The ‘one-and-done’ club is growing in popularity, despite strong social pressure to have more. Are parents of one being selfish by not giving their child a playmate? Mother-of-one Carol Matthews investigates.

Having babies never rated highly on my list of priorities. It wasn't until I was approaching 40 that the biological equivalent of Big Ben chimed loudly in my head, telling me it was decision time. Might I regret it if I decided to remain childless? Yes, I might. My husband thought that I had gone quite mad to even contemplate trading a lifestyle of lattes and lie-ins for broken nights and baby bottles. Though fertility decreases markedly in your late 30s, it didn't take us long to fall pregnant. I produced a cute little baby boy and I was done.

For those who do want a family and some semblance of a life as well, the "one and done club" is fast growing in popularity. According to the 2013 Census, most "couple with children" families in New Zealand included either one or two children. Of these, the proportion of families with one child grew from 36.5 per cent in 2006 to 38.1 per cent in 2013. When you compare this to 40.2 percent who had two children, you'll see there are now nearly as many families with one child, as families with two.

American sociology professor Hans-Peter Kohler's study of 35,000 adult identical twins in Denmark found that, although having children often makes couples happier, women (in general) are happiest with just one child. The more children they had the less happy they became, due to a greater workload and higher stress levels.

Dr Susan Newman, a US-based social psychologist, parenting expert and author of The Case for the Only Child; Your Essential Guide, has been studying one-child families for over 20 years. She thinks it boils down to what women want out of life. "People have to think about realism vs selfishness," Newman says. Some people think it's selfish to have just one child, but realistically many people are partnering later and working longer to ensure they will be financially set up before starting a family. Leave it too late and infertility is common, while divorce and remarriage can affect family size, throwing carefully laid plans out of the nursery window.


Hillary Clinton got flak for having one kid, but you don't need to be famous to attract society's disapproval. Victoria Hibbins, an Auckland-based apparel manager for a large importing company, always planned on having just one baby. She was surprised to find herself under a lot of pressure to have a second child, even while still pregnant with her first, at age 37. Once a stranger asked her 2-and-a-half-year old daughter if she wanted a brother or sister. Hibbins found this thoughtless and inappropriate. "One by choice is good," she says, "Society has the problem."

Strangers may judge, but having more children is not a guarantee of happiness and, if you are already tired from parenting one child, perhaps even suffering from postnatal depression or other health issues, the thought of adding another baby to the fray may seem overwhelming. Wellington office manager Kerris Begovich, 33, suffered from acute prenatal depression while pregnant with her daughter. "Being a mum hasn't come naturally to me; I found the early days very challenging," she says. "I guess I was always wondering if I was doing a good job when it felt very forced. Another would never be on the cards as I know I couldn't cope."

Newman's advice is that if you decide that one is enough, refuse to budge. Ignore your pregnant girlfriend who wants a playmate for her impending bub. Ignore your mother-in-law who wants another grandchild to dote on. It's your decision; one you will have to live with forever.

Stacie Warren with her husband Rick, son Preston and their dog Snoopy, at home in Westport. Photo / Tim Cuff
Stacie Warren with her husband Rick, son Preston and their dog Snoopy, at home in Westport. Photo / Tim Cuff

For one thing, raising a kid doesn't come cheap. A 2009 study by the Inland Revenue found that one child can set parents back $250,000 by the age of 18. This figure varies widely with different incomes; those with more money spend more on their children. Obviously, it is a big call if you have to fork out for university fees on top of this, let alone a second or third round.

Then there is childcare: an expensive necessity if you plan to return to work. Women may worry that spending too long out of the workforce will affect their career and promotion prospects, as well as reduce the family income just when it's needed the most. Childcare costs in New Zealand are among the highest in the developed world, according to a 2016 report by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). In 2014, a study carried out by the Bank of New Zealand and Plunket, found the average parent spent $11,500 a year on childcare.

Sometimes life is so busy women just don't have time for a second child. Tina Davies, a project manager originally from Berlin and her English husband were living in Singapore, where they had a child. After realising it wasn't an ideal place to raise a family, they refrained from having any more kids until they settled in New Zealand. Time flew and, after moving to Nelson, they found themselves so busy they didn't feel it fair to have a second child. Does she feel pressure to have another? Davies laughs at the thought, "Oh yes, especially from my grandmum, who came from a generation where there were lots and lots of kids. She can't understand how I'm happy with one!"

Other mothers, such as Stacie Warren, a self-employed mum from Westport, joined the "one and done" club because of infertility issues. Initially, Warren planned on having two children but her husband was half-hearted about it, as he already had children from a previous marriage. As luck would have it, they had to resort to IVF to conceive their first child and a second pregnancy was not to be. Warren is philosophical about the outcome. "Our son, being an only, has everything; he is very lucky." The family are keen travellers, she says. "Cruises are a great way to holiday with one child."

And what about the effect on the children? Much has been made of the pros and cons of having an only child. Especially the cons. What if they're lonely? Won't they be spoilt brats? Will they grow up to be anti-social outcasts? "The idea that only children will be spoilt and lonely is a myth," says Newman, "It's the quality of parenting, not the number of siblings that determines how children turn out." More resources can go into helping them succeed, from academic tuition to swimming and music lessons, as well as getting more quality downtime with their parents. Often they are more mature because they spend a lot of time in adult company, Newman says.

People sometimes think that a second child will be a playmate and companion for the first, but this isn't always the case. The firstborn may feel put out when number two arrives, taking centre stage. Having to share his parents' love and attention can be a nasty shock to a child who is used to being the apple of Mummy's and Daddy's eye. Later on, some children just don't get along.

My "only" son says he isn't lonely. He is happy to tag along on excursions with us. As a train obsessed little boy he spent many hours building complex Thomas the Tank Engine railway layouts that a younger sibling would be sorely tempted to destroy. There are no fights in the back seat of the car, ensuring that parental sanity remains intact.

Now he is a teenager he enjoys hanging out with his schoolmates and playing online computer games with his cousins. His friends, who all seem to have an annoying little sister, envy him his peaceful lifestyle.

For me, one child is perfect. I have tasted motherhood and experienced the marvel of seeing a helpless little baby develop and grow into a strong, happy young man. All our resources earmarked "children" have been channelled into his upbringing and he has become a computer whiz, not to mention an adventurous travel buddy. It's been fun to introduce him to different experiences: from riding camels to steam trains; from playing with children of all creeds and colours, to eating curry hot enough to make him cry. Life is so much easier and more affordable with one. I wouldn't change a thing.