Can I have a dog? That is a question my 10 year old daughter asks me frequently. I am sure many of you have gotten this question. Her follow up line is “you know I am an only child and since you can’t have any more children a dog would be a great companion for me.” Ouch! My kid knows how to get to the heart of the matter. People often underestimate how tough secondary infertility can be for all concerned.
I believe on some level she senses the guilt my husband and I feel that she will never have any siblings. I have thought about it and discussed it with my husband. Being an only child can be a mixed blessing for children. She gets our undivided love and attention. She has pointed out the joy of having her own room and not having to share her possessions. She has joked about the certainty of inheriting an admired piece of my jewelry. I see her loneliness sometimes when I offer to play with her and understand she is looking for the companionship of a peer. I think about the responsibility and perhaps burden she will inherit being the only caretaker for her elderly parents.
What can we the parents of only children do to help them? The first thing I did when she was old enough was to have a conversation with her acknowledging that I understood the hardship being an only child was for her. I explained that I also wished I could have had more kids. We talked about the reasons adoption and additional pregnancies were not options.
What I have done is to create almost daily opportunities for her to be with other kids. We are fortunate that our neighborhood block is very kid friendly. She participates in camps, activities, and school related programs. She has a wonderful instinct (like a big sister) to help younger kids by playing, supervising, and reading to them. I encourage invitations for kids to come to our home so she has that much needed companionship. She has seen through us that friends can be like family. We have created a tight family network with kid cousins and other relatives we see as often as possible. This gives her a solid sense of family relationships and their ongoing importance in our lives. They will be in her life long after I am gone.
We travel frequently and so a dog remains out of the question. Her aptly named hamster, Speedway, is the newest member of our family. He has become something of a companion for her. He certainly does not erase her being an only child. She loves talking, playing, and taking care of him. Grace takes comfort from the sound of his wheel as he leaps on it to do his nightly marathon. She knows when she gets old enough having a dog will be an option. I know as she gets older the foundation we are building today will help her to continue to have love and people in her life to help ease the loneliness she inevitably will feel.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.