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Valley Parents: Having an only child

  • Jillian Zambon and her daughter Jayde Osgood, 6, take a walk through their neighborhood with their dog Bailey on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

  • Jillian Zambon holds Bailey while watching her daughter Jayde Osgood, 6, grab a tree branch near their home in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, after going for a walk. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Jayde Osgood, 6, helps her mother Jillian Zambon make pancakes at their home in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley Parents Correspondent
Published: 11/4/2019 3:16:22 PM
Modified: 11/4/2019 3:16:18 PM

All sorts of family structures can draw unwanted criticism, but one-child families seem to inspire the most vitriol. Despite the enduring, often negative, assumptions about only children, one-child families are becoming more common, and Upper Valley parents with just one child say they’re not concerned about preconceived notions.

“I think only children are fantastic, and try not to trouble myself too much with what other people think about my child or my parenting — it’s hard enough as it is,” said Arianne Arnold, of Woodstock, mom to 4-year-old Eden.

It’s hard to measure the prevalence of only children. After all, a first child is an “only” at the start, and siblings with big age gaps may feel like singletons. Then there are children whose parents have split up, who are an only on one side, but have siblings on the other.

The most reliable way to measure the prevalence of only children is to look at the number of women near the end of childbearing age who only have one child, according to the Pew Research Center. In 1977, just 11% of women aged 40-44 had only one child. By 2016, that had increased to 21%. In less than two generations, the number of only children has nearly doubled.

There are many factors at play in this rise. Women are having children later, which can limit the number of children they have. The prevalence of divorce plays a role as well. There’s also the fact that raising even one child is a massive undertaking, especially in today’s fast-paced society.

Arnold grew up as an only child, and says she thought “the grass was always greener.” She planned to have two or more children, until Eden was born.

“The reality of having just one child — the mental and emotional load, and the hours of care — changed my mind,” she said. “I know that parents do it all the time, but for me it was difficult to imagine taxing my body in that way again. Between having a baby that was over 10 pounds via c-section and then going 18 months without sleeping through the night, I was exhausted.”

When Arnold’s marriage came apart, she knew that Eden would be her only child.

Jillian Zambon, of Lebanon, didn’t plan on having any children, but when she got pregnant with Jayde, now 6, she assumed there would be more kids to follow. However, soon after Jayde was born, her parents split up, and Zambon has been raising Jayde as an only child since. She said she tries not to let the stereotypes about only children get to her, but they do inform her parenting in some ways.

“It concerns me that she doesn’t have someone to play with or learn how to work through things like sharing toys or having fights and quarrels,” she said. “I worry that she may be spoiled because she is the only child I have.”

There’s an age-old assumption that only children are missing out on something by not having siblings. However, kids without siblings will learn the same lessons as children in larger families, just in a different way, said Susan Pullen, a pediatric behavioral health clinician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“Only children grow when they experience opportunities to interact closely with peers,” she said. That could be in school or through relationships with cousins and friends.

Although Arnold doesn’t have family nearby, she said that she and Eden benefit from being involved in the community.

“This is crucial for us for many reasons, and my daughter thrives on knowing and being known by others,” she said.

Likewise, Jayde is enrolled in a variety of activities that give her a social outlet. She also has two siblings at her father’s house, where she goes every other weekend. Although Zambon considers Jayde an only child because she spends little time with her siblings, Jayde said she only “sort of” thinks of herself as an only.

Arnold and Zambon say that raising only children can be challenging, especially as solo parents.

“Because my daughter has had my full attention since birth, she expects that from me and others, and that can be tiring,” Arnold said. “Then again, she’s 4, and I’m certain that in time she’ll learn how to adequately respect boundaries.”

However, there are benefits as well.

“It’s nice to know that I’ll only have one lunch to make in the morning, and one college tuition to help out with,” Arnold said.

Zambon said that she is open to having a blended family in the future, but for now she’s happy with her small family: her, Jayde and the dog.

“We really love our little family,” she said. “It isn’t conventional, and it wasn’t in my plans, but we are happy and we have a lot of love.”

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