Life

More Canadian parents are choosing to have only one child. I’m one of them.

Single-child families are now the most common household type in Canada. Being “one and done” is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Jen Dalton
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I’ve been with my husband, Chris, for 14 years. We started dating in our final year of high school and got married in 2017. We’re both 32 now and we live in Sudbury with our daughter, Nora. She turned five this month

Our journey to becoming parents started in our mid-20s. At the time, Chris and I were spending more time with our nephews. We really loved hanging out with them, so we knew we wanted to have a kid of our own at some point—more like three or four. We weren’t against having one kid; I’m an only child and I really enjoyed it growing up. Chris and I were 27 and we both worked—I had a management-level job. We just had the idea that if you’re young, healthy and have enough money to have more than one kid, why wouldn’t you? 

Things changed when I had Nora. Her birth was traumatic, and postpartum depression took a toll on my mental health. Two months after she was born, Chris and I talked about being “one and done,” or stopping after one child. It wasn’t a final decision at that point, but we knew not having another child wasn’t going to break our hearts. 

By early 2020, I was feeling a lot more confident that I didn’t want another kid. At that point, Nora was 18 months old, and I wasn’t finding motherhood any easier. The thought of starting over and experiencing another 18 months (or more) of intense stress and depression was daunting for me. I went online in search of other people who had decided to have their own only child and weren’t ashamed of it. In this country, the current average birth rate is 1.4 kids per family, so stopping at one child isn’t shocking. Even though single-child families are now the most common family makeup in Canada, there’s still a stigma. There’s still the assumption of, Oh, you just don’t like being a mom

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I ended up creating my own Instagram page, @oneanddoneparenting, in February of 2020. I didn’t launch the account to become a “content creator,” but to meet other families like mine. I treated each post like a stream-of-consciousness entry, each of which described the highs and lows of having an only child—finances, education, mental health, motherhood in general. Unlike other parenting accounts, I wasn’t looking to romanticize anything. It took about a year for the account to really take off, but I started receiving validating messages from my followers almost immediately. They’d tell me about how they liked moving at the pace of one kid, or about the pressure they felt when friends and family talked about how their only child “would be lonely and needs a sibling.” So much of social media is flooded with content about larger families and the joys of pregnancy; I felt like I’d found my people. I’ve gained 10,000 followers in the last 90 days alone. And as of mid-September, I’m at 37,000 followers and growing. Roughly 97 per cent of them are millennial women.

From my Instagram community, I know there are many different reasons for having one child. Sometimes, it’s a lifestyle choice. Some people want to take vacations, going wherever they want, whenever they want. (I’m sure that people who can afford vacations can afford to have a second kid, but maybe they just want the flexibility.) For others, the decision is related to housing; a couple might like where they are and not want to move to get more space. Finances are also a common reason. When Nora was about three and a half, I really started enjoying being a mom and I started seeing myself having another. We wouldn’t have even considered that when she was younger, partly because of daycare costs. Those went away when she started kindergarten, but when Nora was an infant, we were paying about $1200 a month; just before she started school, we were paying about $850. After maternity leave, I’d taken a 35 per cent pay cut to move to a less stressful job—from a managerial role to a copywriter, with more predictable hours.That meant a good chunk of my income was going to daycare.

READ: Finding childcare for my son in B.C. was a nightmare

There were other financial considerations, too. I was fortunate to get into the real estate market back when I was 23. My parents helped Chris and I onto the property ladder with our first condo, which we bought for $180,000, pre-construction, in 2013. (In Ontario, obviously prices have gone up considerably since then.) After we sold it in 2018 for 280,000, we were able to use the sale money to buy a bigger, detached home. Since then, we’ve moved again, to our forever home in Sudbury. It’s a small two-bedroom, but we like the neighbourhood and it backs onto a little lake. We had a contractor come in to see how much it would cost to renovate to add more bedrooms, and they quoted us $110,000—a third of the cost of our house. If we were to have another kid, they’d either have to share a bedroom (with a massive age gap between them) or we’d have to move and pay a lot more for a place in an area we might not like as much. 

Another factor was that when we had Nora, any outcome was okay with us, medically and financially, it all was going to be feasible. With a second child, there were more what-ifs: if our second had unique needs that required extra care, could we handle it physically, mentally and financially? We felt like we couldn’t. It would also change our ability to do things like travel. We’ve gone on many local trips as a family since the pandemic. If we’d had a five-year-old and a baby, we probably wouldn’t go to Disneyland.

The biggest consideration for Chris and me is Nora’s future. It’s actually a line item in our budget—money for her education, housing or maybe a mix of the two. We want to make sure she’ll be able to be a homeowner and go to university if she wants to. As the people who brought her into the world, it’s our responsibility to consider these things. And it seems like all of that will be less affordable for the generation of kids being brought up right now. I also want her to have a career eventually, but I’m not of the mind that an 18-year-old is an adult nowadays. I’m not going to expect her to move out on her birthday. Chris and I know people who have struggled financially well into their mid-20s—with student debt, for example. I think all parents would like to provide support to an adult child, but many aren’t able to. 

READ: They lost their kids to Fortnite

For a while, Chris and I were debating whether or not to have a second. I took about seven weeks off from running the Instagram page to sit with my feelings. I actually didn’t consume any social media during that time. Seeing pregnancy announcements and gender reveals—not even from people I knew, but from content creators—made it look so fun and appealing to have a big crew. That definitely played on my emotions. If it were just a matter of being happily married or having a home, we could have another. Chris felt the same way. We instituted a nightly check-in and asked: Do we wish we had another kid with us? Every day, no matter what we were doing, we always felt like, No, we had a really great day.

With everything that’s going on in the world, I think we’ll continue to see more one-child families —in Canada, but also in Europe and the United States. (A 2021 Statistics Canada study found that 14 per cent of Canadians ages 25 to 44 said they wanted fewer children than they did before the pandemic.) Early on, I did get comments from family and friends who say, “You’ll change your mind,” or “You’re too early in motherhood to know that you only want to have one.” There is some truth to that. Having a newborn is way different than having a five-year-old, and each stage comes with its own unique challenges. That said, I don’t think being one-and-done deserves the scrutiny it gets. Having one kid affords you a lot of time: for your kid, for your marriage and even yourself. Then there are the little things, like Chris and I both being able to cheer Nora on during her gymnastics lessons. We don’t have to divide and conquer like we would if we had a second kid. Right now, Nora’s really into science, so we spend a lot of time doing experiments at home and visiting Science North, a museum in Sudbury. We can lean into what she likes, rather than divide our attention. We move like a really solid trio.


—As told to Sadiya Ansari