Are you a real mom if you only have one child?

Here is what Elizabeth Banks told People magazine last week:

“Two is very different from one. When you have one kid, you feel like you can jet set around and you can throw him on the hip and you get your life done,” she said. “You don’t realize how easy one is until you have two. Now I’m really a mom. Oh, I am a mom now! This is for serious — I am responsible for two people now.”

It’s tempting to allow Elizabeth Banks the benefit of the doubt and dismiss her comments as another celebrity mom making unfiltered comments or trying to be funny.  But for me, this comment actually hits a nerve.  And, yes, while it’s true that the experience of parenting more than one small child — and all the logistical details, coordination, emotional strain, and physical exhaustion that another baby entails — is much different, that’s obviously a far cry from describing the mother of an only child as not “really” a mom.

It’s tough to make the decision to add another member to your family.  Sometimes, fertility issues or economic circumstances make the choice for you.  But from those of us who have a singleton, are watching our biological clocks, still overwhelmed by the demands of (relatively) new parenthood, and wanting the best decision for our families about whether to add another member, I want to say to Elizabeth Banks:  you are not helping.  And you are simply wrong.

Mothers of only children are definitely still moms.  And here are a few reasons why no one should dismiss the experiences of moms with one kid:

1.  Parents of only children spend more time, energy, and resources on their only child, and the result is higher-achieving, more educated kids.  Parents of only children have higher academic expectations, and singletons do better on achievement tests and attain higher levels of education.

2.  Mothers of only children may have stronger marriages.  These moms report the highest levels of satisfaction and happiness, higher than women with no children and those with more than one child.  Parents have more time to devote to their own separate interests and to activities together as a couple.  According to sociologist Hans-Peter Kohler, who has studied family size and happiness, parents with one child may be more satisfied with their lives because they have experienced the joys and richness of parenting without the additional, more all-consuming efforts that more than one small child requires.  When parents have one child, their levels of overall happiness increase, but with an additional child, the mother’s happiness actually decreases.

3.  Single child families are becoming a new norm.  While only three percent of Americans according to a Gallup poll state that a family with only one child is the most ideal, this form of family in reality  is the fastest growing family unit in the country.

It’s hard enough to contemplate having a family with one child when cultural stereotypes abound about only children as lonely, selfish, spoiled, and poorly adjusted — all  of which have been determined to be untrue.  Maybe these moms are “real” moms too because they make the choice to devote more of their undivided resources to themselves, their marriage, and their child.


7 thoughts on “Mothers with one child are “real” too: my response to Elizabeth Banks

  1. Her argument is ridiculous. Of course moms-of-one are real moms. Some parents would say that SHE doesn’t know real parenthood yet, until she has three kids, and she and her husband are outnumbered. Or 5 kids, when you cannot both hold hands with all of them. I know a blogging mom whose 10th child was a Downs child. Then they adopted their 11th, a Downs child from overseas who was severely malnourished and under-sized. Now they’re adopting a special-needs boy also. They are a precious family, homeschooling, with great, helpful kids and lots of love in the home. Why must we always be comparing? Four kids was definitely my limit 🙂 Each to her own. Here’s a link to that amazing blogging mom:

  2. Elizabeth Banks should just avoid talking about motherhood until she can perfect her filters. She commented on Babble recently about celebrity mothers doing a disservice to non-celebrity moms self esteem by showing off how they could get back in shape quickly after having a child. I would have applauded her comment if she didn’t use as her argument that celebrities are typically “genetically superior.” Seriously? You didn’t think that through enough to realize that makes the rest of us INferior?? Ugh.

  3. I agree that that quote is pretty problematic — in general I think people are way too quick to throw the word “real” around as a way of describing themselves or their situation, since by its very nature it has the implication of dismissing or delegitimizing others. That being said, as the mother of a single toddler with vague plans of eventually having another, I’m not sure how I feel about responding to it with a list of ways that having a single-child family is superior to having a multi-child family. To each their own and all that.

    1. Oh, I didn’t intend to mean that they’re superior! I’m sure you could a whole bunch of research (relating to other areas of development) that could support the view that families with multiple children are better for kids. My point was that since the research on this is hardly a slam dunk, it’s just better — as you said — to stay away from words like “real” when describe certain mothers!

      1. I totally get what you’re saying, and sorry if I came across as overly nitpicky in my last comment. I love the thought-provoking way you take on the topics you write about on this blog — thanks for your response and keep up the good work!

  4. I understand what she was saying, and can relate to it personally in that my experience was similar to hers. But boy is her phrasing inelegant and careless. I’ve seen some chatter around the People interview, but none about her comments to Mark Maron on the WTF podcast. That came out about the same time and she speaks to her use of a surrogate to carry her children. She repeatedly defends that choice (which doesn’t need defending in the first place) by saying she wants “her own” children. Again, I feel like I understand what she was trying to say. But jeez, Elizabeth, can you not discuss your own perfectly reasonable choices without de-legitimizing adoptive families? Every time she said it I cringed. Mine and my husband’s adoption efforts failed after lots of expense and time, but I’ll bet if they hadn’t we would feel that our child was our own.

    1. I hadn’t heard that! That’s worse than the comment that I talked about! She certainly has been talking a lot these past weeks. You would think that she would be learning to be a bit more careful.

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