with having another kid may not even be like the first. (I also get that you can be traumatised by it, physically and mentally, so that you don’t even want to go there. I get that.)

  35. It must be something about this week that this issue seems to be coming to the surface with everyone I know (and don’t know but have read their blog posts!)

    Know that you are not alone! Unlike the initial decision of whether or not to have a child, having a toddler immediately means every person you meet will ask about your plans for another one.

    I am finally ok with having one amazing little person in my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still pee on a stick hopefully every month or cry in self pity every time another friend has a baby.

    I lost that intense need to reproduce the moment I had my son and have never experienced it again. So why do I feel the need to have another one? I think it is because I am sad for my child who wants and regularly asks for a sibling. It is regretting telling him that he would have a sibling in the excitement of a positive test, too soon. It is wanting that feeling of completeness that people with several children talk about (when referring to knowing when to stop).

    I am happy with my lot and I can’t see myself going down the medical intervention path to have another. Perhaps I would feel differently if I was childless, but I have no interest in pursuing IVF.

    We mothers are lucky for the beautiful lives we have created and nurtured and have to enjoy. And that is enough.

  36. I would wish for all of us that, regardless of what we each choose for ourselves, – whether through circumstance, biology or preference – that the rest of the village gathers around and supports that choice with joy and without judgement.

    * May those who would have liked children but didn’t meet their ‘one’ or weren’t physically able find joy in the the children of others who need a break. The role of the special aunty/uncle or fairy godperson is a joyful one. We get to savour the energy and interests of the little one and then hand them back.

    * May parents feel and know they are supported on all their days, good and bad. May no one throw them nasty looks or toss snippy comments their way when their little darlings are ..well.. not so darling in that moment.

    * May people who have have many offspring – whether taxed and stressed or joyfully fulfilled – remember not to assume that those who have 1 or none would either wish for more, or can – indeed – have any. For someone who can’t or won’t have a child an unthinking “you don’t know what you are missing” can feel like a dagger to the heart.

    Children are a blessing in all our lives. To look at the world through the eyes of a child is to truly remember that this universe is magical. Let us share the enjoyment (and sometimes frustration) of the children around us, and let us all be open hearted, non-judgemental and all embracing to those around us.

    It takes a village, not just to raise a child, but to honour all the adults around us and their individual paths.

    Surely permaculture and ‘care for people’ includes developing a culture in which we can embrace a wide expression of human-beingness in all its (bio)diversity.

    Wonderful heartfelt post Kirsten. Thank you! 🙂

  37. Thanks for this post, Kirsten. I’m an only and the mother of an only and I am now very content. I, too, couldn’t face another go at pregnancy. I don’t have time to do your post justice, but I’ll try to come back and post again. Bravo to you for your thoughtfulness and honesty!
    Humble Designs Permaculture

  38. Hi Kirsten, Dean Driscoll here. You no doubt would remember the experience we went through with little Christopher passing. I feel that even if one has 20 children, the loss of one will not change the shock and the devastation. Little Tahlia was born 2 weeks before Chris died, yet we hardly noticed her as we watched Chris’ suffering. It’s a tough one. I decided when our first son was born 21 years ago that I did not want any more children, for when he was born the potential for suffering dawned on me if anything were to happen to him. In all my desire to prevent that suffering, it did not work out that way and Chris came along and I fell in love with him and then he went like a breeze. So, I guess what I am trying to say is, for all my big plans to avoid suffering, it was not to be prevented. In a lot of ways having other children does not make up for what one will go through if the worst thing should happen. Having said that, having children in our lives is a wonderful experience (potential for suffering aside) and in a lot of ways, the more the merrier. I reckon you guys have a wonderful situation and Nick is a very good man. Plenty of land for childhood adventures. In my 50’s, I do love my brother and I love having a brother and always did. I often feel that he is the only one who understands me, having always been there with me, so there is that aspect about siblings, although there are many exceptions of course, with many people going through sibling rivalry. The population thing, to me does not apply so much to people such as yourselves who are actively engaged in reducing the pressure on resources and will continue to get better at that as you keep going along your path and as Mollison famously said, if just 10% of us grow food in our backyards then there is enough for all, thereby suggesting that population is not the problem but it is the way that we use our resources that is the problem. Anyway, it is a hard call to make and your choices are none of my business but I can only relate our life experience to you. (just to add something that has nothing to do with this but I just thought of it) At the time that Chris died, Tahlia at 2 weeks old, did not make a noise for the whole of that night from when he died until the next day. There was chaos in the hospital room, noise all around, nurses and Doctors everywhere, people howling in grief, yet she made not a sound. Isn’t that interesting?

  39. Hi Kirsten. So much wisdom, here, I cant read it all. I’ve long thought about these issues given our population crisis. There are many factors personal and ideological. I strongly support you in having just one child and building a community of friends / family for you and your child (and your friends children). I try to imagine how traditional societies lived and shared parenting and kids growing up with cousins. Although they probably had bigger families due to the risk of loss, we now need to take care of population levels.

    I know a Green has 3 children but also many people that don’t have any children or even a partner. We do have some privileges in Australia, but we also have health and social problems that affluence has brought, so I think 1 or 2 children is great. Having the right supportive circumstances is fantastic.

    As you know my partner and I do not have kids and I’ve seen friends and some family become parents. It is at times difficult for those of us without kids to relate to parents for a full spectrum of reasons and emotions. I’m glad you have been able to share a few microseconds of your child’s life with me and that he has a great mom & dad and many caring people around him. Trust in other adults looking after your kids can be a tricky issue for good reason, yet being an adult excluded from this part of life also isn’t great. At times enjoy playing with kids and we have twin god-sons now we don’t get to see too often, but I admire parents doing what they do, as I see it can be physically and emotionally challenging and wonder how I’d cope with it. I wouldn’t pay too much, or any, attention to “Derrick’s” advice. Follow your path.

  40. And perhaps I should add one more thing. In relation to the difficulties in rearing a child. That is a very valid issue for people in our modern world. We are missing the support that older cultures typically had from within the family and in village life what with our families spread far and wide and a return to village life resisted by most people confused as we are by corporate propaganda. So, I just thought that I should recognise that, that is a very valid concern for you both. It is a bloody good reason as to why we have found it so difficult to rear our children what with most of Renata’s family living in Poland and most of my family alienated by their wealth.

  41. Hi
    I’m a mum of 2, when my first was born I met a wonderful group of first time mothers. Ten years on we are still meeting regularly, our children are like siblings, they have known each other all their lives.
    Some families went on to have 2, like us, some had just the 1 – it doesn’t change the dynamic. The older only children know what it’s like to have an annoying younger sibling! and they also know what its like for a sibling to give them a random hug.
    I have a whole bunch of cousins that I rarely see, my childrens cousins are all much older than they are – so our original mothers group is our extended family… and it is great!!

  42. Great and though-provoking post Kirsten, and some wonderful replies here as well. I would echo the many people who have said here that decisions on how many children to have are no-one’s business but the prospective parents.

    From a very young age, I knew that I did not want to be a Mother, and while everyone else assumed I would grow out of it, my views never changed. When I met my partner, we were in our very early (as in just) 20s, and when we realised this was a for-life relationship I told him how I felt about being a parent, while being terrified that I was risking the loss of this wonderful man if he wanted kids (or having to pop out a tyke against my strong feelings). I was greeted with a look of intense relief on his face, because he had felt the same way and assumed that I had a bilogical clock ticking that he was going to have to bow to.

    It amazes me that, over the past 33 years, people have felt they have the right to tell us how selfish, unnatural, etc we are for choosig to remain childless. Meanwhile, while many of our friends have raised beautiful, well-rounded, happy children in both single and multi-kid families, there are many who have raised damaged children through having them because “that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

    Whether you have one, none, or 20, the decision should be no-one’s business but your own, nor should you have to justify it. Just be the best parents you can be and raise the best beautifuls. Or, as the case may be, raise none but be the best Aunt/Uncle (even if honourary) to the children that come within your commuity village (you know, the one it takes to raise a child).

  43. A very interesting topic and I thought about it 40 years ago when without the benefit of the pill, I had 5 surprise children, not one planned! Then I read a book about the population explosion and the world would not be able to feed itself by 2000 and felt very guilty! It has been my view for some time, that if you want to help climate change the world has to have a lot less children. My problem has been that it is the highly educated, intelligent people who are doing that and because of religious reasons or not much else to do, uneducated people are often having the larger families – my worry is everybody gets one vote and I am thinking I would rather have thoughtful intelligent people in charge and you may not get that if you all only have one child.
    By the way, one of my best friends was an “only” – and we have known each other for 70 years and I would never have a nicer friend.
    That said – it is your decision and nobody else – so enjoy your lovely boy – at least now you can “plan” which we could not.

  44. It’s interesting to look at the ‘third’ ethic of permaculture, which originally was “Setting limits to Population and Consumption – by governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles” (i.e. Care of the Earth, Care of People). I actually think this rendition is preferable to the more simplistic ‘fair share’, which main redeeming aspect is that it rhymes. Overpopulation really is everone’s problem as we all live in the same ‘system’ and I applaud those permaculturists who for ethical reasons have decided to limit the number of offspring they bring into this already over stressed planet. We actually have plenty of people in the world, and an increasing number of environmentally minded people are deciding not to have any children at all. For those people with children this does seem to be ‘the elephant in the room’, and I guarantee this post will upset some of those people. I’ve always believed that if you need a ‘spare’ then adoption is a good option. If you really do have paternal/maternal urges controlling your life and need a little one to care for, one option is to become a wildlife carer and bring that zone 5 into your loungeroom.

  45. I am in a similar situation to you with one young child, but the decision for more has not yet been made. Regardless of the number of children I end up with it is the decisions I make about their young lives that will give them the tools to make their lives have a positive or negative impact in the world. I think that is what every child needs…

  46. Thanks Kirsten for initiating this important conversation.

    Firstly a story. When Nick stayed with us during the Dave Jacke tour he freely devoted some of his time to reading and playing with our little boy. As a consequence this gave my wife and I the mental and physical space to prepare some food, ensure we had some clean clothes for the next day and do a little planning for the week ahead. For our son he gained the benefit of receiving some dedicated attention form another kind and caring adult. Nick could have sat back in conversation with others, scanned his emails or prepared teaching notes for an upcoming course, but instead he exercised the wisdom that we see in long lived cultures, with extended family relationships which recognise the health and security of the individual is contingent on that of the whole.

    So as far as strategy, I believe much of what we need to be doing to support the choice to have fewer children comes from revisiting our ways of thinking.

    In reflecting on your discussion piece I was left wondering.
    “What are the assumptions behind having a ‘spare’? and perhaps more importantly what needs do we perceive we are filling by having more than one child?”

    I have often had reason to reflect on William McDonough’s quote on thinking sustainably, “How do we love the children of all species for all time?” In exploring this I have come to realise that in addition to our own biological children (or possibly none) there are so many children within our lives who deserve our care and attention. I have little doubt that working toward improving the quality of relationships with others brings the rewards and sense of fulfilment that many are seeking within their lives. You have already alluded to many practical manifestations of this, such as creating opportunities for children to interact with caring individuals with diverse life experiences and perspectives. Steve Biddulph, author of ‘Raising Boys’, also has many valuable insights and is equally passionate about the world we are creating for future generations. He talks about the value of getting to know your son’s friends as he enters teenage years, as they will often be more interested in what you do than your own biological children.

    One activity that I initiated a few years ago in Tasmania was the concept of a Permaculture Skillshare weekend, where PDC grads and practitioners get the opportunity to come together to exchange ideas, teaching, workshops etc. It’s like a camping holiday with a difference and incidentally it is quite a supportive environment for young families, almost like a rediscovery of the extended family culture.

    This sort of thinking goes against the grain of consumerist, nuclear family culture, where considerable effort continues to be invested in how we can monetise every caring relationship we experience from the time we are born to the time we die.

    Ultimately it seems important to surround ourselves with people who challenge us to do good in the would while also supporting our need to create and sustain happiness within present and changing circumstances.

  47. As someone who has had a very rough run with post natal depression and ante natal depression for the first two of my 3 darlings, I can totally understand stopping at one. And now being able to understand just how tough parenthood can be, I can completely respect the decision to have none.

    Despite my rough introduction to motherhood I know, even with 3 we are not done. The overpopulation of the world sits on my conscience and making sure I give my best to the 3 kids we already have gnaws in my brain late at night whilst I try to balance feeling clucky with the practicalities of the timing and the ethical issues there too. I think the decision to have children and however many decided upon is an entirely personal one. I am sure you will get just as tired of people asking about whether you want a girl/another boy/another child as much as I get sick of people asking if I have figured out what causes babies yet.

    And kudos for writing such a fantastic post about what is a deeply personal subject.

  48. I am a mother of wonderful 8 y.o daughter, who I had just before I was 40. I never thought I would leave it so late, but a series of circumstances dictated that outcome. And like you Kirsten, the road of motherhood was very bumpy indeed for the first 2-3 years, even though she was a much wanted child. I didn’t want to have anymore because of my experience, and because the genetic risks involved when you are older are very scary. They were my reasons and I feel comfortable with the decision I made.

    It’s been my experience that many people seem quite uncomfortable with the idea of the only child. They project all sorts of ‘stuff’ onto my decision, and make all sorts of assumptions about why I have one child. Their Ideas often reflect their own worries or biases, about one child families. What I find intriguing is why they feel the need to express their ‘concern’ about this to me in an unsolicited fashion. I’m not particularly interested in what they think, and if I was I would ask their opinion on the matter.

    As many others have expressed, having kids (or not), and how many is a deeply personal decision. And often external factors (such as infertility, unable to find a partner to parent with, genetic conditions, you might be gay and living in a state which doesn’t allow you access to IVF services etc etc) can play a large role too. Perhaps a simple statement along the lines of ‘my reasons are personal and I don’t feel a need to share them with you’ is enough.

  49. I think, good for you! I know families where the parents have determined the best amount of kids to have to get the most handouts from the government. And it does not stop at two or three! My sons best mate is a single child, and he is the happiest, most well adjusted child I have ever met. So poo-poo to anyone who gets judgmental, it is none of their business.

  50. Wow, this is a deep post, didn’t think I’d end up in tears reading your beautiful thoughts and words and all the responses.
    We’ve felt complete with just Loke (and I also had a hard time, especially for the first year) and I’ve thought about the pressure on the planet as a good reason to go ‘no spares’. But I guess Lia just wanted very much to come, and we desired so much to have her, and a lot of it has to do with the wonderful experience of having a sibling that Dean described. I think Loke would’ve been wonderful no matter what. And Lia too. Although I’m sure she can’t imagine life without her big hero.
    I agree with the thoughts about the importance in community life to raise a child..
    much love to you all, thank you for this wonderful and thought-provoking post!

  51. Deep yes. Thankyou for speaking from the heart. Being a single parent to one child and now approaching honourable cronedom let me say:
    * One child makes you often feel vulnerable to being left with one.
    * if it takes a village to raise a child then it also takes the adults of the village to parent all its children not just their one (or two or more). The village has spares built into it and the spares need abundance of adults inputting to them. Lets move to more village and communal approaches where we share parenting amongst other things.
    * I am now a grandparent – one grandchild. I think I am a grand aunt several times over but kids keep popping out fairly rapidly at the moment in my wider family. So it flows on from generation to generation this parenting, aunting role.

  52. Right there with you. I adore my kid but it would break me to have another; plus, I’ve got three siblings and that certainly didn’t guarantee me a happy childhood. I don’t seek to justify the shape of our family beyond the fact that it works for us and we’re happy how we are. God knows, there are plenty of one-kid families and no-kid families where that was not a choice but just how things worked out.

  53. Wow! Your words echo my own thoughts over these last two years, as I have wrestled with the guilt of not wanting another child. My nearly five year old daughter is such a joy to me. Why would I want to mess with our happy threesome?

    I too have been tempted by the moral goodness of limiting the drain on the Earth’s finite resources. But if I thought that I’d be just as happy, still married, and actually wanted another child I would give it a go. The fact we’d need IVF again, and it may not work, doesn’t even factor into my decision.

    But the norm in the ‘burbs where I live is three children. I want to ‘own it’ and embrace having a single child. I am getting there, and your article helps – thanks!

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