The Case for the Only Child

If you read my blog at all, you know that I have not one, but THREE children, and you may think that this is an odd book title for me to be reviewing. And you’d be right. Lisa at TLC Booktours asked me to review this book on the premise that some of my readers might be contemplating having only one child, and that I might have a unique perspective on the book’s message, given my “overstuffed” household.

As all of the other reviews for TLC seem to have been written by those who do have onlies, I suppose mine will indeed be a unique perspective.

“You must have your hands full” or “You do know how you got all those kids, don’t you?” is a fairly common observation when I go out with all of my kids. And that is surprising to me for two reasons. First of all, I’m not sure why people feel the need to say such things to perfect strangers (is my reproductive life really any of your business?), and second of all, I really don’t think three children are all that many. Most of my friends have at least three, and I have several friends who have more than that.  Heck, one of my best friends is having her seventh in a few months.

Again, if you read my blog at all, you will also know that I am LDS. Having lots of children—certainly more than one—is indeed a part of our religious culture, and while I won’t go into our specific beliefs about that, I will say that I realize that my religion has influenced the decision my husband and I made to have more than one child, or indeed, any children at all. However, society as a whole is largely moving towards smaller families and, in many cases, only children.

So, before I have said a single word about The Case for the Only Child by Susan Newman, Ph.D., you are already completely aware of my biases. And the title of the book should clue you in to what the biases of the author are, as well.

One thing that this book does well is to go over every argument you could possibly think of against having an only child and present counter-arguments and research which discredits the case against onlies. On the other hand, most of her arguments really serve to discredit those of us who have made a different choice—it didn’t feel objective. I feel her arguments would have been much stronger if she had extended her research to include those who do have more than one child and how they have dealt with such things as career and finances when the decision to have more children was made.

Putting my husband through his doctoral degree with two children wasn’t easy, but we made it work. Yes, if I had no children or even just one during that time we would probably be in a better place financially, but that wasn’t the choice that we made. And we, I believe, are better people for it, despite what conclusions an outsider may draw about our financial situation. 

The one argument I can wholeheartedly agree with is that of time.Yes.  I am often stretched way too thin between my three daughters, a house to take care of and keep clean, music lessons, soccer, homework, practicing and my own part-time job, church service, hobbies and other interests. It’s a lot to handle and I am often overwhelmed. I have indeed noticed those acquaintances who only have one child giving that child much more time than I could ever give to any one of my three. I wish I could be three people sometimes. Sometimes having three children begging for my attention in three separate directions all at the same time is enough to make my head explode.

But, being overwhelmed does not mean that I am not happy.

Consider this quote from the book:

“Christine Carter, a sociologist at University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, proposed a “happiness challenge” during which she asked mothers to follow paths that would make them happier: to be less busy, to relax and have more fun. Can you really do this with a couple of children to drive to activities, homework to supervise, meals to prepare, teachers’ conferences to attend, sporting events to watch—in short, a killer schedule on top of full-time or part -time work?

“By only having one child, mothers have discovered a way to be happy. They report having the time to kick back and rest. Most of them say they are calm, less stressed and less busy, than their friends with more than one child.  They told me that they are busy, but they have only one child’s schedule to fit in. The ‘rest, relaxation and flow’ that Carter says has been ‘squeezed out of their [mother’s] lives’ is not missing for those who have one child.”

Because I have three children, I am not happy? And since when does “having fun” determine a person’s happiness level? Wrong.I am very happy.  The difference is that I have learned that serving my children, working hard, teaching them to be functional adults, watching them learn to navigate this world, seeing their successes and being there for them in their failures brings me thousands of times more happiness than my job as a voice teacher and a performer (which I do love and enjoy) does. It brings me much more happiness than kicking back and resting does. And it certainly brings me more happiness than having fun at an amusement park or going to a movie does. All of the sacrifices which I have had to make in order to be the mother of more than one child are completely and totally worth having these three wonderful beings in my life. I am better for it.

Still, I do think this is a good book for those who are trying to decide whether or not to have more than one child. It certainly presents the many factors  in our lives and marriages that are affected by having children, and that is a good thing. I know that as we have discussed nearly incessantly for the past several years whether or not we would add a fourth child into our brood, most of these factors have come up and we have had to be  honest with ourselves and take a good, hard look into why we wanted another child. Whether to have just one or more, or even no children is a very personal decision and I certainly do not judge those who have made a different choice than I have. 


I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Booktours.

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Wonder Woman

What an interesting concept for a book. As I contemplate (more like come up with an convincing argument for my husband regarding:) having another child, my biggest reason is that I want my daughter to have a sibling-friend. My boys are only 19 mos. apart and the best of friends. My daughter, who is 4 years younger than her brother, doesn't have a built-in playmate. And I'd really like that for her.

I also always wanted a sister and if it's at all possible, I want my daughter to have a sister.

And what about the relationship that siblings have as adults? I would hate to miss out on that.


I'm not interested in having a copy of the book, so don't put me in the drawing – but I just can't resist responding – Wow. Love multiplies, not divides – and as we grow older and our children have children, it multiplies even more. I'm daily grateful that we've been able to have the four children that we do, and I find even more joy in my last two that are just 22 months apart. The bond that they have is a daily gift for me to behold.


I hate that society thinks that happiness = a life of ease. It's a very simplified, very ignorant way to look at things.

p.s. my husband is an only child. and that is the only argument I need against choosing that for my own family.


I had four and I really tried to have more.I LOVE children!! Not in the plan. BUT, I feel the same as Sharyn. LOVE multiplies, not divides. I could not imagine my life without those 4kids. Or, stopping after one. I would have missed so so much!
Another point, there are many who don't have the luxury to have more children, and were so so grateful to get their one. To them what a blessing.
I love the insight of how we as spouses have that wonderful ability and opportunity to choose what will best work for our lives and circumstances.


As an adult, I am an only child, for all intents and purposes. Therefore, I am the only one here to care for my mother with serious medical issues (in addition to my 4 minor children). In fact, as they age, I will be the only one to care for 3 parents. I wish I had that emotional support (as well as physical) that I see other adults with siblings having. It's lonely. I thank God for my wonderfully supportive husband.

Watching my kids become better and better friends as they age, I do not regret having multiples. I may be worn a little thinner than I'd like at the moment, but that's nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Just my 2 cents.


Research has shown that relationships between siblings are longer lasting (obviously) and more valuable to kids than those with parents. I do agree it is a sad commentary on out society when like was said before a life of ease is the ideal. Of course I would love a life of ease. But honestly I feel a lot better about myself when I am under at least a little stress as I tend to be a lot more productive and useful in general. An with 3.5 kids I still make time for the mch needed girls night occasionally!


I had the number of kids I was meant to have, and even though there have been hard times (I agree about the struggle of having a couple of kids while the hubs was getting his PhD), it has been my calling in life. I love having my 4 sons and would not redo one thing.


*Don't put me in the drawing.
I had an only child for the first five years of her life. I had always intended to have at least three children, really wanted four, but the circumstances of my first marriage prevented that and I was truely depressed about it, know how close a bond my brothers and I share. Then came my husband with two girls and we quickly added a baby boy. Six years later, we have had another boy for a total of five children and I couldn't be happier. I'm a better mom, better organizer, better time-manager, better wife and daughter to my parents than I ever was being mom to an "only." My daughter really loves having so many brothers and sisters and admitted to me that she'd been wishing for them her "whole life".


I don't know about the one kid = more rest thing anyway. It seems like plenty of parents spend the energy they would use on three kids & just put it all toward that one kid, so that he or she gets parented times three.


This sort of reminds me of many comments I heard from married friends when I was in my 30s and single "You're so lucky! You get to travel and do what you want." "You have no idea how lucky you are to be single and dating." or "At least you get a full night's sleep."

All of those comments were true; I did have more time, more fun, more money, more sleep. But there is absolutely no comparison whatsoever to the joy I experience now that I'm the mother of 4 children six years old and younger. No time, little sleep, less money and SO much more joy and fulfillment.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks)

Very interesting. I was one of two, my husband is one of two and my sons will each be one of two (our second little guy is baking until October). Over the first three and a half years of our first son's life, we have both chosen and had to fill our lives with commitments. The funny thing is, Kai (our son) tends to be our DOWN time in the storm of our "adult" lives.

My husband and I are both prone to overcommitment and I think that having Kai has slowed us down considerably. We stay home on weekend nights, enjoying ourselves as a family, find calmer, less hectic ways to spend our nights and weekends and generally take things a little bit slower.

I think, often we, as a culture, give in to too much scheduling with ourselves and our children. It is possible to raise children (and even our single selves) in a simple, kind, easy and compassionate way that ensures peace whether you have no kids or 10. ;O)


I appreciate you reading and reviewing this one since it really does give a different perspective on the book. It's unfortunate that the author wasn't able to be a bit more objective, as otherwise this sounds like a fascinating book that will really make people think.

Thanks so much for being a part of the tour!


What an interesting book. Having 9 children I do find that I am often unhappy, but it has NOTHING to do with my children and everything to do with my selfishness. My greatest joys and success come from the lives we are leading together.


I loved your comment, Allison.
I am the youngest of 9 and I have 4 young children. I do not want 9 children, but also do not feel "done". That sort of scares me… because my plate is very, very full and I definitely feel stretched thin at times. But, the argument in having an only versus more children cannot solely be with the Mother, but what is in the best interest of the children. Which, in my opinion, is for their betterment. Having siblings teaches you so much about yourself and others. I'm sure we all wish we had more time with our parents too, though. I have several friends with only one child and I do feel jealous of their "freedom" and closeness with that child, but I wouldn't have it any other way.


OH…and though I agree with Deni & previous commenter about "love multiplies, not divides"…I just had to LOL, because that is in the introduction to "Sister Wives" on TLC. (shout out to Hillary!) hehe


Anne-Marie, that is too funny!!