Will my only child be lonely during the pandemic?

little girl lying on her back with feet up against a tree

By Amanda Gibson

It’s not unusual for me to periodically question my decision to have only one child. When I see my friends’ kids playing with their siblings, or when I laugh so hard I start crying while talking to my own sister—I feel a pang of sadness as I dwell on these relationships. There’s something sacred about the bond formed when you grow up in the same household, eat the same weird casseroles, roll your eyes at the same dad jokes. And when that day comes when your parents are gone, there’s someone to remember it all with you, to hover in the past with you, reminisce with you, then move forward with you.

My husband often reminds me that not all sibling relationships are this rosy. Plenty of people simply aren’t that close with their siblings. They fall out, or drift apart, or they never get along to begin with. I know it can go both ways. It’s an act of faith, having a second, or third (or more). Will this new relationship be a positive one?

My own decision to stop at one stems from the utter exhaustion and depression that motherhood has brought down upon me. My daughter is all tangled hair, peanut butter–slathered cheeks, and somersaults off the couch. She never slows down. When people talk about boys and how they don’t like to sit still, I think, are there girls that do? How do I get one of those?

Despite the bruises that cover my legs from the four-year-old flying squirrel that’s launching into them constantly, I am thankful for this hurricane of a child. And I’m thankful for our amazing group of friends, with kids her age who she can grow up with and fight with and learn from.

But the pandemic has shut us away from them, and I see her loneliness wearing on her, and us. Her inability to play with toys alone, her neediness at bedtime, her desire to be glued to my or my husband’s lap on the couch. These were all things we endured before, but they are amplified and constant now. And I can’t help thinking, what if there were two? Sure there’d be twice as many people watching me poop, but there’d be moments I could step back, when their focus would be on each other, their need for silliness fulfilled by someone else just as silly, rather than by someone who’s tired and grumpy all the time.

Obviously, a pandemic is an awful reason to decide to have another child. It’s also questionable, even in the best of times, to have a second one just to give the first someone to play with, especially when it’s not your own desire spurring the choice along. But acknowledging this doesn’t stop me from thinking about it. Wondering what this house would sound like with two shrieking banshees locked inside instead of just one. If all we have is each other, it seems like each other could benefit from being a bit larger.

My husband, just as overwhelmed with how difficult these past four years of parenthood have been, will likely not think about it. He’s made it clear that one and done doesn’t bother him. And for the most part, when the world was tumbling forward at its typical pre-pandemic velocity, it didn’t bother me either. But as it has grinded to a halt, our usual distractions dissipating, I’ve lingered in that sad, uncertain place we all visit when we think about roads not taken.

As the months of our isolation trifecta drag on, I will think about many of these roads. Then I will curl up on the couch, wince as the flying squirrel lands on my shin, and be dragged back to the present—to the road I did choose, back before the events outside took so many of our choices away. And maybe that’s what I’m dwelling on. Growing our family would be an act of power, when I feel powerless in all other regards right now.

Science and an abundance of hope both tell us this will end eventually. And we will regain our power and our choices little by little. So I focus on my road, and I wait.

Amanda Gibson is a writer and mom of one, living with her husband and formidable four-year-old daughter in Chicago. You can connect with her and read more of her work at amandagibson.blog.

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