Jul 23, 2012 0 Share

Family Planning

Stylized illustration of parents with two children as red figures.

I've said before that I have two only children. The age difference between Cameron and his sister is eight years, and they are opposite in every way imaginable. They love each other deeply, and sibling rivalry has never been a topic of any parenting book I pick up. We do not face the same issues many of my friends with children closer in age face, and so I refer to my children as two only children. But last week, when my daughter was at her annual checkup with a new pediatrician, the doctor asked if there were any siblings at home. I said, "Yes, she has a 17-year-old brother ... Half-brother, actually." 

To which the doctor replied, "But you've raised her as an only child, right?" 

Suddenly my jovial comment of having two only children landed in the pit of my stomach. What exactly did the doctor mean by her question? How does one raise a child as an "only child"? Is this an accusation of some sort? Is there a difference in how you raise one child versus multiple children? Was the doctor insinuating I had a spoiled brat who thought the world existed only for her own benefit? If my daughter and Cameron were closer in age, would that significantly change their personalities? 

Having children closer in age was not in the cards for me. Back in the day when I was dreaming of a family, the "plan" had been two children spaced about two years apart. When Cameron's second birthday rolled around, I was missing a critical component for sibling production: a father. But as it turned out, having Cameron as an only child for eight years (and finding a new husband) was a good thing. My attention wasn't divided between Cameron's needs, as I found out they were "special," and the needs of an infant. By the time an infant came along, Cameron was mature enough to be excited about a new baby sister, and not threatened or bothered by her. We even went so far as to invent a special holiday for Cameron, in honor of him becoming a brother. We celebrated Big Brother's Day for the first time when Cameron's sister was around 4 months old. Cameron considered his sister a real blessing, and not just because of the present he received on Big Brother's Day. He really loved the feeling of our family becoming, in his mind, balanced by the addition of a female child. It was very symmetrical: A male and female adult pair, and a male and female child pair. 

Of course, there's no way of knowing how life would be different for either of my children if they had been born closer together in age. As it is, I love the uniqueness of the individuals I've had a hand in creating. I love that my parenting muscle has been flexed in that there are very few occasions in which I say, "Oh yeah, I remember this phase." I get to experience everything fresh and new with each of my children. So the answer is no, I'm not raising my children as only children. I'm raising them each to be the truly unique, magnificent individuals they are. They both respect and appreciate each other, and the family unit of which they are critical components. And they're not the ones.